Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Take A Knee

A few years ago, we had a young man by the name of Tim Tebow playing quarterback for the Denver Broncos, our American football team. He was a great athlete but not a very good quarterback. He was eventually traded to another team and bounced around a bit after that and eventually washed out of the league. To give you an idea of how good he is as an athlete, he won the college Heisman Trophy, two college football national championships, was a professional football player for four years, and he now plays professional baseball in the New York Mets organization. However, he’s not known that much for his great athleticism. Instead, he’s most famous for his outspoken Christianity and his unashamed witness as a follower of Jesus Christ. In interviews, he never fails to give credit to God for all the blessings in his life. He is particularly known for taking a knee in prayer while on the field before the game and after scoring touchdowns. Now if you’re a Christian who prays regularly (yes, there are actually Christians who do not pray regularly, but that will have to wait for another lesson), seeing a brother or sister in Christ take a knee in prayer is hardly an earth-shaking image. However, for the media and unbelievers, you would have thought the world was coming to an end. When Tebow bent his knee and bowed his head, they lost their collective minds and implored the National Football League to do something about his offensive {read: sarcasm} display of devotion to God claiming that his religious beliefs have no place on the football field and the public shouldn’t be forced to endure his overt references to Jesus Christ in interviews or barraged with images of him kneeling in prayer. After all, they would say, the football field isn’t the time or place for personal statements. It’s a place to play the game, and that’s it. It was comical at times how foolish his critics looked and sounded complaining about something they either don’t understand or simply abhor.
            Ironically, the National Football League (“NFL”) is embroiled in yet another kneeling controversy. This time, players are kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against what they believe to be racial injustice in our country. After eight years of the most divisive presidency in my lifetime, it’s no wonder our country is so horribly divided. Former President Obama was our first black President, and he had the perfect opportunity to be the most positive force in race relations in our country than perhaps any United States president in modern history. Instead, his stated objective, to “fundamentally transform” the country, required division—rich vs. poor, old vs. young, men vs. women, Christian vs. non-Christian, and a particularly insidious weapon in his arsenal was pitting blacks against whites (really any non-white group against whites). His administration’s divisiveness led to the murders of a number of white police officers by black militants and thugs who believed they had an advocate for their abhorrent behavior in the President of the United States. Thankfully the assault against police officers has subsided under the leadership of our new President. However, the fundamental transformation inspired by the previous administration had significant momentum, and racial division in America has a new foothold. Now, liberal Hollywood actors and actresses, liberal universities, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association seem intent on keeping the fires of racism raging that were kindled by the previously divisive presidential administration. Athletes are protesting what they perceive to be an America that is racially and socially unjust by kneeling during the country’s national anthem. Hypocritically, the same media and unbelievers who so vociferously voiced their disdain when Tim Tebow kneeled to honor what he believed in—Jesus Christ, applaud today’s athletes who kneel during the national anthem to honor what they believe in—protesting racial injustice.
            I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that I think Tim got it right. Specifically, what or who we bow our knee to says something about us and as Christians should be reserved for one thing and one person—humble devotion to Jesus Christ. Racial injustice, provided it’s a real problem and not manufactured by race-baiters who benefit in some way from continued racial division, deserves sincere attention and corrective measures whenever or wherever it might occur. However, humble devotion to Jesus Christ is always appropriate. One day, it will be obvious to all people that devotion that bends a knee belongs only to Jesus Christ, not to any other person or cause no matter how important that cause may seem. It is only before that King of kings that we are to Take A Knee.

Subject Text

Philippians 2:1-11

1Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


            Paul planted the church in Philippi with Timothy and Silas during his second missionary journey through the region. His letter to the Philippians is probably one of the four prison epistles written by Paul while being imprisoned in Rome (cf. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon). That’s important to remember because, ironically, the epistle to the Philippians is often referred to as the “Hymn of Joy.” The Philippians had sent Paul a gift while he was in prison and he wanted to thank them and comfort them about his situation as a prisoner. However, Paul never missed an opportunity to teach and this letter was no exception. Paul wanted them to be very intentional about the way they behaved in relation to each other. Paul expected them to humble themselves and put others before themselves and their own interests in the context that we should follow the example of Jesus. Jesus had every reason to insist that people worship Him. Instead, he humbled Himself, didn’t demand devotion, or even attention for that matter, and became a servant to humanity and ultimately a sacrifice for humanity.

