(I presented the following at the “Hyphen” session of the 2013 MA/RI District Youth Convention)

Think like Jesus! Of course, the question always is, what did Christ think like? In our congregation each year I preach on Sundays for one month from one of the Gospels…this year from the Gospel of Matthew…so that we might be more acquainted with Jesus as presented by the writers. The Gospels will show you Christ in action…but they don’t explicitly tell you what was happening in his head. We infer things about Christ’s thinking from the Gospels, but his thought processes aren’t specifically discussed by the Gospel writers.

The greatest insight we have into the workings of the mind of Christ come from the Apostle Paul, and the core of the ideas I will present this morning is drawn from his letter to the Philippian church…specifically Philippians 2:5-8. While Paul doesn’t give us a lot of detail regarding Christ’s thinking in this selection, he does provide us with three powerful categories of thinking to explore…three characteristics of thinking that if understood and applied can truly and thoroughly revolutionize the way we think.

Let’s read that text now…

  1. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
  2. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
  3. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
  4. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

I. Confidence Without Entitlement

A brain surgeon was taking a walk when he saw a boy on a bike smash headfirst into a tree. The doctor realized immediately that the boy was seriously injured, and told a bystander to call an ambulance. As he started to treat the injured boy, another kid not much older than the injured one nudged through the crowd that had gathered and said to the doctor, “I’d better take over now, sir. I’m a Boy Scout and I know first aid.”

Confidence is a wonderful thing…particularly, the capacity to be confident that your knowledge and abilities are equal to the challenges you encounter. We have a phrase that’s used to define this kind of confidence; we call it self confidence. Even though the phrase may have a few negative connotations, it basically just refers to your ability to trust yourself and your abilities.

The first characteristic of Jesus’ thinking that Paul mentions is that Jesus was confident. Paul says it this way in verse six; “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:” This tells us immediately that Jesus knew who he was, what he could do, and all the rights and authority that he had.

That’s one of the things I’ve noticed about Jesus in the Gospels…he’s never unsure, never uncertain. He is always completely confident in what he says and does. He knows his purpose, his mission, his place, and his power. There’s nothing about the Jesus of the Gospels that communicates self-doubt. After all, he wouldn’t have commanded that Lazarus’ tomb be opened if he wasn’t absolutely certain that he could raise Lazarus from the dead! In that kind of move there’s no room for self-doubt!

So, Paul describes Jesus as confident. Yet in that same verse, Paul tells us that Jesus’ confidence was somewhat different than what one would normally expect from other powerful people. Paul says that Jesus “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”, which is a strange, hard to understand phrase in the KJV. Basically though, it means that He didn’t consider his deity something he had to hold onto for dear life, like a thief holds onto something he’s stolen.

It’s kind of a difficult concept to explain, but maybe the best way to express it is to say that Jesus’ confidence in his abilities and identity didn’t come with a sense of entitlement. He didn’t feel the need to demand special treatment because of who he was. While he was confident in what he could do, in what he came to do, he didn’t act as though his power came with all-access pass to the VIP lounge. If people wanted to show him honor, he accepted it. If they chose to disrespect him, he accepted that too. And he kept right on doing what he was supposed to do.

Christ-like thinking is characterized by confidence without entitlement.

That’s a struggle for us because confidence in our strengths and abilities is usually hard won. It’s like a phrase from a favorite Glenn Kaiser song of mine… “I’ve done the time and I’ve got the scars.” The old time preachers used to talk to young ministers about getting their “lion’s skin.” You know what these things mean; they mean that you’ve worked hard to acquire the abilities you have. You’ve studied, you’ve practiced, you’ve hammered your thumb more than once, and over the course of many years you’ve grown good at a particular thing.

Usually, along with the acquisition of skill, there is a corresponding rise in self-confidence; you know you can do it. And there’s nothing at all wrong with having that kind of confidence. If someone asks me if I can preach, I tell them, “Yes.” Can I preach to large crowds? Yes. Small crowds? Yes. To other denominations? Yes, because if you can preach to a crowd of sermon tasting Pentecostals you can preach to anybody. I’m not arrogant, I’m confident. I’ve worked hard to acquire the skill to do what I do.

