A Reflection on Philippians 2: Knowing Our Own Authority

Following Jesus (i.e. faith) takes work. Now as Lutherans, we are (rightly!) always suspicious when the words faith and work are next to each other. Faith is always a gift from God. We cannot, through our own effort, ever say “I believe” and mean it as much as we should. Instead, it’s the Spirit that reveals Jesus’ love and care for us and the world. This gift changes us. We are different and it takes work to live a different kind of life.

I believe Jesus expects, and knows, we can do this. God provides ways for us to grow. The Spirit guides us, Jesus’ presence holds us, and the Scriptures help reveal who God is and what a relationship with God looks like. Part of our work is being interpreters. We read Scripture. We analyze the world we live in. We reflect on our own experiences. A faith-filled life is a life of interpretation and a life that knows change. We know life isn’t constant. Situations change. Relationships change. Our own bodies change. Our faith can change. But Jesus’ love doesn’t change. Faith isn’t easy but if we wanted easy, we wouldn’t follow Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading from Philippians 2:1-13 includes the earliest Christian hymn we know. Verses 6 through 11 are a song. The song is more than a description of Jesus. It’s lyrics put to music because Jesus is an experience. And part of that experience is reflecting on who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and how that makes a difference to them. Jesus knew he was God but emptied himself of his power, authority, and freedom to be human. He chose to be like a slave, one who had no control over the violence inflicted on his body. He lived out loud what God’s kingdom looks like. And the government and spiritual authorities killed him for it.

Jesus is an experience and a model for our lives. This way of life puts the interests of others before ourselves. And this isn’t easy. To put others first means we need to know who we are and what our interests are. We need to know people different from us and what their interests are too. We need to know what experiences are foundational to who we are. We need to learn about experiences we don’t have but other people do. We might not think we have any power or authority but our gender, race, social class, and wealth give us different kinds of authority that explicitly and implicitly impacts the people around us. This kind of reflection, observation, and interpretation will make us uncomfortable. But Jesus knows we can handle it. Jesus knows we can live a different kind of life because we are not doing this work on our own. We have the Spirit. We have each other. We have Jesus. And even when we are uncomfortable, we are still called to love.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 17th Sunday After Pentecost, 10/01/2017.