The Mind of Christ

16 Sunday after Pentecost
Philippians 2:1-13                                                              
28 September 2014 
Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                                   

Someone once said, “Every thought is a seed.   If you plant crab apple seeds in your mind, don’t expect to harvest golden delicious apples.”  Our minds are full of thoughts.   The question is how much control do we and can we exercise over what thoughts we give most attention.  Here’s a little experiment: right now, try to quiet your mind for 60 seconds. Just close your eyes and try not to think about anything.

Well, how did it go? How many thoughts did you have in that minute? If you’re like most people, there may have been a few moments of complete quiet in your mind, but unless you’ve had a lot of practice at this, you probably weren’t able to completely silence your thoughts.  

In the movie Eat, Pray, Love, Julia Roberts’s character tries to quiet her mind to meditate - only to have a variety of random thoughts fly through her mind. Instead of finding peace in her meditation, she starts planning to build a meditation room in her mind. Frustrated, she drops her head to her pillow, exasperated by how hard it is to calm her mind for even one minute.

It’s called “monkey mind” — when our mind jumps from thought to thought like a monkey jumps from tree to tree. Our brains come up with all sorts of things to think about. It’s estimated that the average person has around 70,000 thoughts per day.    That’s about 50 per minute, almost one per second.

How many of those thoughts have anything to do with our seeking to be more Christ-like?   More Christ-like you say, “Oh, I’m just trying to stop thinking so many negative thoughts about that family member who makes me so angry!   Another says, “I’m just trying to stop thinking about the chocolate in the kitchen cabinet, or about all the things I need to do this afternoon. 

Paul says we should have the mind of Christ, thoughts that are focused on doing God’s will, that we are willing to humbly sacrifice as he did, for the sake of others.  I don’t know about you, but my mind is so full of my own thoughts, needs, aspirations, I don’t have enough room for God in my head.   Christ, our God, is too all-encompassing to fit into the cracks.   I have to do some mind-clearing, quite literally, to gain the mind of Christ.   If my mind is full of worry, full of pride, full of negativity about myself or others, there is no room for God’s grace, peace, mercy, and love to fill me up and make me the person I am meant to be.   Hear now Paul’s challenge to have the mind of Christ.
Philippians 2:1-11 

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, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (NRSV)

Paul begins with a ridiculous set of four conditional clauses.  If there is any encouragement in Christ, if there any consolation from love, if there’s any sharing in the Spirit, if there any compassion and sympathy…Of course Paul knew that all of these do exist in abundance, so writing from prison, with his own life hanging in the balance, he is pushing his readers to fulfill that encouragement, that consolation, that sharing, and compassion and sympathy by being in full accord, by loving one another.   Again, he speaks in four’s.   Have the same mind, the same love, the same unity, the same purpose.

Then he goes on to explain what it means to love:  not being motivated by selfish ambition but in humility, putting others ahead of yourself, looking to what matters to them before concerning yourself with what matters to you.   Paul could have been worrying over his predicament imprisoned as he was, but instead he is concerned about them.   He is living out this key verse by his joy-filled letter to them from prison, when he says, 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.

Here’s the best quote I know on this verse: “Paul is not asking to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.”  So this is not an invitation to criticize yourself, to be self-deprecating, but to become a fuller self in Christ. 

People who are always putting themselves down are actually totally focused on themselves, waiting for someone else to give them an affirmation.  “Paul is not asking you to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.”  We actually need to think highly of ourselves, in that we need to see that we are treasures of God, beloved by God, belonging to God, having great meaning and purpose.  Only when you appreciate yourself fully as a child of God, like Jesus did, can you be the empty vessel filled with God’s grace, peace, love, hope, and joy. 

“Paul is not asking you to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.”   It is our needy self that needs to keep frequently thinking of self.   Do I feel secure?  Do I feel loved?   Do I have enough?   With Christ in you, yes, you are secure, you are loved, and you do have enough.  

So you can empty yourself of all that striving.   You can empty yourself of all that worrying.   You can empty yourself of self-oriented behaviors – seeking too much the attention of others either by your neediness or your strength.   You can stop all the striving for self-oriented goals because you are secured and completely full of the love of God.   It is yours.   You have nothing to prove to anyone.   You are accepted and loved.  So your self can be set aside.   Your self is fine.   So stop thinking of self.   Don’t think less of yourself, but think of yourself less, less frequently.    That’s where real love begins.   That’s where real unity of one human to another is possible.   It begins with humans knowing themselves to be loved and secure, so they begin to think more of the other.   Then love can transcend the divide between us.

