Settle yourself into prayer and get ready to reflect on the Word of God.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…
The three Christs met for the first time on July 1, 1959. Each of the three Christs, Clyde, Joseph, and Leon, had a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Each had a literal messiah complex and imagined the world revolving around him.
Their story was told by Milton Rokeach, a psychologist at Michigan State Hospital, in his book The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. Rokeach found it impossible to break the three Christs’ messianic delusions through conventional therapy, so decided to try group therapy. His strategy was to confront each man with the “ultimate contradiction” of thinking he was the Christ. Rokeach hoped each would see that the other two were not messiahs and would make the connection for himself. But they didn’t. Clyde, Joseph, and Leon kept right on thinking he was the messiah and the center of everything.
Delusional disorders aside, some of Paul’s readers in the church at Philippi did fancy themselves the center of the universe and better than the others. We see this in various passages in Paul’s letter to the Philippians as he takes on problems of selfish ambition, rivalry, and division (Philippians 1:15-17; 3:2-4; 4:2-3).
Paul, condemned to die, writes from a Roman prison wanting to restore harmony among Christians at Philippi. In today’s scripture he urges them to
have the mind of Christ and to act in humility and consideration for others. He knows there is no place for messianic delusions and grandiosity in the community of Christ’s followers. He is charging them “To climb down from that throne…to consider the other’s point of view.” (Karl Barth, Epistle to the Philippians)
In calling for unity among the Philippian Christians, Paul is not wanting them to agree on everything, as he knows there are God-given differences in ideas, gifts, and abilities (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Rather, the apostle of Christ wants them to be united in humility and genuine concern for each other. That is the mind of Christ! “It is not that others in the community are to be thought of as ‘better than I am’ but that others are to be thought of as those whose rank – and therefore, whose needs and concerns – take precedence over my own.” (Joseph Hellerman and Andreas Köstenberger, Philippians) Rather than thinking less of themselves he is asking them to think of themselves less.
What Paul has in mind for the Philippian Christians as well as Christians today is embodied in the Son of God. Just think, how the eternal, sovereign Son of God made the choice to forever be human, take the form of a slave, and humble Himself to the humiliating death on a criminal’s cross. Again and again scripture reiterates God’s timeless truth that He exalts the humble (Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14). This is, as John Calvin observes, “the road by which we attain true glory.” (Philippians)
There is a memorable scene in the 1993 movie “Rudy” about old Father Cavanaugh counseling Rudy, a walk-on football player at Notre Dame. Father Cavanaugh tells Rudy: “Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I’m not Him.” That I am not God, nor the center of everyone’s universe, can be difficult for most of us mortals.
But how marvelous, how astonishing, that the One who is God, the One who is the center of the universe, did not think it beyond Himself to humble Himself and pour out His life in self-forgetful love. The lesson for Paul’s readers is obvious and inescapable: if God made Himself human in order to serve, then to be fully human and most fully alive is to serve others. Jesus shows us that the way up is down. As we begin to give ourselves for others we discover what life is about. Jesus spoke out of His own life experience in saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b).
This was a different way of thinking for the Philippian culture as well as ours. But, “A God who empties himself as a slave, who endures mockery and humiliating death, and is yet raised from the dead in glory, exposes the lie, the real madness, of living only for self.” (John Saward, Perfect Fools)
As we enter the season of Advent, it is an especially opportune time to think about what it would mean to climb down from the throne of self and start thinking like Jesus! It is, after all, the way to rich and abundant life! “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”
- Think of a time when you experienced a person’s self-centeredness stirring up problems. What was it like for you? How did you want to respond?
- What stirs in you as you think about following the Son of God’s example of humility and self-giving?
- Take a few moments to talk with God about your response to Christ’s example of humble, self-forgetful love.
“The Gospel of ‘an incarnate God, a God put to death’, disrupts and subverts the worldly mind, shows it up for the madness it is.”
John Saward, Perfect Fools