************ Sermon on Philippians 2:5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 6, 2011
"Being Like Jesus"
World Hunger Sunday
[My thanks to Christian History, Issue 101, "Healthcare and hospitals in the mission of the church" for much of the material in my first two points.]
I Pagans: A Lack of Compassion
A Roman roads, public baths and gymnasiums, Hellenistic culture, the beginnings of democracy, the military muscle to ensure peace. The Roman Empire in the second century after Christ may have looked like a golden age. For the healthy, perhaps it was. But woe to you if you were sick or poor. Because compassion was not a well-developed virtue among the pagan Romans; in fact, mercy was discouraged, as it only helped those too weak to contribute to society.
The Roman Empire in the first centuries of the church ruled over tens of millions. Many of them no doubt thanked their gods that they lived in the "civilized world" rather than in the "barbarian world" outside the empire's boundaries. And indeed, in many ways Rome's material culture was not equaled until the nineteenth century.
The empire's greatest pride was its cities – more than 5,000 of them. In the second century B.C., as in our day, many people began moving from the countryside to the city in search of jobs and food. Once in the cities, however, migrants found themselves living in rundown apartment houses lacking basic sanitary facilities. In times of trouble and plague and famine they now faced life without the support of family and village; in fact, they could expect no support from anyone. Worse still, should they become sick, there were no clinics or hospitals to provide care. Perhaps a family member would come to their aid, but sometimes even close relatives would leave their own to die.
In a world of gods not known for their compassion, Roman culture simply did not encourage assistance of the destitute, sick, or dying. In Rome, sick or elderly slaves were left to waste away on Tiber Island. Unwanted children were often left outdoors to die from exposure or abandoned on the steps of a temple. Almost without exception newborns with disabilities were exposed in this way.
As a result, the chronically ill and poor could be seen everywhere in the streets, baths, and forums – many of them homeless and begging.
B Many places of our world today are exactly the same as in Rome some 2000 years ago. Eleven years ago I made a trip to Myanmar. The man I was supposed to meet at the airport never showed up. Instead, he went into the hospital for surgery. Hospitals in Myanmar and most third-world countries are scary places. Because they don't feed you, they don't provide blankets and bedding, they don't necessarily even provide a bed. Imagine Dennis going to the hospital each day with food and blankets and a change of sheets for Gloria.
It is the same thing with prisons in many places around the world. You need family to provide you with your basic necessities.
Do you hear what I am telling you on this world-hunger Sunday? In most places, people don't care. Most of the time, people don't care. Whether it is hunger or disease or whatever, most people around the world simply don't care.
II Christians: A New Moral Culture
A By the first century A.D., a new culture began penetrating the Roman world: it was the culture of the Christians. This culture revolutionized morality and behavior.
The spread of this new culture was never easy. Starting with Nero's campaign of brutality in A.D. 64, there was persecution empire-wide. Nevertheless, Christian churches sprung up in most major cities and many smaller ones.
During this time, in spite of great danger to themselves, these churches carried on an active ministry that included the care of the sick and the poor.
B For instance, there is the Christian response to plagues.
The Roman world in the early Christian era was frequently troubled by plagues; the most famous and destructive of these broke out in 250 A.D. and lasted for 15 years. At that time, Christians gave aid to their persecutors, cared for the sick, and buried the dead left in the streets. The rich among them donated funds and the poor volunteered their service – making no distinction between believers and pagans.
In 251, Cornelius, bishop of Rome, wrote that the church in Rome ministered to 1,500 widows and others in need. Think of all the time and money spent on benevolent work. It was enormous!
Eusebius reported on a another plague, a ten-year plague beginning in 303:
A great rural population was almost entirely wiped out; nearly all being speedily destroyed by famine and pestilence ... Some, chewing wisps of hay and recklessly eating poisonous herbs, undermined and ruined their health. And some of the high-born women in the cities, driven by want ... went forth into the market-places to beg.In this crisis, the Christians knew exactly what do do. Eusebius reported proudly on the response of his fellow believers. There were multitudes who had no one to care for them. It was the Christians who alone showed sympathy and humanity by their deeds. Every day they cared for the sick and buried the dead and gave bread to them all.
Today, Christians remain at the forefront in responding to famine and disease and earthquakes and tidal-waves.
III Being Like Christ
A Why were, why are, and why should Christians be so different from the world?
Christians respond the way they do because they imitate Christ. Christians respond the way they do because they demonstrate Christ's love to fellow image-bearers of God. The weaker and more helpless the neighbor, the greater the need to show them the compassion of Christ.
