Having the Mind of Christ
Last Sunday after church I rushed home to watch my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, the team to which I’ve been faithful for over 40 years, only come away discouraged and a little disgusted. My feelings had nothing to do with their play or the fact that they lost. My disappointment began before the game even began.
When the announcer asked everyone to stand for the playing of the National Anthem only one Steeler appeared. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva had served three tours in Afghanistan as an army ranger stood with his hand over his heart. The rest of the team had remained hidden in the tunnel unseen by the fans or the T.V. cameras. Their coach Mike Tomlin explained,
“They were not going to be disrespectful of the anthem, so they chose not to participate. But at the same time many of them were not going to accept the words of the president. We decided to sit it out, to not take the field, to remove ourselves from it, to focus on playing football.” He continued, “We will not be divided by this. We’ve got a group of men in there that come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, creeds, ethnicities [and] religions. … But because of our position we get drug into [stuff], to be quite honest with you. Some have opinions. Some don’t. We wanted to protect those that don’t. We wanted to protect those that do.”
Did that work? Did that action protect those who do have different opinions? Did it bring people together? Did hiding away in a tunnel work? Did it bring peace? Did it bring unity? As one who follows the Steelers and the NFL I can tell you it did not. The conflict continues to rage.
In our scripture today, Paul addresses a conflict and division which was taking place in a particular church. He believed he saw a way to unity. He believed he saw a way towards peace. Maybe his lesson can help us all.
First, let us pray:
Open the eyes of our heart O Lord that we may see you, hear you, and understand your Word to us so that we may faithfully follow your call.
“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love.”
Now, why does he begin with a conditional clause, “if there is”? Why the question? It almost sounds as if Paul is not really sure that love and compassion and sympathy are present and active in this church. Why would he wonder about that? Aren’t churches supposed to be defined by love and compassion and sympathy? Aren’t we supposed to share in the same spirit? Evidently Paul was not sure about this congregation. He heard rumblings and mumblings in the parking lot after worship. Turn a page and we find out what people may have been talking about.
In the second verse of the fourth chapter Paul writes, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” His language is strong. It is pleading. Why does he say that? Clearly, they were not of the same mind and because they were not of the same mind, whatever they were doing or saying was filtering through the rest congregation and impacting it in a negative way. When these two strong willed women began to go at each other they probably tried to recruit allies. They wanted people to decide who was right.
That’s what’s happening in the NFL right now, players are being forced to choose, “Do I stand for the National Anthem or do I not?”
Scripture does not tell us what their conflict was about. It could have been as petty as choosing what color of carpet to buy for their new fellowship hall or it could have been as important as a major disagreement over an important spiritual truth. They could have been arguing about how the offering should be spent or it may have been personality. Some people just rub each other the wrong way and they have a hard time getting along. We don’t know what the problem was. All we know is that Paul took this problem seriously and so reminded them and us why we decided to follow Jesus in the first place and where we thought he would lead.
“If there is any love and compassion and sympathy and sharing in the spirit…be of the same mind, having the same love.” Well, that’s easier said than done. If you truly disagree with someone, it is pretty hard to look at them with love and compassion and sympathy. If you think that you are right and they are wrong are you supposed to give in and sacrifice your convictions just to keep the peace? Is that where Paul is leading? Is that how we find peace and unity in a divided nation? Does one side have to sacrifice their convictions to keep the peace?
I don’t think so. I say that because Paul himself stood so firmly on his beliefs that he was willing to sacrifice his life for them and in fact he did. In his second letter to the church in Corinth he listed a litany of woe which he endured for his faith. He said, “Five times I have received 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning.” He was imprisoned, beaten, and was eventually executed because would not renounce his conviction that Jesus is Lord.
Paul was always man of strong convictions, but his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus reminded him that he was only a man and that he made as many mistakes as anyone. For example, Paul held the coats of those who stoned Stephen and created the first Christian martyr. He encouraged out of his convictions the execution of Stephen because of his conviction that Jesus is Lord. Paul thought he was doing the right thing at the time. After his encounter with Christ he realized there are times when you may be wrong no matter how right it feels at the time. Without humility you will never question your actions and beliefs and convictions. Without humility you will never attempt to listen and try to understand the actions and beliefs and convictions of others.
So Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves, let each of you look not only to your own interests but to the interests of others”. Don’t misunderstand, he was not just saying “It’s nice to be nice.” This was not just polite etiquette for him. It was and is an expression of faith in the one who demonstrated all of these qualities and more.
Abraham Maslow, one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century introduced a radical shift in perspective to the field of psychology and began an entirely new approach to therapy as he realized how important it is for a person to find purpose outside of themselves. Since Freud, practitioners in the field were oriented toward those people who had problems, neurosis and psychosis and such. Maslow decided to study people who seemed to be happy and content, what he called “self-actualized”. In his search for the secret of self-actualization he discovered “without exception people who are sincerely happy and radiantly alive, are living for purpose or a cause beyond themselves.”
Maslow was not the first to discover this. 2000 years before Paul said “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
What was Jesus like? “Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a servant. And being born in human likeness and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient even to the point of death.”
In other words Jesus determined that he was not going to relate to the people on the basis of power and authority. He would not force or coerce. He would not use or abuse. He would never just say, “Look at me. Look at what I can do.” Rather with every miracle he performed, with every healing that came through his hand he pointed always to the heavenly father and said look up.
So strongly did he hold this conviction that when the time came to confront his opponents face to face “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.” He could have called down a host of angels with flaming swords, could have called down thunder and lightning and warned people they better shape up or ship out. He could have rallied the people to riot over the injustice. But, he did not. He chose a more peaceful and non-violent path.
If that is true for the one we follow, so it should be true for us. The temptation is strong to interact with each other on the basis of power, who has it, who wants, and how I can I use it to get what I want. For those in the corporate community that is business as usual. Politics is the art of forming coalitions to increase influence to get what you want and politics is everywhere. It’s in Washington D.C. and Harrisburg. It’s in academia and in churches as well. If we interact with each other on the basis of power, form coalitions, devise strategies, treat those who disagree as opponents to be defeated we fall short of the vision that Christ has for his church.
“Do all things” Paul writes, “without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God.” In this way he says, “You will shine like stars in the world.”
An early saint, remarking on the dramatic growth in the fledgling Christian church observed, “See how these Christians love one another.” This first century church grew and was so attractive not because its doctrine was pure and without blemish, not because the churches were large and air conditioned, not because there was a program to meet every need, and not even because of the preacher or the choir. These churches grew because people saw that these followers of Jesus cared about one another and cared about the community in which they lived. They shined like stars.
So, in humility count others better than yourself. In that way you understand the convictions, beliefs, and actions of others. If everyone or even a majority do that we may come to have the same mind and the same love that God looks for in us all.
Lord, you have told us to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling so that we may focus not on the shortcomings of others but on our own. Help to see those who oppose us not as enemies who need to be destroyed but as people who simply disagree. Help us listen and speak the truth in love as we understand it. Help us to forge peace and unity in a divided nation. This we pray in the name of the one who did not count equality with you as a thing to be exploited, but took on instead the form of a servant, humbling himself and becoming obedient even to the point of death – Jesus Christ our Lord.
 STEPHEN J. NESBITT, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 Philippians 2:1-2
 Philippians: Communicators Commentary, Duna mpg 279
 Philippians 2:6-7
 Philippians 2:14-15
 Tertullian: Apologeticum, ch 39, 7.