But here’s the challenge; with that hard won confidence I’ve also acquired the belief that I’m worthy of respect…at least, in things pertaining to my abilities. I think that if I’m asked to use those abilities I have the right to expect a certain kind of treatment, at least in the venue in which I’m expected to exercise my abilities. In other words, if you ask me to preach then treat me right. Put me in the right kind of hotel. Pay me according to your ability, and commensurate with my skill. And show me the esteem that should be shown to an ordained minister with almost 30 years of experience.

And that, my friends, is how just about everyone in the world thinks. They have different skills and correspondingly different expectations, but just about every confident person also feels some sense of entitlement. And to be treated as less than they are shows disregard for the long years of labor and self discovery that’s brought them to be what they are.

But Christlike thinking is characterized by confidence without entitlement; the ability to do what you can without feeling the need to demand or expect honor, respect, or even recognition. And you can do this because your identity, your ego, isn’t that fragile…you don’t have to grasp it with desperate hands and hold it tightly, lest someone steal it away. You do what you do because you can do and because it needs doing. And that’s it.

II. Condescended Without Condescension

No doubt some of you have heard of the British actor Peter Sellers, perhaps from his role as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films. It’s said by those who worked with him that once he immersed himself in a role, he was never out of character until the film ended. In his book, The Mask Behind the Mask, biographer Peter Evans says that Sellers played so many roles that he sometimes wasn’t sure of his own identity. Once, when approached once by a fan who asked him, “Are you Peter Sellers?” Sellers answered, “Not today,” and walked on.

To us, the idea of losing our distinctiveness, of loss of identity, is a frightening thing. In the western world, untold sums of money and vast amounts of time are spent on the voyage of self-discovery. “Who am I? What kind of a person am I? What makes me tick?” This realization is understood as central to being able to truly understand and appreciate others. And really, I’m not sure it’s incorrect. Then, once we begin understand ourselves, once a strong sense of identity finally begins to emerge, we usually grab hold of that sense of self and cling to it for dear life.

This is me. This is who I am. This is what makes me different.  This is what sets me apart and allows others to know me. It’s such a relief to finally know myself, to be enlightened as to who I really am! The idea that, after I have worked so hard to find myself, I would lose myself, is almost unbearable. This unique and wonderful hodgepodge of thought, feeling, outlook, habit, practice, and belief is what makes me…me. And now this sense of personal identity is so important, so significant, that I simply must retain it.

With this we come to the second characteristic of Christ’s thinking that Paul identifies; Jesus condescended. In Philippians 2:7 Paul writes, “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:” Literally meaning that he emptied himself and became us, that he divested himself of that which would have most easily identified him as different than us in order to be one of us.

He became so ordinary that despite all the wondrous works he did, he couldn’t be picked out the crowd. Not particularly tall nor short, handsome nor plain, with the same swarthy features and hard hands as the other tradesmen of his class…his accent no different than other Galileans, his rough sense of humor the same as theirs, the same swagger as they walked along, a cluster of young men together. This is condescension in the best meaning of the word; the mighty stooping low, so low that we thought he was us. He divested himself of riches to experience our poverty, of strength to know our weakness, of eternity to taste our dying.

And he did it without being condescending…in the worst sense of the word. He did it without arrogance, without a lordly attitude of superiority, without informing us that he was not us. He taught, healed, delivered, fed, calmed, raised…constantly endeavouring to lift humanity from the muck, while standing in the muck beside us. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.”

“Let this way of thinking be your way of thinking,” Paul says. “Empty yourself to become what another needs.” But, I’m so concerned with preserving myself, with holding on to my identity, that how Paul challenges me to think is more than a little frightening. After all, I can’t be what everyone needs. And it’s probably true…I don’t think I can. But maybe I can be a little more of what someone needs if I’m just a bit more willing to be a little less concerned with being myself.

Maybe this is what Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 where he writes…

  • To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.
  • To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
  • To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

Christ-like thinking is characterized by condescension that isn’t condescending…by the ability to become what another needs, to lay one’s own identity aside for the sake of another. And to do it in such a way that it seems the most natural thing in the world.

III. Humility Without Servility

A young woman pulled her pastor aside one Sunday after Morning Worship. “Pastor, I have a problem…a besetting sin…and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I shouldn’t think like that, but I can’t help it. I want you to help me with it.” The pastor replied, “Well Mary, I don’t think you need to worry about it. In your case it’s not really a sin…just more of a horrible mistake.”

