In all my study of Scripture I’m convinced that it is the attitudes that we are taught to cultivate that have the most profound impact on our lives. This is an excellent passage to reflect upon in that respect.
1 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, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:
6 Who, being in very nature [a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature [b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (TNIV).
In this section Paul essentially tells the believers, if you have experienced Christ’s grace (2.1: union w/him; his love, participation in the Spirit, his tenderness & compassion) then take up the servant attitude of Christ—if x then y. We have been given much; how will we respond?
As a community of believers we are to be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind (2.2). Let’s face it, we’re never going to agree on everything. Nevertheless, we should be striving toward the same goal and share the same modus operandi. What is this one thing that we’re to have in common?
Recall that this passage immediately follows Paul’s exhortation for the believers to “live worthily of the gospel… stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together with one accord for the faith of the gospel” (1.27). In light of this and Paul’s concern for advancing the gospel in the opening chapter, we can surmise that proclaiming Christ and living under his lordship is the one thing. Everything else should play second fiddle. Believers are to be “gospel oriented.”[i]
Having a disposition that’s centered on Christ will help foster unity rather than division. This is extremely vital for us as Christ followers. Remember Jesus’ prayer in John 17? “I pray… that they may be one as we are one— 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” (John 17.22-23, TNIV). Too often we let the small stuff get in the way. Or we let the small stuff become big stuff. What characterizes your relationships with others? Is it discord or peace? The latter is the kind of life that proves worthy of the gospel and that which glorifies Christ.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition and vain conceit (2.3). These vices typify the world’s value system. Our whole lives we’re taught to seek after the American Dream; accordingly, we do whatever it takes to get ahead, to outdo one another, even if it means hurting or excluding others.
Our old self naturally gravitates toward this self-seeking lifestyle. But this is the way of the world, not the way of Christ. We who have experienced God’s grace in Christ have no business operating according to the world’s value system (Rom 6). As we saw in Colossians, we have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Col 1.13). We belong to a new order where Jesus is King. And in his Kingdom things look radically different. Jesus turned the world’s value system on its head. Here, the “first will be last, and the last, first” (Mark 10.31).
How incredible would it be if we as parents, grandparents, educators, etc., taught our children of the next generation the importance of being last—teaching them about humility, about allowing others to be first? I’m not talking about making our kids soft; I’m talking about teaching them how to have the servant attitude of Christ.
In humility, value others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of others (2.3-4). This doesn’t mean that we should have a total disregard for ourselves. No, it’s certainly appropriate to want to better our lot in life, for ourselves and our families. But when we allow ourselves to become so self-absorbed that we fail to take the needs of others into consideration, we’re again operating by the world’s value system. Our personal ambitions cannot be the end all-be-all in life; in fact, they must take a back seat to the needs of others.
As believers in Christ, we are to be other-centered, like Jesus. Meditate on his example in the poem or hymn of 2.6-11. Think about the rights he gave up when he took the form of a human being. Think about his willful obedience he displayed in submitting to the most painful and shameful death that one could imagine, all for those who didn’t deserve it. Try to cultivate this attitude, every day. Amen.
[i] Peter O’Brien, Philippians, 179.