The Interest Of Others
Key Verse 2:4-5
“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
This chapter is perhaps one of the most important chapters. It has seen so much controversy because of one theological statement in verse 7. Down through the generations it has spurred division in the church, and all on account of a theory that came out of these words called the “Kenosis” theory. And the theory is that at Jesus Christ’s incarnation as a man, the verse says that Jesus “emptied himself”. And the issue of division was this: What exactly did Jesus empty himself of? Listen to verse 7 in the ESV which says: “But emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” In our own NIV version it says: “But made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” So, indeed, what did Jesus empty himself of? Or what did it mean that “he made himself nothing”? Did it mean that he emptied himself of his deity, or of being God? He was God all along, before the incarnation. But now, as he became incarnated, as he emptied himself, and made himself “nothing”, was he God anymore? That had been the controversy that divided the church. I can tell you soundly and clearly that Jesus did not empty himself of his deity. And even when “he made himself nothing” he was in every way still God.
Actually this very controversy about Jesus perfectly defines him and his character, so much so that Paul himself designs the whole chapter around Jesus’ character, telling us in verse 5 to our “Attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:” First of all, he is talking about having the same attitude as that of Christ. And second, he is talking about having the attitude of Christ towards one another. What is the “attitude” of Christ? It is his “mindset”, his way of thinking, his behavior in all things. It is also our pattern for Christian living— the way we ought to live. That controversy, that emptying of himself, (and we will talk extensively about it) became for us the mindset of Christ, his attitude, his precious shining life model by which all Christians should walk.
By the way, when Paul tells us “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”, that mindset of Christ, his attitude, it cannot be done by imitation. We hear people talking about following Jesus. Sometimes we would like to ask these people what exactly do they mean by that— especially when it’s clear that their lives do not match what they are saying. What are they trying to do? Are they actually trying to imitate Jesus? When Paul says here that our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, he is not talking about imitating Jesus; he actually talking about the mindset of Christ being in us, living in us, working in and working through us to produce the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus. The same verse in the ESV says this more clearly: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” (5) The mindset of Christ, his attitude, is ours. It should be in us because it is ours in Christ, and the only way it can be there is by the power of the Holy Spirit working on the inside transforming us into people who are in his likeness, after his image, those of his attitude and mindset.
Before we get into the attitude or mindset of Christ in verses 5-8, we need to review Paul’s admonition to the church at Philippi here in these first 4 verses in order to see what he expected of them as a church. Look at verse 1. “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.” The word “If” here in this verse is not a condition. Many times Paul uses the word “if” in his writings as an argument rather than a condition. In other words, as I said last time, it would be better to translate this word “if” like this: “Since you have encouragement from being united with Christ, comfort from his love, fellowship with the Spirit, tenderness and compassion.” And now, in view of all these glorious things, Paul says: “Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (2) The apostle is in prison as we know. Yet he has not lost his joy, but actually he has been rejoicing. Still, he says to them that he would rejoice even more if he could be sure that the gospel he had planted in their hearts, on which their church was built, was working all the more in their lives.
How could they make him rejoice even more than before? How would the gospel be working in their lives now more than ever? “Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” When we read the whole letter to the Philippian Christians, we see that there had been some difficulties among some of the members. Not much difficulty, but enough to cause some subtle division among them that was causing some rift in the church and disunity unbefitting the church of our Lord Jesus who shed his righteous blood to unite it. Paul wanted them to be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. He wanted them to be united. He wanted them united in heart and mind and spirit. He is not asking them to be clones of one other. Nor is he asking them to mindlessly agree on issues of controversy. He is not asking them to submit to spiritual authority, nor to abusive elders. He is asking them to be united, to let the mindset of Christ be in them. When we share the same love of Christ towards one another, and are guided by the One Spirit who fills each of us according to God’s provision, and when share in the common purpose of honoring the Christ whose grace saves us, and whose gospel is the thrust of our lives, then we are of the same mind as Christ, we share in Christ’s mind and we are united in every way. Yes we have differences, but our unity in Christ far outweigh our differences. Paul really urged them to unite. Their unity would complete his rejoicing.
Look at verse 3. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Paul had mentioned this before as we know. There were those who were preaching the gospel out of envy and rivalry— which is practically the same thing. Now he says: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” to those who were working together in the church. We can be sure that most of the troubles and difficulties and divisions that happen within any church are not theological in essence nor because of differences in doctrine. They happen because of the selfish ambition and vain conceit that’s at the heart of us all. Some people just love to be recognized and want to be honored when they do something; if they are not, they become angry and their anger turns to bitterness. Some compare themselves with others and either feel superior or inferior; that in itself promotes inequality. Some hold grudges in their hearts even as they recite the Lord’s prayer. Some seem indifferent to the joys or sorrows of other members, mostly consumed with their own affairs. No wonder the church suffers from troubles and difficulties. But if we were to follow this command “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”, I believe that it would solve some ninety five percent of the problems in the church today, in any church, even in our own church.
