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Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #9: Do You Think Like Jesus?

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming 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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:5-11 NIV

Some songs just resonate with your soul. Amazing Grace is one. It has been sung by artists of every genre, breaking down barriers that religion often raises between people. This song proclaims that those who were once wretched, lost, and blind will be wholly changed by God’s grace. Even people who say they have no faith are drawn to its profound truth set to a simple tune.

In this passage, Paul employs a song like this as he continues to confront the conflict in the Philippian church family. This song has no title, but it is without doubt the best-known hymn in the Bible, a reminder of Jesus’ glorious subservience to the Father’s will, as sung by the early church. In quoting this song, Paul brings all of his readers—us included—up against two truths of which believers need to be reminded continually.

1. Christ is the gospel. Paul has invoked the gospel from the beginning in addressing their conflict. The gospel is not some theological construction. The focus of all Paul believes and what motivates his continued sacrifice is the gospel. And Jesus is that gospel. He is the fullness of God in the flesh, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is the Living One; he was dead, and now is alive for ever and ever! And he holds the keys of death and Hades. He is the Good News humanity had been waiting for all through the ages.

Moreover, Jesus is the Last Adam, i.e. Adam as Adam would have been if he had not eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That is what this song is all about. Jesus, unlike Adam, did not consider godhood his ultimate goal. It was obedience to the Father’s will, even if that will ran through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. And the Father’s will was—as Malcolm Smith put it so well—that God become man to save the man who wanted to be god.

How do we know this to be true? Because God raised Jesus from the dead and seated Jesus at His right hand in the heavens, awaiting the day when every knee of all who are created will bow before him.

And that being true brings us to Paul’s second truth of this song so familiar to the early church.

2. Have the same mind as Christ. I was involved in a conflict that was not going well. It was so bad that my wife did not feel we should go back to the church even for a visit. I believed we had a responsibility to act as mature believers and to seek to be reconciled. This was not a desirable stance, and it led to some deep discussions and even seeking out wise counsel. I mean, who wants to be in community with people who are being hostile and unthinking in how they talk?

Sometimes, the last thing that is on our mind when in conflict is to be like Jesus. We think it’s much more satisfying to return fire and sink their battleship before they sink ours. But anger, as James said, does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Jesus surrendered his right to life itself. This is what Paul means by having Christ’s mindset. The angry conflict that the two women were locked in at Philippi had caused them to focus their mind on winning the war rather than being God’s righteous servants.

I know that kind of focus. Every day, you find yourself thinking about your opponent. Your mind covers the same ground of how they offended you, how you can prove that they’re wrong, what you need to say next to put them in their place. You get so caught up in the battle that you can become irrational and lose all the joy of your relationship with God. You even seek to enlist God on your side as if you are in charge and He is your heavenly lackey.

God reigns! He has called us to His purpose, which is to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. An ugly win in a church conflict may leave us with a brief sense of satisfaction that we beat our opponent or, at least, of being superior even if we did not win. But this is not the same as having the mindset of Christ. And it will never set you free.

So what do you do? Paul is saying that you have to decide to surrender to thinking like Jesus. You have to ask God to take charge again of your thought life, especially in the area of your relationships with others in the body. The question left hanging in the air is, will you do this? Will you surrender your will to his?