Monday, April 20, 2020

We're not so far from Philippi


In Philippians, 2:5-11, Paul asks the Philippians to have the mind of Christ. Specifically, he wants them to emulate the humility of Christ. Jesus Christ, the incarnate son of God, equal with God, the one who refused to "grasp" at his equality with God, in the form of God, took the appearance of a man. God came down to earth and met us in the form of Jesus. That's pretty significant.

There is more. Not only was Jesus found in appearance as a man, but he was in the form of a servant. By the way, from a literary standpoint, this is a wonderful parallel. The word used for "form "in v.6, "morphe," is the same word used in the phrase, "the form of a servant."

But again, there is more. Not only did Jesus take the form of a servant, it led to his death. And not any old death. It was death on a cross; a shameful death reserved for the lowest. Jesus, equal with God, descends to the lowest. That is the picture of humility Paul calls for.

To the Philippians, this idea of descending would be shocking. In the culture of the day, attaining recognition and esteem was a virtue. One was meant to ascend, not descend. It was seen as a virtue to surround oneself with influential people so that he could ascend himself. Patronage and relationships of reciprocity were what enabled one to rise. But it does not foster unity in the Body of Christ.  The new ethic in Christ was at total odds -- and likely in competition -- with the prevailing ethic of the day. Paul was calling the Philippians to a radically different way of living.

We're not so far from Philippi ourselves. In our current culture, numerous ways of gathering patronage and relationships of reciprocity are only a click away. What else is Twitter in the end, but a relationship of reciprocity? "Follow me, and I'll follow you." The old Genesis song could be the Twitter anthem. There are "influencers" who have managed to gain enough people to "like" them so that they can be called "influencers." They may not even have to have any credentials other than the persistence and the time to foster relationships with people online. We live in a culture that values ascending. Why else do we revere celebrities? Or assume that because they are celebrities they must be good and nice people? Why else do we assume that a celebrity Christian is a nice person, when in reality he/she could be a total boor? We, like the Philippians, allow ourselves to buy into the notion that ascending equals virtue.

The Christian life is not about ascending; at least not in the way that is popular. The only "ascending" we can be assured of is to be resurrected in the eschaton and given a glorified body to live with Christ forever. There are no promises of ascending in this earthly life. In fact, we may actually be lowered by any manner of things that are completely out of our control. Do you want to see someone lowered? Watch him as he gets the cancer diagnosis. Or watch her as her child dies. Or yes, as people lose their loved ones, and are not able to be with them because of a world-wide pandemic.

I am not a psychologist or a sociologist, but I suspect that one of the many reasons why Christians become discontent is that they want to ascend. But worldly success or the admiration of others is a shallow goal. It is fleeting. The rush lasts a moment, and then we're looking for our next fix. Better to follow the path of Jesus who, after being lowered, was raised.

Our destiny is not the same as Jesus' was. He was destined to be raised and given the name above all names (Phil 2:9). That is not our destiny. But our destiny is to be with the one whose name is above all names. And our destiny as Christians is to worship him along with the entire creation. That is an eternal goal which will never be fleeting.

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