This Mind Among Yourselves

Text: Philippians 2:5-11

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.”[1] With these words St. Paul encouraged the Philippian congregation in their life together as brothers and sisters in Christ. The young congregation was buckling under pressure. They faced pressure from outside, from the surrounding Roman culture that constantly challenged and belittled their faith. And they faced conflict within the congregation. The outside pressure from the surrounding culture started to tear away at the bond of love that existed between the beloved of Christ. They were thinking more highly of themselves than each other and less of those who lived and worked around them. Under pressure, the allure of false teaching became harder to resist, and some were resorting to legalism to get them out of their mess.

St. Paul’s pastoral eye cut right to the chase; under pressure from the world and each other, the congregation lost sight of its Master, Jesus. He did not pride Himself on being God. He truly could demand the loyalty and servitude of all Creation, yet He didn’t. He humbled Himself by voluntarily refraining from His power and majesty and taking upon Himself our human flesh. He became subject to the Law and was obedient even unto death on a cross. In the Torah it says that those who are hung on a tree are cursed by God. Christ took that curse upon Himself. Jesus Christ humbled Himself so that He might redeem us from our sins and so that we might live in love toward one another.

I.

The Philippian congregation was, perhaps like us, a smaller congregation. It was founded when St. Paul, Silas, and Timothy visited the Roman colony during the Second Missionary Journey, about 49-51 A.D. Philippi was not the biggest city in the district, but it was prestigious. The citizens of Philippi were afforded all the same rights and privileges as if they were living in Rome herself. This was reflected in the culture. It was very cosmopolitan. As a society, infidelity in marriage was to be expected and pagan worship was the norm. As result, the congregation faced challenges in its call to be faithful to God’s Word. In Philippi, Paul and Silas were unjustly imprisoned after they had cast a fortune-telling demon out of a slave girl. The demon was making the her owners money, you see. Even with this conflict, the Philippians were known to be a generous congregation. They, largely, funded the mission work among the Corinthians by giving over and above what could’ve been expected of them.

Their generosity flowed out of the love they had received from Christ, but it didn’t divert the pressure they were under. As we said, Philippi was a Roman colony. Things there were as you would expect – not friendly to the Christian faith. So, when the members of the congregation didn’t go to the pagan temples and were faithful to their spouses, the surrounding culture did not appreciate that and, in fact, was hostile to them. Within the congregation, that external pressure was certainly felt. We experience the same. We know what it’s like to have our society largely disagree with our confession of faith. We know that pressure, so we should recognize what happened with the Philippians. They started arguing. Rivalry and jealousy were very present. Things were done not in service of the Gospel, but of oneself. In general, everyone was exalting their position by putting down their brother in Christ. Some in the congregation also turned to false doctrine, hoping that a teaching that was more in line with the culture would save them. It wouldn’t.

II.

St. Paul knew what would, though. The Philippians were near and dear to Paul’s heart, and so it was with all affection that he directed them to who would save them: Jesus. St. Paul wrote,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.[2]

St. Paul turned them to Christ. In Philippians 1, Paul told the congregation that they shouldn’t be surprised at the conflict they faced from outside the church. It had been granted them to suffer with Christ, as it has been to all Christians, and we should rejoice at that. For, as Christ promised the Apostles, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. But that doesn’t mean that internal struggles and fights won’t tear a congregation apart. So, he turned them to Christ. Jesus Christ, from the very beginning was in every way fully God of fully God. By Him and through Him all things were made. He alone is truly Lord of all creation and by right could demand that all things bend to His will. (That day will come.)

But, rather than rest on His laurels and pride Himself on the fact that all things must obey Him, He humbled Himself. St. Paul says that He emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant. This means that Jesus Christ willingly, for a time, refrained from using His eternal power, glory, and authority, and He took on our human flesh. He who deserves above all things to be served, came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. He became obedient to the Law, perfectly submitting Himself to God and neighbor. He committed no sin and spoke no deceit. Yet, He was numbered with the transgressors. He poured out His soul unto death, even death on a cross. Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”[3] Christ willingly took that curse upon Himself, which we also confess this Palm Sunday.

III.

Why did Christ do this? Why did He humble Himself – stepping down from His throne, veiling His glory, becoming flesh and blood, and dying on the cross? He did it as the prime demonstration of God’s love for us, and to redeem us from our sins. Apart from Christ’s death, we were lost in sin and death. We had nothing to look forward to, save the eternal separation from God that starts at death. Christ suffered and died to save us from that. St. Paul says that in Baptism we were united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Through Baptism, our sinful nature drowned and died with Christ, and we were raised again to new life with Him. This new life is what Paul means when he says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Christ humbled Himself, obeyed the Law, and still died in our place to save us from our sins and has enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in love. Though we, by nature, are prone to fighting and insults, to lies and arrogance, to distrust and disunity, that has all been put away through the death of Christ and our Baptism into it. As we’ll hear next week, through Christ’s resurrection the old leaven of malice and evil is put away and we celebrate with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. These things St. Paul called to the minds of the Philippian congregation. Their fearful infighting was not right. Christ died to forgive them those sins – and they are forgiven – and they are enabled through Him to live in love. They are to look to Jesus Christ for both the example and the strength to live in love.

Were the Philippians, after Paul’s letter, perfect at this? Probably not. Still, Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John wrote this to them some fifty years later, “I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love…and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now.” St. Paul’s confidence in the congregation and his encouragement for all Christians is found in the opening of this letter, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.[4] May Christ our Lord grant us the same grace as the Philippians, that we may give thanks for all His benefits and live in love – especially in the coming Easter season.


[1] Philippians 2:4-7, English Standard Version.

[2] Phil. 2:5-8.

[3] Gal. 3:13.

