Love Like Jesus Loves (Sermon)
Do you watch the Super Bowl for the football game or the commercials? This year running a 30-second ad during the big game cost $5.6 million. After the game ends, there’s a debate about the best commercials. I’m not sure what the best commercial was, but I know what the most surprising one this year was to me. It was for the New York Life Insurance company, and it focused on love. It began with a narrator saying, ““The ancient Greeks had four words for love.” It went on to define each of the four words.
The commercial was surprising because I didn’t expect to hear a Super Bowl commercial reflect on the biblical terms for love. But in some ways it’s not surprising because we all understand the power of love. Advertising agencies tap into what moves and motivates people, and we’re all motivated by love. No one needs to convince us of the power of love—we’ve all seen and experienced moving demonstrations of love.
In the previous verses, the apostle Paul challenged the Christians from a young church in the city of Philippi to live as gospel citizens. They were to demonstrate the worth of the gospel by the way they lived. As we begin chapter 2, we see they were also to demonstrate the worth of the gospel by the way they loved. We live out the gospel by loving each other like Jesus loves us. When followers of Jesus love each other through sacrificial acts of service, the gospel is valued and validated in the eyes of those watching.
We can break this instruction down into two main sections.
We Are Instructed to Love Each Other
Though the apostle Paul doesn’t specifically command them to love each other, the other commands he gives them require them to love each other. He doesn’t need to command them to love because the command to love is found throughout Scripture. The 10 commandments are based upon two simple commands: love God and love others. The first four commands—no other gods, no idols, not taking God’s name in vain, and keeping the Sabbath—are all ways to love God. The final six commands—honor your parents, don’t kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, and covet—are all ways to love others.
The rest of the Old Testament law was built around these 10 commands. This is why Jesus summarized the entire law with two great commands: love God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
The command to love others is given to all people. But Jesus told His disciples that loving each other was an identifying mark of His disciples.
(John 13:34–35 ESV) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Paul didn’t have to explicitly command these Christians to love each other because Jesus had already done so.
Instead he gives them a series of commands that require love and reveal what it looks like to love. You can think of these verses as a breakdown of love. If you were to take God’s command to love your neighbor and Jesus’ command to love each other seriously, then this is what it looks like.
(Philippians 2:2–4 ESV) Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 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.
Loving each other like Jesus love us requires a new way of thinking and a new way of seeing.
Love requires a new way of thinking
The word translated “mind” shows up twice in verse 2, once in verse 5, and a total of 10x throughout the book of Philippians. How we think is important. We can’t think how we’ve always thought. We need our thinking transformed by the gospel. In order to love like Jesus loves, we need to think like Jesus thinks.
Paul’s concern about our thinking is not only that it mirrors Jesus, but also that we, as a church, have a shared way of thinking. We are to have the “same mind” and to be of “one mind” (v.2). To think the same way as each other requires us to spend time together.
Actors on a stage have to think the same way in order to pull off a performance, and it requires months of rehearsal.
Musicians in a band have to think the same way in order to make beautiful music, and it requires weeks and weeks of practice.
Players on a team have to think the same way in order to win championships, and it requires an entire season of teamwork.
The word translated “accord” is a compound word that come from two words—souls and together. In order for us to think the same way—a way shaped by love—requires our souls to come together. We need a growing awareness of each others’ strengths and struggles, victories and weaknesses. We need an awareness that only comes from time spent together. Certain things can be microwaved, but certain things require time to prepare properly. Souls are like steaks, not popcorn—they need time to marinate and time to rest. In order for our souls to come together, we need to spend time with each other. When it comes to relationships, there’s no substitute for time.
The way we share one mind is not by tuning our minds to each other, but by all tuning our minds to the same standard. Sometimes we think it would be easy if everyone just thought like we do. In the next chapter, Paul will tell the church he has not fully arrived, and all who are mature realize they haven’t either (3:12—15). The goal is not to have everyone think like you. But for you and everyone else to conform your thinking to a shared authority.