He tells them: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. In whatever you do, don’t try to gain something for yourself, whether it’s a bit of recognition or applause or sympathy or glory. But, here is the better way. The better way, is in humility of heart! “In humility, consider others better than yourselves.” Or, “in humility, value others above yourselves.” It’s hard to do that! It’s had to value someone else above yourself, to think better of him or her than of yourself, especially when he or she are not; especially when he or she has offended you, or humiliated you, or snubbed you, or irritated you, or accused you falsely or done something to you that he or she should not have done. But Paul says, you should in humility of heart, still do so, because it is the better way. It is the Christian way. Ultimately, Paul will be telling the church and us that this is exactly what Christ has done himself. Christ has chosen the way of humility. It is the better way. It is the mindset of Christ. It is God’s way to glory.
“But in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Maybe, this was what caused the problem between Euodias and Syntyche whom Paul counsels towards reconciliation and unity (4:2). It may be that each of them felt she was offended and humiliated by the other. But if we were to obey this verse, imagine what problems it would solve in the family and in the church.
Look at verse 4. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” The really important word here in this verse is others! To look to the interests of others. Who are the others? I don’t know what to tell you. You need to search your own hearts and look around and see in your lives who those others might be whom God is calling you to look to their interest. But I can tell you most certainly, they are not just your family members and children and close friends (Luke 6:27-36; Luke 14:12-14). So who are the others? A similar question was asked of Jesus— “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) And it seemed that Jesus answered that question by telling us one of the most beautiful stories ever told about the Good Samaritan, whereby Jesus himself was the Good Samaritan and we ourselves were the Others! We all are the others to whom the Lord had looked to our own interest above his own. What Paul is telling us to do is to have the mind of Christ in this. Looking to the interest of others above our own is having the mind of Christ. There are the most senior members of this church— (M. Rene and M. Remy Alonzo)— who are also looking to the interest of others far above and beyond their own interest. Whatever they do for the church is not for their own sake but for the sake of the others.
“Others”! This one word is the key to this passage indeed. Actually it is the Christian faith that makes the word “others” important. Why did Jesus come from the glory of the heavens above to this miserable world anyway? It was for others! Consequently, why should we as his people carry the gospel to the world? For others. For the sake of Others as well. To think of others instead of ourselves is having the mind of Christ.
Paul now begins his exposition on the mind of Christ. In other words, he will tell us what the mind of Christ is like. Read verse 5. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. I wonder what is the one thing that characterized the attitude or the mind of Christ? To the Ephesian Christians Paul says: “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Then he goes on to tell them: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph 4:1-2) This is the mind or the mindset of Christ— and his attitude. Christ was humble. Humility was the foremost and most precious characteristic of our Lord Jesus. Quite honestly, you and I cannot be humble. We cannot be gentle nor meek. We are not made that way. We want to stand on our own two feet and defend ourselves. We are easily offended and want to pay back those who offend us. We are sensitive about things and get angry if someone mentions them. We seethe on the inside if someone says something out of place. We take time to even forgive others even if we know they said something accidentally without meaning it. We would like to be humble and meek and gentle and all, but we really cannot. So, let’s think here about Jesus— the one who emptied himself. Jesus emptied himself— but not of his deity. He just underwent self imposed humiliation. We cannot be humble. But Jesus emptied himself. And this passage tells us the steps of his humiliation. It is hard for us to imagine in the coming verses what this humiliation entailed. No one can fully comprehend. But we can try with the help of God to see even a glimpse of what Jesus had to empty himself of.
The first step of Jesus humiliation was when our Lord left heaven’s glory. He came down from heaven’s glory to this world of ours. He left the glory of heaven and the throne of his majesty in heaven, and came all the way down from the realm of eternity to our time and space. It is hard for us to understand or conceive of this. How could we! We were born and raised here, not knowing anything else. But the Lord Almighty who sat on his throne in heaven, left his glory to come here to this world to be with us. Look at verse 6. “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Another way of saying this is: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” This is a very beautiful verse and truth regarding our Lord Jesus. Jesus was at the right hand of God the Father. He is God. Yet when he left the glory of heaven, Jesus left with it all the privileges and majesty afforded to him and to the Godhead in his glory. Being ever God, even during his time on earth, Jesus had firmly decided that his equality with God was not something he would take advantage of. There were times during his life on earth when Jesus could draw upon his privileges as God and wipe away the human race in its entirety. He was ridiculed. He was belittled. He was often antagonized. The Pharisees challenged him on issues of the law he had written in glory and had himself given to their ancestors. But Jesus never once drew upon his advantage as God. He lived as a man and suffered as man. His humility is beyond our imagination. Peter wrote about his humility later saying of him: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.” (1 Peter 2:23) It is hard for us to give up even one of our privileges. But when Jesus came down from his throne in heaven, he left behind his privileges as God.
