Monday, October 17, 2011

Think on That: Philippians and the In-Christ Mind

After reading through this portion of Philippians over and again, I am convinced 4:4-7 are more than exhortations to Philippian faith communities.  Instead, I believe these lyrics are the very mantras Paul spoke to himself, prayed to God, and chanted as he sat alone in an isolated prison cell.  If you listen you may be able to hear faint echoes of the apostle as he whispers these words and contemplates how he got to where he is and if he will be able to make it yet one more day. Philippians 4:4-7 is then Paul's invitation to eavesdrop on the internal dialogue of an imprisoned disciple and participate in it just the same.

One of the most common phrases Paul uses throughout Philippians is mind in Christ, a perfect expansion of the in-Christ motif that runs throughout Pauline epistles.


How we think and what we give permission to occupy our minds deeply affects how we live, interact with others, face suffering, focus our energies, distribute our gifts, talents, and resources, and move in rhythm with the gospel.  Paul knew this first hand.  The earliest Christians, for whom commitment to the Way was more than a religious preference but a costly daily decision, were convicted of this.  We, too, would do well to lean forward and ponder the same.

It can be said that to be a follower of Jesus and to exist as an "in-Christ" citizen of the colony of heaven does not come naturally. It is a discipline, a practice, an art form contemplated, considered, and ultimately lived into as individuals within the context of community. We must learn to have the mind of Christ, to think on the Way of Jesus, and ultimately become the people God has called to occupy earth as in heaven.

What do you think about?  What occupies your mind? 

Over the past six months I have spent a lot of time in the car, especially since we have moved and my commute to church is longer than four minutes.  I have occupied my mind during these daily commutes with the constant streaming of disgruntled sports talk radio. The past six months have also witnessed other additions to our family- hungry babies. As I struggle to balance two bottles of formula in the mouths of our fidgety twins, I have watched endless cycles of Sportscenter. This may not be that big of a deal if it was the fall of 2008 with Philly sports, most notably the Phillies, at the apex of their championship push. But this year is quite different.  Therefore, the fruit of my mind tuned into ESPN and 97.5: increased cynicism, deeper criticism, and certainly less gratitude for the wide variety of blessings that have come our way this past year.

Yet, I hear Paul whisper:

Rejoice in the Lord always.

Gentleness evident to everyone.

The Lord is near.

Pray...with thanksgiving.

Peace of God.

These words have hit me like a ton of bricks.  Better said, Paul's internal dialogue has actually become my own.  My mind had become so cluttered with radio voices and other distractions that I had begun to live into the same spirit of these voices.  I had the mind of cynical analysts.

What I needed was to renew my mind in Christ.

Some of you may relate.  The reality is this: we give so many things permission to occupy and form our minds.  The music we listen to, the video games we play, the movies we watch, and the t.v. shows we view also affect us more than we may want to admit. We can also consider how much our minds are exposed to corporate ads, all which tell us that we need to think on and ultimately purchase this or that product.  This is a scary reality:

“The average American encounters 3,000 commercial messages each day. Whether this is a radio commercial, a magazine ad, a logo on the side of a coffee cup or a billboard you pass on the highway, these images and messages are designed to cause you to think of your life as incomplete, and desire the product they are selling to make your life complete again” (Donald Miller, "Christianity and Advertising")

If we consider how much time we "think on" these things compared to how much we center ourselves on Christ, it is no wonder we have difficulty hearing and living into the voice of God.

What we need is to renew our minds in Christ.

Yet Paul calls us to more than an internalized, self-actualized way of thinking.  In-Christ citizens of the colony of heaven are called to a renewed mind, yes!  Yet minds formed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus also and especially invite us to a new way of being in and for the world.

I think Mumford & Sons help us out here:

Said differently, where you invest your mind, you invest your life.

Here we meet Philippians 4:8-9, which builds on the previous verses. Karl Barth's interpretation captures it best:

"Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is righteous, whatever is pure, whatever is kindly, whatever is praiseworthy, whatever is called a virtue and deserves recognition- think on that!  And what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- do that!  So will the God of peace be with you." (Epistle to the Philippians).
Think on that:

whatever is true
whatever is honorable

Invest your love and mind on these things:

whatever is kindly
whatever is worthy of praise
Virtues that mark the way of Christ

And don't just think on these them, live into them, make them your very life as lived in Christ!

And the God of peace will be with you...Remember, the Lord is near.

The relationship Paul had with the Philippians would have made it a little easier for them to know what these true, kindly, and honorable virtues were. Some have already been mentioned in this prison letter:

Consider the needs of others, even above your own (2:4).
Shine like stars in a crooked world (2:15).
Hold fast to the word of life, who is Jesus (2:16).
Remember and live into your identity as citizens of heaven (3:20).

Still, what is Paul talking about here? I wonder if the Philippians, when they gathered together for the reading of this letter and came to this point, they broke up into small groups and discussed: what are these things Paul speaks about? How can we do them?
So that's what the Imago Dei Youth did last night, here are a few:

May these reflections form and shape our minds in Christ Jesus.  Even more, may we not only think on these things, but also do them as in-Christ citizens of the colony of heaven. And may the peace of God, even the God of peace, lead us forward until all is made new and right


Two of the more helpful disciplines that I have practiced, and invited students to consider, over the years are Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer.  Here is a resource I have used over and again: Lectio Divina/Centering Prayer