Rev. Stephen Sizer and Father Dave discuss Paul’s letter to the Philippians

Dave: Okay, here we are in Southampton, south of London – myself and my dear friend, Reverend Dr Stephen Sizer, doing Philippians … what is it …?

Stephen: Philippians, 2: 1-13. Shall I read it?

Dave: Yes, please.

Stephen: “Therefore, 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, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit, and of one mind.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above, yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another. Have the same mindset as Christ, Jesus who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant. Being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man,

He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name – that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow – in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth – and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God, the Father.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.”

Dave: Yes. It’s a well-known passage, isn’t it – the ‘ketosis’ passage, isn’t it – because Jesus ’emptied Himself’, and there’s been all sorts of theological speculation on how to take that. Often, I think, we get so focused on that, we miss the bigger picture, which is that it’s a pastoral appeal, isn’t it, for unity of Heart and spirit. Yeah, putting it in in that context of working out your salvation in fear and trembling in that context. What are your thoughts? Is it a favourite for you?

Stephen: It’s a powerful passage – a very powerful passage – because Paul is using the example of Christ to challenge his followers to emulate him in not being proud, not being arrogant, and thinking of the needs of others rather than themselves.

Dave: It’s interesting, isn’t it, because the example of the life of Jesus is almost never used in the gospels or the Epistles, is it – the exception being 1 Peter, where Peter says Jesus’ example of not hitting back“He did this that you might follow in his footsteps”, he says. This is an example of non- retaliation, but here it’s, more generally speaking – ‘have the mind of Christ’ – and it’s about forgoing power. isn’t it.

And we assume that we’re dealing, well, most people assume, we’re dealing with early hymnal sort of fragment here, aren’t we – the ‘ketosis’ bit about ‘He emptied himself’ – is part of an early Christian hymn. I don’t know if that’s because it’s in rhyming verse in the Greek. I don’t think it is, but most people assume it’s some sort of early liturgical fragment, don’t they.?

Stephen: It could be. Yes, it could be. I liken it to um a mandate. Just, as God, the Father, sent the Son to save the world, he’s called us to share in practical words and deeds that’s salvation with others, and we do that by caring about their needs.

Someone said, ‘people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’. Typically, when I think of preachers, they focus on words, and trying to argue and convince you by their rhetoric or by their logic that they’re right and you’re wrong, but I think it’s a much more powerful witness when people feel self-conscious because of our actions. They’re influenced much more by our actions. You think of when Jesus stilled the storm, Peter’s reaction was, “Go away from me: Lord. I’m, a sinful man.” You know, the act of saving them from drowning caused Peter to reflect upon his unworthiness and his need of God’s forgiveness.

Dave: It’s interesting, in terms of tying that in with the cross because, you know, if this is indeed an early liturgical fragment – perhaps one of the earliest pieces we have of people of faith reflecting on the work of the cross and, in this case, not seeing it so much in terms of the theology of atonement or anything that we’re used to, but simply as an act of humility and obedience.

Stephen: Yes, and the fact that it may have been a liturgical liturgy, if you like, suggests or implies that it was used regularly on Sundays, but also during the week, as people reflected daily on their walk, so that it would have been in their mind regularly that this is how we are to behave as Christians,

I was just going to say, I mean again, we tend to focus on working out our salvation – ie. – it’s works, but actually the text says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to fulfil His good purpose.” So, we work out what God is working in.

Dave: Yeah, and in this context, it seems to be working it out in the context of disputes within the community, because that’s the overall thing – to ‘have this one mind amongst you’. I can’t imagine they’re saying you’ve got to agree on everything, but there’s a point in terms of having a general, a single focus, isn’t there, on something.

Stephen: It is, and it’s looking at people and thinking, ‘Lord, what do you want me to say or do that will encourage, that will help them find you and a closer walk with you.’ So, it’s being more observant so, you know, when you see the guy in the street who’s in need. Is it a distraction because I’m late or is it an opportunity. Lord, I’m going to be late, but I have a responsibility here. Thank you.

Dave: I think the remarkable thing about this, pulling it back into the context, is this is definitely Paul’s archetypal prison epistle, isn’t it? So, he’s writing in prison, perhaps shackled to his legs. I mean, he’s probably got other people in there with him.

Stephen: Well, it’s his captive audience with soldiers who had no choice but to be chained to him every four hours. He got to preach the same sermon half a dozen times a day. It’s a good model for a church.

