It is certainly true that the best Christian testimony is that of a person who reflects Christ in the way that they live. The old adage “what you do speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say” is true. When we live with the same values and attitudes as the rest of the world, we negate our testimony about a “life-changing relationship” with Jesus Christ. We need to verbally share our faith . . . but we also need to live it.
This morning we want to look at what a Christlike mindset should look like. What does it mean to live with the mind of Christ? Then we will apply the discussion to the way in which we celebrate Christmas. Before we get there, we need to sharpen our understanding of who Jesus really is. Theology always precedes and informs practice.
Last week we began looking at this theologically rich passage in Philippians 2. We only were able to get six words into Paul’s description of Christ. Paul declares boldly that Jesus is, in His very nature, God. It is a statement that divides believers from unbelievers. People are more than willing to see Jesus as a great man . . . but not as God. The reason is pretty simple. If Jesus is just a man, we can celebrate Him and exalt certain characteristics and teachings (that we “like”) but He ultimately has no authority over our lives. If Jesus is acknowledged as God then we are accountable before Him. Most people realize a decision must be made whether to pledge our allegiance or deny Him.
Paul has not finished describing Jesus.
Jesus Was Fully God/ Fully Man
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Paul not only says that Jesus was God, He also said He became a man. Over the course of the history of the church there have been many attempts to understand how Jesus could be both God and man. Rather than confuse you with the various debates over the years let’s move right to the conclusion from the debates. Jesus was fully God and fully man. Perhaps it would be better to say Jesus was TRULY God and TRULY man. In other words Jesus was God in every sense of the term. He was not “partially” God . . He was completely, fully, and truly God. Jesus was also truly human. He experienced real hunger, real thirst, real frustration, and real temptation. He was made in human “likeness”. He was just like we are except for the inherited sin nature (that part of us that seems to default to sin, justification, and self-absorption).
This was made possible because Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” I think the New Living Translation conveys the sense of what Paul is saying,
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. (NLT)
Jesus never stopped being God. He simply set aside His godly traits.
I like to describe it this way. When a person becomes President of the United States I understand that all of their assets and investments are supposed to go into a “blind trust”. The assets still belong to the President, but he does not manage those assets. He is also not given reports on the assets while he is in office. This is done so that the President will not be making decisions (at least in principle) on what will benefit him.
In a similar way I believe when the eternal Son of God agreed to take on human flesh He put his God-attributes aside (as in a trust) so He could be fully man. The attributes, powers and privileges were still His but He chose not to draw upon them while He walked the earth. So, Jesus (though God) lived as a real man.
This is why we read about Jesus growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). This is also why Jesus said He did not know the time of the Second Coming or Judgment. He could have known these things but He chose to live within the limits of human knowledge.
Many people are troubled by the fact that the Son prayed to the Father and talked about seeking to do His will. They ask, “Doesn’t this make the Son less than the Father”? No, it doesn’t. Jesus had set aside the knowledge He had as God. As the Son He submitted to the will of His Father. He is not less than the Father, He is simply serving in a different role. Let me give you and illustration.
Three people decide to pool their money equally and start a corporation. Each of them own equal shares of the corporation, but one owner becomes president, another vice-president, and the third secretary/treasurer. Each are equal so far as ownership, yet each has his own particular function to perform within the corporation. The president is the corporate head, and the vice-president and secretary/treasurer are submissive to his authority and carry out his bidding.
God willed that Jesus feel the full weight of man’s sin and its consequences. Because Jesus was fully man, He could fulfill the requirements of an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. Only a man could die for the sins of mankind. Only a sinless man could be an acceptable sacrifice to God. And it is only because Jesus is an equal member of the triune Godhead, and thus fully God, that He was able to raise Himself from the dead after dying on the cross and thereby guarantee our eternal life.
Is this complicated? You bet it is! In truth any analogy we draws falls short because the nature of God is unique and incomparable. As C.S. Lewis put it,
“If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”
Of What Value Is This to Us?
Why is all of this “theology” significant? Last week we pointed out that the Incarnation (God becoming man) shows God’s desire to have a relationship with us. It is also significant in three other ways.
Empathy The fact that Jesus became man shows that He understands what we are going through. In the book of Hebrews we read,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. [Hebrews 4:15-16]
A few verses later we read,
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. Hebrews 5:7-8
When we suffer in our lives (a devastating loss, a horrible illness, a fierce temptation). we are often frustrated by the trite answers given to us by family and friends. We tell them that they “just don’t understand”. Support groups are effective in helping people because the group is made up of those who have had a similar experience to the person who is hurting. Though the people in the group may not understand your situation completely, they do understand much more than those who have not had the experience. In other words, the grieving person is comforted most by someone who shared a similar loss. A person going through a divorce is helped by one who has been through a divorce. The jobless person is helped by one who spent time unable to find a job. The cancer patient is helped most by one who has been through the treatments.
The 1991 movie, “The Doctor” starring William Hurt is based on the real life story of Dr. Edward Rosenbaum. It is the story of a surgeon who lacked bedside manner (or empathy). When this Doctor was diagnosed with cancer he suddenly saw things from a different light. His life took on a new perspective. He became a better Doctor because he had experienced the same tests that he prescribed, he understood the unique fears, and he experienced the same indignities that come with illness.
Jesus experienced life as we experience it. He faced the struggles, the disappointments and the temptations. He knows. He understands. He cares.
