October 15, 2017 Philippians 2: 1-16
Prayer: Dear God, We thank you for your presence among us this morning. Please go with us into the study of your Scripture, illuminating it for us as we attempt to follow your ways. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Of One Mind
Several years ago, our son, Taylor, visited a man on James Island near Charleston. The man had a Jack Russell terrier with scars all over its face.
Taylor asked him what had happened, and the man said, “Aggh, he just won’t let snakes alone.”
It seems the dog was always catching snakes in his mouth and shaking them violently back and forth until they bit him.
One day the man came outside to find the dog lying flat on his back, his legs up in the air, scarcely breathing. A water moccasin had bitten him.
He rushed the dog to the vet. The dog required a full blood transfusion.
The man paid for it, and nursed the dog back to health. And a couple of weeks later, he came home … to find the dog with a snake in its mouth, shaking it violently.
Of course, the man screamed, “What are you doing? Don’t you remember what we went through?”
Apparently, the dog didn’t remember. Or didn’t care enough to stop.
When Taylor told me about it, we were looking for a dog. I remember thinking, I don’t want to get a Jack Russell if they don’t have more sense than that.
So instead, Vince and I got a Shiba Inu. That’s a Japanese breed that looks like a red fox … and acts like a rabid wolf.
In 26 years of raising children, we went to the emergency room this many times: 0.
In our first year with Annabelle, we went to the emergency room this many times: 2.
The first time, she had gotten into some toxic weedkiller. Then a few months later, she proved she had no more sense than a Jack Russell.
I had just gotten home from church on a Sunday night. We heard her in the back yard, barking like crazy. Vince went out, and saw that she had cornered a copperhead, and wouldn’t let it get away. Finally, the snake rose up and popped her right in the face.
We dragged her into the house, and could see the fang marks and the blood. Her face began to swell immediately. We rushed her to the doggie emergency room, where she had to get her legs shaved for IVs, take morphine, spend the night and otherwise rack up $500 in bills.
The veterinarian told us she couldn’t be left alone the next day, so she came to Triune with me. She was swollen and sluggish, but still managed to terrorize visitors all day.
When I took her home that night, I was afraid that she’d be afraid to ever go in our back yard again. And that was a shame because it’s big and she has a lot of room to run.
So I gingerly helped her out of the car. And she bounded into the back yard … and sat right smack in the spot where the snake had bitten her.
She sat there for hours, waiting for that snake to come back, so she could go after it again.
That is a silly – if expensive -- story to start us thinking about learning from experience. Or not.
In Paul’s letter to his good friends, the Philippians, he is thinking about his death. He is worried how this little church in Philippi will do when he’s not around anymore.
Paul hopes that what he has taught them and how he has lived will carry them through. But he’s not sure. Have they learned from his experience?
Let us read Philippians 2: 1-16.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Now Paul didn’t know he was writing Scripture. He was writing letters to his friends, letters to his church friends. He spent his time planting churches, then staying around for awhile to teach.
Then he’d leave for a missionary trip or he’d get thrown in prison. And he wrote these letters as a means to answer questions or address problems he heard about from those churches he left behind.
For instance, the Corinthians wanted to know if they could eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. The Galatians were in an uproar because some preachers had come through saying they had to be circumcised. The Thessalonians had some people who quit working because they thought Jesus was coming right back.
In all those letters, Paul told his church friends what to do. He was the pastor emeritus, and he gave them his wisdom.
Sometimes he was gentle with his advice. And sometimes he was so mad his words practically screamed from the page. It all depended on what the problems in the church were.
But in his letter to the Philippians, there was nothing concrete that Paul was addressing. It is a gentle, loving letter. If there was anything going on that he was concerned about, it lay beneath the surface.
And there may have been … something. Near the end of the letter, Paul tells two women to be “of the same mind in the Lord.” (Phil. 4: 2) There may have been some disagreement or infighting between them.
In the section we just read, Paul starts out by urging his friends to be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Think of the football season going on right now. The winning coach is the one who can persuade a team of individuals to function as a team. To forgo individual glory to support the team. A team is not going all the way without every single team member being of one accord, one mind.
Paul wants the Philippians to pull together like a football team or a team of horses. One mind, one direction, one goal, one love.
