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Our Guide to Lent

Key Texts: Philippians 2:5-11
The Point of the sermon: The cost (paid by Jesus) causes us to change
The aim: Exploring the foundations that underpin our Christian life.
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Setting The Scene: What Is The Cultural Context of The Philippian Church?

Philippi was an ancient city even by ancient standards – a place that had been subject to demolition through war; the Roman Emperor Octavian rebuilt the city, and it became a staunch influential Roman outpost and a place for tax-free property purchase, Roman pride and prevalence. It was known as an area somewhat akin to a financial and politically privileged place to live1. Lydia was the first person to convert to Christianity in Philippi – a pagan woman who, when saved, led her whole house to The Lord and formed the basis for the church in Philippi. They nurtured the Apostle Paul and learned the Way of Christ while playing host to the first house church that would counter the cultural context. The tumultuous beginnings can be read in Acts 16.
It’s probable that the dominant Roman and Pagan influence of the culture weighed heavily on the church all too often. Our context is not dissimilar in that the followers of Christ are seeking to imitate Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit and live in line with a Kingdom not of this world. Sometimes that creates counter-cultural friction, and the Apostle Paul’s words for the Philippians are just as applicable to us today as we seek the Kingdom of Heaven in our everyday lives.
It’s worth noting that Paul writes this letter from prison. When he encourages the church to have the ‘mind of Christ’, it’s from a place of experiential difficulty. This perhaps lends itself to understanding the slavery/servant language used particularly in relation to being bound to Christ, as we will see later on.
The foundations of our faith are always worth continually exploring because they underpin the reason we exist as Christians who meet as the church. These things make us distinct as a community of believers in Jesus and frame how we see the world.
There is an art to discipleship in keeping your heart continually responsive to learning something new in seemingly familiar arenas. To constantly grow is to be continually discipled, knowing we have not arrived because we are still ‘this side of heaven’ – we are still alive and therefore have much to learn. If you’re new to Christianity, this will feel new and foundational; if you’re ‘not so new’, it’s time to revisit and underpin the foundations.
So, let’s begin with the large foundations; the first is the cost paid by Jesus Christ in pursuit of our lives.
We begin by being aware that all things have a value, and all things have a cost.
The cost (paid by Jesus) causes us to change.

Where Do We Get Our Sense Of Value?

Have you ever found yourself underestimating someone’s true value? Perhaps you’ve even doubted your own worth?  
Those who know me well understand my love/hate of social media. I cast no judgment on anyone who loves it or hates it. The mental health stats can make your head swirl, but we also recognise the positive ways they can be used, like many other digital tools.
Being a teenager around the birth of some of these early tools meant that there were no rules, no research, and everything was new and untested.
Young guys in my school often measured value by testing and competing; physical appearance was as much an issue for us as anyone else but with a different emphasis, particularly on strength and physical prowess. The comparison trauma took an explosive turn for all teens at the dawn of social media.
At 5-8% body fat, I was probably at my fittest around age 16. Yet, I believed myself to be overweight and unfit because of the comparison within the culture. As I reflected on this with a professional counsellor a while back, I realised I had a dysmorphic view of myself during my teenage years. An idea that would take ten years of exploring to rework my perception. The irony is that I am now more comfortable with my body, even though I haven’t always cared for it well and am no longer in peak fitness.
Because of our culture of comparison, we frequently place value judgements on ourselves and on everyone we meet.
While I’m sure we would all most likely agree that placing value judgments on people is usually harmful, we do it more often than we realise, mainly if we are value-driven.
We make snap judgments about people’s appearance all too often. We can easily judge people’s worth based on their earnings or whether we like them based on their contribution to our interpretation of value.
‘What can they offer me’ or ‘how does this connection serve me’ is the leading inner monologue towards others.
Sometimes we are hard on others because we are hard on ourselves. If we are not careful, we can frame the people we encounter with a worldly standard tied to comparison, perceived beauty, likeability and productivity.
Yet, these are values we do not wish to be judged by. It’s why the radical love of Our Heavenly Father moves us so much. He loved us and loves us despite anything we have going on. There is nothing you can do to impress God.
God’s requirement on those of us who call Jesus Lord and Saviour is to live out our lives in the pattern of His love because He paid a significant cost for us as a demonstration of His great love.
The cost (paid by Jesus) causes us to change.
Now, it’s not just the cost but also things like the work of the Holy Spirit, choice, and repentance. But knowing the cost starts something within us.

