Lenten Series: “Having Our Mind Transformed Into the Mind of Christ” … Sermon #1–Love
Love: The Power to Change Your Mind
By Kristen Rae Nelson
Millard Community Covenant Church—March 5, 2017
This past week I made my one of my usual treks to one of my favorite stores, “Hobby Lobby”. As I wandered the aisles, my best friend called me and began chatting with me. I mindlessly turned through aisle after aisle, looking at the different items for sale as I talked with her. Eventually, I found myself in the aisle with the decorative signs made to hang on your wall. They had saying after saying on them—some serious, some with scriptures, some lovey-dovey, and some funny.
In an effort to make her laugh, I began reading off the quotes to my friend. Eventually, I landed on one that made me smile from ear to ear. “Oh, this one’s perfect for you!” I exclaimed to my forever-advice-giving friend. I read the quote, “It’s okay if you disagree with me. I can’t force you to be right.”
I heard a little giggle on the other end of the phone, and then she said, “Well, you know why I tell you to listen to my advice, don’t you?”
I grinned, knowing the answer already… “Why?” I humored her.
“Because, 99.99% of the time, I’m right.”
“And the other percent of the time?” I asked.
“I’m usually right then too…”
As we begin our time together this first Sunday of Lent, we are faced with the question: “What does it take to change our minds?”
There are many people and things in this world that will try to change our minds—some by force, some by persuasion, some by logic, some by manipulating us. We look all around us and see advertising that calls us to buy and try. We hear politicians blaring words of fear, attempting to draw us to their sides of debate. We scroll through our Facebook feed and find post after post telling us how to live this way or that. Everyone we look, there are people trying to change our minds.
But the Apostle Paul was convinced that out of all the forces that the world can throw at us, the only thing that really has the power to change our minds is love. In Philippians 2:2, he encourages the Christians in Philippi to “be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” For Paul, “being of the same mind” means “having the same love”—the love of Christ.
It’s amazing how the right kind of love can change you. Author Philip Yancey was one of those people who had the power of love change him. In his adolescent years, he went through some very difficult experiences that caused him to harden his heart against love. He labeled himself “unlovable”, and went out his life believing in the label that he had given himself.
Then one day, while in college, he met a fellow student named Janice. And things began to change. Yancey wrote, “Eventually the most powerful force in the universe, love, won out… Hope aroused. I wanted to conquer worlds and lay them at her feet.” Love began to change him.
For Janice’s birthday, Yancey learned Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathetique” on the piano, and played it for her. He said of the feat, “It was an offering to new life, and to her who had called it forth.” (Philip Yancey, “Soul Survivor”, p. 47-48)
Because of love, everything changed for Yancey. The way that he viewed the world, his perspective, his reality—it all changed. His love for Janice brought about a whole new way of life in him.
The love between two people can change us like that. But the Apostle Paul teaches that there is a love that is even greater than human love. And this love is so amazing, so powerful, so great and wonderful and transformative that he had to coin a new word for it. The word that Paul coined to describe the unique kind of love that transforms our minds into the mind of Christ is “Agape” love.
“The Greek word agape (love) seems to have been virtually a Christian invention — a new word for a new thing (apart from about twenty occurrences in the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is almost non-existent before the New Testament). Agape draws its meaning directly from the revelation of God in Christ. It is not a form of natural affection, however, intense, but a supernatural fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is a matter of will rather than feeling (for Christians must love even those they dislike — Matt. 5:44-48). It is the basic element in Christ-likeness”. (James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986.)
In the second chapter of Philippians, as the Apostle Paul writes to a church in need of instruction and encouragement, he pleads his case that this love—agape love—is the only kind of love that has the power to change our minds. And this love is defined by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Utilizing a common creed or hymn that was used in the early church, Paul begins to teach and remind the believers of the self-emptying love of God in Jesus. “In your relationship with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had…” he writes (Philippians 2:5) And as the familiar words of the song seep into the hearts of the early believers, it’s Paul’s hope that they will begin to think, act, and live in rhythm with the heartbeat of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Throughout our Lenten journey these next few weeks, we’ll be using this early church hymn to help us in our journey to understanding how to be transformed and live with the mind of Christ.
When I took Greek class in seminary, one of the first things we learned about was the limitations of the English language in translation. One of the greatest examples lays with the word “you”. While other languages—including Greek—have ways to indicate whether “you” is singular or plural, English doesn’t. If I say, “You need to do a better job”, you don’t know if I’m talking to one person, or all of you!
As a class, we decided to create a solution to our translation problem by taking a page from our friends from the south. So, whenever we encountered a plural “you”, we translated it as “y’all”, meaning “you-all”.
