MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What Jesus Did For Us
In this remarkable passage from Philippians we have a summary of the ministry of Christ. The verses seem to be poetic and were probably memorized as an early Christian hymn or creed. (Hymns are creeds and often get written during times of religious crisis, when certain doctrines are under attack. For instance, the arch-liberal Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote “God of Grace” when the liberals were under attack. Christian Worship #523. “Lo the hosts of evil round us” are the conservatives.)
When we sing a hymn, it should be in complete harmony with the Word of God. And when we read a passage like this, we need to know what it means. We worship according to our beliefs, and our beliefs have a direct bearing upon our conduct as Christians.
We have a reason for using the same texts year after year, as Luther did, following ancient Christian tradition. There will never be a time when every Christian knows this passage from Philippians well enough. The Holy Spirit continues to deepen our knowledge and understanding of this passage when we listen to it and study it with diligence.
The apostle Paul urged the Philippians to conduct themselves with the mind of Christ. The introduction is found in the previous four verses:
KJV Philippians 2:1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, 2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
The four verses of introduction are a beautiful expression of how we should live as believers. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in Christ-like humility.” Instead of being self-involved, be considerate of others.
The foundation for this behavior is stated in verses 5-11. It is the Gospel. When we consider this passage, we should remember how it transcends all human efforts to achieve the same results, for no one could really object to the goals of the first four verses. Many people would call them Utopian, idealistic, and impossible. But the apostle bases his admonitions upon one thing only – the Gospel of forgiveness and what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross.
Many human books can smash us with the Law, but only the Gospel can comfort us and put us at peace. Man-made books tell us why we should behave in a certain way, and it is always connected to something beneficial. It is good for society, or for the family, or for inner happiness. But the Holy Spirit teaches us in a different way. God does not even place conditions on this. He does not say, “If your family is good to you,” or “If you want to get along at work,” or “If you want to get ahead.” This passage stands by itself even if someone is living in a Marxist dictatorship, in great wealth, or in the most miserable family. Whatever is done is faith glorifies God. Whatever is done without faith is a sin.
Therefore, this Gospel message has the power to create faith in an unbeliever, to strengthen our faith, and to encourage us to please God.
What was the mind of Christ?
The eternal Son of God, the creating Word at the Creation, accepted the state of humiliation when He lived among us as a mere man. Obviously He was never just a man but remained God-in-the-flesh. However, He allowed Himself to be regarded as a man and treated as an ordinary man most of the time. Whenever something happened, it was because Jesus allowed it to happen.
For instance, when the crowd tried to make Jesus a king, He refused. Likewise, when they wanted to kill Him, before His time, He passed through the crowd (indicating very clearly that His divine nature was not limited by His human body and nature). That is why the orthodox theologians write about Jesus’ state of humiliation. He accepted a lowly state, giving us an example of how we should live.
When we would have been tempted to flash our divinity frequently, if we had been in the same situation, Jesus took on the appearance of a slave (as the text says literally). It is worth remembering that Luther called John the Baptist the greatest prophet of all, because John said “This ordinary looking man is the Messiah.” It is far easier to believe in a glorious Messiah not yet seen than to look at a man standing there, someone known in the community, and say, “This is the promised Christ.”
So it was very difficult for Jesus to carry out His ministry, knowing all and moving toward His crucifixion, and yet to teach from day to day and be viewed as a man, as an enemy to His people (according to the religious leaders).
8 And being found in fashion as a man,
he humbled himself,
and became obedient unto death,
even the death of the cross.
We should never imagine that it was easy for Jesus to accept the cross because of His divine nature. It was all the more humiliating to have His own people first cheer Him and then yell crucify Him, jeering at Him on the cross. Nevertheless, Jesus accepted this role, because He knew He would died on the cross for the sins of the world. Only God Incarnate could die on the cross. Only the perfect Son of God could atone for my sins and for yours.
God exalted Jesus, just as He will exalt every humble believer who serves Him with the mind of Christ.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him,
and given him a name
which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
of things in heaven,
and things in earth,
and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
When believers are brought low by being faithful to the Word, they should remember this entire passage. The Word brings the Cross. The perfect Son of Man was not spared. All of us, who are sinners, will do no better. And even though our Old Adam rebels against bearing the cross, it brings us closer to Christ to know that whatever we might suffer is nothing compared to what He has done for us.
Today, in this church, we have a confirmation. In many congregations young people will be confirmed, this Sunday or in the next few weeks. When I was a teen, most of my class-mates were Lutheran. The entire class cheered once when Luther’s name was mentioned in history class. I was not Lutheran at the time. I was amazed that my friends had gone to classes for three years on Saturdays to be confirmed. In the Lutheran congregation I joined, every student had already memorized the catechism before starting confirmation, following what the Book of Concord says about Luther’s Small Catechism – the Head of the Household will teach in a simple way to his household. I was especially impressed because the confirmed students knew so much about the Bible and Luther.
When I left the LCA as a pastor, I still had two year confirmation classes. My colleagues adopted camp-firmation, a week of summer camp followed by confirmation. One can only guess how little education took place.
No one should think that confirmation is the equivalent of a Ph.D. in theology. Whether someone is confirmed with a smattering of knowledge or as an expert, the real challenge is to constantly remain attentive to the Word and willing to learn. Dr. Martin Luther was the greatest theologian of the Christian Church, with a genius IQ, having a knowledge of the Bible which staggers us today. Nevertheless, he also studied the catechism all the time. We can never know the basics well enough.
Some pastors never study again after leaving seminary. Some pursue graduate studies and then stop studying. Luther said that pastors who do not remain diligent in the Word should be “chased out of town and pelted with dog manure.” I have no hesitation in quoting him, because his comments are included in the introduction to the Large Catechism. We subscribe to the Large Catechism as a correct exposition of the Word.
The same may be said of adults. If parents and grandparents take the Word for granted and no longer appreciate the Gospel, what Jesus has done for them, it is taken away. We are viewing the collapse of organized Christianity in this coming generation. Congregations are worried about the lack of pastors and denominations are facing a precipitous decline in membership.
We should be happy when things stir us up to study the Word of God. Confirmation prepares students enough so they know where to go when they grow up and run into conflicts, challenges, and disturbing events. No one can know enough ahead of time, but we can have a foundation in the Word and Confessions. I like to have the confirmation class open up the Book of Concord and go through it, looking at each work within the Lutheran Symbols. I said to David, “You are one of the few Lutherans in America who has opened up the Book of Concord.”
When one student needed some help in taking notes for confirmation class, I started putting Lutheran quotes in the bulletin. Later I sent them to friends by email, to save them time and inspire them. Now the quotations go around the world. Many respond the way I do when I read them, re-read them, think about the meaning of each one – Now I understand the Gospel better.
That is why we take so much time to teach confirmation students in traditional Lutheranism. That is why we think this day is so important, not as graduation from learning, but as a beginning of a lifetime of growth in the Word of God.