Christmas: A Time to Review the “A, B, C’s” of the Christian Life (Philippians 2:1-11)

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1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)

Philippians 2:1-11 reminds us that one of the reasons Jesus came to earth was to teach us the “A, B, C’s” of the Christian life. “A” is for “attitude.” “B” is for “behavior.” “C” is for “Christlikeness.” Christmas is a wonderful time to review them. Our Scripture informs us that when we begin a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we become members of His family.

As such, we are to love each other, be kind to each other, and learn to live in harmony with each other. In spite of our cultural, economic, educational, and racial differences, our Heavenly Father provides us with four resources to enable us to do this (Phil. 2:1). After reminding us of these four resources, Paul tells us to assume personal responsibility for our attitudes and actions and to be sure we promote loving unity (Phil. 2:2-4).

Our passage closes with the supreme example of Jesus, for the primary ingredient necessary for Christlike attitudes and behavior is to adopt “the mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:5-11). Let’s think together about these three truths: our resources; our responsibility; and our representative, who shows us how to develop Christlike attitudes and behavior—the “A, B, C’s” of the Christian life.

Our Four Resources For Developing Christlike Attitudes and Behavior (Phil. 2:1)

If we have been born again (or “from above,” John 3:5, 7), we have been adopted into the family of God (Eph. 1:5; Rom. 8:15) and have received four resources that enable us to be tender, loving and kind in our personal relationships. The “if” clauses are assumed to be true.

We receive encouragement from Christ (“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ…”). Each of us is given the encouragement that comes from being united with Christ. Jesus sought us when we were wretched sinners. He was willing not only to be our Saviour but wanted us to be part of His family. This should bring great encouragement and a godly sense of our value as people. As our appreciation of these truths grows, it should impact our thoughts, actions and reactions toward fellow Christians as we view them as God views us!

We receive comfort from Christ’s love (“if any comfort of love…“). He loved us when we were unlovely. He still loves us though we are often slow to learn how to return such wondrous love. The more we meditate on His love, the more He can help us to learn how to love others.

We receive the help of the Holy Spirit (“if any fellowship of the Spirit…”). We have entered into partnership (koinonia) with the Holy Spirit and therefore have all of His strength and transforming power available to us (“fellowship of the Spirit”). We are not asked to demonstrate Christlike attitudes and behavior through our own will power or strength. We can continually draw from the inexhaustible resources of the Holy Spirit, who will remind us of our own frailties if we are impatient or critical of fellow Christians.

We receive gentle treatment from God  (“if any bowels and mercies…”). Each of us receives tenderness and compassion from God in spite of our weakness, our ignorance, our slowness to “catch on” to what He is trying to teach us, and our periodic stumblings (“bowels and mercies”). His goodness to us is designed to teach us how to be patient and kind to others. Too often we try to manage our relationships in the home and in the church according to our own wisdom, skills, and abilities.

Thus we find ourselves emotionally depleted, sometimes irritated, and often discouraged because of unexpected conflicts and difficulties. We must learn to utilize our four God-given resources through prayer, faith, and the power of the Spirit.

Our Responsibility in Developing Christlike Attitudes and Behavior (Phil. 2:2-4)

God wants us to view other Christians with an attitude of cooperation, rather than one of competitiveness or combativeness, and to develop a compassionate concern and a positive attitude toward them.

Develop an attitude of cooperation (2:2, “Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind”). An attitude of cooperation requires that we learn to think about one another with understanding compassion.

Paul told the Philippians that he, as their model (Phil. 3:17; 4:9), was “thinking” (phronein Phil. 1:7) charitably toward them. He looked for and majored on their strengths, not their weaknesses or shortcomings. The verb for thinking (phroneo) is used twice in verse 2, stressing the need for proper thinking as a prerequisite for Christlike conduct.

The only way to be “likeminded” is to be willing to listen to others and try to see the situation from their perspective. We have only begun to understand the other person’s point of view when we can honestly say, “If I accepted the same basic premises that they do, I would feel very much like they do on this issue.”

Do not be competitive or combative (2:3, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves”). A major factor which destroys personal relationships is “strife.” Apart from the grace of God, we automatically focus on our own feelings, dislikes, and preferences, forgetting that as servants of the Lord we are forbidden to strive or quarrel with each other (2 Tim. 2:24a).

Rather, we are to ask for God’s grace to enable us to put the needs and wants of other Christians ahead of our own. We are to be patient when wronged and longsuffering when dealing with difficult people (2 Tim. 2:24b, 25).

