Philippians 2: 1-11
As a young Christian college student, I received excellent training in how to share my faith through Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. I was eager to talk to others about Jesus, but struggled with some guilt that I was not more active and productive in evangelism. I felt I should be doing more. As I look back on those days, can see that my focus was on creating opportunities and using the techniques I learned. Since then, I take a much more relaxed approach. Bringing people to Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit, so I trust him to create those opportunities. That takes the burden off of me. The second helpful insight is that the main way God will use me in evangelism is, not what I do, but who I am. The person I am determines how I reach out and relate to others. It is the person I am and the quality of my life that God uses. So my responsibility in evangelism is to allow the Holy Spirit to shape me, and to be sensitive to his leading as to with whom he wants me to share my faith.
So, what kind of Christian draws non-believers to Christ? What are the personal qualities and what is the focus of how we do relationships that God can best use to bring someone to him? The goal of evangelism is to cause more and more people to glorify God. As I reflected on this, Philippians 2: 1-11 immediately came to mind. The end result of this passage is, “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.” The prior verses in this passage describe the personal qualities and relationship focus that lead to this glorious outcome. If we want to see our family, friends and colleagues enter into a life-changing, personal relationship with Jesus, the descriptions in this passage detail what is required of us.
Before we look at these verses, I want each of you to think back to the time you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Was there one person or a particular group of Christians that God used to bring you to himself? What was there about that person or those people and how they related to you that opened you to consider the claims of Christ and fostered in you a willingness to give your life to Jesus? What attributes and characteristics attracted you to them and to their Lord so that you made the aim of your life to glorify God? Think about this for a moment. I suspect that many of the characteristics described in Philippians 2 were evident in them.
The first characteristic of Christians who attract people to Jesus is the way in which they relate to other Christians. Verse one obviously describes the experience of those who know Jesus. Paul exhorts these encouraged, comforted, Spirit-filled, tender, compassionate believers to create and exhibit a common life together. This fellowship is marked by four realities. [Read verses 1 and 2]. Paul rejoices when he sees this church being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. These characteristics suggest that every member of this church is there for the same reason. They committed themselves to this body of believers to corporately glorify God. If you think about it, those four realities first appear in the Trinity. Being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind describes the thinking and attitudes found in each person of the Godhead. When we display the same unified thinking and attitudes, we glorify God because we are acting toward each other as he does.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit in our fellowship, and it is in stark contrast to how the world apart from Christ does relationships. This is clearly seen in verse 3. [Read] Since Cain slew Able, sinners in this fallen world relate from selfish ambition and vain conceit. It has never been more obvious than today that we live among people for whom it is all about me and what I need. They use others to advance themselves. Such a person values others for what those other persons can do to make his life work and contribute to his wellbeing. Our selfie culture is only the latest permutation of vain conceit. We, consequently, live in a continually devaluing world.
In contrast, the Christians described in these verses: “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” We relate to each other, not for what we can gain, but for what we can give. It is not all about me, but about the God who changed my life and how he can use me to bless yours.
Can you see how such a unified witness of valuing others above ourselves would prove irresistibly attractive to someone who is daily devalued in this uncaring world? Jesus thought so. John 13: 34, 35.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 17: 22, 23: “ I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
As non-believers begin to interact with us, as we treat them the same way we treat each other, as we love them, our tenderness and compassion lets them know that they are greatly valued, by us and, therefore, by our God. As they feel valued by us they come to understand our ability to so value them comes from the God who values each of us,
This came home to me with startling clarity at an Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship Fall Conference at the beginning of my junior year in college. I was a nominal Christian to that point in my life. I could not say that Jesus was all that real to me. That previous summer I asked Jesus to become real to me, but to date not much had happened. At that conference I experienced something I had never experienced before. I found myself among a couple hundred Christian college students who were working really hard at loving each other. The quality of their fellowship exhilarated and captivated me. I wanted what they had. I wanted to be able to love like them. Through those Christians, each who valued others more than themselves, I came to know the value God places on me. That experience opened me to a life-long journey of discipleship and growth that led me to the pastoral ministry, and to lead Inter-Varsity in this area for five years. It is the primary drive that fuels the compassion that led me to become a Christian counselor, life and relationship coach, and marriage and family educator.
What kind of Christian draws others to Jesus? It takes one who is actively invested in a local fellowship whose unified witness testifies to and glorifies our tender, compassionate, Trinitarian God; Christians whose reason to be in that fellowship is to value others above themselves. Paul rejoices when he sees this church exhibit such a unified witness.
So far, he has described what it looks like: encouraged, comforted, Spirit-filled, tender, compassionate Christians valuing others above themselves, putting the interests and welfare of others first. Paul, then, goes deeper and describes what is required of them, and us, to consistently relate in these God-glorifying ways.
