Sunday, October 18, 2009

Devotional: Phil. 2:5-11

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
Who, although He existed in the form of God,
Did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped
But emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant,
And being made in the likeness of men.

And being found in appearance as a man
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
Even death on a cross.

Therefore also God highly exalted Him,
and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.


That's the word that keeps coming back as I reflect on this passage. I've studied it all week - Wuest's Word Studies, my Bible notes, all the tools I usually use. But somehow, when I sit here to try to put something into a devotional format, what comes to mind is not the great theological truths of this passage, possibly one of the earliest recorded Christian hymns.

Instead, what I can't get off my mind is the idea of emptying.

Think about it: The Son was eternally co-existent with the Father. They were one, though separate, before the world was. God's eternal nature has always been present in the community of the Trinity.

And yet ... Jesus made a conscious choice - "Have this attitude" literally means "to direct one's mind to a thing, to seek or strive for." It's an intentional direction of thought.

So Jesus, existing eternally in the form of God (meaning the outward expression of an inward nature) voluntarily weighed the facts and chose not to hold on to the expression of Deity as He experienced it before the incarnation. He didn't regard it as something to be grasped - as a "treasure to be clutched and retained at all hazards". He voluntarily waived His right to the treasure of being with the Trinity, the treasure of having all that came with being able to have an unlimited outward expression of His inner Deity. Things like omnipresence that would be immediately limited by the direction He was choosing to follow. Instead of grasping onto these things, He relegated them to the Father for His use.

So He emptied Himself - He waived His rights. He took the form of a servant - again, that was the word for the outward expression of His inner nature. He took the form of a servant because He WAS a servant. Wuest writes beautifully, "Instead of giving the outward expression of His deity to the angels in His preincarnate glory, He gives outward expression of His humility in becoming the servant of mankind." He humbled Himself - made Himself low (the word was also used to describe the Nile lowering) - rather than holding onto the exalted glory He deserved. 

And then ... God "highly exalted" Him. That means that He was given the "highest rank and power...supreme majesty". No human could ever be given a higher rank that Jesus Christ after His death and resurrection. And here's the beauty - God "bestowed on Him" a special name, a name above every name. "Bestowed" is a word of grace. It's the same word used in Rom. 8:32 of grace in salvation. God the Father not only restored the Son to His rightly place of glory, He gave Him a special name as an act of grace. Paul says at the name of Jesus every knee will bow ... and Rev. 19:12 tells us, "He has a name written that no one knows except himself."  This concurs with verse 9 that there has been a special name given to Jesus.

I love what Beth Moore says about this. She reflects on the number of times Jesus' name is taken in vain, used as a curse word or an exclamation. And then she says that these verses show us that God has given Him a name that no one else knows ... a name that has never touched the corrupt lips of humanity.

Think about all this together in the context of Paul's writing. Hoping to develop in the Philippians a unity - teaching them to be of the same mind - Paul says: Here's the mind to have - the attitude of Christ. Humility. Emptying. Servanthood. He uses a poem or hymn they probably already knew to get them to think about what Jesus did ... voluntarily leaving heaven, not holding on to His rights but emptying Himself, giving up the treasure ... and on the other side, receiving the highest exaltation and a precious, never corrupted name. His basic message to them is summarized well by Wuest: "Set self aside for unity to prevail."

So all this reflection and theological consideration has led me to ask some hard questions of myself:

* Where do I need to intentionally set my direction of thought toward servanthood over self? What is the place of struggle that needs a radical change in the direction of my mind?

* What treasure am I grasping, holding on to instead of relegating to His use?

* What of me needs to be emptied? Jesus voluntarily gave up rights and privileges, so I should start there. But what of the flesh also needs to be emptied?

* What of self do I need to set aside so that unity can prevail?

Emptying is never easy. But it must happen for us to be filled with HIM instead of ourselves ... for HIS glory to shine through us. And we have the perfect place to start ... the incarnation of Christ.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Devotional: Philippians 2:3-4

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,
but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself;
Do not merely look out for your own personal interests,
but also for the interests of others."

Ouch! Anybody else's toes hurt? This is one of those passages that is not really hard to understand - it's hard to LIVE. Working on memorizing it this week, I've realized how weak I really am - how much I try to rationalize or justify or limit the breadth of what God intends a passage to mean. After the events of this week (see my latest Note if you don't already know) ... and then reading some very wise words tonight from a Christian author ... I'm ready to stretch the limits - to see just how much I can apply verses like these.

