This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for May 1) is written by Lise Caldwell, a freelance writer living in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Be Like Jesus (Philippians 2:1-11)
By Lise Caldwell
To paraphrase A Christmas Carol, I am a famously competitive person: to begin with. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. My husband loves to tell the tale of the time I mercilessly defeated a 12-year-old girl in a game of Scene It at Walt Disney World in order to win Electronic-Banking Monopoly, a game he refuses to play with me because—you guessed it—I’m so competitive.
So a few years ago when an equally competitive friend of mine suggested that she and I both try to memorize the entire book of Philippians, I eagerly accepted the challenge. We were both part of a Bible study discussing the book, and the other women would watch in mingled awe and fear as she and I battled to see which of us had memorized the bigger portion that week. She prided herself in impassioned inflection; I went for speed. I have a long history of speed memorization. In third grade I could recite the names of all the books of the Bible in under 60 seconds—and I learned them in a week. So it wasn’t long before I was blazing through Paul’s thankfulness for the church and Philippi and his experiences in prison at lightning speed.
You, being wiser and cannier than I, probably see where this is leading. The Bible has this funny way of convicting us. And even at a verbal velocity that would exhaust a 13-year-old girl, eventually some of the message filtered to my heart. One day it dawned on me that my pursuit of the “spiritual discipline” of Scripture memorization wasn’t exactly fulfilling Paul’s injunction to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (Philippians 2:3). On the contrary, selfish ambition and vain conceit were my primary motivations.
Servanthood or Selfishness?
But isn’t that true of all of us? From kindergarten squabbles to genocide, from prom queen to president, from designer jeans to designer genes, we want what we want when we want it. Often even our “selfless” acts are tinged with a desire to be admired. Selfish ambition and vain conceit are the story of humanity.
With one obvious exception.
Christ, “made in human likeness” (v. 7) and “being found in appearance as a man” (v. 8 ) set a different example for humanity—one Paul urges us to follow. And the apostle makes his appeal eloquently. The opening of chapter 2 features a list of reminders of what our relationship with Christ offers us: encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness, compassion; and how our enjoyment of those “perks” ought to compel us to serve one another, look out for one another, and love one another.
By keeping in mind both the first and the second comings of Christ.
In verse 5 Paul gives the challenge: have the same attitude as Jesus. He then describes exactly what that means. Jesus, who had the “right” to all that human ambition could possibly long for—and infinitely more—didn’t grasp for that. In fact, he “made himself nothing” (v. 7). We live, from the time of our youth on, in terror of being a “nothing”—a “nobody.” But that is the identity Jesus chose for himself.
Not only that, Christ took on “the very nature of a servant.” Now, Christian-speak has made much of the word servant. We like to talk about how someone has a “servant’s heart” or is a “servant leader.” But in the Western, democratic, hate-to-admit-the-fact-that-we-actually-do-make-class-distinctions culture, I’m not sure we fully grasp what it means to be a servant.
Being a servant means being subject to the master’s wishes and whims. At times it means being virtually invisible. Not following your own agenda. Being “nothing.” And in Jesus’ case, being “obedient to death” (v. 8). I think we do a dangerous thing when we overly spiritualize servanthood. If we’re not careful, it just becomes another path toward selfish ambition—and vain conceit.
It’s impossible for me to read verses 5-8 and not be incredibly convicted. I’ve gone to that passage again and again when I feel the creeping sense of entitlement, discontent, jealousy, resentment, or self-satisfaction that so many of us fight to keep at bay. Christ’s example is our model and our standard.
Vision of the Future
And if that reminder is not motivational enough, Paul gives us an inspiring—or terrifying—vision of the future. The day will come when all knees will bow. We all will acknowledge that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (v. 11). For some that moment will be exhilarating beyond imagination. A time when what we understood dimly will be seen clearly. The surprise won’t be of kind, but of degree.
Unfortunately, it won’t be that way for everyone. For some the shock—and the shame—will be complete.
And all of us, in that moment, will realize the futility of our selfish ambition and vain conceit. And my prayer for you is that, in that moment, your joy will be complete.
*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.
|HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS|
|April 25: 1 Peter 2:18-25|
|April 26: James 3:13-18|
|April 27: Matthew 10:34-39|
|April 28: Ephesians 4:1-6|
|April 29: Colossians 1:9-18|
|April 30: Philippians 1:27-30|
|May 1: Philippians 2:1-11|
ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Lise Caldwell is a freelance writer who lives in Indianapolis with her husband, Shan, and sons Jack and Will.