This is a paper I finished up reading and it has truly challenged me. Its called, “GRASPING GOD: Philippians 2: 1-11 in the Light of Mimetic Theory by Michael E. Hardin and Steven E. Berry. A paper presented to the Colloquium on Violence and Religion July 2005 in Koblenz, Germany”. This paper really put a piece of the puzzle in place for me in my mind on the problems with churches being driven by success and results, like we have been discussing over the last several years. Those who put the effort into understanding Paul, here in the linked paper, are responsible for the thoughts and quotes that come out in here.
The point the article is conveying is that Philippians 2:1-11 has Paul explaining what the Gospel (good news) actually looks like being lived out in the Kingdom of God through positively mimicking Jesus as he displays the true nature of the Father. Paul explains this in verses 1-4 saying,
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
What would make Paul happy is to see those who follow Jesus to conduct themselves and live in a manner that has no selfish-ambition, no conceit, be of the same mind (mind of who?), be of the same love (love of who?), and with humility, regard another as higher than yourself. I won’t make this too long, but the paper is making the point that positive mimesis, in Christ, is a good thing. We all copy something and it is Jesus who has given us the ability to mimic him who is living out the love of the Father.
Bad mimesis is when we get into rivalries with those around us that end in violence and ultimately sacrifice. What Paul is saying in these verses in chapter 2 is how to guard against bad mimesis, or rivalries. How can you get into a rivalry with another in a church if you regard all others as higher than yourself? How can a pastor take a position that lifts himself up when he is to regard all others higher than himself. The hierarchical structures in churches are really anti-christ in that they call for one to be greater than another. It gets better.
In the rest of the verses in Philippians 2:5-11, we see a song that the early congregation of this church in Philippi probably sang. It says,
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Paul here gives a unique description of why God has exalted Jesus above all things. His exaltation comes from the fact the Jesus has accomplished the act of “self-emptying”. He has realized that trying to become God (even though we know he is God) is not a way to live the life of the True Adam. As the “Last Adam”, Jesus understood that Life flowed from the love of his Father. This Life giving Love could only be understood and experienced as it is truly intended by seeing what Paul is saying here….by not having selfish ambition, not having conceit, living in humility, and regarding those around you as more important than yourself. Jesus rejected the attitude that he should be more than another person, He rejected the notion that he must go out and accomplish something that would embrace a conceited attitude. At this point, in this divine spirit of “other-centered Love, there are no rivalries. At this point, love can take over and be truly effective. Maybe this is what Jesus said “you will do greater things than I”?
My point in all of this is to say that Jesus did not grasp for anything out of conceit, the desire to succeed, but emptied himself so that Love could reign in his body, mind, and spirit. On the contrary, religious institutions are the complete opposite. The model is to succeed, to be desired by grasping for attention and commitment from others, to bask in all the accomplishments that have been done by the people in that institution. We have taken part in the building of a machine that thrives on conceitedness, on being exalted by others in the religious industry, that is bent on ambition. How does this leave time to be like Jesus? If Jesus is humble, not ambitious, and of no conceit, then a person or institution is faced with a life altering question of “which road is better”? Do I empty myself of all that this world desires or do I fill myself with desire, ambition, conceit (self promotion), and think of myself and my religious institution above others? Does the model of success rely on being this way? Ultimately I believe so. We can always see good things come from people, nobody will deny that. We can always see unity come from a group at times. However, I’m sure that right before Jesus called the Pharisees a “Brood of vipers”, they very well could have just gave money to a homeless person.
What I really saw in these verses is that Jesus did not grasp to be anything. He did not make more of himself than he ought to and emptied himself of everything that the world desires. In turn, true love, as God has always longed for in humanity was able to be realized as intended. This is why he is exalted above every other name.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Are we not to imitate (positive mimesis) Jesus in this way? To empty ourselves of all desires “to be” and obtain something, to grasp at the desires to be successful? We talk about the machine of the religious institutions, well, the machines seems to be rooted in the very desire to “grasp”. If we do not ”grasp”, and we do not find value in being something in the minds of others, then we free ourselves from rivalry, which leads to violence and sacrifice. This is salvation…this is Life. When we are free of grasping, then love for others is the only option. However, I think that people find delight in grasping. They find joy in defeating others that dehumanizes the defeated. Hierarchical systems feed off of this because it gives a worldly and false sense of value. Church structures are no different. have you ever heard of a church that has people try out for the worship team to see if they’re good enough? That is a perfect example of rivalry and sacrifice that damages people.
Places in the bible that support this thinking of Paul and Jesus are…
- Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
- Matthew 6:3 – But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing
- Proverbs 22:4 – The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord Are riches, honor and life.
- Ephesians 4:2 – with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,
- Colossians 3:12 – So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience
- James 1:21 – Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.