Last summer I attended a conference; one of the speakers there encouraged us to begin reading scripture with a new lens. (We all have a tendency to read scripture through our own cultural lens/bias and miss out on deeper revelation.) She encouraged us to start in the gospels, to read slowly, to pay attention to who the people are in each passage, to consider their station in life–would they have been considered the privileged or oppressed? Are they “firsts” or “lasts”? How does Jesus respond to each group? How does He challenge societal norms? How does He flip the culture of the day on its head? Who does He esteem? Who does He correct?
It’s been one of the most powerful and life giving suggestions I’ve ever received at a conference. It has breathed new life into my relationship with God. I’m not reading scripture to get my nugget for the day; I’m reading to get to know Him and His ways, and He is speaking to me in deep places. Slowing way, way down, not being in a hurry to move through chapters and verses has allowed me to sit with Jesus, to learn from the Holy Spirit, and be awed by the love of God for all people in a new, fresh, and compelling way. So, in this post, we are going to slow down a familiar passage of scripture, chew on it, sit with it, and let it read us-rather than us reading it.
In Philippians 2 the Apostle Paul continues building on what he started in chapter one. He begins this portion of his letter with an “if”/”then” thought process:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ
If you have any comfort from His love
If you have any common sharing in the Spirit
If any tenderness
If any compassion
Then make my joy complete:
Then be like-minded,
Then have the same love
Then be one in spirit and mind
Then do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit
Then humbly value others above yourselves
Then don’t look to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others…
Let’s pause here and consider the “ifs”.
Are you united with Christ? Are you in a relationship with Him? Have you connected yourself to Him and His ways? Have you allowed Him to minister to you, to work in you, to change you? Have you received encouragement from Him?
Encouragement is an interesting word. The word courage–means “heart”. “En” means “make, put in”. The definition includes words such as consolation, comfort, solace, that which affords comfort or refreshment, encouragement.
The definition of encourage is to make strong, hearten. (The opposite-discourage-weakens, deflates, disheartens).
Has Jesus strengthened you? Has He comforted you? Has He refreshed you? Has He come alongside you? Is He with you? Does He encourage you?
Do you have comfort from His agape? Do you have absolute assurance of His love? Do you know that He will always love you? You don’t earn it, or deserve it, or lose it. He just loves you, totally and completely forever and always, and you can rest assured that His love is never going away. Perfect agape casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and God’s love is perfect. Does that comfort you?
Do you have common sharing, fellowship with others? Our English translation can’t get to the depth of what this means. The Greek word is koinonia and it is so much deeper than just hanging out together. It is a deep connection, a Spirit connection with others. It is being part of a spiritual community, of sharing everything, of joint participation, of shared mission and purpose, of unity.
Have you received tenderness from Jesus? Has his kindness, his love, his mercy ministered to you? One of the phrases in the Strong’s definition is “a heart in which mercy resides”. Has his merciful heart ministered to you?
Have you received compassion from Jesus? Another incredibly interesting word which implies mercy, but also has this component in it: to feel sympathy with the misery of another–such sympathy as manifests itself in act, less frequently in word. Compassion means to suffer with…
IF you have experienced any of this from Jesus. THEN… Scroll back up and read through the “thens”. Once you’ve done that, we’ll continue on and see what the “thens” looked like in the person of Jesus.
(Then) Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. The word attitude, and the word like-minded in verse two are the same Greek word. So, your mind should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. The “thens” start with the mind of Christ in us. There is much New Testament scripture about having a new mind in Christ…do not be conformed anymore to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…(Rom 12:2); The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the spirit is life and peace. (Rom. 8:6) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27) and many others! The mind of Christ–what does that look like in this passage?
Before the incarnation, Jesus was in the form of God, but he did not grasp that form tightly. Instead, he laid aside that form and put on the form of our humanity, and not just of our humanity–he made himself the lowest. Again, our English translation cleans this up for us a bit, but the actual word “servant” is the word doulos – bond-servant. It means a person bound in service without wages. It could be voluntary or forced, but a bondservant was subservient to and entirely at the disposal of his master–essentially a slave.
