Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the
form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but
emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And
being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the
point of death—even death on a cross. ~Philippians 2:5-8 ~
When I was in the final weeks of my pastoral internship, the congregation I was serving was planning a 6-week, small group study based on the book We Make the Road by Walkingby Brian McLaren. Although the small group study started after I left, this book has found a place in my own home and in my own devotional practice. The (above) passage from Philippians is one of the assigned readings for chapter 4 in McLaren’s book, a chapter entitled “The Drama of Desire.”
Rewind to Adam and Eve. There were some particularly interesting trees where Adam and Eve lived: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God says not to eat from the latter tree, but we know how this story goes. Rather than choosing the Tree of Life, humans choose to eat of the tree they believe will make them more like God. We choose “the tree that feeds our pride so that we think we can play god and judge between good and evil (15).” Instead of choosing harmony, we choose rivalry. We strive to be like God, to play god ourselves.
We consistently choose the wrong tree, which is why this passage from Philippians is so important for us today. This is a section of what is known as “The Christ Hymn,” written by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi. Rather than being like Adam and Eve, who strive for equality with God by eating of the forbidden tree, Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, even though he was indeed God. Rather than exploiting his omnipotence to protect himself from pain, suffering, and humiliation, Jesus instead takes on the form of a slave and becomes obedient to the point of death.
This passage encourages its hearers to not just be followersof Christ, but to be imitatorsof Christ. I’m not saying (nor is the Apostle Paul) that we are to try to take the place of God in worldly matters, playing god and judging between good and evil. All those matters are up to God, which I’m perfectly fine with because God’s ways are higher than my ways and God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts (Isa. 55:9). There’s no way I can claim to know all God thinks and does. I can’t know these things, I’m only human.
So instead of trying to play god and judge others, we strive to be imitators of Christ. How do we do that? By striving for peace instead of war. By standing for justice in an unjust world. By feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick. By visiting the prisoner, welcoming the stranger, and giving voice to the voiceless. By befriending the outcast and those who are lonely. By seeing others as friends instead of rivals. By building one another up instead of tearing each other down.
We do all these things not only because we follow Christ, but because we are called to be imitators of Christ. Go therefore, and do likewise.