Today, many of us in the family of faith can try to be different, in ways that may not be as safe as we think they are. Sometimes we may adopt what we may think is a “Biblical” way of life that helps to separate us from our neighbors, but it doesn’t really reflect the real spirit or real values of Christ.
To avoid this, Scriptures show what it means to really live as God’s special people. For instance, in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught His people to learn how to distinguish themselves not just by their moral convictions or religious separation but also by their changed attitudes that link them to His Spirit.
Jesus showed us that the difference our Father in heaven is looking for is truly defined as distinction of the heart. Over and over again He taught His people that they should not focus on outward behavior but on attitudes, motives, and beliefs that are for the good of others. When these differences of the heart are evident Jesus said, His people are like “salt” and “light”.
This difference that Jesus sets before is is not cosmetic. It’s not merely what we do but who we really are.
Jesus calls for actions that are rooted in the heart. Jesus brings us face to face with the unacceptable alternative of a performance based religion. He doesn’t want to settle for good actions that are done only for self-righteous or self-centered reasons. This is because He knows how inclined we all can be when we speak and act in culturally acceptable manners on the outside while all the time we are hiding our hearts that still remain largely unchanged on the inside.
The difference that Christ calls for is what Paul described as being “conformed to the image of God’s Son” (Rom. 8:29) In fact, this is the difference that Paul so longed for in his own life and in the lives of those who read his letters.
When Paul wrote his letter to the church of Philippi there was an emphasis on living with joy and the reason he wrote about joy is because he knew there were many in the church that were unhappy and that there was trouble brewing in Philippi.
In his letter, Paul repeatedly appealed to them to live without strife and vanity. Warned them that there were evil teachers that were competing for their hearts and minds and because of this conflict he believed the Philippians were being robbed of their spiritual joy. He wrote a letter that hit home, that cut right to the heart of the entire matter about the personal choices and attitudes of his readers:
“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Paul identifies two personal attitudes that were just the opposite of being Christlike and these were getting in the way of their joy.
Selfish ambition is one of the two personal attitudes that Paul warned against. This is the desire of some to promote themselves at the expense of others around them. Paul let them know that he was aware of the competitive spirit that prompted some of the people to get ahead in life without any regard for the need of others.
Paul also was concerned about the problem of conceit among the people. Conceit is the desire to be noticed, considered and indulged at the expense of those around you. At the root it is ones sense of personal absorption and entitlement that says loud and clear “My needs are far more important and urgent than the needs of anyone else.”
Both of these attitudes find their roots in pride. And pride is the exact opposite of what is needed to live in harmony with each other. This is why Christ said the following to his disciples:
“You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever desires to be first shall be last of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Paul pleaded with his people in Philippi to move away from their conceit and selfish ambition and to have more Christlike characteristics.
Unity With Others
Paul wanted the people to be of like minds, having the same love of one another, to be of one mind. He waned them to put away their divisiveness and to become more like minded. There was too much conflict among them and it was time they started pulling together at the same end of the rope.
Respect For Each Other
Paul told his people: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”
This kind of respect for each other is one that requires that we become humble enough to realize that we just might be wrong, and that they just might be right. It is something that demands that we admit that we just might not have all the answers, and then need to be humble enough to listen to someone else.
Concern For Each Other
Paul said this to the people: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
We can never truly have any kind of real lasting peace in any relationship until we overcome our own desire to think only about ourselves.
Paul had a good argument for this that he skillfully built layer by layer:
- On the basis of the love of Christ
- With a desire for unity of mind
- By means of humility and genuine concern for one another
- Be different. Model yourselves after the attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ
Paul was not trying to write a theological treatise. He was just trying to find corrective ways in which they could solve their problems and showing that the solution was seeing just how different the mind of Christ truly is.
The Mind of Christ
There is no more life changing way to see the mind of Christ than to wholeheartedly give ourselves to the living mind of Christ.
But how do we do this? Philippians 2:5-11 helps to give us a clue:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This passage alone, describes the mind of Christ and not in theory but in reality. It shows the true characteristics of His attitude that is so different from our own human responses.
An Unselfish Attitude
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.”
It was Paul’s intent to help the people of Philippi restore their joy of unselfish lives. Too many of their actions were based on personal interests and personal agendas. This is why Paul tried so hard to turn their attention away from that and to focus their attention on Christ who lived and died in such contrast to their self-centeredness that they were practicing.
When Christ came to this world, He set aside all the glory of his Godly life and He came in the likeness of men, and no one really had more right than He did to remain above all the pain. But by His own example He showed all of us how to “look out not only for our own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
By virtue of His eternal deity, Christ had every right to stay on His throne in heaven. However, it was His love for us that compelled Him to do what He did. So, instead of avoiding the horrendous pain of our sin and punishment He unselfishly and lovingly set aside all of this:
- A heavenly throne for a lowly and earthly manger
- Majestic splendor for suffering and shame
- The rights of the Son for the place of a slave
- The regalia of glory for the robes of humanity
A Sacrificial Attitude
We sometimes may ask ourselves about Christ such as; What was He thinking? What did His sacrifice cost Him? Why did He do it? or What can we learn from Him?
Paul declares that Christ, “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”
By saying that He made Himself of no reputation is saying that he made Himself nothing or that He literally emptied Himself for us. But He didn’t completely empty Himself of all of His deity, for had He done that, then He would not have been able to redeem us, because this would have made Him an inadequate sacrifice. Just as Paul stated “In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9)
It’s more accurate to say that Christ, the Son of God set aside the independent exercise of His divine attributes so that He could accomplish His Father’s plan. He was a human being that was God manifest in the flesh. He willingly and temporarily gave up the independent expression of His deity so that He could rescue us. He still had all His rights as a deity but chose not to use His deity when He became a man. He surrendered His right to manifest Himself visibly as the God of heavenly splendor and glory.
