A Name Above All Names

(Philippians 2: 5-11)


By this time in the Apostle Paul’s ministry, he finds himself imprisoned in Rome but that doesn’t get him down.  In fact, he’s very upbeat as he writes his friends and supporters in Philippi thanking them for their aid and support.  He summons them to rejoice together with him, for, united to Christ by faith, they are all members of God’s people, God’s commonwealth.  God is at work powerfully among them as they labor together with Paul in the ministry of the gospel through prayer, witnessing and giving, for they have the “mind of Christ” as they now participate in Christ’s sufferings so that they too will one day share in Christ’s glorious resurrection.  He’s urging them, as recipients of God’s grace, to live as a community in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.  John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist denomination, believed that it was not possible in the nature of things that a person should be happy who is not also holy.  Such holiness is the furthest thing from a pious moralism, a “holier-than-thou” attitude, that withdraws from engagement with a world in need.  Rather, holiness means sharing the mind that was in Christ, that is, living out the pattern of Christ’s self-giving love in trusting obedience to God by serving each other and participating together in the work of the gospel, regardless of the personal cost.


And that’s where we pick up this morning in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.  He’s writing to remind them as to why they should be the people they are, what Christ gave up for them so they could be holy and happy.  He writes: Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.  Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.  But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.  When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For those of us who are comfortable in our religious status quo that’s asking a lot.  It seems like something that someone else should be doing.  You know, someone who doesn’t do as much as you or I do.


To put this in its proper perspective, leading up to this statement, Paul makes the point that many of us, including Christians, live only to make a good impression on others or to please themselves.  But he points out that selfish ambition or vain conceit brings discord and friction.  He therefore stressed spiritual unity, asking the Philippians to love one another and to be one in spirit and purpose.  In this passage Paul is pointing out that Jesus serves as the model of a life worthy of the gospel.  By showing how Christ completely humbled himself Paul is making the point that citizens worthy of Christ do not use privilege and status to advance themselves.  In fact, they go out of their way to renounce status as a means of advancing others and, by so doing, they advance the cause of Christ.  In fact, it was in the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel where Jesus was instructing his disciples and the crowd of the ways of the legal experts and the Pharisees where he stated: But the one who is greatest among you will be your servant.  All who lift themselves up will be brought low.  But all who make themselves low will be lifted up.  (verses 11, 12) 


Paul underscores his point of taking on the humility of Christ by stating: Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Not only does this fly in the face of the conventional wisdom when all were required to honor Caesar and fear the might of Rome, but it is also so not 21st century where we seem to gravitate to the loud and brash strongman or woman who talks tough, trashes his or her enemies, belittles the weak and powerless, and promises revenge upon those who have crossed him or her.  Honoring someone who seems so meek and humble, someone who doesn’t exude strength and power, someone who puts the needs of others over their own needs, seems silly and weak.  Why would you want to follow someone like that?  Where will that get you?


And that’s the point Paul is trying to make. Why wouldn’t you want to follow someone like that?  Why wouldn’t you want to follow someone who puts the interests of others, including yours, first and above their own?  Someone who is offering a pathway to a better life.  It sure doesn’t seem like a conventional leadership model taught in any business schools or lectured upon by those experts who promote the secret of their success.  Their secret is getting you to follow them and part with your hard-earned money.  To become a part of their pyramid scheme that, in reality, only elevates them.  Where is the status in that?


The only status worthy of our lives is one that God grants to “slaves of Christ”.  To refuse privilege for the sake of God’s mission is infinitely worth it.  So, if we say we follow Christ, we must also say we want to live as he lived.  We should develop his attitude of humility as we serve, even when we are not likely to get recognition for our efforts, because that is not why we do what we do.  When we work together, caring for the problems of others as if they were our problems, we demonstrate Christ’s example of putting others first, and we experience unity.  If there is any recognition to be given it should be given to God for the works done in his honor and in the name of his Son.  So, Paul offers the key to moving forward as a missional community for the sake of Jesus: a unity forged in mutual commitment to the way of Jesus.  What this means is that thinking and being like Christ are not only requirements for an individual, but also for the corporate body of believers, as in being a church made up of somebodies who do something in Jesus’ name, a name above all names.  Together we need to think and act like one being, like the person of Jesus Christ, and adopt his attitude of sacrifice and service.


Let us pray.


Gracious and loving Father, we stand amazed in the present of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love us, sinners condemned and unclean.  But he does love us.  He loved us to the point where he took on the form of a slave, becoming like a human being, and emptying himself of all but his undying love for us, his brothers and sisters.  He humbled himself before you by becoming obedient to the point of death on a Roman cross.  We pray, dear Lord, that by and through your Holy Spirit we will be moved to adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus so that we can be more like him, bringing you honor and glory.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.