[4] Phil. 1:6.

Sweet-Smelling Children of Light

Text: Ephesians 5:1-9

This week we take a special time out of the year to celebrate and thank the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League for their many years of service as one of the two official auxiliaries of the Missouri Synod. The LWML has been active for over 65 years, sharing the love and Good News of Jesus Christ, the world’s redeemer. The theme for this year’s LWML Sunday, which this sermon is loosely based off of, is “Fragrant Sacrifices and Offerings,” Now, as I was researching some ideas this week I learned a couple new words. The first is Dysosmia. Dysosmia is a disorder that involves any alteration in quality or distortion in the sense of smell. This usually manifests in one of two ways: either something smells different than you remember, or you start smelling something that isn’t there.

Now, with the disorder of the sense of smell that leads you to smell something differently than how you remember, to be quite frank, it usually means that you are going to smell something rotten or decaying instead of the good smell. But, there are rare occasions where one might smell something good instead of bad. This is called Euosmia; instead of smelling correctly that something is dead or rotten, one would smell the dead thing as a pleasant smell. In the Epistle text we read how Christ offered Himself as something εὐωδίας, literally – a good odor, a fragrant offering. By offering Himself as the sacrifice and offering in our place, Jesus became a fragrant offering unto God. Through faith in Him we have become sweet-smelling children of the Light.

I.

The text begins, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (vv. 1-2) St. Paul is calling to mind the long history of sacrifices among the people of Israel. We have record of sacrifices pleasing to God as far back as Genesis 4, where Abel offered up the firstborn of his flock to God. After Noah and his family got off the ark, he built an altar to God and sacrificed. God smelled the pleasing aroma and vowed to never again curse the ground because of man or strike down every living creature. The sacrifices continue so on and so forth throughout Old Testament history, even up to the time of Christ.

These sacrifices were instituted by God because of the hardness of human hearts. The Apostle Paul says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words…for at one time you were darkness.” (vv. 6, 8) Earlier in Ephesians we hear that we were dead in our trespasses and sins in which we once walked, following the course of this world. (Eph. 2:1-2) As those dead to Christ, we were darkened in our understanding. In our natural selves, we do not understand the things of God. We were alienated from God because of our ignorance and hardness.

The word that the Lutheran confessors use to describe our natural sinful condition is concupiscence. This means that not only are we born with original sin, but it is evidenced in that fact that we have a natural inclination to sin and are by nature turned away from the things of God. And finally, in our sin we were callous towards God. I hate to pick on a specific group of people, but being in sin is kind of like being a teenager. What are 3 of the most common words out of their mouths, “I don’t care.” (Cf. paragraph w/Eph. 4:18-19)

In our sin we neither cared about our neighbor in need nor did we want to do anything about it. We didn’t care about God; instead we fashioned gods of our own making and desires. Therefore, Jesus Christ became the fulfillment of all sacrifices, the ultimate fragrant offering unto God. Hebrews 9 says, “He [Jesus] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (9:12) Because we by ourselves are dead in our trespasses, we smell rotten. We smell dead; in our sin, we walk around with a gagging smell of decay – we might not smell it, but God does. Therefore, “Christ [also] suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Pet. 3:18) Jesus Christ offered Himself up in our place, as payment for our sins – a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

II.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (vv. 1, 8a) I don’t mean to ascribe things to God our Heavenly Father, who is formless, beyond what Scripture does; but it’s like God the Father has Euosmia. Because of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, we are made a fragrant offering unto God. The “good odor” that is Jesus, has spread to us through the gift of faith. Paul writes, “We are the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Cor. 2:15) In Ezekiel 20 God says, “As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations.” (Ezek. 20:41) God says that He will accept us as a pleasing aroma when He brings us out and gathers us. This is what Jesus did on the cross. He suffered and died to separate us from our sin. Through His grace and the gift of faith we are brought out of the dying masses in the world and made holy and righteous. This is because God has dealt with us for His name’s sake, and not according to our evil deeds.

John Chrysostom, whose name means “golden mouth,” was archbishop of Constantinople in the very early 5th century. He wrote, “We are then, as it were, a Royal censer, breathing withersoever we go of the heavenly ointment and the spiritual sweet savor.” Because of Christ’s offering of Himself as a fragrant offering, that sweet smell extends to us. We are the sweet-smelling children of the Light. As Christians, like Chrysostom says, we walk around like bowls of Royal incense, breathing heavenly ointment to those around us. Paul urges us to, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).” (v. 9) This means fleeing from all sin, from sexual immorality and impurity, from covetousness and filthy or crude joking. These are the sorts of things that our sinful nature wants us to do. Our sinful bodies want to covet and be crude.

But thanks be to God,” Paul writes, “who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” (2 Cor. 2:14) Thanks be to God, who despite the temptations of our flesh, continues to come to us through His Word. He continues to give us the free forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus on the cross. Through faith in Him we smell sweet to God. Therefore He leads us in the triumphal procession. We live in the world spreading the fragrance of Jesus Christ, the good news that through Him sins are forgiven and all things are made new. In His love we no longer live with the decaying stench of death and decay, but the sweet smell of grace and healing forgiveness. This is not of ourselves, but it is the free gift of God in Christ Jesus.

Euosmia is a condition where, instead of smelling something nasty, one smells something pleasant in its place. Through the fragrant offering of Himself, Jesus has, in effect, given our heavenly Father Euosmia. He no longer smells us as dead and rotten in our sin, but as His own sweet-smelling Son. Today we give thanks for the Lutheran Women Missionary League and for the work they do. They stand as an example for us to follow. Made fragrant through the death of Jesus, we walk as children of the light, as beloved children of God, covered in the sweet smell of the blood of the Lamb, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.