“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not (only) for his own interests but also for the interests of others. Make your attitude that of Christ Jesus, who existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used to His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death– even to death on a cross. For this reason, God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow– of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth and ever tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, (enabling you) both to will and to act for His good purpose.”
~Philippians 2.1-13, Holman Christian Standard Bible
John and I attended the National City Christian Church in Northwest D.C. this morning. The Reverend Dr. Fred Craddock, who has been in ministry for more than sixty years and is the Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament Emeritus in the Candler School of Theology served as the messenger for the morning message. We had been assigned to read his book, Preaching, in our seminary course on preaching and were excited to hear what he would have to say to us. The title of his sermon was “A Church With Attitude” and while other interpretations of verse five did not include the word, my chest swelled with pride when I discovered that mine did in fact interpret the Greek word as attitude.
After reviewing the hymn and our use of stanza two (verses 9-11) more so than stanza one (verses 5-8), Rev. Craddock began to examine to use of the words often employed in verse five. “Let this mind be in you,” though the only imperative statement in the hymn and despite the fact the Church was born in a schoolhouse and the synagogue was viewed as a house of instruction, was problematic for him as there were those who might interpret the verse to mean that we gather from week to week for theological debate, gathering to sip tea and nibble on cookies while listening to persons representing the pros and cons of a particular argument.
What about “let this heart be in you”? The statement seemed to suggest a feeling and this, too, he found troubling as feelings are not always representative of the importance or necessity of a task. We often do not feel like doing something or going somewhere. He provided several examples of the problem withe feelings. One such example involved parents who, when asked why they’re children are not in Sunday School, reply the children did not feel like coming. Instead, they felt like setting the living room on fire and sawing the family dog in half!
Once he was at a community gathering and the convener was unable to quiet the attendees. He was identified in the crowd and asked to pray. Caught off guard and unprepared, he simply repeated the prayer that he has said every morning for perhaps forty or fifty years, “Let us do the work (of the Gospel) that is more important than we feel about it.” He instructed us that “prayer should not be used as crowd control.”
“Let this attitude” that was also in Christ Jesus be in you. He agreed that it had a negative connotation but then provided additional examples of its usage and meaning. When on a vessel and asked, “What’s your attitude?” The person is asking, “What is your location?” Attitude can also mean “where you are taking your stand; the governing position for your life; the identification for your life.”
So, what was Christ’s position? He was equal with God but “did not consider equality with God to be used for His own advantage.” Craddock said of Christ, “He gave up the position and did not grasp for it again.” He endured great suffering and never asked God to “cut him a little slack.” He said to us that this was why Peter could not understand Christ when he talked of his suffering or picked up a towel to wash their feet.
So, “How then”, he asked us,”is it possible for anyone who bears the name of Christ to sing stanza two and not stanza one? How can we be arrogant, clutch for power or put people down?… Where there is misery, there is Christ. He gave up one position for another for my sake. After sharing a story about a student who suggested that a minister who did not keep his distance from people and from scenes of misery lacked professionalism, he asked us, “Is this Christ’s position?” And with that, he turned and descended the stairs.
Of course, my answer is “No” and my mind quickly turned to race. In fact, during the reading of the sacred Scripture, I had jotted down the title of this post. And then came the questions: How can we claim to practice and affirm both Christian humility and racial pride as born again believers? Does not our baptism, symbolic of the death of the old man with Christ and the new man in Christ, render these social privileges null and void? What of Christ’s attitude is reflected in our declarations of racial supremacy, the claims of nationalism and the practice of exclusion?
Will our social positions according to race allow us to sing both stanzas or does one not support the other in cases of race? Can we hold to our pride in race and still claim to be found in the position of Christ and in possession of His humility? Does our attitude in matters of race reflect the mind, heart and attitude of Jesus Christ? And if we find it difficult to answer or to choose one over the other, then I must ask, “Is our social position greater than the position that Christ surrendered in order to serve and to save us? Is the claim of racial pride more important than Christian humility? What do you think?