“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”(Philippians 2:1-2)
Paul is speaking about the ramifications of our faith. He is pleading with the church to live a life consistent with the faith we confess. This is a call for action, for real world application of the teachings of God. Your faith is not just a matter of your mind. It is not just an academic enterprise. It is not just a matter of the heart either, a matter of your personal feelings and emotions. Furthermore, your faith is not just a private thing, something between you and God alone. No, your faith is embodied within you, it is part of who you are, and it is how you live and move and interact with one another. Your faith is rooted in a community where it is given the strength and courage needed to press on in the world.
When John, the beloved disciple, told his story of the origins of our faith he began by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…,” and then a few verses later he tells us, “…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). The Word of God, the Word that spoke all creation into being, the Word that says, “Let there be light,” and there is light. That Word of God became flesh. God took up your skin and bones, your hair and fingernails and heartbeat. God would know what it is to feel cold and be hungry. He could weep and laugh and bleed and know pain. In order to save mankind, to reconcile the world to God He bound Himself to our flesh to do what we could never have done by ourselves.
Now, I think we often overlook the ramifications of this. Oh, we love to tell the story of the baby born of Mary in the little town of Bethlehem. We love to reenact the manger scene and sing the old songs about the incarnation of the Word of God. But perhaps we move away from it all a little too soon. We celebrate Christmas and then move on to bigger and better things. But have you really considered what it means that God took on human flesh? I know we get it in theory but imagine looking into the eyes of another person and the eyes looking back at you are those of the Son of God, full of love and compassion. Now, the flesh He became looked like a Jewish man born in Israel roughly 2000 years ago. But He could have just as easily looked like you. For that matter, He could have looked like the black man marching to protest racial injustice. He could have looked like the migrant worker you drive past every day working in the fields to provide for his family. He could have looked like the single mom at the grocery store or the homeless guy begging for a handout on the way out. He might have looked like your best friend or your greatest enemy. When He became flesh, He became one of us, one of the unique and peculiar creatures walking the face of the earth.
When Paul describes this miraculous arrival of the Word of God in human flesh he says that Jesus, “…did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus came as a servant. He came in such a way that He emptied Himself of what was rightly His. The glory, power and honor that was His, He set aside so He might be obedient. The Word became flesh to live in obedience to the Father, to be the final great sacrifice for the sins of the world. The Word that created humanity now embraces the flesh as His own.
This impacts our lives. It changes things, or at least it ought to. I think we see it most clearly in the Church, in the gathering of the people of God around the gifts of Christ. When we come into this place, we come from various backgrounds, vocations, passions, and ideas. We come here because we are bound by a common confession of faith. We come and what we find in our gathering are brothers and sister in Christ. We find that those sitting near us in the pew, they pray to the same Father, they cling to the same promises. We kneel next to them as we receive the Lord’s Supper and we honor who they are and what they do because they are Christians. The flesh we find in this place is the flesh that the Word of God took up. We can hear their joy as they sing His praises knowing that His death was their death, His life is their life.
Of course, we can see the ramifications of all this within ourselves, how we understand who we are. You know more than anyone else the profound depth of your own soul. You know the dark things you think and desire, that you would never want to voice to anyone else. Yet, Christ took up your flesh. He died for your sins. He rose for your salvation. The flesh you see staring back at you when you look in the mirror is the flesh Jesus claimed as His own. He has washed it in baptism, clothed it there in His righteousness. He then feeds you with His own body and blood, with forgiveness and hope. Not just your mind or your heart but all of you is caught up in the redeeming work of your Lord.
Which, of course, means something has changed for your neighbor as well. And not just those gathered in church, not just those you choose to hang around with. No, those that you disagree with, those you would not give the time of the day to, those you would rather not engage with, they too are the flesh Jesus took up as His own. They too are the object of His love and compassion. He became a servant for them, for their future, and for their salvation.
When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, when the Son of God was found in human form, He changed the fellowship of humanity. We are now given something great, something powerful. We are given to see our neighbor as those precious in the eyes of the Lord. This is where racism finds its end, where hatred because of a political party is emptied of power, where pride and arrogance are called out and discarded. For that person looking back at you in the mirror is one who Christ loves and forgives. The one worshipping next to you and singing the praises of God is a saint of the Lord. The one that looks different or the one that is hostile and angry, that is unkind and unloving, they too are the flesh of humanity your Lord loves enough to die for.
So, Paul says this ought to be your mind as well. You are given to see what the world cannot see. You can look at each other and see the ongoing love of Christ. You can then look to your neighbor and become a servant of them. For that same flesh would be embraced by your Lord. After all, in the end there will not be one of us above the other. There will not be special seats of power and prestige but as the text says, “Every knee shall bow, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
When God became flesh, He opened to us a wonderful life of service to each other. He restored us not only to the Father but to one another. Perhaps, there is nothing better to say about it than what Paul himself said: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”