What’s the opposite of that? Acting solo. Acting selfishly.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,” Paul says, “but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.”
Paul is articulating something that Jesus taught. A scribe once asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all? And Jesus answered, “… You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Mt. 22: 37-39)
Jesus distinctly related the two – loving the Lord and loving the neighbor.
Paul does the same thing. He instructs the Philippians “to regard others as better than yourselves,” to “look not to your interests but to the interests of others.”
Why? Because to do so is to follow the mind of Jesus. What was it Jesus said? “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6: 31)
His is the one mind with whom the Philippians should be in accord.
His is the one mind with whom we should be in accord.
We are to be of one mind with Jesus.
Paul then launches into what we call “the Christ hymn”to explainthe mind of Christ. You may recognize that hymn in verses 6-11: It is among the most famous and well-loved in Scripture. It extols how Christ first emptied himself to the point of death on the cross and how God exalted him to the highest place on earth and in heaven.
The hymn is carefully written in stair steps, taking Jesus down through slavery through humility through obedience and finally to the cross. Then God exalts him and the stairs start back up, with every knee bending, every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Therefore, Paul says, since the Philippians have the same mind as this exalted Christ, they are lights in the world, shining lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
Paul is doing something in these final verses that we might not recognize. He is bidding the Philippians farewell, preparing them for his death.
He does this by doing something they would recognize: He mimics a farewell address that Moses gave the children of Israel back in Deuteronomy.
Remember: Paul was once Saul, a learned Jewish rabbi. He would know Moses’ words in the Torah, probably by heart.
But he turns Moses’ farewell address on its head. Whereas Moses complained that the nation of Israel would disintegrate into rebellion and apostasy after his death, Paul boasted that the Philippians would be lights in the midst of a rebellious world.
Moses said, “I know that after my death you will act corruptly….” (Deut. 31:29)
Paul said, “… you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence….” ( 2: 12)
Moses said the Israelites were “no longer God’s children because of their blemish; they are a perverse and crooked generation.” (Deut. 32: 5)
Paul said the Philippians were “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation…” (2: 15)
He uses many of Moses’ exact words, but he turns them from Moses’ negative meaning to positive favor for his beloved Philippians.
Paul hopes that his close friends have learned from his experience. And if they hold fast to their Christian beliefs, to their love for each other, he can boast on Judgment Day that he didn’t labor in vain.
Now we might be a little uncomfortable with someone who takes such a personal stake in our beliefs, in our behavior. We know too clearly the propensity of humans to let us down.
But Paul did not hesitate to hold himself up, his experience up, as an example. In the third chapter, he writes: “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me….” (3: 17)
And in chapter 4: “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me …. ” (4: 9)
He is coming to grips with his death, but he wants to be sure the church members he taught shine like stars in a crooked and perverse world.
He wants his church members to shine like stars in a crooked and perverse world.
That’s something we all want, isn’t it? We want our children to learn from our experiences.
We want our church members to learn from our teachings.
We want our dogs to learn to leave snakes alone.
One of the hardest parts of this ministry is that many of the people who have accepted the gospel and reclaimed their lives don’t stay around. They move away to reunite with family or to create new lives for themselves. But every once in awhile, we get a glimpse of their lights shining somewhere else in the world.
There’s a note on my bulletin board that a woman named Donna left with our receptionist. It reads, “Came by just to say hi and thank you for feeding me. I’ve been clean and off drugs for a year.”
There is another woman, Aileen, who was on our streets for a very long time. She moved to St. Louis, and now has an apartment and a job. She calls every month or so to tell me and Don Austin how she’s shining in St. Louis.
Lee King, who was on the streets for the entire nine years I knew him, went through rehab at the VA clinic in Asheville. He now lives with a sister in Easley and calls us to update us.
It’s so wonderful to think that all these lights are out in the world, shining, shining, with the light of Jesus.
Look to my experience, says Paul. More importantly, look to Jesus’ experience: Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus.
So when we are not around, you will “shine like stars in the world.”
By definition, neither Jesus nor Paul are around for us to emulate. And so we must look to these words they left behind.
Love God. Love each other.
That is to have the mind of Christ.
Anything less is as fruitless as taking on a copperhead.