In response to an article I’m writing, I’ve been meditating on Philippians 2:1-11. The apostle Paul is writing to the church in Philippi. Throughout the New Testament, an important theme is present: the upside-down Kingdom of God. As your read this passage, look for anything that seems unexpected or unlikely.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)
Every time I read this passage, the line that sticks out to me is this:
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God to be used to his own advantage.”
As God-in-flesh, Jesus has every right to wield power and to throw around his authority. But he doesn’t. Instead he lays down his power, he lays down his privilege, and serves deeply.
Power & Privilege
How much more does this apply to us? We like to pretend that we are little gods in flesh, don’t we? Speaking for myself, I clench power in my fists, reluctant to let go. I love to be in control. I foolishly believe that if I am in control, nothing can go wrong. No one can hurt me, no one can take advantage of me. I’m safe.
This shows up most clearly in my marriage. I often find myself thinking, especially while doing unpleasant tasks (washing the dishes, mowing the lawn), “What is Sean doing to show me that he loves me? What if I serve him but he doesn’t serve me back? I should tell him he should be serving me more!” Ick. If left unchecked, my complaints turn into bitterness, which inevitably leaks out and spills all over my husband, who has no clue that I’ve been brooding all day. Poor Sean! My service is no longer a gift, it is a curse with strings attached.
In my grasping for power and in my greedy longing for privilege, I elevate myself while pushing others down. In my clumsy attempts at self-preservation, I hurt those around me and damage my relationships.
The Way Up is Down
Jesus’ way is different. It is the way of downward mobility. All throughout Scripture, we see glimpses of his upside down Kingdom, where the first are last, the poor are rich, and those on the fringes are all of a sudden the insiders. Jesus models that the way to greatness is down- releasing control, letting go of power, giving rather than receiving, serving and loving without condition.
How is Jesus inviting you to pursue downward mobility? Examine your life lately using these questions:
- Is there a place where letting go of control or power terrifies you? Name those areas.
- What prevents you from letting go of control? If you were to let go of control, what would be the worst case scenario? Talk to God about it.
- What might it look like to release these areas to God? Is there someone you can talk with about this to help you brainstorm or keep you accountable?
End your time with a brief prayer:
Jesus, I admit that I long for power and I foolishly cling to control. Help me to trust you, that you are good and that you are trustworthy. Remind me that you, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to [your] own advantage; rather, [you] made [yourself] nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” I want to be more like you. Help me to see specific ways that I can release power and serve without condition this week. Amen