He exhorts us to have the same mindset as Jesus. Developing healthy mindsets is the goal of all the counseling work I do. A mindset is a habitual way of thinking, of interpreting what happens to us. A mindset is a default position to which we fall back almost instinctively. We are sinners in a fallen world of sinners. Consequently, many of us develop a mindset that, when we have an adverse outcome, it means something is inherently wrong with us. It’s our fault that things didn’t turn out better. In reality, that less than desired outcome was perhaps due to circumstances beyond our control, and says nothing negative about us. When we, however, repetitively interpret something the same way, assign the same cause in each instance, we strengthen that mindset. In our brain we strengthen a particular neural pathway that instantaneously connects the dots between what happened to what it means. Mindsets are, therefore, extremely important. They determine the choices we make to respond to a situation or person. Those choices can be helpful or unhelpful. The good news is we can change our mindsets. Repetition of a new way of thinking over time can create a new mindset that is stronger than the old, unhelpful one.
In Philippians 2 we are called to have the same mindset as Jesus. We are to view ourselves and what happens to and around us from the same characteristic way of thinking that Jesus demonstrated. Verses 6 – 8 describe Christ’s mindset. Verse 6 clearly states that Jesus knew who he was: in very nature God. He also knew what that required of him: to empty himself, to make himself, by contrast, nothing; to take the very nature of a servant, to become a man, just like us; to humble himself and die on a cross. His mindset lined up who he was with what we so desperately needed, a Savior.
Verse 6 sums this mindset up with the comment that he did not use being God to his own advantage. Rather, he viewed who he was from the perspective of the advantage it gave him to serve us, even to death on the cross. Jesus recognized that, as the only one who never sinned, he alone could take on our sin and pay sin’s just penalty in our place. It was an advantage only he had. He understood that as God he would conquer death and do so for us. He took advantage of all this to accomplish our salvation and give us eternal life. He willingly did so because he valued us above himself. Hebrews 12 affirms that: for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross scorning its shame. That joy the previous verse indicates was Jesus rejoicing his ability to be the Author and Perfecter of our faith. A Christ-like mindset always does this.
When we have the same mindset of Christ Jesus, we look at who we are and where we are in life as how it creates unique advantages from which we can care for and serve others. Paul demonstrates this in chapter one. In verse 12 and following, Paul sees the adverse circumstance of his imprisonment as an opportunity to advance the gospel. Later in the chapter he reflects on his conflicting desires to go and be with Christ, or to stay for the sake of the church. In verse 24 to 26 he comments;
But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you.
Paul viewed himself first and foremost by answering the question: how does who I am and where I am create advantageous opportunities to bless others.
As I was reflecting on this perspective a couple of weeks ago, I read a post regarding what Merryweather and Pacquiao did immediately after their boxing match. Merryweather in an opulent setting with high roller friends, that location surrounded by Lamborghinis and Mercedes, celebrated his victory. He took advantage of what he accomplished to party. On the other hand, Pacquiao went to an orphanage and spent hours with those abandoned kids letting them know they are important. Pacquiao is an unabashed Christian. He viewed what he accomplished in his career as a unique platform to serve others; not what was advantageous for him, but what advantages he had to bless these forgotten children. In that article it mentioned that Pacuiao had visited that orphanage many times in the past. Paul and Pacquiao demonstrated the same mindset as Christ Jesus. In both cases their consistent focus on others repeatedly strengthened that mind set.
A Christ-like mindset sees advantages from a perspective in radical contrast to the mindsets we see in this world. Those apart from Christ consistently operate from a mindset that values themselves above others, that leverages who they are and where they are in life to their own advantage. The best example lately has to be Bill and Hillary Clinton. Reports seem to indicate that they used her position as Secretary of State to get millions of dollars for their foundation, a foundation that seems to be have been set up to enrich them. A look at their history suggests that they have done these kinds of actions their entire lives. Their default thinking always looked for advantageous ways to benefit themselves. While they are the most recent, blatant example, the world has always done this. In this cynical world people are suspicious of others, questioning their motives. Christians value others above themselves and gladly do so taking advantage of how God has worked in their lives. Consequently, they stand out and attract others to themselves and to their Savior.
So, as you look at your own life, what unique advantages do you have, given who you are as God shaped you over the years? What unique advantages do you have, given where he has positioned you in life; your career, your family, your friends, you location, your church? Who, therefore, are persons you are uniquely situated to reach, where your experiences match up with their needs? In a glorious, God designed paradox, it often is our weaknesses and struggles that God turns into powerful ministries, because he wants to use us with others who have the same struggles. Who, therefore, is your target audience? Who is our church’s target audience given how God has led and shaped us?
Christians who can draw non-believers to Christ value others above themselves and identify the advantages they have to reach out to the people God intends for them to reach. So what specific approaches can we take so the other person feels valued, enough so that they are open to consider our Savior and Lord? We replicate what Jesus did as described in this passage. He took 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! There are three approaches Jesus took that we can to take to reach others.
We empty ourselves in serving others. What deeply touches them is our servant heart. Jesus served others by giving what he was able to give to meet their needs. He healed, he taught, he exorcised, he blessed, he died, he rose again. Indeed, in Mark 10: 45 Jesus clarified this: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Three verses earlier Jesus contexts this example by charging his disciples:
You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all….
