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.

The Gospel Advances

Text: Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30

The Apostle Paul writes, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (v. 12) What’s happened to him has served to advance the Gospel. Now Paul, he didn’t have such a good life. He was hated, beaten, thrown out of cities, screamed at, stoned and left for dead – not once, but twice, imprisoned unjustly, and, eventually, beheaded for his faith in Jesus Christ. But still he writes to his beloved in Philippi, “What has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” (vv. 12-13)

In the Old Testament reading last week Joseph told his brothers – the ones who out of jealously stripped him, threw him into a pit, and sold him into slavery – “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Gen. 50:20) The Christian life is one of paradoxes. We are in the world, but not of the world. We have rejoicing, but we also have suffering. We are saints, and yet at the same time we are so often proven to be sinners as well. We are saved by grace through faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, we have the gift of eternal life; and yet, each of us still going to die someday. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? Well today we have the answer as to why we are here as Christians, as the Church. In Christ, and through the salvation we have in Him, we stand firm in faith so that others may know His love.

I.

We don’t know where Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians from, but it’s clear that he is imprisoned. Tradition states the Paul wrote this letter from prison in Rome in about 59 A.D., but it could have also been from Corinth or even Philippi. Whatever the case, it is clear that Paul is imprisoned for the faith that he has in Jesus Christ. And he’s okay with it. He’s okay with it because the more that he is persecuted, the more he is beaten, the more he is treated harshly, it’s actually that much more that the Gospel goes out. The more the world tries to diminish the faith of Jesus Christ, the more it actually spreads and is talked about. In Paul’s case, it’s such that all who are guarding him, even all those who are connected with him, know that it’s because of Jesus, and nothing else, that he is in chains.

Paul says that’s okay because, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (v. 21) To live is Christ. To live for Paul is to belong to, and be in, the life of Christ. He says in Galatians 2 that, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (v. 20) To live for Paul, and for us, is Christ. Jesus, our Great High Priest, has sacrificed His own body in our place on the cross. He loved us by taking our sin and shame upon Himself, and carrying it to the grave to separate us from the guilt of our sin forever. He did this to bring us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. For us to live is Christ, for through Him we are dead to sin and alive to righteousness.

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The life we now live in the flesh we live through faith in the Son of God, who took our sin and shame upon Himself. To live is to live in Him, and to die is gain. Jesus promised the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus in paradise. I think we can all agree that the world we live in right now is not paradise. I used to work at a Lutheran summer camp in northern Wisconsin. There was this one counselor who was from Minnesota. Whenever the topic of Minnesota came up in any sort of way, he always made sure that everyone knew that Minnesota is “God’s country.” It was all in fun, and I’m now being tempted to call North Dakota “God’s country;” but none of us can really deny that we live in broken world. We long for the place where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, where all things are made new. But we’re not there yet. Why?

 II.

Paul says, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for memy desire is to depart and be with Christbut to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your accountfor your progress and joy in the faith.” (vv. 22-26) This is the answer to why we are still here. It’s why we, having received the forgiveness of sins freely through Jesus Christ, are still here. We remain so that others may learn of the saving work of Jesus Christ on their behalf and come to share the same hope that we do. St. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9) God our heavenly Father desires that all be saved by hearing the Word of Jesus Christ and being given the gift of faith in Him. It is to this end that we gather as a church.

It says in Ephesians 3 that we are, “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand.” (Eph. 2:10) Though apart from Christ we can do nothing, in Him we can do all things. Without Christ all that we do and are is filthy rags, but by Him we are built like a city on a rock, a light for those who struggle in the darkness of this world. And because we are in Christ, and live in His life, good works proceed naturally without our even thinking about it. The Holy Spirit works within us the boldness and confidence that we need to speak the Good News of Jesus Christ to those around us, to share God’s love with those in need, and to live in that same love, both towards God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.

III.

As new creatures in Christ, “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (v. 27) Paul knows that we are sinners. The only way we can do that is to stand firm in the one spirit and mind – the confession that though we were nothing but sin, Christ died for us. He died for you to make you a perfect, blameless, child of God. Our worthiness is not found within ourselves, but in Christ. In Christ, in the salvation that we receive from Him alone, we are made to stand firm in the faith. And standing firm, we are led by the Holy Spirit to reach out.

The text says to not be “frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvationIt has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.” (vv. 28-29) Know this, that being a Christian means that not only is a cross placed upon your back, but a crosshair as well. Satan will try day and night to rip your faith from you. He will bite and tear and pull to get your mind off of things of God – the forgiveness of sins – and onto yourself and the things of man.

But do not fear, and do not lose heart. God knows how to use bad things for good. As Christians we have been called not only to believe in Jesus and receive the free forgiveness of sins in Him, but also to suffer as He suffered. The funny thing is, and Paul knew this, the more the world persecutes us and hates us, the more that Jesus is actually talked about. God’s Word is living and active, and even in the mouths of those who hate us, it still runs its course.

Sometimes I wonder why Jesus doesn’t just take us to heaven now. The answer is that He doesn’t want anyone to die but that all receive life through faith in Him. This faith comes through hearing the Word of God. This is why we are here: to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a world in desperate need. It will be hard. Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33)