Our shared authority is not one man and his visions, like most cults. Our shared authority is the gospel. Paul wrote to a different church:
(Galatians 1:8 ESV) But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
No one person, even an apostle, is the standard for how we think. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ, once for all delivered to the saints, is our standard. One author wrote: “Unity by itself can’t be the final aim. After all, unity is possible among thieves, adulterers and many other types. Those who commit genocide need to do so with huge corporate single-mindedness, as the Nazis showed when killing millions of Jews, gypsies and others. No: what matters is that Christians, like the actors all focusing single-mindedly on the play, should focus completely on the divine drama that has unfolded before their eyes in Jesus the king, and is continuing now into its final act with themselves as the characters. Bringing their thinking into line with each other wouldn’t be any good if they were all thinking something that was out of line with the gospel. The love that they must have is the love that the gospel generates and sustains.”[i]
Is your thinking being shaped by the gospel? Do you see evidence that you are growing more and more of one mind with your fellow church members? Some people don’t want to do think the same as everyone else. They relish being unique. Being the maverick. They’re self-appointed watchdogs. They’ve decided their role is to keep everyone honest. Brothers and sisters, for us to love each other like Jesus loves us, together we need our minds attuned to the gospel.
Love requires a new way of seeing
We need to look at ourselves and others differently than we naturally do. We aren’t supposed to look at other people as rivals, as competitors. That’s how we see people when we’re motivated by selfish ambition and conceit (v.3). Selfish ambition is the “ambition which has no conception of service but only aimed at profit and power.”[ii] Profit and power are the result of dominating other people, or so we normally think. When we’re motivated by a selfish desire to gain profit or power, we will look at people as either assets or liabilities. They can be used to gain power or sacrificed to gain profit.
Love stops looking at people as competitors, and starts to see people as people. People—made in God’s image with the capacity for both good and evil. It’s important for us to see people as people—love helps us do that.
Last year the basketball conference my oldest son, Jack, is a part of held a special event after the season was over. The event was a day-long basketball tournament where the players from the different teams were divided up, placed on new teams and coached by one of the opposing coaches. The reason the conference did this was to help the players from opposing teams get to know each other. They thought sportsmanship would only get better if the players built relationships as people, not just opponents.
We must stop seeing people as opponents who interfere with our ambitions. We also must not look at them as beneath us. That’s what the word “conceit” means. It’s a way of looking at people and judging them as being less important, as inferior to you in some way. The word actually comes from two words: empty and glory. When we pursue empty glory, we don’t love others. When we fight for our own reputation, we don’t love others.
One way we see this playing itself out currently is through social media. People put photos on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They hope people will view and like their content. The more likes they get, the more likely they are to put up more and more content. Too often this content is either mean-spirited or self-glorifying. It’s motivated by the pursuit of empty glory, and this pursuit is a hindrance to real, genuine love. Though social media can be a tool for the gospel, it’s too often a stumbling block instead.
(Philippians 2:3 ESV) Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Instead of looking at others and seeing what they can do for us, how they can help us gain power or glory, we should count others as more important than ourselves. This is key to genuine love. Genuine love is humble. It thinks more about others than about myself. It focuses on helping others at my expense, not helping myself at others expense.
We will grow in humility as we practice self-forgetfulness. The more we forget about ourselves and focus on others, the more humble and loving we become. I like how C.S. Lewis describes the humble man: “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”[iii]
Self-forgetfulness is difficult because due to our sin nature we are hard-wired to look after our own interests. But love is antithetical to self-focus and self-interest:
(Philippians 2:4 ESV) “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
We have a chronic case of tunnel vision, where we focus intently on what interests us, and ignore what doesn’t. But love not only pays attention to what’s going on with others, it sacrifices in order to bless others.
