Kevin Reilly – Gdańsk, Poland
It is a striking thought that we should seek to emulate a man who by choice, emptied himself of his glory, power and position in order to serve. For most of us, it is the Rags to Riches story that inspires – but Riches to Rags…who wants that? To most it reads as a story of loss, failure and of weakness – few of us would choose the lead role in a story like this. Indeed, none of us would. None of us could!
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:5-6)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, writes Paul. Have a single mind among you. Let there be a way, a pattern that is common to all and let this way define you as a community. Reject selfish ambition and arrogance; consider others as more vital than yourselves and let each of you be as moved for the needs of others as you are for your own needs. This is the mind that Paul is instructing his readers to have and yet he doesn’t simply leave them with a neat list of dos and donts in verses 3-4. He draws them to Christ (v5-6).
This instruction to community life, is not a fresh interpretation of Old Testament Law, nor is it some new and popular philosophy, instead, this way has been gifted to us. Have this mind…which is yours in Christ! Elsewhere Paul writes, We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16); and so these community-defining gifts of selflessness and servanthood are gifts from Christ to his church.
Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. This shared community mind, gifted to us in Christ is now exemplified in the life of Christ. He is this and so we are to be this too. He is the lead in the Riches to Rags story. His position, power and glory have been set aside as he takes the lowly position of servant, born in the likeness of men. His rights and attributes are not grasped, instead they have been relinquished. Do nothing from selfish ambition…look to the interests of others and so Jesus exemplifies these ways, as he empties himself in order to lower himself, by becoming a servant of all. And this is a key for us – Paul writes that it is because Jesus took the form of a servant (v7) that he is able to relinquish power and empty himself. Jesus takes the form of a servant and in so doing, submits to the will of his father, becoming a servant! All authority and power will be restored to him (Mt 28:18) but Jesus’ journey in the earth to the cross – to death – is as a servant; as is our own journey to be.
Do nothing from selfish ambition (v3) because Jesus did nothing from selfish ambition. But who is really ever to achieve that? We all fall at this first hurdle…to look inward is to miss the point here. The mind we are to have as a community is one that is filled with the Gospel, both as the means and as the inspiration for community life.
Emma and I are part of a small Christian community in Gdańsk -Kościoł Grono (Circle of Friends Church). We have been a part of this community (in one form or another) for the last fourteen years. And I can honestly say that the last two to three years have been our happiest and most fruitful years, yet. By God’s grace we have learned something of what it means to have this mind among us and in so doing we have found ourselves more emptied of presumption and pride and visions and plans, and instead we are loving Jesus, loving the gospel and loving one another more faithfully.
We have become a financially generous little church. We love communion and we love to worship together. We are becoming increasingly adept at sharing honestly, together, what is in our hearts and lives and we are also seeing people saved! We are baptising a dear friend at the beginning of November and we have other friends on our Christianity Explored course. We are being and we are making disciples. We have learned something about how to make decisions as a community (more slowly now) and we always make key decisions together. We listen to one-another better and we serve one another well in this. We have learned a much flatter more participatory way as a community, as opposed to the more hierarchical approach that typified us in the earlier years. And I think that this foundational truth of servant-leadership has been a key for us. At Kościoł Grono we can say that we have something of this mind among us – and in so doing, we have become more faithful disciples of Jesus, closer as friends and more fruitful in mission.
Who would have thought – riches to rags, to riches. Now that’s a story!