2 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, 2 complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. 3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. 5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6 Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.7 But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.9 Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names,10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my loved ones, just as you always obey me, not just when I am present but now even more while I am away, carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling.13 God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.
I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I was a very moody teenager. There were times when I drove my mom and dad crazy, and they never knew what they would come home to when it came to me. There were times when we would be doing something as a family that I was not overly excited about and I made it known in a sassy way, and the words I hated to hear the most came from my mom, “You better change your attitude!” I knew I was in trouble when I heard those words, and I was never really wanting to change my attitude- sometimes I just didn’t want to change my attitude in the same way that sometimes people would rather wallow in their emotions of sadness or anger or apathy rather than change our attitude to something more positive. Especially as a teenager, it was hard to pull myself out of that. So if you have teenagers or work with them, you know exactly what I’m talking about! And good luck! This too shall pass! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that attitude really does make a world of difference, and as Christians, we are instructed to have the attitude of Christ. This text from Philippians that we will look at this morning echoes these words, “You better change your attitude!” This time, however, we are challenged to have the attitude of Jesus as our example.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while he was imprisoned in Rome. He wrote to this new Christian community with a joyful heart and finding hope in what their mission has been so far, and to challenge them as they continue to grow together in faith. It is meant to be an encouraging letter, as he encourages them to keep doing the good work they are doing. His plea is for unity and for them to seek oneness in Christ, especially when there may be divisions and arguments among them. The text that we are looking at this morning is probably one of the most popular in the Bible- a Christian hymn of sorts. It is likely that this Christian community would have already been familiar with these words as an affirmation of faith through song. This one little section encapsulates the message of the gospel of Christ’s salvific work in a short, but poetic hymn. Just in this one section, the theological significance of Jesus’ life is summed up, and it points to a hopeful future- a time when all of creation will join in recognizing the power and significance of Christ’s life, death, and teachings.
Paul introduces the hymn by encouraging his audience to be of the same mind and having the same love, doing nothing from selfish ambition, and to be humble , regarding others as better than yourselves. In other words, put other people’s interests ahead of yours, care for other people, don’t get stuck in your own mind so much that you lose sight of what we are here to do. And finally, we are to adopt the attitude of Christ Jesus.
And what is the attitude of Christ Jesus? Self-emptying, humbling, obedient (even to death on a cross!). Our hymn tells us that even though he was equal to God, he did not use this identity to exploit or honor himself, but he took on human form in all of its messiness, became a servant, and walked among us. The paradox here is that God became a human being so that we, as human beings, might become more like God. And because of this, God exalted the person of Jesus and gave him the name above all names, that every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Being like this…being like Jesus is how we are to live our lives. And it starts with the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. When was the last time you confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord? Think about it. Now imagine that saying these words would put your life in danger. At the time of Paul’s writing, to say Jesus Christ is Lord could put your very life in jeopardy, because to confess Jesus as Lord was a political statement against the Roman government. A popular slogan at the time was to say that “Caesar is Lord,” and anyone who professed someone else as Lord could be seen as a threat. These words remind the Philippians and even us today the impact of professing Jesus Christ as Lord- that these words are a game changer and have a profound effect upon our lives. What do these words mean to you? Really? Are they a passing thought, or do they hold great significance in your faith and the way in which you live?
When I was faced with the choice of whether or not to profess Jesus as Lord, I was in the midst of struggling with my Jewish faith. To profess Jesus as Lord meant that I would walk away from my Jewish faith as I knew it and some of the relationships within it. I would walk into the unknown, and a new way of life. I knew that professing Jesus as Lord would change my life in many ways and challenge the ways that I think about God and the way that I live my life and treat others. It is a choice to profess Jesus as Lord, and it’s a choice that we must all make as we consider the implications of such a profession. And it’s not an easy choice- we must be willing to accept the implications of professing Jesus as Lord and the joys and challenges that come with it.
Paul’s hope is that all may profess Jesus as Lord, but not just to profess it, but it actually live it out as we seek to take on the attitude of Christ. Taking on an attitude of self-emptying and putting others before ourselves is a challenge for all of us, especially in a society that puts so much emphasis on the self. I recently came across a letter written by a woman responding to an article about “Selfish Air Travelers.” She writes,
Regarding the article in USA Today on Aug. 25 about selfish air travelers:
It seems to me there is an epidemic of a heightened sense of entitlement these days. It is displayed by drivers tailgating, running red lights, not signaling, texting and using cellphones.
This feeling of “I am more important than you” is also encountered at checkout lines. Recently at Walmart, a woman ahead of me stopped in the middle of her transaction to take a photo of her child holding a new toy. She never acknowledged those of us waiting behind her who were being inconvenienced by her behavior.
People, look around. You are not the only person on this planet.
JUDITH BROWN , Nunda, Livingston County http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/opinion/letters/2014/09/04/letter-epidemic-selfishness/15039085/
It’s harder in this world today to find stories of selflessness rather than selfishness. It’s harder in this world today to find stories of people who have the Christ attitude. When we hear these stories, however, we are inspired to keep going so that we might change our attitudes and perspectives to be like him. Here is an example of a Christ like attitude that I discovered just this past week:
What an inspiration for all of us to consider as we live out our lives and think about how we treat one another and the attitudes we display for all to see.
Paul concludes this section of his letter by encouraging the Philippians to carry out their salvation “with fear and trembling,” for “God is who enables you to want and to actually live out his good purposes.” For us to carry out our salvation with fear and trembling means that we are to take that step out of ourselves so that we might give life to others and our lives to Christ. It is a choice that we make and it is the attitude we choose to have. If we profess Jesus as Lord and God as our help, then we are enabled to live our lives with the Christ attitude, humbling ourselves and putting others ahead of ourselves. It won’t be easy, it won’t always be the choice we want to make, but we are given the ultimate example to follow. One of the girls in the news story said about the girl who ultimately received the crown, “Lillian won- I just ran in her place.” She sacrificed the crown and the title of homecoming queen so that her friend was lifted up and honored instead. That is exactly what Christ does for all of creation- he humbles himself, even to death on the cross, so that we might be lifted up in the place of honor instead. That is the gift given to us in Christ Jesus. That is the attitude of Christ Jesus. What will we do with that? The question is this: do we need a change of attitude? I don’t know about you, but the words from my mom during my teenage years come back to me in full force: You better change your attitude! Will you join me in taking on this challenge? Amen.