‘Even Death on a Cross…’
Philippians 2:5-11 [Part 8]
‘Name it and claim it.’ This catch phrase marks a movement within contemporary American Christianity. It holds that God’s will for believers is ‘health and wealth,’ physical well-being, and financial success. All that is necessary on the believer’s part is ‘seed faith’ expressed through positive thinking and donations to religious causes.
Though very modern, this ‘prosperity gospel’ is as old as ancient paganism. It goes by the Latin term do ut des, ‘give to get.’ As we study the Christ hymn of Philippians, we might well ask ourselves: Is this what St. Paul means by the Word of the Cross?
Our hymn starts with Christ already enjoying all the heavenly blessings of equality with God in His divine ‘form.’ Then comes the descent of the Man of Heaven as Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, taking on ‘the likeness of man’
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
It was because Christ surrendered to the will of God, regardless of the cost and without any expectation of reward — it was because of the Cross — that Christ was vindicated by God. The Cross is the ‘therefore’ of our hymn:
Therefore God also highly exalted Him
It’s only human nature to do things for reward, especially when we think they are the righteous things. Paul’s Word of the Cross has a much different take. Our relationship with God must be not a transaction, but a self-surrender, a holocaust of our hearts. King David, repenting of his sin and seeking reconciliation with God, sang these words
For You have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, You would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 50: 16-17)
What should we expect in return? Expectation is simply not the right response. We should not expect anything from God. Rather, we should trust and hope in Him. There is little place for the language of negotiation in communion with God.
Mother Theresa was once asked what she said to God when she prayed.
‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘I just listen.’
‘And what does God say,’ she was then asked.
‘Nothing. He just listens, too.’
Communion with God depends on deep listening. It is the paradox of a stillness and silence by which the Holy Spirit moves the heart. We may shout, or whine, or cajole when we want something in this world. We may beg for, demand, or claim our due rewards. Every parent knows that children are inclined to behave that way. But St. Paul reminds us
…we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. (I Corinthians 2: 6)