The Mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5-11)
I had just been released from prison when I joined a small church that practiced “session censured” communion. Basically, this means that no visitor may take communion at the church unless and until they have first been examined by the elders of the church. A practice I question to this day, but which Scripture and tradition reveal is not entirely without precedent.
The pastor at the church was fairly new to the ministry, never having examined someone for membership. He wasn’t sure where to begin. So, I recommended
Confessing Christ by Calvin Cummings. The same book I’d already completed once with the pastor who visited me while I was in prison. There was one chapter left in the book, one week until I was scheduled to be examined, but communion was to be served that Sunday. The pastor assured me that the session had no reason to question my faith, no reason to doubt that I would be received as a member, but they did ask that I abstain from taking communion that week until the examination was completed the following Sunday.
I was outraged! Who did they think they were? They did not question my faith. There was only one week remaining before we completed the book I recommended! Only one week until they would receive me as a member. Despite my pleadings to the contrary, the session asked that I wait before taking communion. I told the pastor they could have their little communion service; I would worship elsewhere.
That Sunday I worshipped at another small church. The pastor preached on Philippians 2:5-11, “5) Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8) And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9) Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11) and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” But he placed his emphasis on one phrase, found in verse 6: “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.”
The ESV renders this phrase, “[Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” and this is perhaps a little easier to understand, but I suspect still clear as mud to most. What Paul is saying is that even though Jesus is equal to God, and thereby entitled to all the rights and privileges thereof, no one, not even the Father, had to force Jesus to surrender the rights and privileges to which He was entitled as God. He did not cling tightly to His rights. He let them go. Though “very God of very God,” as the ancient, Nicene Creed states, He became a man, a servant of every man. He was obedient, even to His humiliation and death. Jesus willingly gave up the rights and privileges associated with being God and became a man, and I was quibbling over delaying my membership in the visible church for a week! Imagine that.
The idea of giving up my right was too much for me. I was entitled to be a member of the church some would say from the moment of profession. “There is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” asked the Eunuch. Jesus paid the penalty, secured my entrance. Who were these men to deny me the right to eat at His table?
Countless people go to prison because they believe they are entitled to something. They may have believed they were entitled to money, so they robbed, dealt drugs, or whatever. Others believed they were entitled to this pleasure or that, so they molested or raped someone. Some may have actually desired good things, believing that it was their right, for example, to earn a living and provide well for their loved ones, but the way they went about providing led them to prison.
Many people stay in prison longer because they believe their “rights” are being violated and so they respond in ungodly ways that result in them receiving more time, losing “good time” or losing whatever security designation they may have earned (which might help them make parole). After their release, the sense of entitlement may be overwhelming. They “need” a car, a phone, a place to stay, and they will do whatever they must to satisfy these needs.
If you would counsel those in prison or those just released, encourage them to remember to have the mind of Christ. Christ was certainly entitled to all the rights and privileges associated with being God. He didn’t have to become a man and die for our sins. But He willingly let these go for our greater good. He willingly humbled Himself. He endured the humiliation of others. He died on the cross for our sins.
Dear reader, to what “rights” have you been clinging too tightly? Perhaps you are more concerned with your “right” to be respected by your loved ones than you are in displaying the selfless, sacrificial love of our God and Savior. Maybe all you want is the ability to provide for your family but you are seeking this above all else, such as time with your family. Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: let go of your “rights,” humble yourself, even to your death. Then, and only then, God will raise you up.
Are you interested in becoming involved in prison ministry? Learn more at www.reducerecidivism.com, www.hopeprisonministries.org or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on September 24, 2013