This is an important conversation when we begin to look at the instructions that Paul wrote to the church in Philippians chapter 2. When we look at the original Greek, we realize that Paul isn’t writing to isolated individuals, but to the gathered community. He’s saying, in essence, “Y’all be like-minded”, “Y’all have the same love”, “Y’all be one in spirit and of one mind”… When we realize that Paul is talking to us as a group, we realize that the agape love that God calls us to is best experienced in community with other followers of Jesus.
We are called to love each other, and we are called to bring Christ’s love to the world. God’s agape love reaches out beyond the church walls, to the hurting and broken, those yearning for God’s touch in their lives. God’s love is such that He will not be content until all of His creation, all of His children, are brought back into restored communion—community—with Him. His “agape love”—radical love in action—reaches out to create, redeem, sustain, and restore.
God insists on community, and will go to the greatest lengths to restore community—and He demonstrated that on the cross. There, He broke down sin and death—the greatest barrier keeping us from community with Him. And He calls us, His church, to barrier-breaking agape love work in community still.
This love—this mind-changing, barrier-breaking, agape love—takes action in human relationships. We see this clearly in the parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus tells in Luke chapter 10.
We can all probably tell this parable from heart—it’s one of Jesus’ best known stories. A young expert in the law comes up to Jesus and asks him a great question of life—“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus, in typical form, answers the question with a question, “What’s written in God’s Law? What have you studied? What have you read? How do you interpret it?”
The young expert recites a part of the greatest creed from the Hebrew people: the Shema. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”. And then, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus commends him for his correct answer. But the young expert has more questions. He asks a follow-up question, “Who is my neighbor?”
And so Jesus responds by telling the story of a man travelling on the hazardous and dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Not surprisingly, he falls into the hands of robbers. They brutally beat him, strip him of all his belongings and clothes, and leave him on the side of the road to die.
The road was busy, and soon a couple good, honorable, God-following, God-fearing people came travelling by—a priest and a Levite. But instead of helping the beaten man, they ignored him—and passed by on the other side of the road.
All seemed lost, until a Samaritan travelled by. Samaritans were ethnic outsiders—hated minorities in a segregated society. Everyone listening to the parable would’ve sneered and jeered when they heard the mention of him. But instead of playing the role of the villain, in Jesus’ parable the Samaritan played the role of the hero. He saw the man, and he was “moved with pity”.
Jesus used a strong verb here when He said the Samaritan was “moved with pity”, or “had pity on him”. The verb that is translated as “took pity on him”, or “had compassion on him”, is the verb: “splangchnizomai” (σπλαγχνίζομαι). The words that we use to translate this verb don’t have near the force of the meaning in English that they do in the Greek. In the Bible, almost all the times that this word is used, it’s used to describe God. “Spalngchnizomai” appears exclusively in the synoptic Gospels, and it’s used exclusively to refer to God’s response through Jesus Christ to human suffering. When it’s used between two humans (there’s only three instances of this in the New Testament), it’s used to describe the way people who represent God respond to human need. It’s a visceral reaction to suffering—to be “moved in the inward parts”, moved in your guts to respond to those who are hurting.
And so, the Samaritan was moved with the compassion of God. He was so moved with love that he could do nothing else but help the poor, hurting soul on the side of the road. He picked the man up, bandaged his wounds, brought him to an inn, took care of him overnight, and then in the morning left his credit card (so to speak) to pay for any extra expenses that his care might entail.
After the parable was told, Jesus turned the young expert’s question inside-out. “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
Of course, the answer was clear—the man who showed him the mercy of God.
Jesus said, “You got that right. Go and do likewise.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan is a dramatic description of what it means to have the mindset of Christ. The priest and Levite saw the man, but because they didn’t have the love of God in their hearts, because they had not allowed God to transform their minds, they were not moved by his plight. They walked right by. Their hearts weren’t in it. But the Samaritan was different. He was moved with the compassion of God—and this compassion was so strong in him that it moved him to go above and beyond to care for the hurting, forsaking even his own safety, finances, time, and status. He made the other man’s suffering his own. He cared for him with the agape love of God.
As we begin our journey through Lent, God wants to change our minds, our hearts, too. He wants us to be transformed, to be like-minded to Him. And it all begins with love—the agape love of God in Christ Jesus. This love is so powerful, so life-altering, so earth-shattering, that it has the power to change our minds. So our question today is: Will you allow God’s love to enter into you today, so that your mind will be changed? I pray that today, we all will. Amen.
(*This sermon series for Lent is adapted from the book, “Living with the Mind of Christ” by James A. Harnish”. Many ideas have been used from this helpful book.)