My family put up our Christmas tree a little early this year. I forgot that it would be challenging. I had big plans for the final product and intended to see it through. I added a few little helpers to the mix, however, and things began to fall apart. Ornaments went up in the wrong places, my helpers weren’t cooperating, and I grew frustrated. I was just trying to make Christmas special for my family, but this didn’t feel special. At that moment I wasn’t even sure I liked Christmas all that much.
I knew Christmas is all about the incarnation of our Savior, but it sometimes seems that it’s the traditions, the lights, the activities that really make it special and memorable for my children.
I retreated to the yard for a few minutes and began furiously raking leaves. Thankfully, the Lord brought to my mind a portion of Philippians 2: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
Ultimately, Christmas will be meaningful to my children, not because the tree is perfect or because of the exciting lineup of December activities. Christmas will be meaningful to them as they see their dad think and act like the incarnate Christ Himself. A dad who thinks and acts like Christ is actually putting the Christmas message on display for his family.
How do we do that, though? You may purpose to think and act more like Christ this Christmas season only to find yourself unchanged. Your heart attitudes and actions may remain the same. Hear me carefully. If you try to follow Christ’s example in your own strength, you will not succeed.
In Philippians 2:1–11, however, we find not only a command to serve like Christ; we also find the means and the method to do so.
United with the Incarnate Christ
In the late 19th century, a little book entitled In His Steps became a bestseller. The characters in this novel are prompted to ask a simple question about every choice they face: “What would Jesus do?” That question has made its way into the very fabric of American Christianity over the last century, showing up on bracelets and t-shirts with the acrostic, “WWJD.”
Philippians 2, however, urges us to ask, not “What would Jesus do?” but rather “What did Jesus do?” What Jesus did for you 2000 years ago has everything to do with how you are to serve others today.
In verse 1, Paul reminds the Philippians of their union with their Savior, Jesus Christ: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy . . . ” Then again, in verse 5, he reminds them of the change that has taken place due to their union with Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
Christ certainly gives us an example to follow, but he also does much more than that. As a Christ-follower, I have been united with the one who came to earth to seek and to save. It is that union, and that alone, that enables me to serve others. I will not serve like Christ if I do not first think like Christ. And I will not think like Christ unless I am first united with Christ.
“I will not think like Christ unless I am first united with Christ.”
Let me explain it this way. Let’s say I determine I would like to fly like a Boeing-747. So, I head out to the tarmac, stand beside the plane, watch carefully, and then seek to imitate. My efforts will fall woefully short of actual flight. But, if I change my tactic and head inside the plane, not only will I fly, but my flight will simply be an extension of the plane’s flight.
It is my union with the incarnate Christ that will change the way I think and act toward others, including my family.
So, if you want to make this Christmas season memorable for your family, the first question you need to ask is, “What did Jesus do for me?”
The Mind of Christ
As you answer that question, you will begin to see the mind of Christ—or how Christ thinks. Take a few moments and read through the following verses from Philippians 2. Read them at least three times to let the truths really sink in. This is what Paul describes as the “mind of Christ.” In other words, this is how Jesus thinks:
“Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 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, so 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.”
How does Jesus think? His mindset is one of sacrificial service. Though He is fully God, He did not cling to His deity like a toddler clings to the top of a slide. Instead, He emptied Himself by becoming God’s human servant. The One who created the stars became a baby sleeping under those very stars. The One who made man in his own likeness was born in the likeness of men.
Jesus’ mindset did not end there, however. Following the prophecy given in Isaiah 53, God’s Servant bore the curse of sin to the point of death, a cruel, torturous death on a wooden cross. But the servant was never to remain in the grave (see Isaiah 53:12). He was raised and exalted in order to reconcile you and me to Himself and restore our rightful worship. It was your Savior’s delight to sacrifice Himself so that you could be united with Him.
This is how Jesus thinks.
At some point in time, my own goodwill and love toward my family will fail. But Christ’s eternal, incarnational, self-sacrificial love will never fail. If I get down on the floor to help my son clean up his spill, it’s not because I’m a good dad. It is because Jesus loved me enough to become a man and save my soul.
The Same Mind
Here is where Paul gets practical. Now that we’ve seen the mind of Christ, Paul calls you to have that same mind.
“We are not called simply to think like Christ; we are called to think with Christ, to think His thoughts after Him.”
He says it twice: “[be] of the same mind” (v. 2) and “have this mind among yourselves” (v. 5). What mind? Christ’s mind.
We are not called simply to think like Christ; we are called to think with Christ, to think His thoughts after Him. Jesus wants to think and act through you. How does Jesus think about your family? Now think those same thoughts.
For example, take the name of one of your children, and insert it in the following sentences:
- Jesus loved enough to leave heaven’s glories for him/her.
- Jesus loved enough to be laid in an animal’s feeding trough for him/her.
- Jesus loved so much that He lived a humble, often painful, yet sinless, human life for him/her.
- Jesus had so much compassion for that He endured the cross for him/her.
- Jesus desired ’s worship so much that He died, was buried, and was raised to the Father’s right hand.
The Christmas story is a vivid reminder of how Jesus thinks about your family. And He has commanded you to think the same way.
How is this mindset going to play out? Philippians 2:3–4 fleshes this mindset out in everyday life: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
What might this look like? Maybe some of the following:
- Less time in the garage pursuing your own hobbies and more time with your kids helping them pursue their hobbies
- Fewer thoughtless criticisms of your family and more words of praise
- Less focus on everything being “Dad’s way” and more sensitivity to the desires of your family
- Less readiness to share your own opinion and more readiness to listen to the opinions of others
- Fewer arguments and more apologies
- Less readiness to attack and more desire to reconcile
Christmas on Display
If, this Christmas, you allow Jesus to serve your family through you, your family will catch a glimpse of the true meaning of the incarnation in action. Far more meaningful than any holiday décor, the true Christmas message can be on display in your life.
Your task this Christmas (and all year round) is not just to help your family have a good time. You have been placed in your home to show your family just how amazing your Savior is. You represent Him.
If you’re a believer, you’ve already been united with God’s incarnate Servant, Jesus Christ. Now, you must spend time with Him. Get to know Him. Learn from Him. And serve those around you.