Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.
What mind? What sort of mind and temper ought to be in us? St. Paul tells us in this chapter, very plainly and at length, what sort of temper he means; and how it showed itself in Christ; and how it ought to show itself in us.
'All of you,' he tells us, 'be like-minded, having the same love; being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory: but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.'
First, be like-minded, having the same love. Men cannot all be of exactly the same opinion on every point, simply because their characters are different; and the old proverb, 'Many men, many minds,' will stand true in one sense to the end of the world. But in another sense it need not. People may differ in little matters of opinion, without hating and despising, and speaking ill of each other on these points; they may agree to differ, and yet keep the same love toward God and toward each other; they may keep up a kindly feeling toward each other; and they will do so, if they have in their hearts the same love of God. If we really love God, and long to do good, and to work for God; if we really love our neighbours, and wish to help them, then we shall have no heart to quarrel -- indeed, we shall have no time to quarrel -- about HOW the good is to be done, provided IT IS done; and we shall remember our Lord's own words to St. John, when St. John said, 'Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: wilt thou therefore that we forbid him?'
And Jesus said, 'Forbid him NOT.'
'Forbid him not,' said Jesus himself. He that hath ears to hear his Saviour's words, let him hear.
'Therefore,' St. Paul says, 'let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory.' It is a very sad thing to think that the human heart is so corrupt, that we should be tempted to do good, and to show our piety, through strife or vain-glory. But so it is. Party spirit, pride, the wish to show the world how pious we are, the wish to make ourselves out better and more reverent than our neighbours, too often creep into our prayers and our worship, and turn our feasts of charity into feasts of uncharitableness, vanity, ambition.
So it was in St. Paul's time. Some, he says, preached Christ out of contention, hoping to add affliction to his bonds. Not that he hated them for it, or tried to stop them. Any way, he said, Christ was preached, whether out of party-spirit against him, or out of love to Christ; any way Christ was preached: and he would and did rejoice in that thought. Again I say, 'He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.'
'Esteem others better than ourselves?' God forgive us! which of us does that? Is not one's first feeling not 'Others are better than me,' but 'I am as good as my neighbour, and perhaps better too?' People say it, and act up to it also, every day. If we would but take St. Paul's advice, and be humble; if we would take more for granted that our neighbours have common sense as well as we, experience as well as we, the wish to do right as well as we -- and perhaps more than we have; and therefore listen HUMBLY (that is St. Paul's word, bitter though it may be to our carnal pride), listen humbly to every one who is in earnest, or speaks of what he knows and feels! People are better than we fancy, and have more in them than we fancy; and if they do not show that they have, it is three times out of four our own fault. Instead of esteeming them better than ourselves, and asking their advice, and calling out their experience, we are too in such a hurry to show them that we are better than they, and to thrust our advice upon them, that we give them no encouragement to speak, often no time to speak; and so they are silent and think the more, and remain shut up in themselves, and often pass for stupider people and worse people than they really are. Because we will not begin by doing justice to our neighbours, we prevent them doing justice to themselves.
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Ah, my friends, if we could but do that heartily and always, what a different world it would be, and what different people we should be! If, instead of saying to ourselves, as one is so apt to do, 'Will this suit my interest? will this help me?' we would recollect to say too, 'Will this suit my neighbours' interest? Will this harm my neighbours, though it may help me? For if it hurts them, I will have nothing to do with it.'
If, again, instead of saying to ourselves, as we are too apt to do, 'This is what I like, and done it shall be,' we would generously and courteously think more of what other people like; what will please them, instruct them, comfort them, soften for them the cares of life, and lighten the burden of mortality -- how much happier would not only they be, but we also!
For this, my friends, is the very likeness of Christ, who pleased not himself; the very likeness of Christ, who sacrificed himself.
And for this very reason St. Paul puts it the last of all his advices, because it is the greatest; the summing up of all; the fulfilment of the whole law, which says, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;' and therefore after it he can give no more advice, for there is none better left to give: but he goes on at once to speak of Christ, who fulfilled that whole law of love, and more than fulfilled it; for instead of merely loving his neighbours AS he loved himself (which is all God asks of us), Christ loved his enemies better than himself, and died for them.
So says St. Paul. -- 'Look not every man on his own things, but on other people's interest and comfort also. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.' What mind? The mind which looks not merely on its own things, its own interest, its own reputation, its own opinions, likes, and dislikes, but on those of others, and has learnt to live and let live.
Yes, this, he says, is the mind of Christ. And this mind, and spirit, and temper, he showed before all heaven and earth, when, though he was in the form of God, and therefore, (as some interpret the text) would have done no robbery, no injustice, by remaining for ever equal with God (that is, in the co-equal and co-eternal glory which he had with the Father), yet made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a slave, and was obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
My friends, I beseech you, young and old, rich and poor, remember the full meaning of these glorious words, and of those which follow them.
'Wherefore God hath highly exalted him.' Why? What was it in Christ which was so precious, so glorious, in the eyes of the Almighty Father, that no reward seemed too great for him? What but this very spirit of fellow-feeling and tenderness, charity, self-sacrifice -- even the Holy Spirit of God himself, with which Christ was filled without measure?