 

What Was The Cost Of Love?

Philippians 2:5-11
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”‬‬
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     5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
For Paul, this is not about behaviour as much as it is about sincerity. When we, as Christians, engage with one another, we sincerely seek to be like Jesus. In all things, our attitude towards each other must be to see things as Jesus saw them. Be Christlike in nature2.
For most of us, we are the sum of our experiences, conditioned by our upbringing, encounters with others and conclusions of how we have positively and negatively engaged with the world around us. These are the ‘lenses’ through which we see the world. We synthesise those experiences, and a significant portion of this process, over many years, shapes us. That’s the ‘of the world’ bit of us talked about in Romans 12. The challenge for those of us who have come to Jesus, given our hearts and minds over to following His way, is allowing the Holy Spirit to shape us and form a new heart, mind, and Spirit in us. It’s this newness that Paul has in mind when he writes these words.
A leading question for us is what does it mean to have ‘the same mindset as Christ Jesus’ in every part of our lives?
What does that mean for us?
What could, would or should change as a result?
The Apostle Paul’s concern for us to have that mindset, not in principle or tokenistic, but genuinely.
     6 Who, being in very nature God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
These words are a polemic (undermining the measures of success) against the day’s culture. The chief idea of heroic aspiration was to elevate outrageously successful people to the level of the divine. Rather than sacrilegious, deifying prevailing people was somewhat normative for Romans and Grecians (the cultural context to whom Paul was writing)3. Ability and prestige were God-like. Not so for Christ.
The model of Jesus’ mindset was to consider His position and nature (which is as high and lofty as one could be) as something to lay down and demonstrate the image of what God had intended for His creation.
In Genesis 2, the story of Adam and Eve is told as sin being the thing that separates Humanity from a proper and close relationship with God. It was the idea of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, making ‘us’ like God. In other words, equality with God was something we humans were grasping for.
It’s interesting, then, that Jesus did not equate equality as something to be grasped – even though He was, in very nature, God! The divine becomes sublime in serving His creation.
    7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,     being made in human likeness.
When we read the word servant, it’s actually starker in the Greek ‘doulos’ (δοῦλος) means enslaved person or servant, both have connotations of a high level of subservience. Mark 10:45  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In many ways, this ‘made himself nothing’ business humiliates the King of Kings. We often seek greatness, prestige, reputation and esteem. There is nothing wrong with aspiration, but the humility in assuming the nature of a servant brings us closer to Jesus.
Are we greater than Jesus?
Are we more prestigious than the King of Heaven and Earth?
The hunger for a supreme sense of self can cost us everything. The cost of Jesus was His paying for our souls with humility and love. This should shrink any sense of overinflation of self.
    8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
For Jesus to become obedient to death was somewhat a greater humiliation in that He was more capable and powerful than the physiological consequences of death. Any operation of nature was and is, after all, a construct of His hand. It’s a further humiliation for that to happen on a cross, as this was the most cursed and unfortunate way to die. The irony was that the prevailing thought was you must have been the most distasteful and sinful person to be hung on a tree in such a manner.
    9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
In what hyper-religious Judaeo-Roman context does a cursed man dying on a cursed tree get exalted to the divine?
Rather than being understood as Jesus, a man who later becomes deified as the Christ (equated to God) as a result of obedience, or some outstanding achievement in the way Romans or Grecians revered their heroes, it’s a case of Jesus being revealed and acknowledged as the expression of God in human appearance4. Jesus is God, glorified as such, and it’s because of this that He was able to make a way for Humanity to be restored to The Father… And in actuality, to Himself.
    10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Alan Hoare writes of an unknown poet who pens these words:
‘What is the way?’ they asked Him.
He said, ‘I am the way, follow Me.’
‘Where are You going?’ they asked.
‘To that place below all [people] so that I can lift them up to Heaven,’ He said5.
This poem is a simple but powerful summary of what we call the incarnation. We believe in this foundational truth that God, seeing us stuck in the mess of our sin, recognising that we were helpless to do anything about it, rolled up His sleeves and made a way where there was no other way. God expressed himself in the person of Jesus. Jesus, who was and is God, stepped down into darkness, and all for love’s sake became poor (that reminds me of a song). Suspending the glory of Heaven and withholding from Himself the privileges of Heaven, Jesus demonstrated true Humanity.
In our fallen state, we had fallen from that glorious place of being shaped in the pattern of the divine and became less than human. True Humanity reached down, defeated sin and death and was exalted (lifted up) so that we could be exalted (lifted up). Another way of saying that is we are ‘restored’ to the Father. You can only be restored to glory if you have former glory.
Tom Wright puts it this way:
‘This decision was not a decision to stop being divine. It was a decision about what it really means to be divine6. ‘
The brokenness and frailty of our Humanity are not best understood as the original intention of God’s version of Humanity. What Christ did was to come as the second Adam (Romans 5) as an archetype for Humanity, a recalibration of fallen Humanity, what we see in the arrival of Jesus, a pinch point in time where heaven meets Earth to restore us to The Father.
The heavenly kingdom breaks through, comes near, and is at hand for us to enter through knowing Jesus.
That is the beautiful exchange, and on it hangs the very core of our faith. It is knowing Jesus as the one who paid the price to restore us to the Father.
The cost (paid by Jesus) causes us to change.

