Summary: We are to have a similar mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus who became obedient to death.
A friend recently said to me, "Life would be so much simpler if it weren't for other people." Of course we laughed at the obvious truth of his statement, but also at the irony that people are what make up our lives.
It is living in community where the rubber mets the road in our Christian lives; where we are challenged to live out the teachings of Jesus. Sure, we can have a strong devotional life--and a strong devotional life is needed--but if we can't live out the teachings of Jesus in our everyday interactions with others our discipleship and our witness will have little impact.
Paul, in his use of an early Christian hymn, challenges the Christians in Philippi, and those who follow them, to live an abundant life by living faithfully in community.
UNITY OF THOUGHT
This is a familiar passage of scripture for us. Usually when we read it, we understand Paul to be writing to us as individuals. Individually, we should live our lives so that we empty ourselves and become obedient. In reality, Paul is writing to a community about how to live as a community of God's children.
One of the marks of community is to have a common mind. Paul writes in verse two, " make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind."
It is necessary to stress that Paul is not telling the Philippians to practice Groupthink. Groupthink is where disagreement is not allowed. Everyone must agree with the leadership, and there must be agreement on everything from politics to family structure. Even if this was Paul's desire, it certainly wouldn't happen in Desert Streams. I am amazed at the diverse group of people we are in everything from nationalities, races, religious upbringing, and political perspectives.
Instead of Groupthink, Paul is encouraging Christian communities to have a unified purpose. That unity of purpose first comes from a unified love of God, a unified commitment to being disciples of Jesus Christ, and a unified understanding that as followers of Jesus Christ we have taken up the mission and ministry of Jesus.
We are unified in our understanding that the community of the faithful is an egalitarian community. There are no classes of people; no "ins" and "outs". No one is excluded and everyone is included. As brothers and sisters in Christ, as people with a common bond and a common footing, we live together as God's people and servants of a living God.
AN EMPTY PEOPLE
In verse six Paul observes that Jesus:
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
A better translation might read, "Who because he was God ..." It is God's nature to be sacrificial, loving and serving (characteristics that we do not usually associate with God).
Paul doesn't stress what Jesus gave up in his letter to the Philippians. Instead, he stresses what Jesus took on. Jesus took on our human form and he became on of us.
One way that we can understand this is to see that we have all be called to get involved in the lives of others and serve. A group of us are going to the Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Mission today in order to be with the Navajo people and use our particular gifts and talents to serve them.
Another way to understand Paul instructions is to see them as a challenge for us as believers to form close, strong relationships with each other. We are called to get to know each other and when appropriate to get involved in each other's lives.
Have you ever noticed that it is reasonably easy to get along with strangers. The real struggle in personal relationships is in the family--those to whom we are closest. We can decided to be a community of strangers--people we only know over words shared by the coffee pot. Or, we can risk the struggle of relationships and the challenge of "emptying ourselves" and being a part of each other's lives. This is not easy, but it is the way Jesus has envisioned his church and it is the way that we as a community of believers experience the abundant life.
AN EXALTED COMMUNITY
After Jesus empties himself, takes on human form, and becomes obedient to death on the cross, God exalts Jesus. Paul writes:
"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."
Following Jesus' example, I believe that we are also exalted. This is not an exaltation that is given on some day of judgment--though that may happen. Rather, this is an exaltation that takes place in our lives today.