When I was studying to prepare this devotional and understand these verses more, I learned that all these phrases are part of one larger thought. Structurally, "being of the same mind" is the predominant thought in verses 2-4. Everything else is a subordinate thought. In modern terminology - "being of the same mind" is the key thought; everything else is a bullet point under it that describes what that thought looks like. Sort of like this:

Being of the same mind:
* Maintaining the same love
* United in Spirit
* Intent on one purpose
* Doing nothing from selfishness or empty conceit - This has a strong structure literally meaning "Don't even think any thoughts motivated by selfish ambition."
* Regarding others are more important than ourselves
* Looking out for the interests of others, not our own - Interestingly in the Greek, this word for "interests" means "different interests". We are to look out for the interests of others - especially those that differ from our own!

Talk about revival! Can you imagine a church full of people who lived this way? That could lead to a true church growth movement!

What I love about these verses is that Paul doesn't erase the individual; he simply addresses our motivations and the bent of our hearts. We don't fulfill this verse by assuming a martyr's pose, a stricken look, and, with Bible in hand, determine to never think of ourselves ever again. That's just another version of pride and self-centeredness, frankly.

Buddhism teaches an extreme self-denial. At the heart of Buddhism is the belief that desire is the root problem of the world and to eliminate desire is to eliminate suffering. So a Buddhist goal would be to truly have no interests, no desires or preferences. That's not what Paul is saying.

Instead, Paul says - don't be motivated by selfishness or personal ambition. That's what characterized the evangelists in chapter 1 that so concerned the Philippians - they were trying to capitalize on Paul's imprisonment by making a name for themselves. I love how Paul doesn't focus on them. He says, essentially - the Gospel is being preached, don't worry about it - and don't be motivated like that in your actions toward one another.

We're supposed to "prefer your brother", as YWAM teaches. But we are told to make others more important than ourselves - not that we are unimportant. We are told to look our for their interests too - not that we should have no interests. Satan would love for us to either ignore or imbalance this teaching. God just wants us to live it out.

The beautiful thing is that it all flows from love...from a heart filled with the Spirit, set on fire for Christ and His people, passionate for the glory of God. Will we have to make hard choices along the way? Sure! But we'll never fulfill this verse by waking up tomorrow morning and thinking of all the things about ourselves that we intend to subdue-all the passions, interests, desires, goals, and preferences that we will ignore today. Instead, we will fulfill this passage by loving without reservation - first God, then by extension others.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Making Sense

I've spent much of this week trying to make sense of the senseless.

On Saturday I received word from a dear friend that a mutual friend's 10-year-old daughter was in critical condition at the hospital. As the story unfolded we learned that beautiful Olivia Ray had been hit by a car 3 hours earlier while in a crosswalk - skipping on her way to run a race at an event she had eagerly anticipated.

As I walked into the waiting area an hour later I saw a mass of people praying and crying. I didn't see my friends, Olivia's parents. Something in me knew - but I didn't want to acknowledge that fervant, worldwide prayers for the previous 4 hours had not been answered. Another friend saw me, hugged me, and told me the sad news. After a few minutes with Olivia's parents, I headed home and found myself unable to concentrate, trying desperately to wrap my mind around what had happened. It didn't make sense. I just couldn't understand why a 10-year-old would die so tragically, why a college student would have to bear such pain and guilt, why parents would have to have their hearts ripped asunder. Along with many others around the world, I lifted up the Rays and felt some measure of burden - part of being in the body of Christ. But I still wondered about the senselessness of it all.

Yesterday I attended Olivia's memorial. It was amazing, Spirit-led, Christ-centered, God-glorifying, encouraging beyond belief. We worshipped, we laughed, we cried. And no one pretended to have the answers to big questions.

One of the things I most appreciated was the pastor who acknowledged, "This isn't good; it's bad. But God can redeem it." It's so easy to mouth religious words: "God is good; He works all together for good; He is in control." We forget the corollary truth: Sin has brought about corruption to God's good plan and design. Death is part of the bad, not the good. It wasn't in the plan at the beginning.

Hebrews 2 called death an enemy - and tells us it's the last one that will be conquered. Bottom line - it's not supposed to make sense. It feels senseless because it IS senseless. It's part of the pain from a fallen world. But it's redeemable.

Romans 8 tells us that creation groans to be redeemed. The pains many of us felt this week reflect sharing the Rays burden ... but also remind us of the groaning of creation that seeks to be redeemed - set free. So behind everything that happens is a sovereign, good God who has redemptive purposes. I've been thinking about the redemptive path I'm supposed to follow after these days.

