Richard R. Crocker
The Mind of Christ
September 30, 2012
We are considering in chapel this term what it means to love God with our minds. Today’s scripture passage encourages us to “let the same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” The passage brings us directly to the mind of Jesus as an example for us, who are to have the same mind as Jesus.
That, of course, is a tall order – that we ourselves should have the mind of Christ. I am using the term mind tonight to refer not strictly to the way we reason, but to the way we think. Reasoning is one form of thinking, no doubt, but it is not the only kind of thinking. Often our thoughts are formed at a level that is more powerful and primitive than our reason. Indeed, we frequently use our reason to provide support for thoughts and positions and ideas that we hold for emotional reasons. This is why the world has never been able to agree on many very important matters. Our emotional reasons are often primary, and our intellect is secondary. So I am interpreting the word mind to mean that part of ourselves by which we make decisions and commitments - the whole part, encompassing both intellect and emotion.
I am encouraged to take this broad view of mind because of the context in which Paul uses the word. Notice that in the scripture passage the word mind occurs three times. Verse two; “be of the same mind”, “of one mind”; verse 5: “let the same mind be in you….” But it is obvious when Paul uses this word that he is speaking broadly about the basic attitudes that govern our behavior. It is, after all, a highly emotional passage which is intended to offer encouragement to a church, a congregation that was oppressed, written by a man who was himself in prison. Listen to the emotionality of the passage:
“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete….” These are all emotional words, which preface Paul’s admonition that his joy will be complete if his hearers have the same mind, the same love, and are of one mind. Then he explains what kind of mind he is advocating: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” Uh-oh. Here is where we begin to squirm. And it continues: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” And here we see that we are in another world, for what Paul is describing is the mind of Christ, whose mind should also be our own. “Let the (this) same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
There is so much that comforts us and challenges us in this beautiful passage. But if we take it seriously, as I hope we do, we must confront the immediate fact that the mind that Paul describes as the mind of Christ – a mind that does nothing from selfish ambition or to pursue our own advantage” is not the mind that we have, or that we are encouraged to have, or, indeed, that many of us want to have. Indeed, this passage confronts us with the basic discrepancy between the Christian ambition, which is to have the mind of Christ, and the kind of ambition that most of us have been taught and that we have absorbed throughout our education and that has brought us to Dartmouth.
For if we are honest, we must admit that in our time at Dartmouth, we, most of us, most of the time, are strategizing on how to maximize our advantages in the world. Instead of asking the question, “What must we do to be saved?”, we are much more preoccupied with the question “What must I do to succeed.” Now, don’t get me wrong. All of us want to succeed in the sense of accomplishing a goal. But it makes a great deal of difference what our goal is. If our goal is to distinguish ourselves by our wealth and cleverness, we are hardly seeking the mind of Christ. If, on the other hand, we devote our minds to understanding the minds of others, to understanding what it is like to be needy, to fail, and to love, then our goal is quite different. The fact is that, with our whole being, most of us spurn the mind of Christ. We have a different goal.
But not all of us, and not all the time. There are occasions throughout our lives, and even now, when the fact of vulnerability breaks through the protective shield of privilege, when our failure teaches us much more than our success, when suffering cannot be avoided, when we recognize that needs of others are more important than our own. Those experiences, if Paul is to be believed, bring us closer to the mind of Christ.
Let me illustrate by telling you two stories. They are hypothetical, composite stories that are not about any particular person – because I do not want to betray any confidences – but they are nonetheless true stories because they reflect many true events. The first begins with a student who comes to my office, often referred to me by a dean or someone else, because they are experiencing a deep disappointment. Let’s say that this is a very ambitious student who, through a mistake like plagiarism, is facing suspension from the college. Not only is the student feeling guilty and ashamed, but she also feels that her chances to be admitted to medical school, or law school, or to work in a hedge fund, have been ruined. Her whole life plan has been shattered.
What words of reassurance can I offer? I can’t say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. You’ll still get into law school.” Depending upon the offense, that is not likely to happen. What I can say is: This experience is a very valuable part of your life. It can re-orient your ambition. It can help you think differently about what really matters. This time away from Dartmouth is a time to change your ambition. I can speak from my own experiences of loss and disappointment – fully acknowledging the pain, but also the acknowledging the growth. And, if the student is a Christian, I can point to the deep paradox of what it means to have the mind of Christ – a mind not set upon one’s own self-interest, but a mind that knows how frail we are, and knowing that, loves and lives and hopes in a very different way.
The second story is about a student who decides to take a term off and do an intense service experience in a place he/she has never been before. Whether it is in a poor urban area or a rural reservation or a clinic in Africa, the student is apprehensive, because he has never been there and done this, and doesn’t know if he will fit it. Some of these students return simply relieved to be back in the privileged comfort of Dartmouth. Others, however, return with transformed ambitions. They find that their whole mind has been changed, and they have a vocational direction that they never anticipated. Or even if they continue to go through corporate recruiting, their ambition has been tempered by their realization of the needs of the world.
What these stories have in common is the discovery of vulnerability in ourselves and in others. Discovering our mutual vulnerability is the first step in having the mind of Christ. Amen.