What I should'a said...
Week 21, Day 1
…3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself…
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…
As I was studying the text for last week I was aware of an assumption I was making about what Paul was saying. There were two things I should have done with that assumption that I did not do. And because I did not do my due diligence with the text and what I was communicating to the class, a commonly held misunderstanding of what Paul says was allowed to continue and negatively affect our discussion.
What I should have done first was to check out my assumption to see if it was correct (I have done that now and it was correct. Good for me, but still too late:). And secondly, I should have made sure this information was fed into the conversation through the “Text and Questions” material I sent out ahead of the class.
So, with appropriate apologies, let me write now what I should have written then.
I’ve copied the relevant portion of the Philippian’s passage above. Note the bold print for the words “you” and “your own”. These words represent a translation problem for which the English language has no good solution. English uses the 2nd person pronoun “you” to refer both to an individual and to a group. There is no plural form for this pronoun in English. The closest we have, and this wouldn’t work well in a Bible translation, is the Southern slang, “y’all”.
In Greek, and in many other languages, there is a 2nd person plural form, and that is the form Paul uses in this passage. “You” and “your own” in this passage are both plural. Paul is not saying “Let this mind be in you individually…”, he’s saying “Let this mind be in all of you together, in all of you as a group”; not in each of you but in the group as a whole. In this passage at least, Paul is not telling the individual Philippian Christians to empty themselves of their privilege and become slaves to anyone. He’s saying the church corporately, as a body acting together, should surrender its privilege and orient itself, as a body and as an institution, to to a life-together of service.
In our day Christians tend to think very individualistically. For us everything is “me and Jesus”. In Paul’s day the individual was much less important, and the group received most of the attention. Paul believed that what we do together—when we are “being the church”, is much more significant than what we do on our own. He is calling on the church, the Body of Christ, to surrender its power, privilege and position in the world in order to serve the world—as Christ served the world by emptying himself.
The delightful irony here is that in order for the church to empty itself, it has to be populated by individuals who are filled with the Spirit; individuals who are filled to overflowing with God’s love and grace. It is that fulness given to us that makes possible the church’s emptying. It is because that fulness and that strength can never be taken from us that we, acting together as one body, can be of use serving the world in Jesus’ name.
So there you have it. I should have filled my brain with a little more information before emptying it out on the printed page. Maybe next time…
Prayer: Fill your followers with love, Gracious God, and your church with lovers. Form us anew into the body that lives and gives for your glory and the good of your world.