“The conductor of a symphony orchestra was once asked what is the most difficult instrument to play. He responded, ‘Second violin. I can find plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play second violin with enthusiasm—that is a problem. And if we have no second violin, we have no harmony.’”[iv] Are you willing to play second violin? Are you willing to play second violin in your home? Are you willing to play second violin to your brother or sister? Are you willing to play second violin here at church? What might that look like?
Giving up your seat in the car for your sibling.
Offering to take someone’s spot in the nursery.
Not responding to that slightly snarky comment.
Using that bonus check to help someone who’s struggling.
Inviting that person out for breakfast instead of sleeping in.
Listening patiently to the chronically depressed person in your small group.
Helping them move that piano or rake that lawn even though they never say thank-you.
Asking them over to your house even though you’ve never been invited to theirs.
Hosting small group after a long couple days.
Showing up at 7:30 in the morning to set up for the service.
Parking farther away so others have a shorter walk.
Joyfully singing a song that isn’t your favorite because it might be someone else’s.
Praying year after year for their wayward kids.
Selling the boat, car, or RV to be more generous.
From our early days of learning American history, we’re taught to appreciate and hold tightly our unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. True love, Christian love, lays those rights down to bless and serve others. We give up our life—literally and figuratively—to serve others. We trade our liberty because commitment is sweeter than freedom. We pursue happiness, but not in self-fulfillment. We pursue happiness through self-denial.
There are two phrases which should be a regular part of the vocabulary of a church that thinks and sees like Jesus does. They are “after you” and “my pleasure.” We put others first, and we choose to serve them. It’s our pleasure to be a blessing. It’s our pleasure to play second violin. It’s our pleasure to lay our rights down for each other.
We Are Empowered by Jesus’ Love for Us
How can we love like this? How can we love others like Jesus love us? Can we do it by willpower? Effort? Training? Experience? No way. It takes more than that. It takes Jesus empowering us to love, and that’s what’s described in verses 5–11. Verse 5 tells us we, as Christians, can think and see like Jesus thought and saw because we’ve been given His mind, His way of thinking. Then it describes Jesus’ way of thinking and seeing—the greatest demonstration of love the world has ever seen.
Most scholars believe verses 6—11 are an early Christian hymn that Paul included here as an example of Jesus’ love for us. It’s certainly beautiful and poetic, and it’s filled with rich theology. We could spend a number of weeks just exploring the theology of this hymn. It teaches us:
Christology—how Jesus is fully God. He did not become God, but has always been and will forever fully be God. He is God the Son, forever in relationship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. The God who is three in one.
Anthropology—how Jesus took on humanity, not in a partial way. But completely. He was truly born, lived, and died as a man.
Soteriology—how Jesus willingly died on a cross as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, so that we through faith in Him could be saved from the judgment we deserve.
Eschatology—how the resurrection of Jesus was the first stage of all things being made new, and it will lead to a great day when Jesus returns and His kingdom encompasses the entire cosmos.
Doxology—how all things were created and ultimately will result in the glory of God in Jesus Christ being witnessed and acknowledged for ever and ever.
As we walk through this beautiful hymn, I want you to do two things: first, pay attention to the rich theology woven into every line. Second, remember what Paul’s purpose was for including it. He’s showing us the demonstration of love which models how we love, motivates why we love, and empowers us to actually love.
This hymn, like so many great stories, begins with a king coming in disguise to help His people.
(Philippians 2:5–8 ESV) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 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.
Jesus, the true King, took on the form of a servant. The word servant should actually be translated slave. What rights does a slave have? None. Jesus, who had the right to rule and reign as God, gave up all of His rights in order to save the people He loved. As a slave, Jesus owned nothing. One pastor described it like this:
“Jesus had to borrow everything:
a place to be born
a place to sleep
a boat to cross the sea of Galilee
an animal upon which to ride into Jerusalem
a house to sleep in
a room in which to eat with His disciples
a tomb in which to be buried
He borrowed nearly everything in life. He was the only person to walk the face of the earth with the right to have anything He wanted. Yet He never took advantage of His divine right and never claimed special privileges. He surrendered the right to live like God.”[v]
A slave has no rights. Jesus chose to give up His rights. What rights do you cherish? What rights do you hold so tightly that you would never let go? What is the one thing no one better touch? Jesus gave it all up.