Going back to my new scripture lens –this passage blows me away, and we’re not even through it yet. Jesus laid aside all of his privilege, everything He had in heaven, and made himself one of the least of these. He could have come as a privileged man, but that was not the way it happened. He was born into an oppressed ethnic group during Roman rule. His family was homeless when he was born, he was poor during his childhood, he was a manual laborer before he began his ministry, and he was homeless again as an adult. Luke 8 tells us that he was financially supported by women–extremely counter cultural. Let all of that sink in for a minute.
So in this human form, Jesus humbled himself completely. We don’t always understand the meaning of that word either. Humble means to make low, to level-reduce to a plain, a lower rank, devoid of all haughtiness.
And he became obedient to death—even death on a cross. Did you know that obedient means giving ear? To obey means to listen attentively and follow through. The implications of that are huge. If we are going to obey God, and think like Jesus, we must draw close to Him, be silent, and create space for Him to speak.
And the height of humiliation? Public death on a cross.
However, because Jesus lived from this humble, obedient, bond-servant mindset, this form…
God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (9-11)
This is where it all begins. Does your tongue, does my tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord? Do our knees (individually and collectively) bow to Him in subservience and submission? If Jesus is Lord, the only response we can give Him is “yes”. Otherwise we exalt ourselves and our wills above His, and we become our own lords.
I find it interesting that in Strong’s Concordance the word confess (admit, agree fully) also means profess-to acknowledge openly and joyfully, to celebrate, give praise to.
Pastor John pointed out in his sermon that we sometimes use verses 9-11 as a weapon from a place of arrogance–“One day, dude, you’re gonna be forced to admit that Jesus is Lord–you won’t have any choice and you’re going to be made to bow down. Then you’ll see that we Christians were right all along. Nanny-nanny-boo-boo!”
Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Paul is trying to say here. Paul has been telling us that he prays for our agape to abound more and more for other people. He has told us that to live is Christ–the mission, heart, passion of Jesus. And here he says–be like Him. Be like Christ in the way you think, in the way you live, in the way you relate with the world. I believe, dear Church, if we can get this figured out, that people will be hungry for a relationship with Jesus, they will confess and profess that He is Lord because coming into relationship with Him brings joy, purpose, freedom, celebration…
Dear Church, are we living the “thens” for the glory of God? Are we living the “thens” and drawing people to Jesus? Or are we sending a hostile, haughty message to the world?
Jesus himself told his disciples when they were having a little dispute over greatness You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28).
He said that to His disciples then. He says that to His disciples (students, learners, apprentices) today.
Dear Church, when people see us, do they see Him? Are we bearing fruit that looks like Jesus? Are we lowering ourselves or exalting ourselves? Are we grasping-holding tightly- to our privilege or laying it aside for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven? Are we oppressing people or helping people? Are we listening attentively and bringing peace or running our mouths and creating chaos? Do we look like Jesus? Do we think like Jesus? Do we love like Jesus? Do we reflect Jesus? Do we know the real Jesus?
Dear Church–if He is Lord, we will look like Him, act like Him, love like Him, be humble like Him, align ourselves with the oppressed and marginalized- the sick, the lost, the foreigner, the poor, the despised, the powerless, those discriminated against, like He did, and not be afraid of the cost. He came for us, and in His name and His way, He sends us out so that the world He loves can know Him and confess Him as Lord.
I love that Luanne began with an invitation to slow down. It’s an exercise that is vital to going deeper, to gaining understanding, to getting to know the real Jesus and his heart for real people.
If you’ve been around church at all, you’ve probably heard this week’s passage, in part or in whole. Even if you’ve never stepped inside a church, you’ve likely heard some of it quoted-and perhaps not kindly, as Luanne eluded to. We do a disservice to ourselves and to the world around us when we don’t take the time to learn from the Holy Spirit, time to sit at the Teacher’s feet and glean from these ancient words the messages they carry. In our fast-paced culture, this approach to reading scripture can feel like a luxury—but it is a luxury we need to indulge in, one that Jesus invites us into, a place of rest for the burdened, the hurried, the spiritually-depleted.