Now let us see the second step in Jesus’ humiliation. Read verse 7. “But made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Jesus “made himself nothing”. This literally means that he emptied himself. This is “kenosis” theory that we talked about earlier. Christ emptying himself. The question is of what did the Lord empty himself? And as we said earlier, there are those who would say that he emptied himself of his deity, but we will not go in that direction nor will we even try to defend it because Christ never emptied himself of his deity. Rather Christ in his incarnation, and during his whole human existence on earth with us, was always fully man and fully God. So then, what did he empty himself of? Verse 7 tells us well when it says that he made himself nothing. He had everything, but he made himself nothing. He lived on earth with limitations, with self limitations. 2 Cor. 8:9 tells us these words about Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus was rich beyond imagination. Yet he made himself poor for our sake. He was born in a manger of a stable, to a poor family, in an obscure place in the world. He grew up as a carpenter. When his time came to reveal himself to the world, what did he do? Look at verse 7 again. “But made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Jesus went around as a servant. Jesus served us. His life story is a story of servantship. He is God. But God humbled himself and walked among the most pathetic of the human race, the lame, the blind, the afflicted, the poor— to serve them. He chose disciples from among the common people. He taught them the word of God, and prayed for them and raised them to be shepherds of God’s people like himself. Jesus’ humility was expressed beautifully through his servantship.
Verse 7b and 8a show us another step in Jesus’ humiliation. They say: “Being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself.” It is very hard for us to fully comprehend this since we ourselves are human beings who take pride in our humanity. But for Jesus who is God to become a man and be made to look like a man and to take the appearance of a man, it must have been extremely humbling. You might understand it better if you have had trouble communicating with bugs. Some people do not like bugs in their homes but they don’t like to kill bugs either. But they have no choice but to kill them. However, if they had a way to become a bug and let the bugs know in their own bug language not to intrude on their homes, that they would leave food outside if they want but not to come inside the house, they would do so without killing them any more. Would they become bugs to do that? I wonder if we can use this illustration to think about how difficult it was for Jesus to become a man to let us know how offensive sin is to God— that in our own bug language there is a highway leading to salvation— if we are urged to take it— because God is about to bug spray this planet. Jesus humbled himself and became a man. Can we at least partly comprehend the enormity of this statement!
Read verse 8. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” To start with, we cannot underestimate the words “he humbled himself” at all. You and I have been humbled by someone else doing or saying something which has been humiliating to us. But think about Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus our Lord himself, he himself “humbled himself”. This indeed is a most difficult thing to do— for one to humble himself before another. We are often humbled by others or we are humbled by circumstances, or something happens to us and we are severely humbled or humiliated, and we have nothing to say or do except to “grin and bear it” as they say. But Jesus our Lord is different. He humbled himself. We ought to learn from him how to humble ourselves by giving ourselves over to the work of the Spirit of God who molds us until we have the mind of Christ and share in his attitude towards one another. Anyway, look again at verse 8. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross. What a step in his glorious humiliation! Death is not natural to us humans. Regardless of what men say of it, death is the most unnatural thing in the world, because it is anti-life, and opposed to all that God has created us to be and to have and to enjoy forever. That is why no one really wants to die. But of course people do not want to die for the wrong reasons. So men fight against death. Yet they finally give in to it albeit reluctantly. Even Christians so often reluctantly hold on to life to the last moment.
When Jesus came he did not come to this world to live, rather he came to die. He came to give his life as a ransom for our sins and for our lives. It was not easy for him to do that considering that he too was a man who wanted to live as much as any other man wanted to live. But Jesus humbled himself and obeyed the will of God, and gave himself to the will of God, in obedience. It was the will of God that Jesus die. So Jesus surrendered his life to death. But it wasn’t simply a normal death. It was a horrible death, the most horrible and cruel death ever. God would have him die on a cross. And Jesus obeyed God. In his obedience to death on a cross, Jesus was actually submitting himself in obedience to God his Father. Jesus came from the highest glory to the lowest place of humiliation. Why did he do that? Let’s go back to the word others! “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Jesus left all the glory of heaven and came down to this world, became a man and suffered and died— for you and me. Praise and thank him for that— is all we can say! This is the mind of Christ, the mind of Christ we are all called to share towards one another.
Read verses 9-11. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The supreme purpose of God the Father in this universe today is exalt and honor and glorify the name of his Son Jesus. This is what God wants. God would exalt his Son forever because there is no one worthy of exaltation as Jesus our Lord is. God gave Jesus the name that is above every name, that there is no name in the universe that is more powerful and gracious and known than his. Jesus humbled himself and gave his life on this miserable earth to save us, and all who would believe in him. Some day every knee will bow to him. Some day every tongue will confess that he is Lord. Someday no one will escape that name. And those who belong to that name will go to be with him in his glory. Our attitude should be as that of our Lord Jesus, humble, thinking of others first before we think of ourselves. Amen.