Our Bible passage on this World Hunger Sunday is a call for all of us to be like Christ. Over the years I have heard lots of sermons on Philippians 2 – eloquent sermons on Christ and what He has done. Yet, the vast majority of them have missed Paul's point because they ignore, miss, and neglect the verse that introduces what the church calls "The Hymn of Christ."
How does Paul introduce this beautiful hymn about Christ? He says, in verse 5, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5). In other words, be like Jesus. Imitate Jesus. Adopt the mindset of Jesus. Or, as the song we sang before the sermon puts it,
May the mind of Christ, my Savior,
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and pow'r controlling,
All I do and say.
Why do we look after the poor and hungry? Why do we visit and minister to the sick and ill? Why do we do the Peter Fish project? Why do we give money to Word & Deed? Because we are striving to be like Christ!
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5). Paul writes this to Christians in the midst of a pagan culture that cares not for the poor and the hungry. So Paul is saying, "Don't be like the world. Don't be like the Greeks and the Romans. Don't be selfish and self-centered. Don't be uncaring." Instead, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5).
B So, what does it mean to be like Christ? Listen to what Paul writes in the "Hymn of Christ":
(Phil 2:6-8) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, (7) but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (8) And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!
Two verbs or phrases stick on this World Hunger Sunday. First, Christ "made himself nothing." Second, Christ "humbled himself."
Christ "made himself nothing." Or, as another translation puts it, Christ "emptied Himself" (NASB, NRSV). How? What did He do? Of what did He empty Himself? Our text tells us: "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped" (Phil 2:6). He didn't stop being God but for a while what was most obvious was His humanity. Jesus put aside, for a while, His divine glory. He put it under a bushel, so to speak. He didn't stop being glorious but He allowed His disciples only occasional glimpses of His glory – for instance, at His baptism, at His transfiguration, on Palm Sunday, and with His miracles.
Jesus also "humbled himself." How? What did He do? He took the nature of a servant. He was made in human likeness. He was found in appearance as a man. He was obedient to death – even death on a cross.
Jesus did not think about Himself, His rights, His wants, His feelings. For our sakes, Christ emptied Himself and humbled Himself. Out of love, Christ emptied Himself and humbled Himself. Jesus gave of Himself without thought of anything in return. Jesus gave of Himself one hundred percent. No half-hearted effort on His part. No whining and complaining. No entitlement attitude – "Hey, I am the Son of God and I deserve better." A total lack of selfishness, and self-centeredness. He made personal sacrifices – boy did He ever.
On this World Hunger Sunday, we see more of the mind of Christ when we consider His ministry to the poor, the sick, and the hungry.
(Mt 9:35-36) Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. (36) When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.Another time, when Jesus saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick and fed them by multiplying the fish and loaves (Mt 14:14ff; Mt 15:30ff).
Do you hear the common word? "Compassion." To be moved in the inward parts. Have pity on someone. Have one's heart go out to someone. But with Jesus, this was always more than just a feeling. With Jesus, His compassion always moved Him to action. So, He feeds the hungry crowds, He heals the sick, the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor (cf Mt 11:5). Do you see the mind of Christ? Do you see His compassion, His great compassion?
C Remember how the great "Hymn of Christ" is introduced? "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5). You need to make yourself nothing. You need to be humble. You need to show compassion. You need to give of yourself. You need to give self-sacrificially. You need to give without thought of getting anything in return. You need to be like Christ.
God's love in and through Christ demands a response of love on the part of Christians. We need to demonstrate God's love to others, especially those who seem unlovable. James defines religion that is "pure and faultless" before God as religion that cares for "orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:27) – biblical shorthand for all those without protectors and in need.
God's love in and through Christ demands that we do better than the Jews of Jesus' day. The Jewish community showed care and concern, but only to their own. By law and custom they were not required to help anyone outside of their faith. In fact, to help others was to contaminate yourself and make yourself unfit for worship.
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5). As you think about all that Christ has done, what do you think this verse says to you on this World Hunger Sunday? Can we say to the hungry, "Go, I will pray for you!" (Cf James 2:14-17)? Can we overlook the homeless people asking for food? Can we satisfy our conscience by dropping a few bucks in the offering plate or in the Peter Fish? When the poor and hungry show up in our worship services can we ask them to sit invisibly in the back somewhere (cf James 2:1-4)?
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5). We need to show love. We need to show the same love as Christ Himself.
Can I challenge you to be like Jesus?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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