We’re all spiritually depleted—especially when we think we’re not. The riches of the Word are inexhaustible. When we forget that, when we think we understand the meaning of a text (as though there is only one possible explanation and application of the words) we take an arrogant position as one who has been taught rather than one who is continually being taught by the Spirit. I don’t think that most of us intentionally assume this position. But it is the position we take when we cling to our ideas of what these words mean more than we cling to the One who said them.
During my quiet time on Sunday morning, I read a devotional written by Richard Rohr, adapted from Gospel Call for Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom). It began this way:
“One of the great themes of the Bible, beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures and continued by Jesus and Paul, is “the preferential option for the poor.” I call it “the bias toward the bottom.”
He later goes on to say, “There is no authentic God experience that does not situate you in the world in a different way.”
As I turned these words over and over in my mind, I wrote this in my journal:
“If my experience with God is just for “me” and doesn’t lead me more deeply into the heart of Jesus for the “other”, into that “bias toward the bottom”, is my experience God at all? Or simply an emotional, feel-good moment that may touch my heart—but may not actually be from God…?”
I have had many experiences, encounters if you will, with God. Encounters that have left me changed, rearranged, and with fresh vision. I believe He comes to each one of us personally and intimately and graces us with moments created for us as individuals. I know that’s true because I could write an entire book full of nothing but the times He has loved me that way. I don’t take Richard’s statement to mean that personal, one-on-one experiences with God are not authentic. I think his point, and certainly mine, is that these experiences are designed for a purpose that is two-fold. I believe God wants us to feel His Papa-love for ourselves—to know it, get familiar with it, so that we can build a relationship with our Father that we can rely on and trust regardless of our circumstances. AND, I believe these experiences are also meant to take us further than ourselves. Meant to teach us to see beyond our own desires and needs. Meant to teach us what agape love looks and feels like so that it can be cultivated within us and carried into the world. Meant to do exactly what Richard wrote: situate us in the world in a different way.
So… to the assertion that there is NO authentic God experience that doesn’t have this effect, we must assume that it is up to us whether we experience Him authentically or not. God is never inauthentic. And He continually comes to us. When we meet His authenticity with our minds and hearts focused on ourselves, we are choosing to only take part of what He offers, which renders the moment inauthentic. To experience anything authentically is to experience it in totality, in its fullness.
I had all of this reverberating in my heart when I arrived at church on Sunday. I had no idea what Pastor John was going to preach about…
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.(Philippians 2:1-2)
If we have experienced Christ in this way for ourselves, then we are called to relate to others in the very same way. As Luanne wrote, “If Jesus is Lord, the only response we can give Him is “yes”. Otherwise we exalt ourselves and our wills above His, and we become our own lords. “ When we follow Jesus and lay down our own lives in exchange for His life in us, the only response to anything He asks of us is yes. But for today’s purposes, let’s narrow down what we’re saying “yes” to. We are saying yes to relating to others–every single other Image-bearer, no exceptions—the way that Jesus relates to us. Luanne explained in detail what that meant for Jesus. Have we given our “yes” to loving others in that same way?
Before I take that thought further, I want to take us back a bit… Luanne spent some time sitting with these verses, time digging in to really absorb what they mean. I’m going to take us back into verse two to dissect the meaning of the original Greek words because I think what they have to say to us is profound—and profoundly simple.
If you look up the Greek for every word in verse 2 (highlighted above), you’ll find that Paul repeats a couple of words a few times. Almost as if he really wanted his readers to get the point he was trying to make. Our English translations have prettied it up and gone outside of some of the more common meanings of the words, probably for flow and readability’s sake. Here’s how it would read if we literally translated every Greek word:
“…then fulfill my joy to fulfillment by same thinking, having the same love, of one accord, thinking one thought.”
