Text: Philippians 2:5-11
“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 as a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.” (Philippians 2:5-7, English Standard Version) These words serve as the text as we enter our Lord’s Holy Week. They are the words of the Holy Spirit through St. Paul to the Philippians in a time of persecution and affliction. The Philippian congregation was a small group, St. Paul’s first planting in Europe. They were dear to him; St. Luke remained among them for a time, as well. Their love for St. Paul and for their Christian brothers and sisters around the world – as St. Paul noted the Philippians’ generosity in his letters to the Corinthians – however, did not displace them from the situation they were in.
Philippi was a Roman colony, but there was no Jewish synagogue there. In all likelihood, the members of this congregation were converted to the faith from idolatry. They were poor and few in number and, as a whole, looked down upon by the world. Even in the early years of the Church, Christians were looked down-upon for their faith in Christ, sometimes harmed or killed. Put this all together – the Philippians’ poverty, their lack in numbers, the external pressures of the world – and you can understand why St. Paul wrote to them. Even for the most strong of a Christian, the struggles of this life make it very tempting to turn inward on oneself, to focus on our own needs and cares. In contrast, St. Paul directed the Philippians to the mind of Christ, which was set only on them and on us. Christ only had His mind set on us, resulting in our salvation. By faith, He sets our minds on Him and on each other.
“Have this mind among yourselves,” St. Paul said, “which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (vv. 5-7) We heard this passage just a few weeks ago when we were talking about the Second Article of the Creed. We believe, by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word, that Jesus is the true and eternal Son of God. His was with the Father and the Spirit in the beginning and by Him were all things made. What St. Paul means by His being in the “form of God,” is that, not only was Jesus God, but He did God “stuff.” He created, led, and defended His people. He provided for them in the wilderness.
Yet, Jesus did not consider His being and acting as God something to be grasped. The Spirit’s language here in the Greek echoes the actions of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve saw that the forbidden tree was good for eating and making one wise, they grasped it and ate it. They grasped after being and acting like God; so, also, do we when we sin. Every sin we commit involves making ourselves the judges of right and wrong. Every sin is a small attempt to make ourselves God. But, Jesus did not grasp after being God – even though He was God. Instead, He went the opposite route. He “made Himself nothing,” He “humbled Himself” to be in human form. We confess that Jesus became in every way as we are. He became true flesh and blood and was subject to the hardships we endure, except without sin.
St. Paul writes, “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (v. 8) Jesus lowered Himself to punishment of the Law in our place, He took the punishment from God we racked-up by our many sins. In the Gospels we hear how Jesus was treated along the way. Last week we heard how His own people tried to stone Him for speaking the truth. Jesus was betrayed by one of His own disciples. He was struck and spit upon and mocked. He was flogged and crucified. Properly understood, He did not have to endure all these things; Jesus willingly submitted Himself to the will of the Father as Isaac did to Abraham when he carried the wood for sacrifice. Jesus did it all because, even in suffering, He had one thing on His mind: us. Even in His affliction, Jesus had His mind set on us and secured, by His death, our salvation.
Suffering was not unknown to the Philippians. When St. Paul spoke of them to the Corinthians, he recalled how “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity.” (2 Cor. 8:2) In other words, the Philippians heard St. Paul’s encouragement – including to rejoice in the Lord always – and set their minds on Christ and each other. They realized that, because Christ did (and still does) set His mind on us, they and we have everything we need. We have air to breathe and water to drink. We have shelter, food, and clothing. We may lack according to what we would want in ideal situations, but the Lord preserved them and us thus far. The Philippians realized, especially, that even when everything falls away this one thing endures: the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal life we have in Christ. This knowledge, that everything they truly needed was already provided for, freed the Philippians’ to serve and look to the needs of others. By setting their minds on Christ, they really became set on their neighbor in Christ.
The affliction that we are enduring now is nowhere near the suffering that some of our fathers in the faith endured, but the same temptation remains for us to turn inward on ourselves. When something bad happens our nature is to circle the wagons on ourselves. We first, and usually only, look to our own wants and desires. We sin and make idols in our own images. For this, we deserve affliction. But in this time, let us remember what was on Christ’s mind – us. It was for us that He took on flesh. It was for us He rode into Jerusalem. It was for us He allowed Himself to be betrayed, and for us that He died. He had on His mind not His own need, but ours. By His death, our redemption is won.
St. Paul encouraged the Philippians to set their minds on Christ, but that is something really worked in us by the Holy Spirit. We just learned this last week that the Holy Spirit is the one who brings us and points us to Christ. He’s doing that even now. We know from Scripture that we are to love and care for our neighbor, especially in times like this. We also know that we sometimes fail at this, which is sin. We become preoccupied with worry and we forget that the Lord provides what we need. Thankfully, that includes the forgiveness of our sins. Through our Baptism, the Holy Spirit daily works faith in our hearts. When we hear and sing His Word, the Spirit uses that to strengthen and increase our faith – and set our minds on Christ. Let us remember, even in these trying times, that our needs are met. The Lord grant us His Holy Spirit, that our minds would be that of Christ’s – minds set for the good of our neighbor.