Hear the words of Paul as he challenges his followers, and us, to become imitators of Christ.
“Therefore,” he writes, “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:1-5)
Today’s Message: Humility in the Aftermath
I think it’s safe to say that most pastors look forward to the end of an election cycle. No matter which side of the fence we’re on, there are always opposing views within our congregations, and, as you all know, there are a myriad of strong opinions and emotions as election day approaches. I’ve seen churches actually split and I’ve seen clergy move on because of political differences. And I’ve always thought it a shame. It’s a shame because in the end, both sides miss an opportunity to understand their fellow believer on a deeper level.
Paul understood this. In today’s passage, we hear Paul speaking to the fledgling church in Philippi from his prison cell. He was speaking to them in the form of an epistle, or a letter, which was in response to a previous letter he had received from the church asking him to solve a problem or multiple problems for them. This is the only form of communication that we have from Paul. It’s kind of like we’re listening in on one side of a telephone conversation. We don’t actually have a copy of the letter that came to Paul, but we can surmise what the problems within the community were based upon his answer.
Now, contextually, this was one of the final letters if not the very last letter Paul ever wrote. You see, he was nearing the end of his life and I believe he knew it. Now, let’s pause here for a moment and think about this. If someone like Paul, a faithful teacher and apostle, knew he was nearing the end, wouldn’t he have saved his best for last? Or at the very least, would he have not winnowed his theology down to what was most important?
So, if this is in fact the case, what was most important? Well, in Philippians Paul emphasizes things like keeping one’s priorities straight, living ethically, and what he called “standing firm” even in the face of adversity. Okay. So far so good. But the foundation of this letter, the centeral theme if you will, is the idea of imitation. Near the end of chapter 3 Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, become imitators of me and watch those who live this way – you can use us as models.” (3:17) Which, as you’ve probably already figured out, brings us to our passage for today.
Now, first of all, I think this passage and especially this idea of imitating Christ is centeral to Paul’s theology and it’s vital for each of us to consider as we begin the long, slow process of healing the soul of this nation in the aftermath of the election.
Why? Well, consider Paul plea. …if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, by having the same love, and being united, and by agreeing with each other.
Oh my goodness! Do we ever need to hear these words today. Paul is saying that if we could find any encouragement, or at least some semblance of comfort in love at all; if there’s at least a little bit of sharing or any sympathy present in our lives or in the world, then joy will be complete.
Now, any is the key word here. Any is an indefinite pronoun and the word in Greek that’s used here is ti. But ti can also be used as an interrogative pronoun (who, when, where, etc.) Now, I think it’s imperative that we don’t let these multiple understanding of this tiny word get lost in translation. Paul is saying something even more profound than simply “is there any encouragement or comfort or sympathy left.” In essence, he’s saying who among you can infuse joy into the world by demonstrating encouragement in Christ, by bringing comfort to others in love, by sharing in the spirit, or by being empathetic toward the plight of all people.
And how do we do that? How do we “complete joy”? Well, Paul says, “…by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other.”
With this election over, my hope and my prayer is that we can unite, forgive, and extend grace to those on the other side of the fence, because finally, each of us, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, stand in need of grace, forgiveness, and love.
These words ring so true as we face the overwhelming obstacles that lay before us as a nation and as a people. We’re facing a pandemic that continues to rage out-of-control. We’re living in a shattered economy. We’re ALL affected by racism. All of us. When one of God’s children is demeaned or oppressed, or made to feel “less-than” – we’re all demeaned and oppressed; and when racism happens, whether explicit or systemic, all of our joy is “less-than” complete.
Paul goes on to say, “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.”
What a profound statement! With humility think of others as better than yourself. We’re in this mess because of hubris, the opposite of humility. We’re in this mess because we refused, as a people, to humble ourselves and put the needs of the other before our own.
We’re in this mess because we allowed ourselves to be divided, to be separated by ideology or race or party affiliation. Jesus once said that a house divided cannot stand. And he was right! I know he was right because we’re living with the consequences of being a divided nation each and every day.
But, here’s the Good News! We can find our way out of this mess. We can and we will if we walk hand in hand and work side by side, male and female, young and old, liberal and conservative, Democrat Republican and Independent, black and white and brown and every shade in-between. No matter what our religion or ethnicity or social status we must come together if our joy will ever, even come close, to becoming complete.
My friends, I invite you to take these words of Paul into your heart, process them in your mind, and live them out with your voice, and your hands and your feet, as we seek to be imitators of Christ’s kindness, and grace, and love beyond ourselves, and as we attempt to create a more just, and kind, and peace-filled world for all of us.
May it be so,
Amen & Amen