Tag Archives: Philippians 2

Let Go

landscape bookcase

Several years ago, I started giving away my books.  Early in my ministry, I took pride in the collection of theological and ministry-related books I had in my personal library.  I had various Bible translations and commentaries.   Using books, I earned a Master of Divinity and a Doctor of Ministry.  I thought that if I had all the right knowledge, I could discern God’s path for myself and my congregation.  If I could fill my head with the right ideas, concepts and principles, I would succeed.

I discovered the knowledge path can be a dead-end. Though I did learn many wonderful and helpful things, I found less and less deep satisfaction in knowing ideas, concepts and principles. Knowledge did not equal wisdom.  I needed to learn to “let go.”

For over a decade, I taught a course called BeFrienders which trained lay people in my congregation to do basic pastoral care through the practice of active listening.  At the beginning of each new training course, I and my co-leaders would tell an ancient story about a young man search for wisdom.   He traveled to a wise elder and began to tell the elder all that he knew about wisdom.  As the young man talked, the elder poured tea into the young man’s cup.  The young man kept talking and as the elder continued to pour, the tea cup overflowed.   The young man looked in horror at the overflowing cup and shouted, “Stop, my cup is already full.”  The elder stopped pouring and says, “Yes, it is.  The cup is like your mind.  Your mind is so full of itself that it cannot take in anymore.  You need to empty your mind in order to receive wisdom.”  It was several years before I  caught up with the story’s full impact.

The scripture that guides my path towards wisdom is Philippians 2:5-7

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

I have thought a lot about what it meant for Christ Jesus to empty himself. Emptying is a way of letting go.  Since Paul is talking about the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, it makes sense that Jesus gave up being “all-knowing,” an attribute that many Christians give to God.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus was not all-knowing, but rather asked questions (Mark 2:8-9, Mark 5:30, 10:51).  Furthermore, Jesus strongest rebuke was for the religious know-it-alls: the Pharisees and scribes (Mark 7:1-13).  Now I understand Jesus more as a “love-it-all”  rather than a “know-it-all.”  A big part of love is letting go.

In the next few weeks I plan to write more on this theme of letting go.  Letting go of my past, letting go of words, letting go of status and pride.  It hasn’t been easy, but as backpacking has taught me, “a lighter pack (or mind) creates a more pleasant hike.”


What is Humility?

In the winter of 1863 General Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to lieutenant-general, a permanent promotion that had previously been given only to George Washington. Grant’s military success in the Mississippi River valley during the Civil War had earned him this distinct promotion. Through the early years of the war he had never been to Washington D.C. nor met President Lincoln, but in December he was called to Washington to receive his promotion and to command the entire Union Army. Grant had reached the top of the military ladder and a splendid reception was planned.

When Grant arrived in Washington that morning, no one was there to greet him at the train station. He and his son walked to a nearby hotel to book a room. The hotel clerk looked at the dusty, unkempt military officer before him and said he might have small upstairs room in the back of the hotel. Grant said this would be acceptable and signed the guest register. When the hotel clerk saw the signature, “Ulysses S. Grant,” he was aghast and tried to change the hotel arrangements. Grant didn’t care.

I offer this story because it demonstrates that humility is not so much an emotion as the absence of an emotion. Grant did not feel slighted or peeved that he did not receive instant recognition and respect from the hotel clerk. He did not see himself superior to the hotel clerk or look down on him with contempt. Grant was obviously a “superior” general to the hotel clerk (to be fair, the clerk probably never competed to be a “superior” general), but that “superiority” did not dictate how he treated the clerk in their daily affairs.

As Robert C. Roberts writes in Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues,

Humility is not itself an emotion, like joy or gratitude or contrition. A person could be a wonderful exemplar of humility without ever feeling humble; in fact, one who frequently feels humble is probably not very humble. But humility is an emotion-disposition – primarily a negative one, a disposition not to feel the emotions associated with caring a lot about one’s status. As an inclination to construe as my equal every person who is presented to me, humility is a disposition not to be downcast by the fact that someone is clearly ahead of me in the games of the world nor to find any satisfaction in noting that I am ahead of someone in those games.

It is the ability to have my self-comfort quite apart from any question about my place in the social pecking order (whether the criterion is accomplishments, education, beauty, money, power, fame, or position). . . . It is thus a self-confidence, one that runs far deeper than the tenuous self-confidence of the person who believes in himself because others look up to him. (Kindle Locations 1186-1196)

The best example of humility is Jesus Christ. As Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians

Jesus had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion (The Message: Phil 2:6-8)

Just prior to this humble description of Christ, Paul encourages us to “think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” Our thinking and our judgments effects how we respond to others and their comments. Even when one is the Commanding General of the Army.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your humble service. May I reflect you in my life today.

Would I Kneel?

Young Man Kneeling by Sam Loggie

Posture can be used to emphasize power and importance. Kings had high, imposing thrones to signify their power over their subjects. Visitors to ancient and medieval courts had to kneel and kiss the ring of their Lord. Even in our democratic society, leaders can be distinguished by their corner office or imposing title. Power demands attention.

In the gospel of Mark, the reader sees people posturing. In chapter five the Gerasene demon-possessed man, the leader of the synagogue (named Jairus), and a woman who suffered from chronic bleeding each knelt before Jesus and begged for his help. They all acknowledged with their kneeling posture that Jesus was Lord, a person with authority and status. They recognized the power of Jesus.

I am not one who kneels easily. I’ve come to realize that I prefer to see Jesus as my friend and guide, who accompanies me, rather than as Lord and Master who commands me. I acknowledge his Lordship verbally, but I wonder if that is more ritual than deep conviction. Am I willing to “beg” Jesus for his assistance, like Jairus (Mark 5:23)?

The question of posture comes into sharper contrast at the end of the chapter. When Jairus heard the news, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher (Jesus) any further?” Jesus intervened. He told Jairus not to fear, but to trust in him. Jesus is Lord and has power. When they entered the room of the girl, the scripture says, “He took her by the hand.” I must assume that Jesus knelt down, since all beds were floor level. What an incredible act of tender love!

With love, Jesus knelt to meet the girl’s need. The whole incarnation is a form of God’s kneeling to meet the needs of humanity. Jesus’ birth, ministry, and death was God’s way of kneeling down before us, not to acknowledge our rebellious “power,” but as a way to enter our pain and suffering and lift us up.

As the Philippians hymn states

Jesus who emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name above that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil 2:7-10)

Lord Jesus, as you knelt to save me, now teach my knees and my heart to bend towards you.