During the time I was involved in the political process for a few years, I never talked about it publically at church. I even did a sermon during that time on the topic of the place of a Christian in civil government and politics, and I was really proud of making it through that message without ever uttering the words “Democrat” or “Republican.”
Through a variety of circumstances and open doors that I believe to this day God shoved me through, I was for a time the chairman of the local Republican Party. Though it was an elected position, the events putting me into that role were much more within the category “it found me; I didn’t find it!”
There were aspects of it I really liked, such as strategizing, vision casting, and working with some local people of high character, yet I found many other elements of it to be rather odious. Higher levels of Party participation introduced me to some extraordinarily fine and genuine people, but also some of the most troubled individuals I’ve ever encountered. Those who were running for positions of authority and leadership within the Party were too often overly-engaged in the process of continual self promotion rather than given to the hard work of advancing actual principles and values in practical ways. The process of promotion (for the purpose of gaining position) became the end of the game, rather than actually winning the game in the public arena of ideas and leadership.
But that is the way of the people of this world – to seek to achieve rank and place. Jesus told his disciples to not be like this. When the disciples were jockeying for position on the right and left hand of the Lord, it says in Mark 10 that Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And so when Paul wrote today’s passage to the Philippians, he was on the very solid ground of not only remembering the words of Christ to be the most lowly servant, but to also point to the work of Christ in doing just that – submitting to the ignominy of the cross.
Verses 6-11 are among the most famous of theological teachings in the New Testament. They teach clearly that Jesus was 100% God, that he voluntarily submitted himself to the humiliation of leaving the glories of heaven to become fully man (though without sin or loss of divine substance), and that he willingly submitted himself to the worst death imaginable for the sins of everyone else.
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
But what is often forgotten is that these verses were not written primarily to teach Christology (the doctrine of Christ), but to give an illustration of the primary point Paul was discussing – that of having an attitude of humility in service to other people in the family of faith. Paul led into this theological section (that may have been an early hymn) by saying …
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
So this sets up a very expansive degree to which we should be willing to go to give up our own self-serving proclivities in order to serve other people. And why should we not be willing to do so in light of all that we mutually possess? That is how our chapter today began – by rehearsing the unity we have with one another in Christ, the treasure of the indwelling Spirit, and hearts governed by the tenderness and compassion we have first received …
2:1 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, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Valuing others above self – the most difficult task to do, yet the most rewarding task when done. If the people of a church would ever do this, there would be no squabbling or bickering … no pushing and shoving and debating about what personal taste or opinion on any subject should prevail. There would only be Christ-like service.
Let’s just do it!