March 24, 2024

The Mind of Christ

Philippians 2:5-11

Today marks a transition in the season of Lent. In this one week, the central week of the Christian faith, we are moving from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and then to Resurrection Sunday – otherwise known as Easter.

We are moving from shouts of praise with palm branches waving, to a last supper with friends in an upstairs room, to the abandonment of Jesus on the cross – and then to the joyful and hopeful surprise of the resurrection.

As we are here at the beginning of this important week, I want to invite you to think with me about the mind of Christ. In Philippians chapter 2, the Apostle Paul is writing to the Christian community in the Greek city of Philippi.

After praising them for being a faithful and caring community of people, and acknowledging the suffering they are experiencing, Paul says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

I want to you hold that phrase in your mind. Let the same mind be in you. Now, I know that we are all independent thinkers. We like to form our thoughts, have our own ideas, our own creativity, and come to our own conclusions.

What does Paul mean by having the same mind in us that was in Jesus Christ? Does he mean we should give up critical thinking? No.

Like so many things. as we interpret scripture into our lives of faith, so much depends on translation. The word that is translated “mind,” means something more than ideas, or principles, or thoughts.

The word is the Greek word “phronesis.” It means practical wisdom. Beyond the language of scripture, it’s actually a very important concept in philosophy and ethics.

The famous philosopher Aristotle argued that practical wisdom, phronesis, is essential to creating happiness. Just like if you want to grow a flourishing garden, you need to be wise about what and how to plant and tend; if we want to have flourishing lives and societies, we need to be wise about what we do.

If we want to live good lives, if we want to create the best possible society for all people, then we will need practical wisdom. Good ideas and principles are not enough; we need to know how to do the right thing in the right way and at the right time. That’s wisdom.

We will need to know how to navigate between competing virtues, how to move between different courses of actions, to choose the right path among many good ones. It takes wisdom.

Last Wednesday night, David taught an excellent class for us on seeing war through the lens of Christian faith. He shared a variety of perspectives that are held within the Christian family, today and over time, and he invited us to wrestle with them from the biblical tradition. We wrestled with doctrines that ranged from preventative war to just war theory to multiple forms of non-violence. When our 45 minutes was up we had just gotten started.

At the table where I sat, we had a robust discussion during the class and 45 minutes was not long enough. We were just beginning to talk about what is going on today in our world, the concerns we share and perspectives each of us has.

A few from our table lingered and puzzled over a few of the conflicts that face our world now: a humanitarian tragedy in Israel, underlying conflict in the Middle East, war in Ukraine, a presidential election season.

As we wrapped up the conversation, I felt grateful that the decisions that must be made by those in power are not mine to make.

I felt prayerful for those who are in positions of power and must make hard choices.

And I felt the need for wisdom. We had explored theories, but translating theory into action takes wisdom. It takes practical wisdom to create a world of peace and wholeness. No matter what challenge we are facing.

Confronting the changes happening in our climate, balancing environmental concerns with economic development and human well-being, requires wisdom.

Managing advances in technology, such as AI, with the great promise it holds for human life and health, and the dangers for harm and abuse, requires wisdom.

Eliminating systemic poverty and dismantling structural racism, the work that our denomination has called us to do through the Matthew 25 initiative, requires more than passionate commitment and noble ideas. It requires wise action.

Our personal lives call out for wisdom too. In the last few weeks, I’ve talked with two couples who are planning weddings, and heard from both of those couples the stress that they feel as they are navigating unspoken hopes, competing expectations, new relationships, and long-standing family dynamics.

At every turn, they are asked to make wise choices that will create a healthy future for themselves and their families. That’s true of marriage, whether in your twenties or seventies. Healthy relationships always require wisdom.

Parenting children as they grow and change requires wisdom. Honor and caring for parents as they age and change requires wisdom. Growing together a couple in a marriage requires wisdom.

Building friendships across lines of ideological, economic, or ethnical differences takes wisdom. Recovering from hurt, rebuilding after loss, moving through transitions to new futures, all take more than hopes and wishes. It requires wise action.

