Everyone needs someone they look up to. Think about that person that you emulated, that you idolized. Someone who has a characteristic or a lifestyle that you wish you had. The difficulty is that you run the risk of them letting you down or disappointing you. A baseball player you wanted to be like, but found out they were using steroids. A pastor that you thought was as holy as he preached, but found out he had a secret, hypocritical life. A family member (father, brother, sister, mother) that you always wanted to please, but could just never rise to a level of a compliment, a hug, or an ‘I love you.’ Thankfully God has provided those people around us (somewhere) they can look up to.
But even if you don’t, you do have one example of one who has followed through on putting others above Himself. In the previous verses (2:1-4), you see how our joy may be complete. Money, power, fame, and even unbelief do not bring the joy needed. Our joy does not come with thinking more of self, but thinking less of self and more of Christ and your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Everything from the previous verses are emulated and exemplified in Christ. When Paul exhorts the Philippian church to, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant that yourselves. Let each of look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). This is a thread all through the New Testament. The Apostle Paul, prior to speaking about the roles and goals of husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:21 says that, in Christ, we are “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In the tiny letter of 3 John in verse 9, we encounter a man named Diotrephes whose contribution to the church was that he “likes to put himself first”(3 John 9), polar opposite of what John the Baptist declared to those around him when Christ showed up on the scene when he said, “He must increase, while I must decrease” (John 3:30). Even Jesus Himself prayed to the Father on the eve of his crucifixion, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
So, after last week, we had a lot of imperatives—commands, if you will. Complete my joy! Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit. Count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look to others’ interests, not just your own. There’s nothing really new here from much else in the Bible, but here’s the issue if we stop there: you’re relying on your own strength and stamina to do this. And you grow frustrated because you can’t do this all the time. So let’s take this a step further.
We have an example before us, but not just any example—the ultimate example is Jesus Christ, the topic not just of every sermon and the point of our lives as believers, but also directly the point of the text we just read. So preachers like me could come before you and say, “If you can’t do it, get more strength and courage by looking at what Jesus did.” But this can lead to frustration as well. We are exclusively humans who are made in the image of God. Christ is the God-Man, fully both! The key here is found in verse 5:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” As Christ dwells in believers, we may also have the mindset of Christ because Christ is in us! So instead of exhausted by trying to imitate the unimitatable, we are exhilarated and enthusiastic that through Christ and in Christ this is possible. Remember what He did, He can have us do through Him!