When we stop worrying so much about self, we can actually care for another.   When we stop fearing that the other will take advantage of us, not listen to us, terrorize us, put us at risk, take our stuff, belittle us, disrespect us, then we can get on with loving the other, which ironically, makes our healing, wholeness, peace, salvation come sooner, nearer.   The text says, Christ emptied himself.   We fear being emptied, because we think there will be nothing-ness or worse, someone will dominate us or criticize us for being a nothing.   Christ emptied himself to make room for more of God, to be the channel the God and human connection.   Christ makes it clear that when we empty ourselves to make room for God, there is nothing others can do to take that power and strength and grace away from us.   They can argue with us, mock us, or even kill us, but we are not gone.    We are alive in God – more alive than we would be, trying to protect ourselves and fill our lives with self-oriented passions.

Think of the transformation of families, communities, and churches if each person is seeking to meet the needs of others.   It is not what you get out of worship, but what you give to someone else in worship.  It is not whether you feel welcome and comfortable during fellowship time but whether you make someone else feel cared for.   It is not whether you come to Wonderful Wednesdays or Sunday school because you enjoy it, but whether you are encouraging others to grow.   It’s not about you.   It is about people voluntarily putting others first.   This is a radical notion of being mindful of others over self.   Jesus modeled that mindfulness.   As Christ-God, he was fully God and fully able to avoid all suffering, but he chose to take the form of a slave.  He chose to limit himself, limit his own power, in his humanity, to be just like us.   He could have rescued himself from the suffering and become the overpowering Messiah the disciples imagined him to be, but he humbled himself and became true to his identity and calling.  That’s obedience – to be true to who you really are.  

And who is Christ truly?   He is love, a love that cannot let us go.   God is love, and for God to demonstrate love means to suffer for and with us, to walk alongside us, to feel our pain and loss, our loneliness and isolation, our fears and hopes and dreams so that he can redeem us, save us, give us new life, having lived our life.    Notice that every act of sacrifice is an active verb – emptied himself, took the form of a slave, humbled himself, became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, the lowliest form of death.   And having actively given himself up, Christ is restored as he becomes the object of God’s uplifting actions.  Therefore, God highly exalted him, gave him the name above every name.   In Jesus Christ, God is humbled and humanity is exalted.   In that leveling is our unity, our oneness in God’s love.

And this earliest Christian hymn ends with all of humanity getting on board with Christ’s love – every knee bending, every tongue confessing – Jesus Christ is Lord.   In both his majesty and his lowliness, the greatness of Christ is made known.    And Paul goes on then to challenge us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

To be saved in a Biblical sense is to be healed, to be whole, to be at peace.   But how?   By knowing, by actively filling our minds with the thought, and our heart with the trusting faith that it is God at work in us, giving us both the desire and the energeo (that’s the Greek word) the power or energy to be saved.   So salvation is a free gift of God, yes it is, but not a passive gift.  

We are to actively put on the mind of Christ, knowing that God is working in us to give us the desire or will to be like Christ, and God giving us the power and the energy to be like Christ.  If the desire and the will, the power and the energy are there, there’s nothing needed but my active cooperation with that.   Active cooperation means full submission to God.   Serving God faithfully will always involve both suffering and being lifting up or exaltation.  Suffering is simply an opportunity to draw near to Christ, to develop the mind of Christ, to take on some of the pain of the world to become more like Christ.  Successes are simply opportunities to draw near to Christ – to not think more highly of yourself than you should think.  

 If only we could see that our eternal destiny is this one-ness with Christ, and that the sooner we get on with uniting our heart, mind, and soul with his, the more content, the more healthy, the more saved we will be.   1 Corinthians 2:16 says we have the mind of Christ.  Christ was able to withstand being ignored, misunderstood, criticized, betrayed, challenged, mocked, and killed without losing his sense of purpose.  That kind of mindful strength is ours too as we continually put our complete trust in God, filling our minds with the courageous thoughts of Christ and all the Saints, whom we follow in life and in death, in suffering and in success.