Text Analysis

1Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

            If you read through Paul’s letters, it won’t take long before you realize that one of his primary themes is unity. Paul picks up on that theme in our Subject Text in vv. 1-2. Paul recognized that division of any kind is horribly destructive. As brothers and sisters in Christ, there is no room or justification for division. As Christians, we worship the same Lord and Savior and are united with one another through our common devotion to Jesus Christ. True believers share in common the Holy Spirit who resides in each of us. Therefore, if we are willing to humble ourselves and allow the Spirit to guide us, then we should be like-minded concerning our unmitigated devotion to Jesus Christ alone as Lord and Savior and our commitment to love one another.
            “Paul’s joy would be complete when they stood together in unity. His references to joy here suggested the anticipation of presenting a mature group of Christians to the Lord. His joy was that his life work would amount to something in God’s economy and in the lives of other people. This personal appeal, therefore, was a way of encouraging them onward for the glory of God.
            “The content of his exhortation is that they be ‘like-minded.’ The verb used here occurs ten times in Philippians (of twenty-three times in the in the Pauline corpus). It speaks to the intellect (i.e., a way of thinking), but it goes beyond that. It incorporates the will and emotions into a comprehensive outlook which affects the attitude. With this word and the contexts in which it occurs, Paul spoke of the values and ambitions which surface through the mind. This is unity. It is not found in an identical life-style or personality. It occurs when Christian people have the same values and loves. Paul sought that in this church.”[1]

3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

            Although vv. 3-4 are not the pivotal verses in our Subject Text, can you imagine a society that functioned according to these two verses? It’s almost impossible to imagine a society filled with people who are only interested in looking out for the welfare of others. However not just looking out for the welfare of others first but doing so without bringing attention to themselves in the process (cf. Mt. 6:3). That attitude is rare in our churches let alone in our society at large. But this is precisely what Paul is demanding of the Philippian believers and by extension all of us.
While I recognize how hard that can be in a society where you are surrounded primarily by unbelievers or Christians who behave like unbelievers, it is something we can all practice in our own homes. Once we have resolved to practice it in our homes, we can bring that attitude to our churches, and once we have committed to practicing it in our churches then we can bring it to our schools, to work, and to the public square. In any event, as sincere and committed Christians, caring for others above ourselves and doing so without the need for personal attention or recognition isn’t an option—it is part and parcel of who we are as followers of Jesus Christ who set the example for us.
            “After revealing the positive way for believers to behave toward one another, Paul gives negatives to avoid. Unity in love means selfish ambition and vain conceit have no place in the Christian life. Such characteristics arise from pride, not from love. Instead, humility is to characterize the Christian. We are not to exalt ourselves above others…Biblical love is selfless. The opposite of this kind of love is selfishness. Humility does not mean putting ourselves down but rather lifting others up.
            “Looking out for our own interests comes naturally. We need, and receive, no instruction for that. We are instructed to look out for the interests of others. We are to keep an eye out to discover ways we can help others even when they do not see they need such help.”[2]

5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

            Some of the clearest Christology in all of the New Testament is right here in vv. 5-8. These verses describe Jesus “as he existed before the creation of the world—that is, his preincarnate state. Jesus Christ was God. Everything God is, Christ is; the equality is in essential characteristics and divine attributes…When Christ was born, God became man. Jesus was not part man and part God; he was completely human and completely divine. Christ is the perfect expression of God in human form…In his full humanity, we can see everything about God’s character that can be conveyed in human terms.”[3] Although these verses tell us very clearly that Jesus is God, that He became incarnate as a man, and that He allowed Himself to be nailed to a cross for us, don’t miss something else very important about these verses—it’s v. 5. Specifically, it’s Paul’s stipulation that we are to have the same mindset of Christ, “In your relationships with one another.” After Paul makes it clear the Jesus is God, he tells us that we can do the same things Jesus did. “Christ voluntarily gave of himself, making himself nothing…What appeared on earth was not a prince in a palace, or a royal king, or a wealthy and scholarly teacher; instead, Jesus’ entire life was devoted to serving others.”[4] I want to explain vv. 6-8 by breaking them down into the categories of—POSITION, POWER, and POSSESSIONS.

