In today’s reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we hear what is believed to be one of the earliest hymns sung to Christ. Paul wrote the letter from prison about 25-30 years after Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.
Paul is worried in this letter. He’s not sure how long he will live. Knowing it could be the last time they hear from him, Paul wants to make sure the Philippians know how he feels about them. And, he wants them to stay true to Christ.
The way Paul does this is to take a hymn that everyone in the community knew, a hymn they sang when they got together to worship, and turn it into a work song.
The hymn begins in the text right after Paul says, “Let the same mind be in you as in Christ Jesus.” The words of the hymn describe the mind of Christ as self-emptying and self-giving, as obedient to God, “even to the point of death on the cross.”
Paul expounds on the hymn text to show the Philippians how they can stay true to Christ and go forward in their ministry, no matter what happens to him.
What Paul says to the Philippians is true for us today.
If we have the mind of Christ—we will be of one mind. If we have the mind of Christ, it will show in what we do.
If we have the mind of Christ, we will sacrifice for the good of others—and for the common good. We will sacrifice our time, our money, our popularity, and even our reputation for the love of God and neighbor. Everything we do is for the honor and glory of God.
Paul tells us that this won’t be easy. It will take work. We are going to have to work out our salvation, he says, with “fear and trembling.”
What Paul describes as “fear and trembling” is a natural response to being in the presence of the holy. And that’s what happens when we have the same mind as Christ—God is at work in us, enabling us both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.
I am not sure we understand how amazing this is. Most of us get stuck on the words, “fear and trembling.” I know I do!
But CS Lewis describes the fear of the Lord as a fear that involves a certain “wonder” as well as a “shrinking” before the reality of God. We feel reverence and awe, as well as the dread of letting God down. Yet we also have the assurance that God is right there with us, working with us, ready to give us what we need.
We don’t have to—in fact, we can’t—work out our salvation all on our own.
Some of us struggle with this. We think we MUST do this or that, and we must do it to perfection, for God to love us.
It’s hard for perfectionists to imagine that God could love us just the way we are.
Some of us have also been taught that there is a limit to God’s good pleasure. We assume that God has only so much of God’s good pleasure to pass around.
I don’t know where or how we get this idea, but it’s reinforced everywhere in our culture. We think that God’s good pleasure requires that we always do better than others, whether it’s our grades or our earnings, or just our way of doing things.
But Paul shows us another path.
That path is the path of humble service: doing for others, being prepared to give of ourselves and working for the common good. It’s not about us or where we come out. Everything we do is for the honor and glory of God.
And so we can take risks, we can make mistakes. As long as we continue to seek the mind of Christ, God will use our failures, or what we think are our failures, to God’s purposes.
As long as we continue to seek the mind of Christ, we don’t have to hold back and wait for a better time.
We don’t have to worry if we have to stop what we are doing and start over again.
We can take on things we never thought we could do because God will give us what we need.
And so today let us make this our prayer:
that we will see God at work in us; that we will feel God’s good pleasure in the work we do; and that we (like the Apostle Paul) will find our true joy and bliss in sharing in the mind of Christ.