The story goes of a man coming home from a party saying, ‘I was surrounded by friends, but none of them were mine.’ Many people experience loneliness—including some who appear to be ‘the life of the party’.
These experiences demonstrate that loneliness isn’t mended with company. In the real world, having friends involves thinking—thinking about others.
Perhaps this is why many have experienced amazing community spirit when a catastrophe strikes—a flood or fire or accident. Everyone focusses on what needs to be done and forgets about themselves. They begin to ‘discover’ each other.
So, here’s the real issue. If we are only thinking of ourselves, there’s no real relationship going on. The other person is only ‘present’ to the extent that they are meeting a need of mine. They may be thinking the same. Neither of us are being real. We are like ghosts trying to hug each other.
A relationship with someone else is not just a matter of chemistry, or sex, or common interest. It involves love, and this means seeing who someone is and what they need—thinking about them and how we may be a part of their lives.
Paul tells his friends at Philippi to think of others and not just themselves, and consider others better than themselves.
That’s good advice but it’s easier said than done. Selfishness runs deep and takes us back to thinking about ourselves. That’s why Paul points to how Christ has lived among us (Philippians 2:1-11).
It would be worthwhile reading some Gospel stories about Jesus. People called him a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34). That’s what we need—not someone who expects high standards, conformity, or agreement but a friend who knows who we are, what we can become and what help we need.
And the first need we have is to be forgiven. We don’t merely need people we can follow, or who like us. We need a Saviour. We need Christ’s encouragement, comfort, tenderness and compassion.
We need to belong to a whole group of people participating in a love that’s bigger than all the funny things that go on between us people. We need to be God’s children—together.
Believe me, what we read here fixes the problem. We have a quality of life that doesn’t depend on our friends being friendly or us being perfect! There’s something different that happens among people who receive forgiveness from God, and receive the gift of his Holy Spirit.
Paul also says we need to put away selfish ambition or conceit (v. 3). In business circles, people talk about ‘networking’—finding relationships that may further their interests. But that’s not friendship. Friends aren’t concerned with their own interests but the interest of their friend.
In fact, we are called to consider others better than ourselves (v. 4). This is nothing to do with us being better or worse than others. We are talking about considering others better than ourselves.
So, is all of this just a game? Do we just act in a certain way because that will make other people feel happier with us? Hardly. That’s hypocrisy, and eventually, hypocrisy shows!
Here’s why it’s so important to know how Jesus thinks. He has been thinking about us—not himself. And because he is thinking about us, we can be freed from always focusing on ourselves. We can have the same thought in our minds as Jesus Christ.
How can this be? Stay with this! It might seem like I’m trying to crack a problem with a heavy thump of Bible, but thinking about ourselves doesn’t yield easily!
The way Jesus thinks starts with him being equal with God. He is God. But he doesn’t think this fact needs to be defended. He doesn’t need to protect his rights or have his identity acknowledged. Simply—he’s God. He knows it. And he acts accordingly.
Here’s what he does. He ‘made himself nothing’. That is, he pours out all that he is—for us.
The Son of God becomes one of us—a human being. As God, he is in charge. But, as a human being, he is told what to do. He’s become a servant.
Then, the job he is given is to show us who God is. So, he shows us the ‘comfort of his love’, his ‘tenderness and compassion’.
It’s because we don’t know this that we have to protect ourselves. This is why we have to be surrounded with approving people. We’re not persuaded that God is friendly.
So, Jesus makes himself an offering for our sins. He’s already a servant, but he becomes a humble one and does the most despicable job you could ever take on. He’s nailed to a Roman cross. In our place.
This is the mind of Christ. He has come closer to us that we can come to ourselves. By being what he is—God, doing a human job—he’s shown us what it means to be human. He’s also shown us what it means to be God.
And then, Jesus is given the name above every name—that’s the name ‘Lord’, or God. There’s never been any risk of him losing his identity!
And there’s no risk of us losing our identity either when we think fondly about people around us—in just the same way we think about ourselves. If we’ve been united with Christ through faith, we have his encouragement, his tenderness and compassion.
So now, we are free to live, to love, to give and to share. It will seem risky. Sometimes, we may lose a friend rather than gain one. But we will always have Christ’s friendship.
Surely and certainly, we will discover the riches of relationships that flow from a reliable source—from no less than the God who made us to be like him.