A Servant Attitude
Probably one of the greatest descriptions of the incarnation of Jesus Christ is that He became a servant:
- He came with an attitude of selflessness
- He paid a price that was sacrificial
- He willingly became a servant even though He was Lord of all
Christ did not pretend to be a servant when He came to earth, He wasn’t an actor playing a part. He really was a servant. This was a way to show the true expression of His deep and innermost nature. He was the God/Man, deity and humanity united in one and so He became a servant.
After all He admits it in His own words:
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
By His own willingness to take the form of a servant or slave, Christ identified with the heart of even the lowest person. This is truly interesting when you consider the fact that millions of people in the time of the Roman empire were slaves. It must have truly been encouraging to all those people to hear the gospel and then to actually discover that the King of heaven became a slave so that He could be able to set them free from the sin that enslaved them.
For us however, it might be a little bit more difficult to identify with the servanthood of Christ. After all, how often do we follow the example of Christ by genuinely yielding power or prestige to serve someone else? We might talk often about serving Christ, but how often do our acts of service truly reflect the spirit of Christ’s example?
We all know the story of the Last Supper and how Christ gives one of His final teachings in the last moments of His life, never thinking of Himself but only of others, even knowing of His upcoming suffering and death. He tries to teach His disciples yet another lesson. Washing the feet at a supper was only done by servants and of course all of the disciples thought they were above such a task. After all, washing the feet of others was only reserved for the lowest of servants in the home.
But to the shock of His disciples, Jesus took it upon Himself to do the act of hospitality of a lowly servant and removed His robe, wrapped a towel around His waist and proceeded to wash their feet. And then the Teacher turned to them and said:
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.”
Christ’s words were loud and clear by saying basically none of His followers are qualified to lead until they are willing to do so with the heart of a servant.
It is the servant attitude that sets apart people who have real leadership. If we, as Christians are going to display the mind of Christ in our lives and start to share His joy, then we are going to need to open up our hearts to the One who took the form of a servant.
A Humble Attitude
Because of the great love our Lord has for us He voluntarily humbled Himself. There probably is no better example of humiliation and selfless attitude for believers to follow than that which was given to us by Jesus Christ. What better example could one ever ask for?
The record of the life of Christ is totally absent of pride. By all rights, He could have come to earth and could have been a ruler with divine authority and power. But instead He chose to let Himself be misunderstood, misrepresented and rejected. If the Lord of all creation is willing to humble Himself to that extent, how can we even consider doing less for each other?
Just as Paul asked the people of Philippi to humble themselves as Christ asked, we too are being asked:
- To humble ourselves before God – “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6).
- To one another – “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” (Phil. 2:3)
- To the Word of God – “The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility.” (Prov. 15:33)
It’s clear, the the mind of Christ is a humble mind and far different from the attitudes that are promoted by the world in which we live.
An Obedient Attitude
“He became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil 2:8c)
Our world is too often characterized by rebellion but the attitude of Christ is just the opposite, it is one of obedience:
“He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know hat I must be about My Father’s business?'” (Lk. 2:49).
“I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.” (Jn. 12:49)
“He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” (Jn. 8:29)
Even though Christ knew that His mission would take Him to death on a cross, He still obeyed the commands of His Father. This was God’s plan from all eternity. The obedience of Jesus Christ would not just lead to an ordinary death. He was destined to have to experience the most humiliating, most disgraceful death devised by the hearts of evil, fallen human beings.
Death on a cross was the most horrible death imaginable giving the sufferer unimaginable pain and horrific shame. Death on a cross was:
- Painful – Historians say that anyone who died by crucifixion didn’t die once but died a thousand deaths.
- Shameful – The person condemned was forced to carry their own cross and then they were stripped of all clothing and were executed naked before a crowd of mockers.
- A condemnation – The Bible refers to the condemnation of sin as a curse. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” (Gal. 3:13)
The horrors brought on by the cross define the level of commitment that was attached to the obedience that Christ showed towards His Father. There have been many people, ordinary people who have died humiliating deaths but they never died a death such as the one Christ willingly died. We all know He had the power to come down off that cross, just as His mockers asked Him to do. And He had the power to destroy His enemies, but instead, He willingly chose to endure this horrific death on the cross, out of His love for those who were in desperate need of salvation and forgiveness. For us, for each and every one of us.
Every step of obedience that He showed brought Him closer and closer to His path of humiliation, from Glory to Golgotha. But it was something that He faithfully and willingly accepted so that He could become our Savior.
God loves His people but hates their sin and this is why He had to do what He did. He needed to show the love for His people while at the same time He showed His hatred for the sin that engulfs us.
Living to Make a Difference
So, on a practical level, how can we do this? We can start by trying to put into practice some very simple instructions that have been given to us in the New Testament:
- Love one another (Jn. 13:35).
- Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10).
- Build up one another (Rom. 14:19).
- Accept one another (Rom. 15:7).
- Admonish one another (Rom. 15:14)
- Serve one another (Gal. 5:13).
- Bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).
- Be kind to one another (Eph. 4:32).
- Comfort one another (1 Th. 4:18).
- Encourage one another (1 Th. 5:11).
- Live in peace with one another (1 Th. 5:13).
- Confess sin to one another (Jas. 5:16).
- Be hospitable to one another (1 Pet. 4:9).
Jesus Christ was obedient to die for us out of love. Now we need to be obedient to live for Him out of love. Just remember that when He was on the cross you were on His mind.