“Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death–even to death on a cross.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Yesterday, we talked about something that could completely changed the world if we put it into practice: Putting others first and ourselves second. If we just took that one idea and ignored the rest of the Scriptures, our world would never be the same and infinitely better than it is now. But doing that kind of thing seems extreme beyond the pale. I mean, who really has done that kind of thing in a way that mattered? And besides, as we finished up asking, what if the interests of the people around us are contrary to our own? Paul realizes these instructions were pretty big to try and follow and so he goes on to offer an example. It’s a pretty good example. Let’s look at it.
Paul realizes that doing this kind of thing, this putting others first in such a radical way, is not something for which we have many good examples to follow. And, being Paul, he’s not interested in pointing us to just any example to follow. He takes us right to the feet of Jesus. This attitude he’s calling us to have is nothing short of the example of Jesus Himself. Adopt the same attitude as Jesus had.
Okay, but what was this attitude? Ah, if you thought things had been radical before, you haven’t seen anything yet. Paul presents the attitude of Jesus in two parts. Each of them seems crazy by human standards. Let’s go.
Jesus was God in human form. This means that before He took on human flesh and became fully human He was fully God. He is the eternally preexistent second member of the Trinity. He always has been and always will be. He was the very medium of creation, the one for whom it was made, and who holds it together even to this very day.
So then, think about this: When the boss’s son gets a cushy job, what do people think? That he only got the job because he’s the boss’s son. Or change that up just a bit. If you’re going in for a job interview and you discover ahead of time that your grandpa and the interviewer’s grandpa were best friends growing up, what do you do with that piece of information? You use it to establish a connection that will increase the likelihood of your getting the job. That’s just what we do. If we have an advantage of some kind, we exploit that advantage to our benefit.
Well, Jesus was God. It’s not simply that He knew God or had some sort of special connection with Him. He was Him. Fully. One hundred percent. God. When you have that kind of connection, you use it. If He was going to come to earth as a man, He had every right to use this connection–being God–to make His journey as easy as possible. People should have bowed before Him, served Him, catered to Him. I mean, He wouldn’t necessarily have needed to use that all the time, but any time He got in a bit of a bind, He could just play His card and move on to the next thing without a hitch.
But He didn’t.
He had this incredible personal advantage over everyone around Him, but He “did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited.” Who does that? Jesus apparently. And in doing so, set us an example worth following. Whatever advantages we might have over the people around us, they aren’t as great as His was. And if He didn’t consider His as something to be exploited to His own benefit, then surely we shouldn’t considered ours to be exploited to our benefit either.
But I need that advantage so I have my needs met! I need that advantage to get the job that will allow me to provide for my family! “But the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”
If Jesus in His full humanity trusted God to provide for His needs without exploiting His natural advantages to His personal benefit, but instead leveraging them for the sake of those around Him, then we can do the same without fear of missing out on something good (truly good) that we need to thrive in God’s plans for us.
So, what did He do instead? Two words: He served. He leveraged all of His advantages for the sake of those around Him. He committed Himself completely to the interests of those around Him. He was so committed to the good of the people around Him that He was even willing to die for them…for us. And this wasn’t some merciful death either. It was death on a cross, the worst form of execution ever devised by people. When Paul’s original audience first heard these words some wouldn’t have believed them this idea would have been so shocking. Dying was one thing, dying on a cross was an entirely different one. That level of devotion to others was astounding beyond all sense and logic.
And yet, this is our standard.
This is the attitude Paul is calling us to mimic if we are going to be followers of Jesus. If you have an advantage of some kind, God has given that to you for the sake of those around you. He will make sure you have all you need to thrive. You trust Him with your benefits (that is, the benefits He has given you) by using them intentionally for the sake of those around you after the pattern of Christ. And when the interests of other seem contrary to yours, you trust in the God who has your back and keep serving them. You keep moving them intentionally in the direction of Jesus. Do this, encourage those around you to the same end, and the world will never be the same.