Same thinking. Same love. Of one accord. Thinking one thought. Well, that pretty much does away with any of our notions toward individualism, doesn’t it? I think we hate that part, because we love our independence, and we love feeling like we’re in control. We assume that thinking in the way Paul suggests means we have to agree on everything, vote the same way, come to the same conclusions about every hot-button issue, and that we have to interpret every word of scripture exactly the same way. Is that what I’m suggesting this verse means?
Luanne talked to us about the way we read scripture through our own lenses & personal biases. We run the bible through a variety of filters—tradition, upbringing, political leanings, privilege, cultural identity, education, etc…–and we can end up on completely different ends of the spectrum from one another.
I’m not suggesting “sameness” as a theological framework because I believe, like author & pastor Carlos Rodriguez does, that “…not one of us owns the full expression of the faith we love. And maybe God made it that way so that we would have to come together.” (Drop the Stones, C. Rodriguez)
What I am suggesting is that we are to have one filter. Jesus. His life, his example and His overarching command that, according to Him, supersedes all the others:
“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31, NLT)
Dear Church… this is our filter. Are we loving God (which we can only do because He first loved us) and is that same love He fills us with pouring out to others?
So… Same thinking. Same love. Of one accord. Thinking one thought. Is this possible? Yes. If our only filter is Jesus, we will land on the side of unconditional love. Every. Single. Time. If we run everything through the filter of loving God & loving others, then we will, in fact, have the mind of Christ, because that’s what He did. Luanne and I have talked about love being the bottom line over and over again since we began this blog. That’s not in an effort to avoid the hard way—often times, love is the hardest way. It’s not because we are looking for an easy, pretty, feel-good answer. No. We keep saying it because we really believe it. That the way of Jesus is the way of self-sacrificing love. That justice and shalom are by-products of this love that changes everything. Because real love chooses to be last so someone else can be first. That’s why we drive this point home over and over again.
I think we are free to disagree, to think for ourselves, and to believe differently from one another. And because we are human, and we are on our own journeys toward the completeness God is bringing us into, we won’t ever do this “same thinking” perfectly. There is plenty of grace for that.
AND… Paul still exhorts us to be unified in our thinking. Pastor John asserted that there should be no contention, no division in the Church if we take this teaching seriously, because we’ll be of one purpose. Does that mean we don’t speak up for justice, have discussions about politics, and hold to traditional values that devalue other human beings? Because these types of conversations are creating plenty of division and contention lately.
What about things like the immigration crisis, refugees, mass incarceration, poverty, LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church, women in leadership, religion and politics, kneeling for the anthem, police brutality, racism, nationalism, allocation of wealth, prayer in schools, abortion, sexual addiction, human trafficking, mass shootings, gun control, left vs. right, and so many other topics that daily flood the headlines? How do we get to a place of unity around all of that?
Remember our filter? If we are loving like Jesus, if we have a “bias toward the bottom” like He did (and does), if we are putting people above agendas, if we are humbling ourselves and choosing to bow our knees to the ways of Christ and His Kingdom, I believe we will come to a place of unity. We tend to look at situations as having one right way and one wrong way. But Jesus is continually bringing us into a different way. His way. A third way. A way that is always counter-cultural and unexpected. A way that got him into plenty of trouble when He walked the earth. Dallas Willard wrote, in the introduction to his book The Divine Conspiracy, “Jesus and his words…are essentially subversive of established arrangements and ways of thinking.” He calls His followers to imitate His ways. And Paul reminds us in Philippians what that way looks like. I wish we had time to dig into the Sermon on the Mount and, specifically, the Beatitudes, but it’s time to wrap this one up.
Dear Church… if we can do this, if we can be the example of love in action and be the first to bend the knee to our Lord and say yes to His ways rather than arrogantly shouting our “rightness” in the face of others’ “wrongness”, then verses 3-5 are a natural result…
We won’t do anything out of selfish ambition or conceit. We will value others above ourselves and put their interests first. We will relate with one another with the mindset of Christ. The Christ who comes alongside of us, connects & unites us in His love-and invites us to do the same.