Elevating ourselves with the mind of Christ
In terms of elevation, what is the highest place you have visited? Perhaps you have been to Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, the highest peak in eastern North America. Have you visited Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley) in Alaska? It’s the highest peak above sea level in the United States.
What is the lowest elevation you have visited? Death Valley in California is 282 feet below sea level while the Dead Sea in Israel, at 1,360 feet below sea level, is the lowest point on Earth’s surface. (Display your photos.)
In today’s lesson from Philippians, Paul writes about highs and lows. He describes how high Jesus was before the incarnation, one with God the Father and the Spirit. Then Paul writes about how far down Christ came, becoming a human and even dying like a criminal. Paul wants the Philippians to have Christ’s humility because it the one thing that will allow them to have unity. Unity and humility are the two themes of this lesson.
Read Philippians 1:27-30.
¯ What kinds of churches do you pass as you drive around your town? (Write the names of the Christian denominations on your board as the students name them. Some include Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist.)
¯ Why do so many kinds of churches exist? (Denominations are born in response to a variety of things. Some rise up to meet a need in a particular place and time. Often a Christian leader will gain a following of others who think as he does about doctrine. Sometimes two groups of Christians will disagree on a matter, and one will separate and form a new denomination.)
¯ What are some of the matters on which churches disagree? (They disagree on topics such as the form church government should take; doctrinal issues such as when baptism should be administered; aspects of the Lord’s supper; the doctrine of predestination; the ordination of women; beliefs about the second coming of Jesus; the type of music to be used in worship; appropriate dress for church attendance.)
¯ Why do we have these disagreements? (Sometimes we interpret Scripture differently. One church teaches that a certain portion of Scripture should be emphasized while another church focuses on a different portion. Sometimes our differences boil down to personal preferences.)
¯ Even if we disagree with other churches, what do we still have in common? (We may disagree on peripheral issues, but all true churches agree that God is the creator, that Jesus is the divine Son of God, that he was crucified for our salvation and raised on the third day, that the Holy Spirit comforts and directs us, that Jesus will come again, and that believers will live forever with God.)
¯ How can we have unity with other Christians if we disagree with them on peripheral issues? (We can work together to spread the gospel and meet people’s needs. We should not argue about our differences in a mean way, especially in the presence of non-believers.)
Sometimes we have disagreements with other members of our own congregations. These disagreements may concern how the church should be run or how to spend the church’s money.
¯ How should we keep unity in the church when these disagreements come up? (We can speak with firmness but also with gentleness. We can listen closely to others’ ideas. We should make our friendships a priority and forgive those who have offended us.)
(Before reading the next section, point out that in verses 6-8, we may have the fastest “descent” in the Bible. It’s like going from the peak of Mount Everest to the bottom of the Dead Sea in the fifteen seconds it takes to read these verses.)
Read aloud 2:1-11.
¯ Why are verses 6-8 one of the fastest descents in the Bible? (In verse 6, Paul writes of Jesus’ equality with God. There is no higher position. Figuratively speaking, he’s at the peak of Mount Everest. By the end of verse 7, Jesus is an “empty servant.” By the middle of verse 8, Jesus is dead. By the end of verse 8, we learn that not only is he dead, but he died the excruciating death of a criminal on a cross. He’s at the bottom of the Dead Sea, figuratively speaking.)
In other words, sometimes it is necessary to look out for yourself. We should set boundaries when necessary.
¯ Is it appropriate to avoid a person who has a history of injuring others? Why or why not?
Verse 6-11 may be the words of an early Christian hymn. The verses describe Jesus before he was the infant in Bethlehem. Jesus existed from before creation, and before Bethlehem “he had all the essential attributes of deity.” Jesus emptied himself by taking the form of a servant. Jesus “laid aside his high position,” yet “all the fullness of deity was [still] found in him in bodily form.” Jesus did temporarily give up a few characteristics of deity. He could not be everywhere at once as the Spirit of God can. And in Mark 13:32, Jesus says that he does not know when he will return. Therefore, we know that Jesus was not omniscient during his time on Earth. Even so, he was still fully God.
Any move from heavenly glory to Earth was a huge step down. But he went even further and was born to a poor peasant couple in an area where animals were kept.
“It is this mindset that the Philippians need to have. a willingness to take the place of a servant.” Jesus wants us to be willing “to take low places in the kingdom.”
¯ In what ways can we take low places in the kingdom of God? (We can do jobs that others do not want to do. We can do tasks that do not earn praise and thanks.)
The late Rich Mullins was a Christian vocal artist. He sang about the night sky in a song called, “Sometimes by Step.” The words of this song say, “Sometimes I think of Abraham/ How one star he saw had been lit for me.” Most of us are not the biological offspring of Abraham, but we are his children in the faith.
¯ How does it affect you to know that as Abraham looked at the night sky 4,000 years ago, one of those stars represented you?
That song also says that on the road of our faith, the climb can be steep.
¯ As you have “worked out your salvation,” how has the road been a steep climb? Have there also been stretches of the road that have been smooth and easy? Which section of the road are you on right now – steep and difficult or level and easy? (Students need not answer aloud.)
¯ How does God use the steep parts of the road of faith? How does God use the smooth, easy stretches?
“Counting others as more significant than ourselves is really a small price to pay in view of all that [Jesus] has given for us.”
Close in prayer, thanking God for Jesus who humbled himself. Ask God to help you to count others as more significant than yourselves as you work out your salvation.
(“From the Pulpit” is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)