By Helen Lambert
As we draw near to Christmas, and so much vies for our limited attention, energy and resources, this letter penned by the apostle Paul whilst in prison provides a timely reminder of how we might approach this season whilst remaining mindful of the “reason”…
The central theme is captured in verses 6-11, which takes the form of a poem or hymn, and expands on what we might think of as our core Christmas message – that God himself was born as a baby and shared our human life with us.
What did it really mean for Jesus, the Son of God, to come and walk this earth, according to verses 7 and 8? Where had he come from, what did he relinquish, and what enabled him to do this?
In our present times, we are very much aware of our rights and our entitlements. This is not necessarily wrong – especially when it drives us to defend the rights of those whose voices are least heard. However, the model Jesus presents us with is quite different. Although he was God (v6), and “God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him” (Colossians 1:19), he forfeited all rights, “benefits” and glory that were due to him and “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing…being made in human likeness…” (v6-7). If our attitude is to be “the same as that of Christ Jesus” (v5), what can we learn from this model as we reflect on our own expectations of life?
So, “being made in human likeness”, Jesus the Saviour of the World, God himself, was born to a poor teenage girl in a remote and insignificant stable in Bethlehem. Not only did he share in our human experience, but he became a servant (v7). Who, or what, does a servant live for? How did Jesus demonstrate this in his life? (v8) Not only did he live for others – but he died for others too, in order for each one of us to be put right with God so that we could live the lives he intended for us. This is the true “reason for the season”: because Jesus was prepared to humble himself and put our needs before any of his own “rights” or glory, we can be reconciled to God, free of guilt and condemnation, and free to be reconciled to one another. Peace on earth indeed!
Again, if our attitude is to be “the same as that of Christ Jesus” (v5), what does this mean for how we live our lives? We could do worse than start with v3-4. In what specific ways does this challenge us in the run up to Christmas? Can we explore our motivation for what we do, the way we think of others, our attitudes towards the people we struggle with, or those we tend to ignore or forget about? What needs to change within us if we are to genuinely “in humility consider others better than ourselves”? Who do you find it most difficult to do this with? Of course, this is not just for Christmas, but for life!
As we look to the interests of others, rather than our own, a number of remarkable things happen! First of all, we are brought closer to God as we become more aware of his grace at work in our lives – for we can only live like this if his Holy Spirit works in us (v13). Secondly, the body of Christ, the church, is built up as we love, respect and serve even those with whom we disagree, or who make challenging demands of us. Finally, as the world looks on, and looks in to the message that we have to offer this Christmas, Jesus tells us that “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). The pattern Jesus gives us is diametrically opposed to the pattern that we see in the world – and if we live according to it, it will be a sign to others of his presence amongst us.
Just as a star revealed Christ’s presence to those who were looking for him on the very first Christmas, so we are called to “shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life” (v15,16), the Word made flesh, dwelling amongst us and transforming our lives.
As we remember the baby born in poverty in a stable, the angels singing “Peace” and the guiding star of Bethlehem let us not forget why he came:“ …that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!” (v10-11).
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. 14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[c] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. Bible Gateway: https://www.biblegateway.com