Dave: Well, I think we often think of Paul as sort of sitting up at night, writing – you know, and he’s tapping on his computer, or something, by himself. He’s generally in the company of other people. In this prison situation, he’d have other prisoners with him. He may also have some of his friends with him. Barnabus may be there, whoever’s writing the thing down for him. I mean, he’s, probably not writing it. himself, and I think that’s often … you know, we get these things where people say, ‘Well, this can’t be from Paul because the language is different’. Well, maybe he had other people in the cell who were contributing.

Stephen: Well, he says follow me as I follow Christ, so his example is what mattered, not what he said.

Dave: Well, I see it as a bit like a musical because here they are, all sitting together in the prison cell. They’re writing away, people are chipping bits in and, all of a sudden, he breaks into, “have this mind among you which is in Christ Jesus”. Everybody, gets up, and …

Stephen: Quick, let’s write this down!

Dave: They all sing the old familiar hymn together – “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow” – yeah, and then they sit down again and continue.

You know, but it’s … I don’t think that’s even too fanciful, is it, because we hear of Paul singing in prison, and I can imagine him and his friends all of a sudden sort of breaking out in this piece of liturgy that they’re all familiar with and all saying and singing it together. Yeah. You know, and then getting back to the bit of writing.

I mean, what that reflects to me is the extraordinary piety of the man who’s evidently in a life and death situation and would be in a state of deprivation and pain.

Stephen: And it shows how his burden was for them, not himself.

Dave: Well, he had in him the mind that was in Christ Jesus.

Stephen: He says, ‘make my joy, complete, yes, make me joyful by hearing that, you, united, together – that you’re working together, rather than fighting each other’.

Dave: Yeah. He exemplifies the very mindset of Christ that he refers to – not thinking of himself but emptying himself.

Stephen: And Jesus in his prayer before Good Friday, prays that his disciples will be one as we are one.

Dave: Yeah, yeah. I mean, just in closing, how do we interpret that? Because, I mean, I’ve been talking to Joy and I been talking a lot about ‘The Voice to Parliament’ vote coming, up in, Australia. You know, we’re not one on that, and surely, we don’t need to be one on opinions about everything, no matter how important they are, so where does oneness …

Stephen: It has to be love, doesn’t it – the oneness? It has to be love.

Dave: Okay, yeah, so even with political differences, we’re driven by the same one love.

Stephen: Exactly. It has to be on the basis of our understanding of what God has done in our life and what our responsibility is, so it certainly for me means treating people the same – equally.

You know, at the moment our government is debating whether people who claim to be gay have the right to asylum. It’s saying these people, because of their orientation ….

Dave: Asylum-seekers

Stephen: We’ve welcomed many, many people from Ukraine but we make it very hard for people from other countries to gain asylum and that’s – and I said to someone this week. Well, we need to say it’s racism. It’s, not just different policies. It’s racism, and it’s wrong. We should treat everyone the same – created in the image of God.

Dave: It’s hard to imagine that we shouldn’t all be of one mind on that. I mean, I appreciate on some of the broader issues, such as Ukraine, we can be driven by the same sense of love and have different opinions as to how that should work itself out.

Stephen: Well, for me that’s the whole point of the … we call it the ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan’. The word ‘good’ doesn’t appear in the story but we assume that the guy – the victim – was Jewish. Jesus doesn’t tell us that. He says he’s naked and half dead, meaning he’s unconscious and naked. That made him what? It made him – well, nobody could tell.

Dave: Unrecognizable

Stephen: it made him an unknown person. The question is, ‘are you going to stop for that person?’ If he was dressed as a Jew, then a Jew would stop. If he was dressed as a Samaritan, a Samaritan would stop, but he takes that away, strips it away, and says, ‘this is a human being. Will you stop for a human being?’

That’s my bottom line: am I treating people as human beings, not as middleclass, upper class, white, black, indigenous … whatever. Am I treating them as human beings?

Joy: So, love God, love neighbour. Love God, love neighbour as yourself.

Dave: One love. Many interpretations,

Stephen: One application – love.

Dave: All right! We’ve got to keep working at it, in fear and trembling.

Stephen: And that’s why Paul wrote this passage because they were not. He says, ‘if you have any encouragement, any comfort, make my joy complete like – minded same love – one in spirit, one mind.’ They clearly weren’t, but that was what he was calling them to if they were genuinely following Jesus.

Dave: Yeah. Still a work in progress, isn’t it?

Stephen: We are. We are a work in progress. God has not finished with us yet. Think about it – when we become followers of Christ, He could rapture us to Heaven there and then, but we have work to do, preparing for eternity.

Dave: Thank you, brother.

Stephen: Thank you.

First broadcast on The Sunday Eucharist on October 1st, 2023

To hear more from Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer, visit

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