Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Philippians 3:17-4:1 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. ESV Philippians 4:1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
In many churches today you will hear religious gurus, pop psychologists, motivational speakers, and other “experts” on leadership talk about having the right mind-set for success. They’ll tell you that you need to have the right mind set for success. Success is all in your way of thinking, your set of assumptions, how you make decisions. Actually, there’s a lot of truth to that. To be sure, the wrong mind-set, such as holding on to former failures or pain from the past, can hinder you from much in this life. I won’t argue with that. But while positive thinking and steps to recovery can help one move forward in life, it’s not at all what the apostle Paul offers in today’s Epistle. He is not just talking about moving forward in life, but he is preparing us for what comes after life in this world. He is talking about our citizenship in heaven, awaiting our Savior, and our bodies being transformed into a glorious body at the final resurrection.
What Paul is offering us as we continue our journey to Calvary on this Second Sunday in Lent is What We Might Call the Lenten Mind-set.
A Lenten mind-set begins with God’s wrath over our sin. A Lenten mind-set looks to the cross of Jesus, not merely for renewal, as in this sermon, but for God’s anger to be appeased. For it is only by his death, by his blood being poured out, by his being punished for our sin, that God has set aside his anger. Apart from the death of Jesus, God is our enemy and he seeks to kill us. but on account of Jesus’ death and payment for our sins, God has set aside his anger and has become a friend who seeks to transform us. Jesus’ death releases us from the grip of Satan and from the judgment of death which hung over our heads. We are restored in and through the death of God’s Son.)
As he nears the conclusion of his Epistle to the Philippians, the apostle Paul invites his hearers to imitate him: “Brothers, become imitators of me, and keep your eyes on those who are walking according to the model you have in us” (3:17). This may strike us as somewhat arrogant. Often when today’s prominent leaders give their sermons or “pep talks,” they come off as incredibly arrogant when they hold themselves up as examples to imitate on the road to success. However, Paul is not at all like them. He is far more than some life coach or religious success expert offering practical advice based on his own experiences. He’s no arrogant archetype. He’s an apostle, a servant of Christ Jesus. And what he has to share with the saints at Philippi and with you is much more than seven steps for success or positive thinking. He is not talking about how to transform your mind-set to be prosperous or popular, or seven steps to a better you or how to have your best life now. To imitate Paul has little to do with Paul himself. It is everything to do with Jesus.
While the “successful” leaders and preachers of today may tout their accomplishments, Paul counts his achievements as loss, even dung. In the verses preceding our text he says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus…For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Anything that could give him confidence in the flesh he sets aside, clinging only to the righteousness of Jesus Christ. In fact, let’s listen in to Paul’s boasting: “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one…with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three time I was beaten with rods. Once is was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea…” The Lenten mind-set imitates Paul by clinging to the righteousness of Christ, which comes through faith.
The Lenten mind-set also then laments the rejection of the cross of Christ for self-glory. Today we seek success, self-glory, fulfillment, prosperity. Today we avoid pain and discomfort, illness, sacrifice. We work diligently today to avoid bearing our crosses. Even today many see going to church as a way to get a better life, have more friends, be more successful in business, and hopefully not have so many difficulties. This is just the opposite of the theology of the cross. Paul is presenting this contrast for his hearers here in ch 3. While he himself set aside things that bring confidence in the flesh, there were many in the Church then and still today who do not. This isn’t the first time the apostle had written about such enemies of the cross of Christ. Here he warns about them again, this time with weeping, lamenting their ambitions toward self-glory and by the same token rejecting Christ and the crosses he told us to take up daily and bear. “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (3:18–19). We may reject the crosses in life in an attempt to have a more prosperous life now, but the end of that kind of thinking is destruction.
The Epistle to the Philippians is, for the most part, upbeat and encouraging, even though Paul himself is in chains for the Gospel. But there’s a threat more dangerous than imprisonment or even death. It’s a rejection of Christ and his righteousness won on the cross and exchanging it for a righteousness that comes from the Law and ends in destruction. The issue here is a false confidence in one’s own flesh, insisting on things like circumcision.
It’s so easy to fall back on the Law and cling to a confidence in one’s works or accomplishments. Even in Lent that’s a temptation for us. What did you give up for Lent this year? Chocolate? Soda? Social media? It’s fine to practice self-discipline. It can be a great spiritual exercise, but sometimes it’s easy to go too far, like when the pride of the old Adam wants a bit of credit. You want to impress God or your neighbor. It may seem harmless on the surface, but ultimately it rejects the cross and all that Jesus accomplished for you there.
Bragging about how humble I am, or how much I mess up, or how bad I am, may be nothing more than trying to impress others with how spiritual I am. This is the mind-set of the old Adam, not a true Lenten mind-set. The Lenten mind-set laments such a rejection of the cross for self-glory.
This was our Lord’s lament over Jerusalem in the Gospel—that God’s people had such a mind-set. They had rejected the prophets, stoned and killed them, just as they threatened Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament Reading. And so they reject God’s promised Son as well. The voice of the prophets was ignored, the call to repentance unheeded. Just before he wept over Jerusalem, Jesus talked about the narrow door. Why will many who seek to enter not be able? Because of confidence in the flesh, clinging to a righteousness of the Law and thereby rejecting Christ and his cross. Repent! Recognize Christ’s sadness over such rejection and Paul’s too. Set aside your earthly ambitions, and strive for what is greater in Christ, what is given you in Christ.
The Lenten mind-set is a gift given you in the waters of Holy Baptism, a washing and renewal. Receive this change of mind the Holy Spirit is working in you still. Christ is the narrow door, and he’s given you himself. He strove not for self-glory but for God’s glory. His mind-set was to glorify God by giving up everything for you, even his life. Christ became a servant, obedient even to death for you. He emptied himself of everything, to be filled with all your sin, your flawed ambitions, your filthy self-righteousness. And now, he covers you with his own perfect righteousness.
It began at the font, where not only your mind but your whole self is renewed, and it continues in Holy Communion on an on-going basis. And now that new mind-set looks ahead. It looks for the return of Christ and your own resurrection: “We await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore . . . stand firm . . . in the Lord, my beloved” (3:20–4:1). That’s the goal, not self-glory but God’s, his glory bestowed on you fully when Jesus comes again. That’s where the transformation begun in your Baptism is made complete, your lowly body transformed to be like his glorious body. And Jesus has the power to do it, because everything of which he emptied himself was given back to him and even more in his glorious resurrection.
So press on. You have a new mind-set that looks beyond the successes of this world, greater than confidence in your own flesh and accomplishments. The Lenten mind-set is really the Christian mind-set. It’s much more than positive thinking or steps to a better you. It’s a mind-set that glories in Christ and revels in daily repentance and faith. That’s the mind-set Paul invites you to imitate, returning each day to your Baptism in repentance and receiving the blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar for the forgiveness of sin. It’s also why you can stand firm in the Lord. He’s done everything for you and for your salvation. Your citizenship is in heaven, even now as you walk the way of the cross here on earth.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.