Monday, August 04, 2008

What Would We Look Like?

I have a question for you: If you were to become exactly what God wants you to become—what would be different? How would you look and act? I did a quick “look-through” my Bible and I came across several passages that give us clues. There is the passage in Leviticus 11:44, 45 and again in 19:2; 20:7—Peter quotes it in his first letter. God is speaking and he says: Be holy as I am holy. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says something similar when he says: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. The point is not flawless perfection—but more like completeness or wholeness. In the context he is speaking of how you are to love your enemies.

Other passages readily come to mind. In Matthew 10:24 and a similar passage in John 15, Jesus says a student or a disciple is not above his teacher. In fact, the goal is for the student to become just like his teacher. The emphasis of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts is how Jesus’ disciples become just like him in the way they love and serve others. In Galatians 2:10 Paul speaks of being co-crucified with Christ so that the life he lives is the same kind of life Jesus lives. We see the same sort of thing reflected in Colossians 3:15; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Hebrews 12:2; and 1 Corinthians 11:1.

Paul says it again in Romans 8:29 that it is God’s ultimate will that we be formed into the image of Christ. But what does all of that mean? In Philippians 2 & 3 Paul fleshes it out a little more. Let’s look at a very familiar passage.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
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.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became
obedient to death—

even death on a cross!
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. *

Paul’s challenge to all Christians is to have the mind of Christ—to be dominated by the character and mindset Jesus demonstrated when he came to earth.

And what kind of mind set is that?

Quite simply it can be summed up in the phrase: he emptied himself.

It goes something like this: we are all filled up with our own issues, desires, rights, expectations and demands. Things are supposed to be a certain way. I’m supposed to be treated fairly. I’m supposed to have my basic needs and wants filled. Others should be considerate of what I want. Every one of us have those ideas within us. Jesus had those same rights, didn’t he? He, after all, is God. He deserves to be treated fairly—justly, he deserves deference, honor, glory, and praise. He deserves everything to go his way.

And yet…

He gives it all up. He pours out all of those rights, needs, and wants into a garbage dump and says, “I will become nothing in order to serve those who have nothing—no hope, no help, no meaning in their lives.” And Paul says he gave up everything and became totally obedient to God—to the point of crucifixion. He did not consider his own wants and needs, but considered everyone else as more important than even his own life.

So how does this play out in the life of the every day Christian? Well, we can’t tell what kind of attitude or thoughts a person has directly. The only way it can be gauged is in their behavior, right? So Paul explains what kind of behavior is consistent with the mind of Christ. In 2:1-4 Paul tells the Philippians to consider others better than themselves—in other words: give in to their needs rather than demand your own. Don’t look after your own rights and interests, but look after the interests of others. In verse 14 he says “do everything without complaining or arguing”. In other words, if you gripe and speak negatively—stop it now! In 2:1-3 and chapter 4 he says: be united, overcome your differences—find common ground, approach each other with gentleness and love. Focus on the good, excellent and praiseworthy things found in each other—rather than the things that anger you.

Paul gives three examples of the mind of Christ: Timothy, Epaphroditus, and himself. Timothy is one who takes a genuine interest in the welfare of others; Epaphroditus nearly died—he risked his life and well being for Paul and the Philippians. Paul points out his long credentials as a Jewish rabbinical scholar—and he says, “All of my ego and all of my accomplishments are nothing but manure—the only important thing is Jesus: becoming like him in his suffering and death."

And that is the same thing to which God has called every Christian. If we became exactly what God called us to become—we would look like Jesus. We would take all of our rights, our desires, our wants, demands, credentials, and whatever else there is and dump them on a trash heap in order to serve each other—in order to love on people. We would give up our comforts and life to benefit those without hope and without God in the world. We would quit being a people who argue and fuss—and instead we would be a people who loved and served.

Now Paul says, “I haven’t gotten there, oh no—not yet. But I press onward—I forget my accomplishments and my rights: all the things that are behind me—and I press forward to the goal ahead: that is becoming the very image of Jesus.”

So may you be formed into the image of Christ. May you begin to see within you the life of Jesus swelling up and pouring out of you in all kinds of unselfish behavior towards others. May you learn to live for the cares and needs of others rather than for your own cares and needs. And may you pour yourself out in service so that God might exalt himself through your actions. Amen.

*Philippians 2:5-11

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