Some people tend to be a little intimidated by Paul—as if he’s the perfect Christian who sits high on his holy mountain preaching complex theology for like-minded deep thinkers. But sections of his letters like this in chapter three, verses 19-30, give us a glimpse into a personable side of Paul
There are a million things we can complain about right now. Life doesn’t look the way it once did. As I write this, the country faces a pandemic. Racial tensions are high. Protesting and violence plague our major cities. Churches are closed. And it’s an extra contentious election year!
Do you remember the first time you had a substitute teacher? You came to school thinking you were going to be a good boy or girl only to find Mr. What’s His Face or Mrs. What’s Her Name standing before the class. Your age usually determines your reaction to this.
When I was a kid, I would wrestle my uncle Dave. I would try with all my might to pin him, but he would just tie me up like a pretzel, yell “Pretzel”, and then shout, “Say Uncle!” Uncle Dave wanted me to submit. He wanted me to stop fighting. Typically, we submit when we can’t fight any more, when all our strength is gone, when we realize we’re fighting a losing battle. Isn’t it all the more amazing to think that Jesus, all-powerful Jesus, submitted himself.
Jesus emptied himself. That may sound a little strange to us. I suppose we may speak of an athlete who “left it all on the field” or after a busy day, we may say, “I feel drained.” But Jesus emptied himself in a way unlike anything you or I have ever done. Christ existed in the majestic “form of God” from all eternity. He has always shared in the glory of God. In his high-priestly prayer on the eve of his death, Jesus prayed: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5).
When Melissa and I were married nearly twenty years ago, Philippians 2:1-4 was part of our wedding vows. Not exactly traditional, but we considered it the “something new” part of “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” deal.
Lately I’ve been receiving text messages letting me know I have a gift that needs to be picked up at the post office. Sounds good to me! The only problem is this gift doesn’t really exist. The message is malarky; the gift is a scam! Someone just wants me to click on a link to capture my personal information. It’s a gift all right. It’s a box of rocks, a lump of coal, a rice cake. In his letter, Paul told the Philippians of a very real gift they would be receiving. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have wanted it.
You haven’t met Kenny, but you should. He is my mom’s cousin and my dad’s life-long friend. Growing up, if you were to ask me to describe Kenny, I would say that Kenny is funny, loud, and not always a fan of social norms. Competition came naturally to him whether on a basketball court or a baseball diamond. Even on the golf course, a true gentlemen’s game, his competitive nature would get the best of him.
I took my daughter out for a milkshake the other day. I asked her what flavor she wanted and laid out the options: Chocolate. Vanilla. Strawberry. Cookies ‘n Cream. Then I immediately removed vanilla from the list because that’s boring. Sorry, vanilla lovers. Truth hurts.
Have I mentioned that the Apostle Paul wrote Philippians in prison? It wasn’t a white-collar crime he committed. He didn’t get mixed up with the wrong crowd. He didn’t have what was coming to him. He didn’t stumble into a science project in his basement and realize there was money to be made. His only crime was that he met Jesus, and his life was changed. Apparently, he couldn’t get over telling the story.