In our families and our churches we are called to renounce the world’s attitude that we should stand up for our rights and assert our own feelings and views. Another cause for the destruction of personal relationships is “vainglory”—the desire for personal recognition and credit. Our goal ought to be God’s approval, rather than man’s (2 Cor. 10:18). What we do is to be for His glory, not our own (1 Cor. 10:31).

In lowliness of mind (genuine Christlike humility) we are to esteem others more highly than we esteem ourselves (2:3b).

Develop a compassionate concern for others (2:4, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others”). One of the greatest obstacle to unity is self-centeredness. We want others to understand how we feel and how we would handle a situation rather than sincerely trying to understand how they think. We are commanded to put others’ feelings and their good above our own.

Paul said, “Don’t think only of your own good. Think of other Christians and what is best for them” (1 Cor. 10:24). It is obvious that this is not a natural reaction. Just in case we think that such commands are impossible, let us look at the attitude and behavior of Jesus, our great representative, who by personal example teaches us how to view ourselves and our relationship with others.

Our Representative Who Teaches How to View Ourselves and Our Relationships with Others (Phil. 2:5-11)

We are commanded to pattern our thinking after the thinking of Jesus. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). To understand the impact of this command, we need to think about who Jesus was before He was born in Bethlehem.

This passage reveals Christ’s position prior to His incarnation (2:6a, “Who, being in the form of God…”). We are directed to the role Jesus had as a member of the triune Godhead before His incarnation. Jesus, who is God the Son, the second member of the divine Godhead, existed from all eternity “in the form (morphe) of God.”

Further, since the triune Godhead is holy (Lev. 11:44) and is love (1 John 4:8), it appears that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit co-indwelt each other in mutual holy love. The early church spoke of this relationship as a “perichoretic unity,” a relationship of mutual love, mutual self-giving, mutual deference, mutual “indwelling,” and mutual glorifying.1 In addition to this perichoretic unity, Jesus enjoyed all the glory and praise of the angels of heaven since he was in Majesty co-eternal with the Father and with the Holy Spirit.

This passage also reveals Christ’s decision to become the God-man (2:6b-8, “thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”). Jesus did not consider His “form as God,” which is referring to his position within the Godhead with all its glory and honor, as something He had to hold onto. Because of His great love for fallen mankind, Jesus willingly laid aside his glory and laid aside His “form as God,” and took upon Himself the “form of a servant.”

This does not mean that Jesus laid aside His deity. He could not do that. He was God and would always be God. But He did lay aside His exalted position, His glory and splendor, and became a true human being. Remaining truly and completely God, Jesus chose to become a man—beginning His human existence as all humans do, through human conception and birth.

The only difference between Jesus’ conception and our conception is the fact that the Holy Spirit became the Agent of conception in the womb of a young woman who was a virgin. Jesus was truly human—not super-human—in all respects except one. Jesus did not partake of our fallen nature. He entered this fallen world, like Adam did before his fall, with a sinless human nature (1 Cor 15:45, 47).

Yes, Jesus “humbled himself.” He put our needs before His own rights. Further, He chose to enter the human arena in “the form of a servant.” He set aside all of His self-rights—His right to be recognized as the Creator of the world, His right to be treated with honor and respect, His right to be loved—and “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” His self-humbling and self-denial is the pattern for us in all our interpersonal relationships.

Jesus pleased not Himself (Rom. 15:3). He put the needs and concerns of others over His own personal needs and concerns. By virtue of the bond that exists between those who are united in Christ Jesus, we are to think about each other and conduct ourselves as Christ did toward us.

As an incentive to be Christlike in our attitudes and behavior, Paul reminds us of Jesus Christ’s exaltation to world rulership. The implication is that if we take the road of humility with Christ, and learn to be Christlike in our attitudes and behavior, someday we will also be exalted and glorified with Him (1 Pet. 5:6; Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:11).

Conclusion

Charles Wesley penned,

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Immanuel

This Christmas, will you choose to “have the mind of Christ”—learn to think about yourself and others as He did?

In order to do this, you must be willing to humble yourself to serve others. In light of His supreme example (Phil. 2:5-11), let us demonstrate in all our relationships the “A, B, C’s” of the Christian life—Christ-like attitudes and behavior.

 


 

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

  1. James B. Torrance. Worship, Community and The Triune God of Grace.Inter Varsity Press, 1996, p. 32.
Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.