A psychologist tells the story of a patient who one day brought to a session an envelope marked “Do Not Discard”. She brought it because she needed direction – what to do with it. The envelope contained a promotional offer which she was not interested in, but the envelope dictated TO HER “Do Not Discard.” Most people would ignore that demand, but she was confused. The instruction “Do Not Discard” meant do not discard, period. The psychologist went on to tell a number of other stories of how people just couldn’t let things go – couldn’t purge their homes or their garages, they hoarded items – held on to everything.
I want to think that way with you for a few minutes this morning – what we hold on to. Because we have a similar issue with the directions Paul gives us in Philippians 2 where he says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
In humility… Humility is hard, at least in part, because there are so many things to hang on to – wouldn’t you agree? Considering others better than ourselves, for instance – that means letting go of my pride or of my place or my importance and, if not giving those to someone else, considering them more important than the most important things about me – and I like those things – what I’ve achieved or where I’ve gotten or what people think about me – I really want to hold on to. Or doing nothing – absolutely nothing – out of ambition for me or out of a self-praising way of thinking that says, “Look, I deserve this…” – that means letting go of some beliefs about myself and what I’m capable of and what I deserve – and I like those things – really want to hold on to that belief that I am the best, the most caring. Or looking to the interests of others – means letting go of my time, and my thought, even when I feel like I barely have enough of those things for myself to get things done, let alone to get ahead – and I like those things – really want to hold on to how I have crafted time for me, etc.
Of course, this gets more somber when we get less theoretical and more spiritual. Paul helps us think through what we’re really trying to hold onto when he puts it like this: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…” Something to hold onto, a prize to hold up, plunder to be displayed… And let’s say it this way – Jesus didn’t consider that equality with God something to hold onto for his trophy case, but we do…
Isn’t there an equality with God we try to handle – to hold up like the Tarheels and that NCAA championship trophy – all grasping to get a touch? When we act in selfish ambition – step on a co-worker to put our work forward first – aren’t we really, just for a moment, ignoring Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor and making ourselves God – grasping an equality with him by saying, “I am actually more important than my neighbor and God’s Word right now?” When we do not think of others before ourselves, but think of others as getting in the way of what we want or as horrible because they would dare to call us to account for some sin – aren’t we really ignoring that command to love God and neighbor, instead making ourselves God – holding on to an equality that isn’t ours by saying, “I and my desires are unimpeachable – how dare you!” When we hold on to the possessions we have or the time we think we need in such a way that we disregard the needs of other people, aren’t we grasping after an equality with God – by acknowledging that it maybe isn’t really God who supplies everything that keeps life going but us? And in doing these all, we’ve tried to make ourselves something, quite important, certainly not servants. And we’ve acted often out of fear of losing the same.
Paul calls us to repentance this morning with Philippians 2 and the selfless humility in Jesus Christ, “being in very nature God”. Think of his miracles: water to wine, diseases healed, the storms calmed, walking on water, demons driven out, omniscience, raising the dead. If honor and status is any kind of concern, everybody ought to know that Jesus was evidently God himself; could rightly claim the title “equal with God”. But, wonder of wonders, he “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” That is, though Jesus could rightly have put on his mantle the trophy of “equal with God” (the trophy no one else has right to), he didn’t. Instead, he made himself nothing, setting aside the full use of his power and glory, this one in the “form of God” humbly took on “the form of a servant” – being by nature human, and seen as such in his daily operation. We call this service his “humiliation”. It’s humiliation because, as he submits to his Father’s will, he lives in a sinful world among sinful human people and for them. He might receive palms and praise and a princely ride into Jerusalem, but majesty and glory for Jesus is something far above all these paltry things – it’s absolute obedience to his Father’s will: even finally in humiliation to die at the cross for the pride of our sins.
And so, though none of it’s really glorious as he really is, it’s right that we sing, “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna!” and good we urge, “Ride On, Ride On in Majesty!” because through this humiliating salvation work at the cross, we lay hold in Christ what is not our own by right or achievement: holiness, gracious forgiveness of our sins, and real honor and glory with God. We can be sure because we see the reward our Savior received in God: “God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name”. We will one day confess with every person and power “that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
That psychologist, in her article, said her job was to help people let go. She did it by empowering them with the truth – these things didn’t own them, these things didn’t do anything for them, in fact, it was possible to let them go. Isn’t this how it is for us with Christ? At the head of chapter 2 he calls you people “united with [this] Christ”, this totally giving, absolutely ruling Jesus – this one who so humbly loved sinners. Later on in chapter 3, Paul will say this too: “[O]ur citizenship is in heaven.” I’m united by faith with this Jesus and I belong with him in his heavenly reward. To jump back to the beginning of ch.2 – Paul reasons this way: there’s no question that I have encouragement from that unity; no question that I have comfort from having received Jesus’ love and being in close fellowship with his Holy Spirit; no question about owning this tenderness that does not crush us in righteous pride but instead compassionately cradles us in humbling love… No question that we have all these things. No question that we have the pride of all God’s gracious gifts already ours. Which is to say, what, really, do I have to worry about holding onto?
It’s from this then that Paul says, your attitude/your mind/your way of thinking should be this way. Consider it – sing it, think about it, and enjoy it. Regularly consider Christ’s humble mind of love by reading his Word. And by his Spirit’s power, God will help you work out your salvation. It will be in the pride of peace with God and the promise of his gracious love. And he will be willing and acting in you to obey his will and do his work: specifically so that you can be what Jesus is among yourselves.
You, who have Christ’s mind by faith, hold onto that with those around you. Don’t hold onto selfish ambition, protecting your own interests with selfish sins, but be humbled under Christ’s selfless love that has held onto you so dearly. In joy, practice “holding onto” everyone else around you that way: as ones for whom Christ sacrificed everything and, therefore, as ones for whom you will sacrifice. These around you are ones to whom you can submit in love. These are ones with whom you can straightforwardly work. They’re even this: better and more deserving and worth the time than you – or that’s how hearts filled with Christ’s love look at it. Because you don’t find honor in how anyone here behaves or thinks. Christ’s humble behavior has given you possessions no one here can match or take away. And your honor is to help everyone else to know that they have this same in Jesus Christ too.
Here, in our Savior, the King who rides to his death and our salvation, is something to hold onto. He deserves more than every pride this world could give but by his humble work has made you his pride and joy. Being found in him by faith then, let’s give glory to his name among the people of God and in the world around. Let’s daily let go of all these sinful things and show that we have something great to hold onto by serving him together until we praise him forever. Amen.