First Mennonite Church
April 30, 2017
“Imitating the Attitude of Jesus Christ”
Despite my reading the whole of chapter two of Philippians, today I will only use the first five verses for my reflection. I will continue with this passage next Sunday, when I will be closing this series.
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
In the last couple of Sundays I have been talking about embodying the presence of Jesus in our daily lives. We are called to represent Jesus to God’s people and to those who do not know him. But how do we go about doing that? In the world of acting, the first rule to good acting is “internalizing” the character to be portrayed. This is especially important if the actress will portray the life of a historical figure. Internalizing is the process in which the actor extensively researches into the character’s life. Familiarity with the character’s life story, thought processes, and peculiar personal traits helps the actor or actress to fully embody the character he or she is supposed to portray. That is pretty obvious. Isn’t it? The actor would do a poor job representing his character if he were not familiar with the character. The second rule to good acting is “externalizing.” Externalizing is the process of representing the character. Through externalizing the actor or actress makes visible to the audience who he or she is representing. This happens through verbal and body language, habits, looks, and above all by reenacting the life-story of the character. It is of no good if the actor or actress gets to internalize the character’s information if during the externalizing process he or she cannot portray the character to the audience. That is why there are many wannabe actors and actresses who are still doing something else for a living.
I am sure you can see my point for saying this. At least I hope so! Again, in this series I have been talking about embodying the presence of Jesus in our daily lives. But according to the aforementioned comparison, doing so requires us to internalize the character we should portray. The character here is Jesus. We need to know who Jesus is, what he did, and how he did it. Therefore, the passage for today is one of Paul’s best definitions of who Jesus is. Let me just say in passing that what the gospels of Matthew and Luke say about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, of God coming in human form, Paul does here in a different way. What the gospels say in story form—narrative, Paul says in theological reflection.
First, let me put this passage in the context of Paul’s ministry and letter to the Philippians. The Philippian church was established by Paul. In Philippi, Paul was welcomed by some, but also bitterly opposed by others. Paul and Silas, his companion, were dragged before the court and the magistrates ordered them be severely flogged with rods and then thrown in jail. While Paul and Silas were being held in the innermost cell of the prison, with their feet fastened in the stocks, they prayed and sang hymns to God. Acts 16, verse 25, says, “The other prisoners were listening to them.” With this in mind, Paul reminds the Philippians in the last part of chapter one, “Only live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ . . . For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in him, but also of suffering for him as well—since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.” Paul was again in prison when he wrote this letter to the Philippians.
Paul begins chapter 2 with this inquiry: If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete. Paul’s use of “if” implies there is no doubt the answer is “of course there is!” The Philippians had known and experienced all of God’s gracious benevolence. In the midst of harsh persecution and opposition, the Philippian church had grown in grace and witness. God had been their strength and comfort.
I hear about this all the time. Christ is our source of comfort, strength, and hope. I hear it all the time, Christ is the source of our joy and peace. In our Sunday school class people give testimony of the blessings we have in Christ. But Paul goes beyond the blessing of comfort and consolation we have in Christ. He inquires if there are also compassion and sympathy in Christ. Paul asks the Philippian church, “Have you experienced Christ’s compassion and sympathy?” And again the obvious answer is a resounding, “Yes, we have!” Then Paul says to them, “Complete my joy.” And proceeds to tell them how and why.
Up to this point Paul has not finished describing who Jesus is and what he did. But by the simple fact that the Philippians have experienced encouragement, compassion, sympathy, and consolation in Christ, they already had more than enough reasons to reflect those very acts of God’s benevolence in their daily lives. Therefore Paul urges them:
- Be of the same mind. This expression as we will see is best translated: Be of the same attitude. It is not asking that we think the same way or believe the same way.
- having the same love. Love should characterize Christians.
- being in full accord and of one mind. TheChristian community should be of good disposition, that is, the Christian should always be ready to serve.
- Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Next week we will see how this was expressed in Jesus. For now, let us search our heart to see what things make our ego to be pumped up. What things we believe make us better than others. Do not be surprised if you find that even your faith in Jesus could be one thing you think makes you better than others.
- Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Again, next week we will see how Jesus fulfilled his very own words when he said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
- Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
Most Bible translations read: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. However the Greek word translated “mind” is phroneo, not phyche the usual word as in Matthew 22, 37–“love the Lord your God with . . . all your “mind”. “Phroneo” is best translated “attitude.” In that regard, verse 5 should read: Let the same attitude be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Attitudes cannot be hidden. Attitude can even contradict external appearance. We can give, but the way or the amount or the gift we give reflects our attitude about giving. We can greet someone, but if while shaking the other’s hand we refuse to look at the person’s face we are greeting, we clearly demonstrate the lack of sincerity and joy of our greeting. Attitude speaks volumes. Pride is the attitude of being superior. Contempt is the attitude of disrespect for others. On the other hand kindness is the attitude of a caring heart. Empathy is the attitude of being connected deeply with others.
The command of having the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus is nothing else but the same command of embodying Jesus to God’s people and to those who do not know him. Having the same attitude that was in Jesus is the process of externalizing Christ.
Next week we will see how Christ embodied God’s love for humanity. As for us now, here is Paul’s call: Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same attitude be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Amen.