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January 27 lesson: Imitate Christ

January 20, 2019
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Imitate Christ

Winter Quarter: Our Love For God
Unit 2: Loving God by Trusting Christ

Sunday school lesson for the week of January 27, 2019
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers

Lesson Scripture: Philippians 2:1-11

We have two more lessons from Paul’s beautiful, loving letter to the Philippians. Why not take the time to read the entire letter and not chop it up into sections for Sunday school? Get a feel for his heart as he communicates in prison from Rome, cut off from all but a few personal contacts. We believe the time would be well worth spending.

Also, take the time to review what we wrote last week about the history of the city and the Philippian people to whom he wrote. We noted the personal conflicts between Euodia and Syntyche, but also the actions of others in the fellowship who were using their rhetoric and influence from base motives. This background is crucial for this most famous and significant statement about Jesus Paul ever wrote! Yes, it’s that important!

He begins with four BIG “IFs”:

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.

For understanding Paul, think of these “ifs” as “becauses.” Paul is not casting doubt on whether the Philippians have received these gifts. It is Paul’s way of highlighting what he and the people acknowledge to be true. One commentator states, “At the end of every clause is the implication AND YOU DO!”

These conditions are the result of their being bonded together by the love of God in Jesus. Unity, comfort, sharing, and compassion are the hallmarks of the new community created by the work of Jesus’ obedient and selfless life. The Lord gives this legacy to his followers, including the Philippians – and us!

Christ gives to believers a transformed perspective on life. Having received rich gifts undeserved, and receiving them together, not just individually, they have been formed into a community. The Christian faith song is never a solo – we sing in chorus! There are no Lone Ranger Christians. No individual Boy/Girl Scouts – we are always in a troop.

What is our response to these gifts that enrich the fellowship? Again, there are four: like-minded, same love, one spirit, and one mind (vs. 2). Does Paul mean we are to give up individuality and all become duplicates of each other? NO!

Christian unity is a blending of differences to achieve one aim – selfless service. We take these actions because we belong to Christ, but every action is preceded by thought – the mind. As he begins and ends this quadrilateral, we are “like-minded” and “of the same mind.” Attitude is at the heart of who we are and what we willingly do. He states it clearly: No selfish ambition or conceit; humility that counts others better; looking to the interests of others and not our own. Could there be any attitudes more contrary to our human nature than these? Each of these highlight the Christian life and witness of selfless service. 

Paul then breaks into song. Most scholars feel verses 5-11 are an early Christian hymn, and it is printed in our Bibles as poetry and not prose. Those of us who love music know singing the faith is easier than memorizing ideas. We are better at remembering a hymn than quoting Bible verses. So Paul sings one of the earliest and best of all hymns – the famous kenosis – emptying – passage.

Once again, our actions begin with a mindset – the very mind of Christ. We consciously choose to act this way and pursue it vigorously.

And what is the mind of Christ? As in John 1:1, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The One who emptied Himself was God Himself, who chose to become a servant – “emptied” himself, became a human being, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. These words echo Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant who willingly gives his life for others.

Beginning with the Incarnation (humbling himself), the climax is reached on a cross – a torturous and shameful way to be killed as a common criminal. The cross was the symbol of Roman power over the world. The Word, who had power to bring all things into existence, submitted to this earthly power. In doing so, Christ brought to human existence something totally new.

Consider this: The first human beings, Adam and Eve, owed God their submission but rebelled, seeking to be like God (Genesis 3). Christ was equal to God, but in the Incarnation He became totally submissive to the point of death. In doing so, in Christ God has brought to humanity something never before attained – and the Creator/Savior God offers us the same wonderful New Creation.

And so begins the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Philippians 2. For the first time Paul names Jesus as the One who has opened the door to the new relationship to God, and, in doing so, His name will be honored by every creature in the universe (in heaven, and earth, and under the earth).

When Paul wrote this letter, every Roman subject and citizen in the Empire declared their allegiance by saying, “Caesar is Lord!” Christians then and now have a new Pledge of allegiance! The very One Roman soldiers, in the name of Caesar, crucified is now Lord of all. 

To close this lesson, allow us to share what one writer has said:

God has achieved His original purpose in creation and expressed
His true nature not by destroying rebellious humanity but by
sending His beloved, divine Son to become a human, experience
the pangs of death for others sake and receive His life again by
God’s gift. In that story we find the real meaning and truest  
direction for our lives.

Truly, He is King of Kings, He is Lord of Lords. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at sgr3@cox.net.

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