That’s why the Apostle Paul pointed to wisdom as he was creating and developing Christian communities in the tense and fraught context of the early Roman Empire. He said to these Christians who were trying to find their way, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  Let the same wisdom shape your thinking and acting, which shaped his thinking and acting.

The people to whom Paul wrote were trying to build friendships across ideological and political differences. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” he said. There were trying to address injustices and inequalities in their community and culture. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”, he said.

They were trying to care for one another in suffering and loss. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” he said. They were seeking to grow in their faith, and more into the image of the children of God. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

This is Paul’s recipe for the life of faith – be shaped by the wisdom of Christ. This is his ethical and formational lens. When Aristotle calls for practical wisdom, the Apostle Paul points to the cross of Christ. There, in the self-giving love of God, there is the wisdom of God, and the power for God for our salvation.

That brings us to Holy Week. In the events of this week, we see the wisdom of God in breath and body. As we watch what Christ does and undergoes, as we watch what happens to him and how he responds, we see a portrait of the love of God for humankind; and we see a vision of the love that humankind is meant to have for God.

Each of the gospel accounts slow the narrative dramatically when they come to this week. Even the gospel of Mark, which is shorter than the other three and moves more quickly through every story, slows down and takes with this week and these events. Here is where see the wisdom of God in action.

We see how he serves his friends with humility when he washes their feet; no title, or honor, or power prevents him from the rendering the most humble service.

We see how he endures betrayal and anguish through prayer and reliance on God. We see how he maintains his integrity, how he speaks the truth, even under threat and questioning. We see him with a fierce determination to be faithful to God’s will, no matter the cost.

We see how, even in his darkest hour, he shows kindness and welcome to a stranger on the cross. We see how he pleads for God to forgive, even when he felt most abandoned.

We see him take on the powers of death and sin and every form of God-forsakenness and God-abandonment for us and for our sake. When we confess in the Apostles’ Creed that “he descended into hell,” we mean that Christ experienced every form of God-forsakenness that we can imagine.

There is no experience of God-abandonment that we can have that Christ has not had for us and for our sake. He descended into hell.

All of this is Holy Week. The wisdom of God that is also the way of God and the love of God and the mind of God. If there is ever a week to slow down and pay close attention to every frame of the story, it is this week.

Now, I know that can be hard to do. Sometimes life has a way of interrupting Holy Week with unexpected events and responsibilities that require our attention. In some years, these days just pass by, and we forget what time it is, what time it really is.

For many of our families with children at home, Holy Week conflicts every year with Spring Break. For some reason, our local school systems always connect Holy Week and Spring Break, so that mid-semester break always coincides with Holy Week no matter when it falls. Not all communities create their calendar that way, but ours does.

There are many reasons why it can be hard to focus on the events of the life of Christ during this week. So let me encourage you to pay attention in this week as closely as you can.

In your bulletin there is a study guide for a brief time of daily devotion that will lead you through Mark’s account of Holy Week. Those readings will help you slowly take in the story.

Later this week, we will have worship services on Thursday and Friday that will focus our attention on the Last Supper and then on the Cross.

Some of us will be traveling, and wherever you will be there are churches that have will similar services. We have many guests that come to our church during Holy Week and Easter; you can be someone else’ guest. You have siblings in Christ in every city and town across the world. Of course, you can also worship online with your church family here.

The story of this week is the wisdom and power of God for our salvation. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. This is our model for wise living. This is our pattern for seeing and seizing life’s real opportunities. This is our roadmap for facing life’s challenges. This is our guide for doing the will of God. This is our doorway for participating in God’s coming kingdom and realm. This is our pathway for working out our salvation.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Say it with me, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Now, say it again, but instead of you, say me. “Let the same mind be in me that was in Christ Jesus.”

How will we learn the mind of Christ? Watch and learn. Watch and pray. Watch and give thanks. Watch and do. Watch. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


Rev. Patrick W. T. Johnson, Ph.D.

First Presbyterian Church

Asheville, North Carolina


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