We cannot walk away from Philippians – yet. I read again and realized the rich treasure still unlocked in those words. It is easy to plan a short series – four pieces on four chapters. It sounds so logical. It is the second chapter that draws me back. Words of encouragement and glory about the principles that lifts you up to a life of excellence.
This past week I began a study of Daniel (by Beth Moore). The emphasis in the first chapter is on the nature of the Babylonian Empire, where Daniel and his friends find themselves. Without special planning, my husband and I watch a documentary on the Babylonian Empire on Amazon Prime. This way a few facts are established, that so accurately describe our culture of the day. I stand in awe, once again, over the wonder of these ancient words we study.
Just a superficial reading of the first chapter of Daniel will echo our culture’s obsession with youth, beauty and intelligence.
…young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. (Daniel 1:4)
God saw it all and He reigns. He gave Daniel and his friends favour in the eyes of the chief palace officer. When Daniel refused the king’s delicacies, most probably since it was all unclean according to the law of Moses, the palace officer agreed to a ten-day experiment. Daniel’s training as a child in God’s nation, saves him from a deep association with an evil and pagan culture, even though it was the foremost and most advanced nation on earth. The Babylonians were impressive to say the least. Their construction, mathematics and literature are studied and quoted to this day.
The friendly disposition of the chief palace officer was most likely, very welcome in a time of emotional upheaval for Daniel. As a teenager he is taken away from his home, parents and country. His upbringing becomes the outstanding feature of his life in Babylon – a long and prosperous life full of life-threatening danger, stress and faith victory. Daniel serves in the court of multiple emperors, even in the court of Babylon’s conquerors, the Medes and Persians. A life of excellence – no doubt.
Our culture is every bit as challenging as that of Babylon. Evil does not change. In the West there is the same preoccupation with beauty, youth and intelligence. The desire for perpetual youth and beauty drives and multi-billion-dollar industry in various countries. The recent college admissions scandal in which even famous actresses (interesting that it was women) are accused of corruption with regard to admission to some notable universities, points to the high premium on university qualifications.
In this obsession the borderlines of justice and integrity are blurred and the “king’s delicacies” become priority. Not long ago I read a review of a book where the author makes a case for late bloomers. It is all right to reach your peak much later in life, he says. He gave examples of much older individuals who are still making a mark on society. It is easy to think that our culture only celebrates art, music and science of teenagers!
Philippians 2 is a treasure house of principles of right living that equips us to live counter intuitively to the “Babylonian” culture.
Read verses 3 to 8 with me, while asking the Holy Spirit for insight and understanding to make the words alive in our minds.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it [b]robbery to be equal with God, 7 but [c]made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Let us read The Message – just for the full impact of the too familiar.
Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
To regard another higher than yourself was not considered virtuous in Babylonian culture. I have noted that in our culture today, people follow a public figure or even preacher almost mindlessly, without asking the penetrating and critical questions. It could come from a deep fear and uncertainty in an environment of information-overload. In the confusion of so much news and a mind flooded with facts, it could be difficult to direct one’s thoughts and choose the right thing. People who digest facts and dish them up in acceptable clips are modern heroes.
For us however, just like in the time of Daniel, the solution to confusion and fear, is to follow God and his plan for life as demonstrated in the life of Jesus. He did not think so much of himself. In true humility he emptied himself of privileges – made himself of no reputation to live a life of excellence. He died on a cross. Rome did its most awful to him and still He lived without prescription from society or church. His character determined his life – not culture. We are set up for success if we follow his example. That is true discipleship.
His strength was in conversation with his Father. His ministry flowed from an intimate relationship with our Father. It is our example. It is the only way to meet the challenges of twenty first century Babylon. It is the “humiliation” of a Jesus-life – to empty ourselves of the privileges and arrogance of society. To live in compassion and unity, light and love. We live according the life-giving principles of the Word of our Father.
When Jesus asks us to regard one another higher than ourselves, it is exactly what He has done. He esteemed you, Pebblepal, higher than himself – that is why He died on the Cross. The Prince of heaven emptied himself of all his royal privileges. Let us pause and calmly think about that.
The result – we have his Name.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honoured him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honour of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, The Message)
Jesus has a super exalted position of honour and glory and according to Ephesians 2:9 we sit with him in heavenly places.
The root of the word confession has a beautiful meaning in Greek. It means to celebrate the truth. It is the miracle of our position in Christ Jesus. When we celebrate the truth of his Name, we are feasting on the goodness of God in this life and our circumstances, even though we live in Babylon.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, Your God reigns! (Isaiah 52:7)
Just take a minute of quiet time right now. Is there something that the Holy Spirit reminds you to let go of? Ask God in the name of Jesus to quicken your mind and make your strong to live in excellence.
God gave these four young men knowledge and skill in both books and life. In addition, Daniel was gifted in understanding all sorts of visions and dreams.
When the king interviewed them, he found them far superior to all the other young men… (Daniel 1:17-19, The Message)