ladder

Philippians 2:1-11 (NIV)

1 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, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death –

        even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

    and gave him the name that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

Which ladder are you climbing?

If I compiled a bucket list of Scriptures, this passage from Philippians would be on top. Like a scalpel, it cuts away all the fluff of religion and hypocrisy and goes straight to the heart of what Christianity is all about. It answers the questions of who Jesus is and why He came to earth. It crystallises the Gospel and spells out in practical terms how the Gospel radically transforms our relationships if we are true followers of Christ. Like a double-edged sword, this inspired text pierces the heart of our “mindset” (verse 5), which shapes our attitudes and relationships. The Apostle Paul makes it crystal clear that a disciple of Christ is called to imitate Jesus in ways that will make us completely counter-cultural, especially in the area of ambition and success. Are we climbing the ladder of “personal ambition” and “vain conceit“? Or do we recognize that Jesus, the unique God-man, is the ladder between heaven and earth as he claimed to be (John 1:5), the One in whom we will find ultimate meaning, success and purpose in life?  “Ladders and Crowns” is a two-part series. Part 1 focuses on the first five verses of Philippians 2; and Part 2 will hone in on the ancient hymn quoted by Paul in verses 6-11.

Independence versus inter-dependence.

In western culture, independence is equated with freedom, individuality, strength and happiness. In the world’s eyes, it is the independent and autonomous who climb the ladder of success and reach their dreams. Yet, the Bible warns that if we give free rein to our natural selfishness and pride, autonomy will lead to our own destruction. The Christian worldview says that humans are created and designed by God to worship and give glory to Him as Lord, and to be inter-dependent, not independent. Nowhere is this distinctly Christian mindset more evident than in our closest relationships.

Marriage killers.

An independent, self centred mindset is at the heart of most failed marriages and dysfunctional families. Currently, more than half of all marriages end in divorce and a vast proportion of marriages are profoundly unhappy. In South Africa the top 5 reasons for divorce are:

#1 Lack of communication and a refusal to compromise.

#2 Physical/ psychological/ financial or emotional abuse;

#3 Infidelity and cheating;

#4 Social media (“free-spirited commenting, posting and sharing of information,” internet flirting and less face-to-face intimacy and real communication).

#5 addictions (particularly internet pornography).

Other causes of divorce in the top 10 include conflict over parenting responsibilities; differences in priorities and finances. Apart from the emotional scars suffered by spouses, every one of these failed marriages inflicts collateral damage on children, relatives and friends which may last a lifetime. (http://voices.news24.com/bertus-preller/2012/01/top-10-reasons-for-divorce-in-south-africa/)

Narcissism in pretty packaging.

Independence is often a euphemism for selfishness or narcissism. Today’s Scripture calls it “personal ambition” and “vain conceit“(verse 3). It is the mindset that says, “It’s your life and it only comes around once. Do what makes you happy regardless of what others think. Life is short, so don’t waste your time on difficult people. Walk away from bad vibes and negative energy, move on from people who no longer make you smile.” God’s Word reverses the order. Throughout the pages of Scripture, we are told that all glory belongs to God and that it is futile for men and women to gaze at our own image in the mirror and spend our lives climbing the ladder of personal ambition and vain conceit. This ladder gives us an illusion of success, but is in fact the stairway to a hopeless, meaningless life, and ultimately to death.

Pride is the most insidious of sins for a Christian, because it lures us up the world’s ladder of success. Its rungs are selfish ambition and vain conceit. Sadly, even when we summit the ladder of success, we will discover that our ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. What a waste of a life!

Jesus is the Stairway to Heaven.

Jesus claimed that He is the stairway between earth and heaven, the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 1:5; 14:6). Therefore, Paul calls those who are “united with Christ” to climb a different stairway to the world. Jesus showed us the steps by his own life, death and resurrection. The great and sovereign God walked ahead of us as a human being and said, “Come to me to be washed clean of your sins and be set free. Then live as if you’re free by imitating me. I’ll give you the power of my Spirit to do it. I’ll show you how to live a life worth living. Just follow in my steps.” The rungs of God’s stairway are humility, compassion, tenderness and love (verses 1, 2). Being united with Christ means that it is no longer I, but Jesus, who is at the centre of my life. I belong to Him, not to myself. It means that I take the crown off my own head and worship Jesus only, not my spouse or my children, not my desire for money, recognition, sex, control, approval, comfort or any other created thing. Humility is putting aside my own personal preferences and needs, denying myself, staying faithful to my promises, speaking the truth in love, hanging in with family and friends (even when they don’t make me smile), serving others and speaking words of life.

Imagine what would happen to marriages, families, schools and sports teams if we valued Christ-centred inter-dependence instead of independence, “in humility valuing others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of others.” The mindset of Christ is essentially humility.

This is what C.S Lewis said about humility:

“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”

From Mere Christianity

Lewis says that the cure to conceit is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less! Humility is self forgetfulness and fulfilling the job description of Christ followers: We are part of a redeemed family of servants, united with Christ and each other, on mission together in this world to bring hope to the hopeless. There is no place for prima donnas or glory seekers in this family. We are “like minded, one in spirit and of one mind” (verse 2). There are many Christian denominations, and diverse personalities within each local church, but only one Spirit who lives within all true followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit. We serve, rather than grab what we think is due to us. We are outward focussed rather than self obsessed. The glory and praise belong only to Jesus who “is in the very nature God“, who bears “the name that is above every name“(verse 6; 9). Inter-dependence has transforming power. Paradoxically, it does not cramp our style but is liberating because it leads to an abundant, love-rich life. Bound together in community, attached firmly to Christ, and striving together for the glory of God the Father (verse 11), we are free to thrive and find comfort, encouragement, support and strength for whatever lies ahead.

The Crown belongs to Jesus

 Just suppose the hymn in verse 6-11 is actually true, and that God really did come to earth as a man, Jesus Christ; that the God-man actually gave up his royal “crown” (his status, privilege and rights) in heaven; that He made the ultimate sacrifice by dying on a cross as a common criminal, naked, shamed and abandoned. Suppose it is true that even now in the 21st century, Jesus is the King and Lord of the universe, the One “to whom every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth“(verse 10) and “every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” (verse 11). What does this say about the crowns of status, power, wealth and success we like to put on our own heads to make us feel important and worthy? Am I the only one who repeatedly finds herself climbing the world’s silly ladders to measure my success and greatness? What could God have hoped to achieve through his incarnation? I hope you will join me for Part 2 to look at this amazing hymn which tells us clearly who Jesus is and why He came to earth. Let’s put the crown firmly back on Jesus’ head where it belongs.

Download and listen to “I will boast” by Chris Tomlin.

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