Because Christ utterly and perfectly looked not on his own things, but on the things of others: because he was pity itself, patience itself, love itself, in the soul and body of a human being; therefore his Father declared of him, 'This, this is my well-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' Therefore it was that he highly exalted him; therefore it was that he proclaimed him to be worthy of all honour and worship, the most perfect, lovely, admirable, and adorable of all beings in heaven and earth; not merely because he showed himself to be light of light, or wisdom of wisdom, or power of power; but because he showed himself to be love of love, and therefore very God of very God begotten, whom men and angels could not reverence, admire, adore, imitate too much, but were to see in him the perfection of all beauty, all virtue, all greatness, the likeness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person.
And therefore it is a very good and beautiful old custom to bow when the name of Jesus is mentioned; at least, when it is mentioned for the first time, or under any very solemn circumstances. It helps to remind us that he is really our King and Lord. It helps, too, to remind us that he is actually and really near us, standing by us, looking at us face to face, though we see him not; and I am willing to say for myself that whenever I recollect that he is looking at me (alas! that is not a hundredth part often enough), I cannot help bowing almost without any will of my own. But, remember, there is no commandment for it. It is just one of those things on which a Christian is free to do what he likes, and for which every Christian is forbidden to judge or blame another, according to St. Paul's rule, He that observeth the day, to the Lord he observeth it; and he that observeth it not, to the Lord he observeth it not. Who art thou that judgest another? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, and he shall stand, for God is able to make him stand. Beside, the text says, if we are to take it literally, as we always ought with Scripture, not that every HEAD shall bow at the name of Jesus, but every knee. And to kneel down every time we repeat that holy name would be impossible. While, on the other hand, we DO bow our knees, literally and in earnest, at the name of Jesus every time we kneel down in church, every time we kneel down to say our prayers. And if any man is content with that, no one has the least right to blame him.
Besides, my friends, there is, I know too well, a great danger in making too much of these little outward ceremonies, especially with children and young people. For the heart of man is just as fond as it ever was of idolatry, and superstition, and will-worship, and voluntary humility, and paying tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, while it neglects the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and judgment: and, therefore, there is very great danger, if we make too much of these ceremonies, harmless and even good as many of them may be, of getting to rest in them, and thinking that God is pleased with them themselves. Whereas, what God looks at is the heart, the spirit, the soul; and whether it is right or wrong, proud or humble, hard or loving: and if we think so much of the outward and visible form, that we forget the inward and spiritual grace, for which it ought to stand, then we lay a snare for our own souls to turn them away from the worship of the living God, and break the second commandment. Much more, if we pride ourselves on being more reverent than our neighbours in these outward forms, and look down on, and grudge at, those who do not practise them; for then we turn our humility into pride, and our reverence to Christ into an insult to him; for the true way to honour Christ is to copy Christ. No one really honours and admires Christ's character who does not copy him; and to esteem ourselves better than others, to say in our hearts, 'Stand by, for I am holier than thou,' to offend and drive away Christ's little ones, and wound the consciences of weak brethren by insisting on things against which they have a prejudice, is to run exactly counter to Christ and the mind of Christ, and to be more like the Pharisees than the Lord Jesus. That is not surely esteeming others better than ourselves: that is not surely looking not merely on our own things, but also on the things of others; that is not fulfilling the law of love; that is not following St. Paul's example, who gave up, he says, doing many things which he thought right, because they offended weaker spirits than his own. 'All things,' he says, 'are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient.' 'Ay,' says he, 'I would eat no meat while the world standeth, if it cause my brother to offend.'
No, my dear friends, let us rather, in this coming Passion week, take the lesson which the services of the Church give us in this Epistle. Let us keep Passion week really and in spirit, by remembering that it means the week of suffering, in which Christ, instead of pleasing himself, conquered himself, and gave up himself, and let wicked men do with him whatsoever they would. Let us honour the holy name of Jesus in spirit and in truth, and bend not merely our necks or our knees, when we hear his name, but bend those stiff necks of our souls, and those stubborn knees of our hearts; let us conquer our self-will, self-opinion, self-conceit, self-interest, and take his yoke upon us, for he is meek and lowly of heart. This is the Passion week which he has chosen; -- to distrust ourselves, and our own opinions, likings and fancies. This is the repentance, and this is the humiliation which he has chosen; -- to entreat him (now and at once, lest by pride we give place to the devil, and fall while we think we stand) to forgive us every hard, and proud, and conceited, and self-willed thought, and word, and deed, to which we have given way since we were born; to pray to him for really new hearts, really tender hearts, really humble hearts, really broken and contrite hearts; to look at his beautiful tenderness, patience, sympathy, understanding, generosity, self-sacrifice; and then to look at ourselves, and be shocked, and ashamed, and confounded, at the difference between ourselves and him; and so really to honour the name of Jesus, who humbled himself, even to the death upon the cross.
I am not judging you, my friends; I am judging myself lest God judge me; and telling you how to judge yourselves, lest God judge you. Believe me, if you will but take his yoke on you, you will find it an easy yoke and a light burden; you will find yourselves happier, your duty simpler, your prospects clearer, your path through life smoother, your character higher and more amiable in the eyes of all, and you yourselves holy and fit to share on Easter day in the precious body and blood of him who gave himself up to death that he might draw all men to himself; and so draw them all to each other, as children of one common Father, and brothers of Jesus Christ your Lord.