“Having the Mind of Christ”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons

If you were to listen to modern Christmas radio these days and didn’t know anything about the history of the holiday, you would be justified in concluding that it is primarily a romantic event.  There are innumerable songs on the theme of “all I want for Christmas is you”, more about how awful it is that the singer’s jerk significant other dumped them for the holidays, still more about being lonely during Christmas, and so forth. 

Interestingly, this represents not only a departure from discussing the birth of Jesus as traditional carols once did but also a departure from the spirit of Christ. Like most modern songs, these modern Christmas songs are self-centered, which Jesus was not.  Selfishness and godliness are opposites.  To the extent that one exists in a human heart, the other cannot.

We, of course, do not honor Christ only during this season, nor do we seek to imitate Him only during the holidays.  All day, every day, He is both our Lord and our example.  This morning, then, let’s consider what we can learn from Paul’s discussion of Jesus’ birth about having the mind of Christ.

In pursuit of this goal, we’re going to take a familiar text and rearrange it a little bit.  First, we’re going to consider WHAT CHRIST DID.  Let’s read from Philippians 2:5-7.  I believe that this is the single longest discussion of the birth of Christ in any of the epistles, and the perspective it takes on that event is revealing.

If somebody asked us what the meaning of Christ’s birth is, we might talk about the joy and wonder of God becoming flesh.  We might discuss the way that he fulfilled the prophecies concerning His birth—born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, and so on.  However, Paul doesn’t go in any of those directions.  Instead, he says that the spiritual essence of Christ’s birth is His humility. 

We see this humility most spectacularly displayed in v. 6.  I think that many of our translations here are opaque.  They translate the words of the Greek without giving us much insight into its meaning.  We struggle to figure out, for instance, what it means when our Bible says that He did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped.  In English, is equality a thing?  Can we grasp it?

I think that some of the freer translations can help us out here.  The NLT says that Christ didn’t think of equality with God as something to cling to.  The NIV tells us that He didn’t consider it something to be used to His own advantage.  My favorite, the CSB, reports that he didn’t consider it something to be exploited. 

Taken together, they give us a new and challenging insight into the nature of humility.  We think of the humble person as one who does not thrust himself forward and demand credit for his achievements.  That’s not what Christ did, though.  Instead, He was in a position of immense privilege, but He didn’t use that privilege for His own advantage.

Today, the people of our country love to talk about their rights.  Indeed, the Constitution grants us many rights, but as we contemplate those rights, we also must remember that we serve One who had the right to equality with God in heaven and gave it up.  If we follow Him, we often will find ourselves turning our backs on the rights that we have in order to better serve others.

Next, let’s consider Paul’s thoughts on BEING LIKE CHRIST.  Look at Philippians 2:1-2.  Notice first of all that Paul is pulling out the heavy artillery in his efforts to get the Philippians to live in harmony.  He lists several of the greatest blessings we have as Christians then says that if we have enjoyed any of these things, we should seek like-mindedness with each other.

This too is an attempt to jar us out of the self-seeking mindset of the world.  Even as Christians, we like getting the good stuff from others, but we struggle with dishing it back out.  We love it when others encourage us, but it’s easy for us to go through life in our self-centered little bubble and never think to encourage others.  We’re so appreciative when others show us affection and compassion in our failure and sin, but when somebody lets us down, too often our first instinct is to throw the book at them!  Brethren, the only right measure of the grace we show others is the grace we want to receive.  I need mercy from God and others so often, and when I am tempted to be unmerciful, that is the very thing I must remember.

Next, Paul urges us to a level of unity that seems impossible.  We live in a deeply divided country, in the midst of a deeply divisive pandemic.  We are separated by differences of race and gender.  We have different backgrounds and different life experiences.  For that matter, we study the same passage or Scriptural topic and reach different conclusions.

In the face of that, Paul tells us that we must be of the same mind, maintain the same love, be united in spirit, and seek the same goal.  Surely he’s living in la-la land if he wants us to do all that, amirite?

Before we get too dismissive, though, we ought to remember that the divisions in the first-century church were, if anything, even worse.  Consider, for instance, the devout Jew who becomes a Christian and, next Sunday morning, finds himself rubbing shoulders with a Gentile who is a former homosexual prostitute.  There was no rehabilitation for guys like that under the Torah; instead, they were stoned to death.  Do you think that such people found it easy to be of the same mind?

In fact, the answer for us is the same as it was for them:  we learn to see one another through the eyes of Christ.  We don’t always agree about everything, but our attitude toward one another never changes.  We press on together toward the goal, and we show the world by our love for one another that we are His disciples.

Finally, Paul points us toward ACTING LIKE CHRIST.  Consider Philippians 2:3-4.  The first part of this, though it is very difficult, at least is plain.  Christ never did anything selfish.  We shouldn’t either.  Christ never acted out of vain conceit.  Neither should we. 

Instead, the attitude that our actions should shout is humility.  Everybody who looks at our behavior should be able to tell whom we think is most important, and that person should never be us.  That’s what a Christian looks like, and if this verse doesn’t make us feel about six inches tall, we probably don’t understand it.

Last, we learn that we are supposed to look out for the interests of others as well as our own.  This seems like a relief from all the toe-stepping in the previous verse, but it isn’t.  There are few things in this life that are harder than loving others and being deeply invested in their welfare. 

It means that you’ve got a lot of people on your heart, all the time.  It means that you spend sleepless nights worrying and praying about them.  It means that when they sin, you feel worse about it than they do.  We might ask why on earth anyone would take up a burden like that.  The answer is simple:  because Jesus did.