Philippians 2: 1-13
I was amazed to learn this week that there is a candle company that has come up with a candle whose scent they call, “The Scent of Christ.” The company is called “His Essence Candle Makers.” They claim – based on the Bible – in Psalm 45, that when Christ returns, his garments will have the scent of myrrh, aloe and cassia. So those are the scents – in essence – that they put together in order to get this candle that smells the way that Jesus smelled.
And then – and then there’s this perfume maker in California with a new product called “Virtue.” It’s a perfume – that they claim that if you wear this – it will get you in contact with your spiritual self. And their formula is based on the use of the plants that were used as perfumes in Jesus’ day with a dash of frankincense and myrrh thrown in.
But you know what this means? Whether you buy the candle or wear the perfume – now you too can smell like Jesus! Hey! I am not making any of this stuff up. I gotta tell ya – the desire to smell like Jesus had never ever crossed my mind before. Never. Smell like Jesus? Give me a break.
Having said that, one of the things that you often hear me say around here is that as disciples of Jesus Christ – one of our goals is to be more like Jesus – not smell more like him – but be more like him. Again – the phrase we use for being more like Jesus is called Christ-likeness. Christ-likness. So today, I want to talk about pursuing Christ-likeness. And for that purpose I’ll be referring to our reading from the book of Philippians, chapter 2 – specifically verse 5 which says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
One of my favorite ways to describe our growth in Christ – and the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ is about growth – is the phrase, “God loves you just the way you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.” Or the way Max Lucado puts it in his book “Just Like Jesus,” “God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.”
Now as much as I like that phrase – and think that it’s true – not everyone agrees. Some have said, “God loves you just the way you are. Period.”
Well – actually, that is a true statement. But I would suggest that it is an incomplete statement. Because if all we’re hearing is, “God loves you just the way you are,” hearing just that much will suit us just fine. If God loves us just the way we are, then we’ve got it made. We WANT God to love us as we are – and then leave us alone. And there’s a real danger in that.
It’s a danger because – as disciples of Jesus Christ – we are called to grow – and to become – everything that God wants us to be and to do. And that involves change. And change – well – that sometimes makes us feel uncomfortable.
So let’s listen again to the more complete sentence. And I’ll use Max Lucado’s version again: “God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.”
Our reading from the book of Philippians gives us an idea of what being like Jesus – or Christ-likeness – looks like. Listen:
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Paul – the author of this letter – is painting a picture here for us of what he has in mind when he says “Let the same mind by in you that was in Christ Jesus.” He’s lifting up things like living in harmony – humility – know what it means to serve others, and then do it – looking out for the interests of others, and not just your own. And he’s saying that this is the way that Christ lived, and these are the things that we can do as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Now again, sometimes some of these things are not easy. And I think I’m starting to sound like a broken record when I tell you – again – that I want you to know that I know that it’s not always easy to love as Jesus loved – to show compassion as Jesus showed compassion – to serve others as Jesus served – especially to the extent that his service to others led him to give up his life as a servant for others. I’m not saying that this is always easy stuff.
But just because it’s not easy doesn’t mean that it can’t or shouldn’t be tried. I like what the English writer and Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton had to say about this. He said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
It seems to me that a mark of a healthy church – and quite frankly – I think Zion is a very healthy church. If it weren’t I wouldn’t have stayed around as long as I have. But it seems to me that a mark of a healthy church is one that – among other things – practices being humble. It’s a church that’s not afraid to get its hands dirty – serving each other – and serving others outside the church.
Do you remember a number of years ago when I told you about a pair of Lutheran pastors from New Orleans that I had met? I met them just a couple of years after Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans. And I will never forget what they said – and I don’t want you to forget this either. They said, “Those congregations who have sent money to help us repair our damaged homes and churches show us that they care. Those who have sent people to help us rebuild show that they are willing to get into the ditch with us.” And I thought, “Whew! Good! We’ve sent teams to Slidell, Louisiana, and Biloxi, Mississippi.” And of course since them, we’ve also sent teams to Chicago and Belize and Haiti.
So it’s one thing – and often an easy thing – to send checks to help people in need. And don’t get me wrong, we need to do that. We really do need to do that. But it’s another to get into the same ditch to help hurting people. And I want you to know that I am proud – is it a sin to say I am proud? – I am proud of this congregation because we are doing these things. These – I think – are the kinds of things that – when we do them – when we support them – we are putting on the mind of Christ – or practicing Christ-likeness – when we are serving others.
And this is a learned thing. It’s a matter not only of the mind but of the heart. What we’re really talking about here is transformation. I like that word transformation. It means change – but so many people don’t like change – so I like using the word transformation instead.
And when I talk about transformation, I’m not talking about being good people. One thing that Christianity is not – is trying harder to be good people. You don’t necessarily need Jesus to try to be a good or even a better person. But –looking to Jesus – learning about him – learning from him – and then getting to know him – again – not just knowing about him but getting to know him – that is how transformation – that’s how Christ-likeness – happens.
It’s just another reason why church matters. Church matters for a lot of reasons – but church matters because the church is a place – not the only place – but certainly this is A place where you will hear about Jesus. And once you hear about him – learn about him – then you can start to get to know him. And once you get to know him – you can begin to become more like him. And that’s what we’re being encouraged to do.
SO I want to thank you for your continued growth in Christ-likeness. And I want to encourage you to continue not only to grow – but to continue to want to grow. So what are some of the things you can do? Glad you asked.
• Keep focusing on the 6 marks of discipleship. Look them up if you can’t remember all 6 – or you happen to be new here. They’re printed on the front page of your Mission Minutes.
• Keep on practicing the Faith 5 – or start putting them into practice. Again, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look to the front page of your Mission Minites.
• Get on board Route 66. And by the way, if you’re wondering what that means – there are 66 books in the Bible – so we’re driving the word home on Route 66. Yeah, I know. Not original with me.
And hey – I’m not saying you have to do any of these things. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t encourage you to grow in your faith –to grow deeper in faith – to go deeper into the Word. These are the tools that we offer to you – and why not take advantage of them!
And there is a reason – there is an end game I mind. The end game is for you to learn what it means to have the mind of Christ – to grow in Christ-likeness.
I like something that Ronald L. Nickelson once wrote. He said, “What is the quickest way to identify a great city?...[for instance] Almost everyone knows that Paris is the home of the Eiffel Tower.” You see how this works? What would you say is characteristic of Rome? Of London? Of Washington D.C.? Of Moscow? Of Buffalo? Each of these cities has landmarks by which they are identified.
Then Nickelson asks this question: “So what is it that identifies the Christian community (the church) as such? What is the landmark that makes us recognizable to the world?” Huh? What do you think? [All those things.] “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” And I think Jesus himself said it best, when he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13:35).
So – what does it mean to be like Jesus? Well – you can try to smell like Jesus if you want. But smelling like Jesus – that’s not Christ-likeness at all. You want to be like Christ? That happens when you get to know him, and when you and I put the love of Christ into action.
Because even though God loves you just the way you are, he refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.