(Note from the Editor: A mistake was made, and this article was supposed to run last week in The Messenger for 10/1. Apologies for the late article, but please enjoy this reflection onlast Sunday's reading!)
Philippi was the city where the first Christian community was established in Europe during Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul held the Philippian Christians in his heart and regarded them as partners with him in grace.” (Acts 1:7) Although the Philippian Church was strong, Paul realized that the Philippians had a serious problem. There were divisions among them and the key element that caused their divisions was self-interest. Some people wanted this, other people wanted that, another wanted something else. Paul knew that if they did not overcome their divisions, they would never reach their potential to be the Body of Christ. So, in his letter, Paul appeals to them “to be of one mind” and “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)
People have different strengths. Paul acknowledges that there is some measure of exhortation in Christ among the Philippian Christians, some consolation of love, some fellowship of the Spirit, and some tender mercies and compassion. It is thought-provoking that people can use their strengths to build up the church or cause divisions. How do people use strengths to build up the church instead of causing divisions? Paul urges the Philippian Christians to be of the same mind, to have the same love, to be in full accord and of one mind, to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, to look not to their own interests, but to the interests of others and, in humility, to regard others as better than themselves.
Paul warns both the Philippian Christians and us that if people don’t give up their competitive spirit and self-interest, they will never fulfil their mission to be the Body of Christ in the world. Paul knows that, even the best Christians with the best intentions will become divided and at odds with each other if left to their own will. And so, he asks them not only to be of one mind, but to look for a power greater than themselves. He writes, “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.” (Philippians 2:5-7)
The mind of Christ that sets Jesus so far above the rest of us and brings us together as one is his self-denial and obedience. Jesus emptied himself and subjected himself to God’s will and authority. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42) sets a model for all of us as his disciples.
In the Gospel reading assigned for this Sunday Jesus refused to answer the evil-minded questions of the chief priest and the elders: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23) Instead, by the parable of the two sons’ different responses to their father’s calling to work in vineyard, he tells them that the true obedience to God is to do God’s will. Doing God’s will always require us to be forward-looking. When we are looking into future, we will face uncertainties, questions, anxieties, and fear. What we need to keep in mind is Paul’s teaching: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus for it is God who is at work in us. Amen.