Humility is hard for us…pride comes more easily. And pride is far more natural, too. Pride of place, pride of position, pride in association, pride in origin, pride in achievement, and of course, pride in appearance. Proud to live where you live, proud of your role in society or your group, proud of the group itself, proud to be from where you’re from and to wave the appropriate flag, or to spring from a certain family line, proud that you’ve done what you’ve done and have been properly recognized for it, and proud that you’re just so good looking.

But some of this isn’t bad pride, is it? Isn’t some of this pride perfectly legitimate…even necessary? Sorting through the various manifestations of pride is a grueling process made even more difficult by the Bible’s wholesale condemnation of pride. So, we perform a series of awkward mental gymnastics trying to explain to ourselves why one form of pride is acceptable while another is insidious. This process is made yet more awkward by the slightly embarrassing truth that the system of faith we profess to govern our lives by doesn’t acknowledge the subtle differences, the varietals of pride that we’ve discerned…it’s all just pride.

On the other hand, humility is much easier to understand. And whether it’s defined from its Latin roots or from New Testament Greek, it all comes down to being low, to viewing yourself as less. This is easy to understand, but hard to practice…oh so hard to practice…because both humanly and culturally everything within us screams out a protest at the idea of being less. Humanly we strive for more, to do more, to be more…and to be seen as more. Culturally, we are infatuated with equality; I may be no more than you, but you are certainly no more than me. So while humility may be easy to understand, there’s no denying that it’s hard for us.

Yet this very hard thing is characteristic of the mind of Christ! Christ-like thinking is characterized by humility without servility. “This is how Jesus thought,” Paul said in Philippians 2:8. “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

He humbled himself, Paul said. He made himself low. This is an even greater challenge for us, because we seem utterly incapable of humility without first being humiliated. We must endure a series of mortifying events to be made humble, and then we must have our regular doses of humiliation in order to be kept humble. Our natural tendency is to rise, and so from time to time our bubble must be burst. But not Jesus. He humbled himself.

And somehow he embraced this humility without servility. He made himself low without cringing and fawning and denying who he was or being distracted from his mission. Humility like this isn’t an act; it’s not something you try to do, or a way you project yourself. It’s a state of being; a way you think that becomes the way you are.

It’s a way of thinking that is utterly mission centred. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death, because that was his mission, his purpose. He knew from the very outset of his ministry that he would keep company with publicans and sinners, that his associates would be a motley assortment of workers and radicals, that he would be counted among the criminals, and would wind up hanging naked on a cross. Since he embraced this from the beginning, none of this could humiliate him. You can’t humiliate a man who’s already humbled himself.

Christ-like thinking is characterized by humility without servility…humility that is self-imposed and focused on mission. So much so that the experiences of shame, rejection, being ignored, unrecognized, and unappreciated are all inconsequential; what matters is doing what Christ would have you do.


Let this mind be in you. Let Christ’s way of thinking become your way of thinking. Be confident without a sense of entitlement. Condescend without being condescending. Embrace humility without servility. And the more you think like Jesus, the more you will act like Jesus.

I racked my brains trying to think of a story, an example that would best illustrate Christ-like thinking. Public speakers in general, but preachers in particular, know the value of a story that’s able to take the point of the message and make it real to life. All those stories that the regular sources suggested fell flat. I couldn’t think of one single example of a person I knew embodied all three characteristics…not one.

Then it came to me! The perfect story, the perfect example! It’s an ancient tale…no way to update it or make it contemporary. And it’s long, so I have to skip across highlights and hope you grasp the gist of it. But it’s that most ancient story of a King who became a servant, of a God who became a man…of how the Lord of Creation laid aside splendor, majesty, and honor to become Immanuel, God with us…to be with us. To be with the lowly, the poor, the sin-cursed, the crooked, the vain…to be with the wounded and the wounding, the abused and the abuser, the suffering and the one who inflicts suffering alike…to be with us.

I realized that there is simply no better example of Christ-like thinking than Christ. And there’s no better story to tell to drive home what he wants us to be than his story. So if you want to live a life that matters, a redemptive life, a life that has lasting influence for good far beyond the scope of your limited world, then think like Jesus.

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