POSITION—Jesus is God. However, Paul tells us that Jesus didn’t allow His POSITON to dictate how He would relate to us. He was superior but He didn’t have a superiority complex. He was clearly in charge but He wasn’t bossy. He was clearly above everyone else but never looked down on anyone.

            POWER—Jesus is God. John tells us that through Jesus all things were made and that without Jesus nothing would exist (Jn 1:3). Jesus walked on water, healed the sick and the lame, gave sight to the blind, gave hearing to the deaf, and raised the dead back to life. He could have come to us and demanded anything He wanted. He could have come as the conquering Messiah the Jews expected. He had the POWER do and be whatever He wanted but He came to us as a man—but not just as any man, He came to us as a servant. Imagine that; God came to us as a servant!

            POSSESSIONS—Jesus is God. We tend to think that the things we purchase; the things we own—our POSSESSIONS, actually belong to us. Well, in a sense they do, but only as tools to use during this life. ***News Flash*** -- You can’t actually take anything with you when you die! In reality, everything belongs to God for our joy and to use for His purposes. Nevertheless, we must be prepared to give up everything if He asks us to because He gave up everything for us—even His life.

            Jesus had the POSITION, POWER, and POSSESSIONS, to get what He wanted by force but He didn’t do that. Instead, He gave up all those things to get what he wanted—a relationship with us by our own free will. Paul is saying that Jesus gave us an example to follow in our relationships with one another. Like Jesus, we must be willing to set aside or give up whatever benefits we enjoy from our POSITION, POWER, and POSSESSIONS if they create an obstacle in our relationships with one another.

9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

            Of all the words contained in vv. 9-11, don’t overlook the very first word, “therefore.” As you probably know, most of the time there isn’t an immediate payoff for sacrifice. We can set aside our position, our power, and our possessions in this life over and over and over and never get anything in return. That’s why it’s important to remember that when we do that, we aren’t investing in this life, we are investing in the life to come. What we do by setting aside our position, power, and possessions in this life is invest in one another. That’s what Jesus was doing and that’s what we must do as well. “Therefore” God exalted Jesus to the highest place and “therefore” we will be rewarded as well.
Jesus’ sacrifice means that at some point all of creation will kneel before Him and confess that He is, in fact, Lord of all. When I say, all will kneel before Him, I mean all people—believers and unbelievers alike—will acknowledge Him as Lord of all. However, for unbelievers it will be too late. They will be judged for their unbelief and condemned to be eternally separated from God. Yes, by choosing to reject Jesus in this life they will have chosen to accept an eternity in hell in the next life. However, believers will finally receive their reward—eternity in the presence of the One they already kneeled before during this life. They will hear the words all faithful followers of Christ long to hear: “Well done good and faithful servant (Mt. 25:23).” Look at that word “servant.” When Jesus recognizes you as His servant, it means you were faithful to follow His example because He too came to us as a servant. And your reward is being glorified for eternity in heaven with Him.
            Kyrios, Lord, is Paul’s title par excellence for Jesus. This is ‘the name which is above every name’ given to Jesus in his exaltation, so called because it is God’s name. It is the word frequently employed in the LXX (the LXX refers to the Septuagint which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament by seventy (LXX) Jewish scholars. The Greek title for the translation is “The Translation of the Seventy.”) to render the name of God, and the Philippians passage is based on Isaiah 45:23 [“By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”], transferring to Jesus words originally referring to Yahweh. For Paul kyrios was the only term which could adequately express what he had come to understand as the person and work of Christ…
            “For Paul kyrios is a title of majesty reflecting the regal lordship of the risen Christ over the living and the dead. God made Jesus Lord at the resurrection, as a consequence of which he now shares with the Father dominion over all creation and the right to universal adoration.”[5]
            “In keeping with Jesus’ exaltation and power, one day every knee will bow before him. In heaven refers to the angels; on earth means all humanity; under the earth refers to the underworld—possibly to unsaved people who have died or to demons. Those who love Jesus will bow in adoration and worship; those who refused to acknowledge him will bow in submission and fear. This will take place at Jesus’ second coming when the forces of evil will be completely defeated and God will form a new heaven and new earth…Every tongue will confess the basic truth of Christianity: Jesus Christ is Lord. This does not mean that eventually everyone will be saved. Every tongue in heaven, on earth, and under the earth will recognize Jesus as Lord, either because of belief or because of mere acknowledgement of the undisputable fact. No tongue will be silent; no knee will remain unbowed. All of creation will recognize Jesus Christ as Lord.”[6]


