Filed under: Pastor Jeff’s Sermons
A sermon preached on March 25th, 2018 based upon Philippians 2:5-11.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a servant,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Paul writes, “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” That is what we are seeking to have happen on this Christian journey – the transformation of our minds – to move from the way the “world” thinks, to the way Jesus thinks. How does the world think? It thinks through perpetual comparisons, finding our sense of self-worth in how our lot in lives compares to that of others. You see it all the way back in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The serpent tempts them to think that their lives are missing out somehow because they are not in on the things God knows, and it leads them to grasp the forbidden apple. Their son Cain compares his lot to that of his brother Abel and finds his like lacking, and so he grasps a rock to take his brother’s life through violence.
We’ve been grasping after things ever since in the hope of establishing a sense of self worth – more stuff, more power, more status, more validation. This grasping nature leads to perpetual discontent, like those Hebrews moaning and complaining in the wilderness comparing the lives they are now living with the imagined life they once lived as Pharaoh’s captives and finding it lacking, grasping after the seeming security of life as they now imagine it as having been in days of the past.
In contrast, Paul tells us that Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself…” He emptied himself of that grasping discontent and opened himself to God’s will for his life.
The world’s way of thinking – this grasping nature in which we perpetually locate the meaning of our lives in relation to how our lives stack up with that of others – is so deeply ingrained in us that even after spending a year in the constant company of Jesus, the disciples continued to think the way the world has taught them to think. As Jesus is drawing near to his ultimate act of servanthood – his sacrificial death on a cross, James and John come to him and ask him to grant them the seats to his left and right when he “comes into his power” as they imagine it what that will look like. The other disciples get angry at James and John when they hear about the pretensions of their request because probably they to were grasping after the same dream but didn’t have the gumption to ask for it straight out.
So Jesus sits the disciples down to spell out for them how his way of thinking differs from the way the world sees life. You know how in this world the people considered “great” are those who “lord it over others” — the people who think they have achieved the right to look down on others. It’s different in God’s kingdom, Jesus says. The people who are great will be those who devote themselves to being servants to others.
In John’s Gospel Jesus drives this point home when Jesus gets down on the floor and bathes the filthy feet of his disciples – the act of a servant if ever there was one.
But still to the end, Peter grasps for greatness by comparing himself to the other disciples and declaring himself to be the sole disciple who won’t abandon Jesus when the going gets rough. (Jesus knew it wasn’t so.)
When I was a young pastor serving two little country churches I remember having aspirations — a kind of grasping — of one day being the pastor a “big time” church. I pictured myself preaching in a big sanctuary with hundreds – maybe thousands – hanging on my every word. When I succeeding in rising to those heights then I would really be somebody in this world!
For various reasons this didn’t come to pass, including my own limitations. Although I have been blessed by God with some significant gifts, there are certain gifts I don’t possess – gifts without which I would not have been well-suited to make it as a pastor a big church. Along the way I came to recognize that ultimately it doesn’t matter that heights I rose to in life — what matters in the end is whether or not I open myself to be an instrument of God’s love wherever I find myself. The grasping nature simply gets in the way of this.
I’ve read this famous passage by the Apostle Paul hundreds of times in my life. This time a particular verse jumped out at me: “Being found in human form, (Jesus) humbled himself…” The suggestion here is that Jesus had some consciousness of having coming from heaven, but now there that sense of, “Well look where I find myself now! What do you know, I’m a human being.”
Finding him self in “human form”, what will be his response? One possibility is to pout and moan. “Geez, it was so much better back in heaven. Why do I have to be a human being in this pain-filled, broken world?!”
The place he found himself included a certain level of giftedness that distinguished him from other persons. One possible response to this fact would have been to use those gifts to become “great” in the way the world defines greatness – to succumb to the devil’s temptations out there in the wilderness.
But instead, Paul points out Jesus chose obedience to God’s will. He embraced his particular life and his unique destiny, which involved being the very embodiment of God’s love. He accepted his calling to ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, yielding himself to the death that awaited him on a cross through which God intended to express the extraordinary lengths God was willing to go to draw every last lost sheep back into the fold.
So I want to ask, what is true humility?
First, what it’s not: It’s not living small. It’s not refusing to acknowledge the gifts God has given to you to put to use. It’s not putting a bushel over your light. We put up a façade of humility when we deflect all compliments and denigrate the abilities we possess in comparison to others. Humility isn’t thinking poorly of our selves. That’s actually a form of reverse self-centeredness. It’s another way of remaining all about ourselves with a big dose of self-contempt mixed in.
So what is true humility? It’s seeing ourselves clearly, as God sees us. Yes, this includes seeing our failures and our flaws, but it also means seeing our gifts and rejoicing in what God has empowered us to accomplish.
It means embracing our lives. Each of us finds ourselves in a particular place in a particular moment in time. How did we get here? There were a lot of things out of our control – the family we were born into – the genes we were given — the opportunities that we came upon as we traveled our paths.
There were also choices we made along the path – some good, some bad – that led us to this particular time and place. Now the question is this: “what will I do with the life I find myself in?” Will I spend my days comparing my life to those whose lives seem more blessed than our own and grasping after what is not ours to possess? Will we endlessly beat ourselves over mistakes we made in the past? Will we grumble and complain and end up embittered about the lot is ours in life?
Or will we embrace the lives we find our selves in, and the opportunities therein to share love? Will we embrace our particular bodies with the capacity they provide to experience beauty in spite of their limitations, or will we get stuck in resentment over the way our bodies seems to stack up poorly in comparison to the bodies of others?
Nobody gets to live this particular life in this particular body but me, and the same is true for you. Will we seize the opportunity and in obedience to God open ourselves to being vessels of God’s love in this world? Will we be a little light for God in the darkness of our little corners of the universe?
Jesus was obedient unto death, and we too will one day die. When we draw near the hour of our death what will be clear from that perspective will be that in the lives that were ours to live – did we allow love to flow through us?