Serving others clearly tells them that we are concerned about them, their welfare is important to us. We line up what we have to offer and help them with what they need. James put it this way:
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
This whole person approach is so much more than just sharing the gospel with them. It is living the gospel before them. When we give of ourselves to serve others, they understand how much we value them and, as God is at work in them, they come to appreciate how much our God values them as well.
We identify with them. What opened people to and drew them to Jesus was he was one of them: made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man. Hebrews 2: 14-18 explains why this had to be.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to life-long slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 4: 15 adds: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Jesus identified with us so we can identify with him. He became like us so we can become like him.
If we value and care about someone, we must do the same. If we want that person to enter into the life-transforming relationship with Jesus we have, we must make it clear that we appreciate, that we sympathize with their weaknesses and struggles. Our transparency lets them know that we too struggle and have weaknesses. But it doesn’t stop there. Our identification with them allows them to identify with us. Because we are like each other, they gain the hope of becoming like us, and ultimately like Jesus. What so encouraged me, when I encountered those Christian college students, was that they were just like me, and therefore I could become like them.
We are willing to sacrifice for them. Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross. He understood that only he, the divine, sinless Son of God, could become the needed sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sin. That was an outcome only he could accomplish and he willingly took advantage of this for our sake. This clearly demonstrates that Jesus valued our lives more than his own life.
This is a common occurrence I have seen in combat. The bonds forged in battle among brothers are so strong that one soldier will instinctively sacrifice his life to save the life of a fellow soldier. It is a deeply held mindset among combat veterans.
Those of you who are old enough will remember that in February to April 1971, with US air support, the South Vietnamese army launched an attack into Laos to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail. That trail was the North Vietnamese life line of supplies and men to the South. That operation was call Lam Son 719. My aviation group from the 101st Airborne Division led and provided the helicopter support for that mission. Over those months our helicopter losses amounted to 600%, so intense was the NVA’s antiaircraft fire. The most dangerous part of that battle was toward the end when our helicopters were extracting the South Vietnamese soldiers from their landing zones in Laos. The avenues of approach to those LZs were evident and the surrounding hills were lined with antiaircraft weapons.
A wonderful Christian officer was Major Jack Barker. He commanded one of our assault helicopter companies. His mission one day was to pick up South Vietnamese soldiers from Landing Zone Lolo. That day Jack Barker led his company and successfully extracted those soldiers. Early in that day Jack’s helicopter was shot down. He and his crew survived the crash and returned to our base. He quickly took out a second helicopter. It too was shot down. Rescued a second time, he got back to our base and he immediately put together a volunteer crew and took off in a third helicopter to go back to Lolo. On his approach to the landing zone his helicopter took a direct hit from an RPG. He and his crew were dead before the helicopter hit the ground. So dangerous was that location, that his body was not identified and recovered till a couple of years ago. For his valor, Major Jack Barker, 34 years old, was awarded the Distinguish Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor. Why did he risk his life repeatedly throughout that battle and especially that day? He knew that, unless we picked up those South Vietnamese soldiers, every one of them would die. He valued their lives more than his own. He understood that our helicopters were the only hope those soldiers had.
Jesus said in John 15: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. A non-believing friend needs to know that God loves him. He will come to know that love as he sees Jesus dying on the cross for him. He will be open to see that cross when he experiences our love, as we willingly give of ourselves to him, even sacrificially. Nothing communicates how highly God values us than seeing Jesus dying in our place on that cross. He redeemed us by paying the highest price that could ever possibly be paid. It took Jesus laying down his life to bring us to himself and to give us new life. To see those we care about come to Jesus and find that life, why should we expect the price for us to be any less? Do we realize that we may be the best hope someone has to meet Jesus? It is as we lay down our lives for another that he most clearly grasps how highly we and our God value him.
What has to happen in us that we choose to serve, identify with and willing sacrifice to see a friend come to Christ? Alec Motyer, a British biblical scholar answered this question.
In Christ Christians experience the loving concern which reached out to them in their need, which was unwilling that they should remain needy, and which gently invites and encourages into a new life, In the love of the Father, they have found deep consolation, the voice that speaks to their sorrows, the hand that touches their hurts. And, as Paul would have us see them, these blessings now encourage us to be to each other what God in Christ has been to each of us.
This takes us back to chapter 2, verse 1. It is our union with Christ that so encourages us. It is the comfort we find in his inexhaustible love. It is the life-changing power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Knowing God’s tenderness and compassion, we cannot help but extend these to others. We know what a difference Jesus has made in our lives and we passionately want others to find this as well.
The outcome of our Christ-like mindset, that values others above ourselves, that is willing to serve, identify with, and sacrifice for others is that they will bow their knee and confess with their tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
So where has God positioned you in this life? In that process what has he built into you, so that who and where you are give you a unique advantage to share Christ’s love? What does serving those people look like? How can you identify with them that open them to you and to Jesus? Are you willing to sacrifice as needed, to lay down your life for them? Your answers to these questions just might mean that on that day, when every knee bows and ever tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father, you will look around and beside you are a host of very special people who are there, and who can joyously glorify their Savior and Lord, because of you.