            To whom or to what you bend your knee is no small matter. The professional athletes here in America are trying to use their POSITION, POWER, and POSSESSIONS, to get their way. They didn’t bend a knee to honor Jesus Christ; they bent their knee in honor of their grievances. They did, and are doing, the exact opposite of Paul’s instructions on unity and like-mindedness. They aren’t acting in service to anyone. They are simply using their POSITION, POWER, and POSSESSIONS to draw attention to themselves. Their actions on the field do nothing to help those they claim to need help. Instead, their actions have created division between them and those who are not of the same mind as they are. However, Paul’s instruction is specifically directed at the church and not at humanity in general so it should come as no surprise that something like this is happening outside the confines of the church. Nevertheless, I know that some of the players involved have publicly professed their belief and put their faith in Jesus Christ so it is sad that those players would bend their knee to someone or something other than their Lord and purposely create division between themselves and their brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with them and would only bend their knee to their Lord Jesus Christ.
            So what’s the big deal about what or to whom we bend our knee? Well for Tebow it was an acknowledgement that all his many accomplishments, awards, and notoriety weren’t about him, they were about what Jesus was able to do through him. Tim acknowledged what Jesus had done for him and his response was to kneel before Him regularly throughout his life. I have always assumed that Christians understood that only Jesus deserves the kind of devotion that calls for us to kneel before him. However, there are clearly some Christians in the NFL (and some Christian fans who agree with them) who either don’t know that or have forgotten it. So let me recommend some interesting reading for you. Pick up a copy of Jesus Freaks by DC Talk and Voice of the Martyrs and read through the countless stories of Christians who refused to bend their knee to any cause or person other than Jesus Christ. They paid for it with their lives but they were faithful to the end. That should suffice as an example for all Christians to follow who think it’s ok to bend their knee to some political cause.
But what I really want to focus on is Paul’s instruction that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord in relation to those who still refuse to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Paul’s instruction in our Subject Text is a tremendous encouragement for believers but it foretells an ominous doom for unbelievers. I’m not a huge advocate of trying to scare people into believing in Jesus primarily because I don’t think it works. Therefore, I’ll resort to begging (biblically it’s called “imploring,” but that feels to sanitized for me). I’m begging you to reconsider your unbelief. You are gambling with an eternity separated from God; an eternity in hell because of your unnecessary refusal to believe. If you would simply open your mind and your heart to the possibility that Jesus is who He said He is and did what He said He did, God will reward that little bit of faith and the Spirit will enlighten your mind to a fuller truth of God’s revelation of Himself. It does, however, require that you bend your knee before Jesus Christ and acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior of your life.
There’s really no magic to it but if you need help you can click on the tab at the top of the page title “The Sinner’s Prayer,” and it will walk you through the process of asking Jesus for forgiveness of your sins and what to do after that. As I said, it’s not magic and it doesn’t have to be the way I’ve laid it out for you. You can simply ask Jesus to save you and be your Lord and it’s done! You can be confident that provided you follow Him faithfully you will spend eternity with Him when you die or when this age comes to an end and Jesus returns before you die. For those of you who have put this decision off, now is your time, now is your opportunity, now is your chance to make the most important decision of your life—now is your chance to Take A Knee before Jesus in humility and ask Him to be your Lord and Savior.

[1] Richard R. Melick, Jr., Philippians, Colossians, Philemon—The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1991), 93-94.
[2] Max Anders, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians—Holman New Testament Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), 224-225.
[3] Bruce Barton, Philip Comfort, Grant Osborne, Linda K. Taylor, and Dave Veerman, Life Application New Testament Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 851.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, Eds., Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 277.
[6] Bruce Barton, et al., Life Application New Testament Commentary, 851-852.

(Audio version: Music--"Yahweh" by: Elevation Worship and "Love Has A Name: by: Jesus Culture--Music Coordination by Meagan Seredinski)