I think about all of the unengaged and unreached people groups who grieve without the hope that permeated Olivia's service yesterday - those who need to know the hope of redemption. I think about the lessons of community and relationship that showed so strongly throughout this past week in loving the Ray family. I think about Phillipians 2:1-4 and the reminder it gives me to focus on others, not myself. And I think about Olivia, eagerly skipping to run the race set before her. I think about living life with that kind of joyous abandon to what a day might bring.

Then even as the questions remains, peace settles in. And some things start to make sense.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Devotional Phil. 2:1-2

My Facebook Bible memorization group has finished Isa. 58 and moved to Philippians 2. You are welcome to join us at Hiding the Word on Facebook. Meanwhile, I am posting the devotional thoughts here!

If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ,
if there is any consolation of love,
if there is any fellowship of the Spirit,
if any affection and compassion,
Make my joy complete by being of the same mind,
maintaining the same love,
united in spirit,
intent on one purpose.

"Therefore." I learned in Precept to ask "what is the therefore there for?" In other words, it connects something. What is "therefore" linked to in this case?

Foundational to 2:1-18 is the context of chapter 1 - Paul's relationship to the church at Phillippi and his prison ministry.This is a book addressed to the body of Christ - the "one anothers" of the New Testament usually are. In chapter 1, Paul encourages the church to focus on the Gospel, not people's motives in sharing it, and on their own conduct.

Significantly, immediately prior to 2:1 Paul exhorts the church that suffering goes hand in hand with faith in Christ. Because of this, Paul asks them to bring him joy by focusing on their relationship with each other, pulling together for a purpose.

He specifically addresses 5 aspects of their relationship with God and each other. He approaches these in a very God-centered way; it all flows from what we've received in our relationship with Christ, but that can and often is manifested through "one another". He asks them to consider if they have received any:

* Encouragement in Christ - that encouragement that can only come through relationship with Christ. At the deepest hurts and pains of life, at the darkest moments, true believers don't need self-help material or Oprah's latest book; they need to be pointed to Jesus. True encouragement is always in Christ.
* Consolation of love - This refers to the comfort that comes from love. Specifically the love of Christ poured within our lives, working through and to one another. Nothing consoles like true love.
* Fellowship of the Spirit - this can mean both "spiritual fellowship" or "fellowship brought about by the Spirit". Biblical fellowship involves more than eating together; it is a sharing of common purposes and goals.
* Affection - Tenderness, feelings of love. It's an emotional term.
* Compassion - Refers to mercy, caring.

The Message puts it this way: If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you [care]--

Paul asks them to first consider what they've received - from God and others - and then exhorts them to consider what to do with that. He doesn't just want them to sit around and feel warm fuzzies. It's not just about the good feeling I get when a friend from church calls me when I'm down, or about the food that people brought over when my mother-in-law died. Paul challenges them to something higher; something purposeful. He wants them to strive to turn what they've received into something that can be given out. And it starts with the exhortations of verse 2:

* Being of the same mind - means literally "feel the same way and think the same thoughts". We will soon see Paul doesn't mean "agree on the color of the carpet" - he means "focus on what's important and be in agreement about it."

* Maintaining the same love - We could debate what the "same love" means but I think in the it most likely refers to keeping that "consolation of love" going - maintaining it. It's easier to pour out love on someone in a crisis time, then back off and return to the corners when things level out. If we've received comforting love from God and other during a tough time - seek to maintain that same love. Don't get bitter or petty just because there is not a crisis to rally around. We see this a lot in our country. Sept. 12, 2001 was a day of unity and love. The 2004 elections were some of the most bitter ever. The love wasn't maintained. Paul wants it to be maintained so we can move on to a purpose!

* "United in spirit." I love this literal word: "fellow-souled." We should be so united that it's as though we share a soul. As Caroline prepares to go to Asia my soul should be bonded with hers for the people there. That's united in spirit.

* "Intent on one purpose." What is the "one purpose?" Another Bible study principle: Let the author define it for you within that book if possible. In Philippians Paul clearly defines the "one purpose": Jesus. Knowing Him and making Him known. Living in Him. Proclaiming Him. Glorifying Him. There will be plenty to divide us. We can unite around Him - around knowing Him and making Him known. We will see as we proceed through this passage that Paul will challenge us to do that very thing!

The bottom line of these first two verses goes back to a principle I've come to rely on. We are "blessed to be a blessing." Paul wants them to be a blessing first to each other, then to the world. That's a challenge to live up to - but so worth it!

May YOU be blessed to be a blessing today.