Example In Hebrews 2:18 we read, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
It is great to talk to people who have had similar problems that you have. It is even better to talk to those who have overcome the things you struggle with. We feel these people can help us to overcome as they have.
- The cancer survivor
- The person who had successful bypass surgery
- The one who is living a full life with their physical ailment
- The one who successfully went back to school for job re-training
- The one who has rebuilt their life after divorce
- The one who has survived a devastating loss.
- The one who overcame a dysfunctional family situation.
This is the point the writer to the Hebrews is making: “If you want to know how to live victoriously, you should turn to the One who was tempted like we are but did not sin.” Jesus as a man faced what we face and overcame it. He becomes an example we can follow. Like a guide who guides us through a complex configuration of caves, Jesus knows the way through the temptations and trials of life. We should follow Him.
Eternity The fact that Jesus was fully God and fully man means He is able to provide what we need for eternal life. We need someone who 1) had not sinned (so they could trade their life for ours) and 2) one who has such value in His life He could trade His life for any sinful person who put their trust in Him. Jesus by being both God and Man fulfilled both needs and became qualified to be our Savior.
Applying All of this to Our Celebration of Christmas
Keep in mind the context of this passage.
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with 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 purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Paul says we should strive to live with the same kind of humble, unselfish and servant mentality as Jesus. Understand how different this is from the way of the world. All around us people seem to be looking out only for themselves. The follower of Jesus is to look out for others.
Contrast the way of Islam with the way of Jesus. Islam teaches that you should destroy the infidel (those who do not share your beliefs), Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Islam rewards those who give their lives in terrorist activities that destroy others. Jesus calls us to give our lives to save others.
When we live with a servant mentality we live our lives ready to serve and honor the Lord. Our goal is no longer to exalt ourselves, but to exalt Him. The true servant of God desires to do His will. They are willing to serve God in menial things as well as in great things.
The person with a servant mentality is tuned in to others. They notice other people in a room. They try to be sensitive to what others need. They consider how their actions will affect the people around them. While most of the world sees life in terms of “what’s best for me”, the servant sees the bigger picture. Their goal is to help others along the way.
The person with a servant mentality is patient. They don’t serve for an immediate payoff. They serve not because of what they hope to gain . . . they serve out of love even if they never gain anything.
Paul points out that we must choose to do this. We have a tendency to say, “I can’t help myself”. Paul says, “Yes, you can!” We can and must choose to be Christlike in our attitudes. Jesus chose to serve others; we should also.
It isn’t hard to apply this to the way we celebrate Christmas. Instead of Christmas being focused on the gifts we receive, it should be focused on the gifts we give and the love we share.
Those who have this attitude will focus more on gifts that will really impact people rather than on gifts that impress or fulfill and obligation. We might give each other gifts of service (I will mow the lawn for the next year, or I will do the dishes every night, I will visit you every week, I will keep my room clean, I will say something encouraging every day, as my gift to you.) We might give ourselves to serve in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. We might volunteer to help distribute gifts. We might give gifts to ministries in honor of a person rather than buying things the person doesn’t need or want. The idea is that we will focus more on giving ourselves.
If we had this attitude we would celebrate with gratitude. Too often we go into the Christmas season feeling entitled. We think people should get us certain gifts. The person with the heart of Jesus already feels they have been given more than they could ever deserve. What our Lord did for us was an act of tremendous sacrifice. He left the splendor of Heaven in order to mingle with those who would eventually reject Him and crucify Him.
I can’t help but think that I might have said, “Look, these people got themselves into this mess; let them get themselves out of it.” I might have suggested, “Let’s give them what they deserve and just wipe them out.” That’s not what God did. Instead of coming to us in power, He came to us as a servant. He came to win our hearts not merely to get us to conform. He could have pounded us into submission (like the school bully). Instead He chose to try to win us through His love. We should be grateful.
In all the activity of the holidays we need to regularly remind ourselves that Christmas is not ultimately about stuff. It’s not even ultimately about family and tradition. When everything is stripped away, Christmas is really about God’s desire to have a relationship with us. God desired this relationship enough to leave the beauty and comfort of Heaven to live among us and die for us. God doesn’t need us, yet He desires to love us. How ironic. We need Him desperately and most seem indifferent to His desire to extend mercy and grace.
Have you opened your heart to the Savior’s love? Are you willing to put the broken pieces of your life into His nail scarred hands confident that He understands and truly cares? Are you willing to stop justifying your behavior and receive His forgiveness and love? Are you willing to make this Christmas the one where you look past the lights, the presents, and the traditions, and see God reaching out to you? This Christmas will you open yourself up to the most valuable and profound and loving gift that you will ever receive: the gift of forgiveness and a new status as the child of the King? Will you get off the treadmill of futility and denial and instead receive the salvation and new life that He offers you?
You can do this by turning to Him in trusting faith. Instead of bringing your excuses and justifications for your sin come to Him honestly and let Him make you new.
As you read through the Bible it becomes clear that the Christian life is one of conviction. It is a life that stands on the truth without apology. We are not free to negotiate on truth. However, when we have a Christlike attitude we stand for the truth in a way that is soft and loving. Jesus never watered down what was true. He was not bullied by the leaders of His day. But Jesus also didn’t adopt their tactics. Instead, He taught patiently, loved consistently and served others sacrificially. If we want to be His followers we should do the same.