“Pika,” Moiggi Interactive, 2007. Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Philippians 2.1-13 (NIV)
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. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore 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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
During dinner last night Liam and Violette told me about an episode of the PBS show, “Nature.” The show they had watched was about the tricky and sneaky ways some animals have figured out to survive.
The animals they were most excited to tell me about were pikas – I’m curious if it was because they were one of the more familiar animals the show looked at (we have actually seen them on hikes) … or because it is hard to imagine such a strange and cute creature being tricky and sneaky. Whatever it was, Liam and Violette made pikas sound so interesting I had to see that part of the show for myself.
It turns out that pikas, as cute as they might be, can really be punks to each other.
To prepare for winter pikas build something like “haystacks” – big stockpiles of flowers, stems, and grass, near their dens. Some of these haystacks can weigh 60 pounds. It can take a pika 10,000 trips between the valleys where the plants they eat grow to the rocks where they live to build up a winter haystack. This is where pikas can get sneaky (and kind of lazy). If a pika notices another pika building a haystack close to their den, that pika probably will save time and work by stealing from the closer haystack instead of going all the way back down the mountain.
My favorite scene in the show shows a pika getting caught stealing from another pikas’ haystack.
The pika who is being robbed whistles and charges … finally chasing the robber pika away from his den. The robber pika gets back to his den only to see a big horn sheep eating up the pile of food he has been working to store up for winter. I don’t know that there is such thing as a good or bad pika (or big horn sheep) … they are all are just trying to make it … and they are not above following the path of least resistance and exploiting their neighbor’s work to make their own lives a little easier. They have this built-in attitude that their stomachs are more important than anything or anyone else around them.
(Link to the video – Natural Born Rebels: A NATURE Miniseries / (Episode 1) Hunger Wars)
That, “My stomach … my project … my agenda is the most important thing … build myself up at any cost” attitude shows up in our lives and communities too. In this part of Philippians, I think Paul is warning us about the ways it can hurt the church..
Paul tells the church that if Jesus means anything to them, and he is absolutely certain Jesus does matter to them, in their relationships with each other they need to have the mindset of Jesus. This passage is all about how to live in response to the gospel with the mind of Christ … it is about how we shape our lives to be in tune with God’s grace … how we live together as a community in response to God’s love.
Paul points us to Christ’s character and action.
Most scholars think Paul is quoting a hymn the ancient church used in worship to make his point about Christ’s mindset. He tells us Jesus is all about service … humility … and self-giving love that builds others up and leaves people better off. The idea that Christians are called to be servants can be such a familiar part of scripture, we can miss its radical edge.
This way of talking about God and power and life together as the church would have been incredibly counter cultural, maybe even disorienting, to people living in Philippi. It would have been risky to tell a group of people who were firmly embedded in Roman culture and values they needed to be like servants … servants were the ones no self-respecting Roman citizen would have wanted to be like. To emphasize that Jesus’ servant mindset was most fully revealed on the cross would have been hard to swallow too. No one would have wanted anything to do with a cross … killing people on crosses was the way the Roman Empire humiliated and made examples of rebellious slaves and criminals. Crosses were all about fear and shame.
Honor was something a person would try to build up. Shame was something a person would avoid at all costs. Honor and shame were like commodities. It would have been shocking for these people to hear that God’s character and heart was fully revealed in something humiliating like a servant dying on a cross.
NT Wright is helpful when he reflects on this passage:
When people in the ancient world thought of heroic leaders, rulers and kings they often thought of Alexander the Great (356–323 BC). At the age of 20 he succeeded his father Philip (By the way, this is the guy Philippi was named for … apparently when people living in the community asked for Philip’s help, he renamed the city after himself and built a wall around it! NIDB v. 4, p. 501) to the throne of Macedonia, quickly made himself master of all Greece, and then set about the task… of conquering the rest of the world. By the time he died at the age of 33 he had succeeded to such an extent that it made sense, within the thought of the time, for him to be regarded as divine. (He had himself suggested this.)
In Paul’s world the closest equivalent to Alexander was the emperor Augustus, who had put an end to the long-running Roman civil war and had brought peace to the whole known world. It wasn’t long before many grateful subjects came to regard him, too, as divine. The power of military might and the immense organizational skills required to hold the empire together made this, for them, the natural conclusion. Other rulers did their best to copy this model. This was what heroic leadership looked like in that world.
Only when we grasp this do we see just how deeply subversive, how utterly counter-cultural, was Paul’s gospel message concerning Jesus of Nazareth, whose resurrection had declared him to be Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord … Most people in Paul’s world, [enamored] with an idea of the gods into which people like Alexander and Augustus could befitted without much difficulty, were shocked beyond belief at the idea that the one true God might be known at last in the person of a crucified Jew. (Wright, N.T.. Paul for Everyone, pp. 101-104).
Paul was asking the church in Philippi to think in a totally different way than the people around them. He was inviting them to see God, the world, community, and success through new eyes. Jesus, the one who reveals God to us, the one who embodies God’s heart and character, demonstrated what true power looks like by laying down his life and giving himself up to death. In response to this amazing love, the church is called to lay down our lives for each other. Jesus didn’t use his relationship with God as something to exploit … something to benefit himself … he uses it as a way to give himself to build others up.
Paul’s insight into the mind of Christ and his challenge for the church to be like-minded moves us away from the, “my stomach, my project, my agenda is the most important, steamroller, way of thinking” and toward the mind of Christ. It moves us away from understanding ourselves as the center of the world and trying to make the people we interact with and the situations we find ourselves in bend to our will. Paul moves us toward humility … toward service … toward mutuality … toward lives shaped and defined by Christ-like love.
In the mind of Christ, people aren’t a means to an end … or obstacles to step over or manipulate to get ahead. In the mind of Christ, the people around us have value …
… 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. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
This points us toward a picture of the church that is a community choosing to bend over backwards for each other … choosing to build each other up … choosing to work together … to listen … choosing to value people because Jesus values them and humbled himself to love them and leave them better off than they were when they first met him.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus …