What An Attitude!
A sermon based on Philippians 2:1-11
Sunday, October 23, 2011 – Pentecost 19A
[With attitude:] "Here. I bought you some flowers." "Fine, kids, let's go to the zoo!" "Here's the report, boss." Attitude makes a big difference doesn't it? Do the right thing with the wrong attitude and it doesn't amount to much. And the truth is we don't always have the right attitudes, do we? Perhaps that's especially the case when things aren't going our way. When we're suffering our attitudes often suffer too.
Some chalk it up to a flight or fight response. When I'm hurting that "Gotta'-take-care-of-me-first" attitude kicks in. "It's a dog eat dog world out there where you hurt or be hurt, use or be used, take or be taken from." What a bad attitude!
If anyone had a right to have a bad attitude it was the apostle Paul, who was imprisoned for sharing the gospel. But he didn't have a bad attitude. We heard last week how he was happy to die or to keep on living, whichever God preferred. Instead, his attitude was one of selfless service to the Philippians. And looking out for their best interest, he encouraged them to adjust their attitudes and to make Jesus' attitude toward suffering their own. Listen to what he says in Philippians 2:1-11…
1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with 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 purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 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! 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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
When Paul writes, "Your attitude should be…" he implies that the Philippians attitudes weren't right. And if I can jump right to the point: Neither are ours. Humility? Nah! Considering others better than us? Not normally. But who can blame us, right? I mean the culture in which we live doesn't exactly hold humility up as a virtue. Commercials on TV encourage tell us that we deserve more. Friends and family counsel, "Take advantage of your rights! Don't let them talk to you or treat you that way!" At work humility equals weakness as if you were too timid or cowardly to stand up for yourself. And we buy into it.
Are you willing to suffer for someone else's benefit? Maybe someone else takes the credit for a project you completed. Maybe you did an extra chore at home and it wasn't noticed or appreciated… or worse, you were scolded for not doing it more often. Maybe you made yourself vulnerable to defend a friend and it backfired—you were picked on instead and your friend joined in. Did you think, "I don't deserve this! I don't have to take it!" Then what you really say is, "I'm more important than you. I matter more. I'm better."
The truth is deep down we're all pretty haughty and proud. Especially in times of suffering when we're hurting. We get sucked into thinking that all that matters is me and how I feel. No one else matters right now. And we easily justify our bad attitudes in our own minds. "Well, I'd be less selfish if I had more to give." "I'd be more happy and cheerful if I weren't asked to suffer like this."
But what gives us the right to talk that way to God?! How can the clay pot talk back to the potter? We rebel against God in our selfish, self-centered, me-first attitudes and then complain to him when things don't go our way and we suffer! What audacity! We deserve to be struck down for our haughty attitudes! We deserve a slice of humble pie! We deserve eternal humility and suffering in hell.
But thank God we don't get what our bad attitudes deserve because of Jesus' attitude for us.
What's the difference between a superhero and a super-villian? Bottom line: It's their attitude, isn't it? How do they use their powers? The villains use their power for selfish ambition. They consider themselves better than others. But the heroes use their powers for the benefit of others. They put themselves in harm's way to keep others out of it.
And you know that the ultimate superhero is Jesus. Jesus was anything but haughty even though he had every right to be! After all, he is the perfect, sinless Son of God, who always did everything right, never did anything wrong, and had power beyond imagination. And yet he was the epitome of humble. Paul describes his humility in 3 verses…
In verse 6 he describes what Jesus willingly gave up: "[Jesus:] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…" The true God who created the world by the power of his Word didn't consider his divine power something to be held on to or used for personal gain. He didn't consider the paradise or the mansions of heaven too important for him to keep, but gave them up.
Verse 7 describes what he became: "[He] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…" The omnipotent, almighty, eternal God became a worm of a man. The King of the Universe became a slave to sinful rebels. Why?
Verse 8 tells us why: "And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!" The immortal God had to become man so he could become obedient to death. He humbled himself so that he could die. He did it so he could endure hell on that cross… for you. He did it because we are more important to him than himself. What a loving attitude!
And though he didn't deserve such treatment, such torture, such hell, he never once said, "I don't deserve this! This is unfair! I don't have to take it! Time to look out for number one!" That might be what we'd do, but not him. His attitude was different. Because of his attitude of obedience to the Father and of love for us, Jesus said to the Father, "Kill me instead of them. Damn me to hell in their place." What a loving attitude even in the midst of the worst kind of suffering! What love he has for us!
And because of Jesus' attitude on the cross, we are forgiven of our selfish actions and our me-first attitudes. We're forgiven for every sin. God looks at you and sees a perfect attitude that is only selfless and loving and self-sacrificing even in the midst of suffering. He sees Jesus. And so we don't get the eternal lesson in humility that we deserve. Instead we get the glory that is his! We share in that name that is above every name. We are called Christians! And so, we too will share in his glory.
God exalted Jesus for his faithful service and we exalt him too. Now we bow the knee in honor and thanks to Jesus and live lives of thankful humility and service to him. And now, because of Jesus' attitude for us we can mirror Jesus' attitude toward others. Jesus' attitude of suffering becomes our own…
Paul begins this portion of his letter with four "if's." But the truth is, these statements are anything but iffy. In fact, the Greek word translated "if" could also be translated "since," assuming that these conditions are all true. Then our text would read: "[Since] you have… encouragement from being united with Christ, [since you have]… comfort from his love, [since you have] …fellowship with the Spirit, [Since] any tenderness and compassion…"
Since we have all these things, we can't help but be changed. Christ's loving attitude and actions for us change our attitudes. We can no longer be proud knowing that there was nothing we could ever do to take care of our huge problem of sin. But instead, we're humbled by the law and thankful to Jesus for taking that sin away.
And on the other hand, true humility doesn't say "I'm a loser. I'm worthless, with no gifts or abilities." Instead it says, "I have some incredible gifts from God! I have gifts to use…To use for the benefit and blessing, not of myself, but of others." And recognizing our Savior's selfless love for us and the way he usedhis gifts for us, we can't help but be loving ourselves.
We ask "What can I do to serve him in thanks?" And he tell us! "Love one another." "Wash each other's feet." "Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me…" So we ask, "What can I do to serve others?" And this becomes our goal in life. With attitudes that are the same as that of Christ Jesus, we look not only to [our] own interests, but… to the interests of others.
That Greek word translated "look" isn't just "take a look at that." It means to "keep searching, to be on the lookout." Just like the little kid walking along the beach scouring the shoreline for shells, we seek and search to find ways to serve others. We ask "What can I give up to serve? What can I sacrifice for others? How can my attitude be as selfless at Jesus'?"
"Give up front row tickets to the football game to watch a chick flick with my wife?! Are you crazy?!" But in Christ you can say, "I'll buy the popcorn, honey!" "Give up a weekend away with your girlfriends at the spa to clean the house and serve your family?!" In Christ we can say, "Pass the toilet brush!" We can give up free time usually spent relaxing to sit by someone's side in the hospital, give up our hard-earned dollars to help someone in financial trouble. And we can do it all with a cheerful attitude—one that is thankful for our Savior's selfless attitude that served us and for the selfless attitude that he gives us.
Rejoice, friends, in our Savior's humility on our behalf, in the forgiveness of sins and bad attitudes that he won for us on the cross, the eternal glory that is ours now and will be realized fully one day soon. And be on the constant lookout for opportunities to thank our Savior with the new selfless attitudes that he gives. In Jesus' name, dear friends. Amen.