Knowing The Cost Changes Our Lives.

What Christ did on the cross for you and me was no cheap and easy thing. Our Father God’s love for you was so strong, rooted, and sure that He ransacked Heaven of its most precious resource to purchase your freedom.
You may not have known it, or maybe you have spotted it, but the broken state of our Humanity has a cost. Redeeming and bringing us back to our intended right relationship with the Father had a cost.
The very fact that He paid it tells us what you mean to our Heavenly Father. He loves you. He loves you with the kind of love that relentlessly and persistently calls to you.
  • You are not disposable. You are not worthless. You are not a means to an end. You are not irredeemable.
  • You are loved. You are valued. You are meant for a purpose. You are worth the effort.
And none of this is in a fluffy, Instagram-able, peachy manner. It’s real, tangible and meaningful. The Father’s love for you is so strong that He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to pay the ultimate price because you are worth it!
But it’s more than what He has done; it’s allowing that work to transform your heart and mind. As a result of that incredible work mentioned in Philippians – we are to have ‘the mindset of Christ’.
The cost (paid by Jesus) causes us to change.

What Might Change in Your Life?

We live in a culture that predominately puts a value on everything. We measure our lives in terms of cost. We often weigh people’s worth to us in terms of their earning power or usefulness to us.
We have less grace for those who have messed up and derailed their life. For those who can offer much, we make the time. But is that the way of Christ? Is that how the Kingdom of God works? Is that us having the mind of Christ?
What is the measure of life? Well, it might just be understanding what someone would pay for it. What was God willing to pay? He made Himself nothing so that we could become something.
What would happen if we started to view each other and the people we meet daily as people for whom Jesus willingly emptied Himself?
Examine your heart in the place of worship and reflection. Invite the Holy Spirit to work within you and consider Christ’s cost. What needs breaking down in your heart? What mindsets need to shift for you to have the mind of Christ in all things?
KEY VERSES: Philippians 2:5-11
Bible references are taken from the NIV
1 Hawthorne, F Gerald, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid (Eds), Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, (Leicester UK: IVP, 1998) pp.707-708.
2 Martin, Ralph R, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, (Leicester UK: IVP, 2016), c. The ‘way’ of Christ (2:5-11).
3 Wright, N.T, Paul for Everyone, (SPCK, 2022), p.101
Silva, Moisés, Philippians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) p.105.
5 Hoare, Alan, Philippians: My Favourite Church, (Exeter: Onwards & Upwards Publishers, 2019), p.66.
6 Wright N.T, Paul for Everyone, (SPCK, 2022), p.102.
Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash

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