I love how C.S. Lewis describes Jesus’ condescension as a slave. He pictures Jesus stooping lower and lower, like a man who keeps squatting down closer and closer to the ground. All so he can get his hands under something He values and then lifts it up out of the dirt. How low will you stoop in order to love others? How dirty will you get to lift others up?
Jesus came in disguise, and He died for those He loved. But that’s not how the story ends. Jesus conquers the world by offering Himself as a slave.
(Philippians 2:9–11 ESV) 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.
The exaltation of Jesus assures us that when we suffer for the sake of the gospel, and we give up our position, power, rights, even dignity to help someone else, that it will be worth it. God sees, and He is pleased.
But it also reinforces the true nature of love. The Father loves the Son so much He exalts the Son. And Jesus loves the Father so much He does everything for the Father’s glory. There’s no rivalry or selfish ambition between Father and Son because they love each other perfectly. True love is never selfish. Dennis Johnson made this helpful point: “We most closely resemble the God who made us in his likeness when we rejoice to exalt each other as the Father exalted Christ.”[vi]
Brothers and sisters, what we see modeled in Christ we’ve actually already experienced. That’s how Paul begins this section. He reminds us that we understand the encouragement and comfort that comes from being part of God’s family. We are intimately familiar with what it means to be truly loved and accepted by Jesus Himself.
(Philippians 2:1 ESV) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy.
The word if could be translated since. Paul’s not expressing any doubt. Every Christian has experienced the comfort that comes from being loved by Christ. Every Christian has experienced the work of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian has experienced the affection and mercy of God. These experiences are real for every follower of Christ, and they are the reason we can love others live we have been loved.
When a person repents of their sin and trusts Christ for forgiveness and salvation, they’re united with Christ so completely that Christ’s life flows through them and His strength energizes them to do what was impossible for them to do before. It was impossible for us to consistently love our neighbor as ourself before Christ, but in Christ it’s possible. Our union with Christ changes everything. This was the point Paul made to the church in Galatia:
(Galatians 2:20 ESV) I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Christ now lives in us, and His love empowers us to love others selflessly and sacrificially. The One who gave His life for us strengthens us to give our lives for others.
Let’s wrap this up: it’s easy to think about our need to love others and feel ashamed at how poorly we do so, to be frustrated and overwhelmed at how selfish we are. To see loving others sacrificially as a duty we need to perform, a burden we need to bear. I want to show you that this kind of love is intended to be more delight than duty.
The key is to pay attention to what Paul says in verse 2. He tells the church, “Complete my joy.” Paul’s joy would be complete by their love for each other. Why would their love for each other complete his joy? Because he loves them. While love is a channel for joy; selfishness, like a dam, keeps joy from flowing. The more you focus on yourself, the more miserable you’ll be. If you want to be unhappy, live for yourself. If you want to be joyful, love others.
I love how one author describes Paul’s joy in this passage. He wrote:
“The gospel of Jesus has impressed on Paul the counterintuitive truth that the pursuit of happiness, when fueled by selfish ambition, is bound to end in bitter disappointment, whereas the highest, strongest joy surprises and overtakes those who find their hearts so drawn to others’ well-being that their personal comfort and pleasure slip from their view.”[vii]
Do you want to be happy? Stop thinking about yourself. Stop worrying about your plans and pleasure. Love others. The key to joy is loving others like Jesus loves us.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2020.
[i] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 99.
[ii] Cleon L. Rogers Jr. and Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 451.
[iii] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
[iv] R. Kent Hughes, Philippinas, Colossians, and Philemon, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 79.
[v] Stephen Davey, Philippians, Expository Commentary on the New Testament (Cary, NC: Charity House, 2019), 204.
[vi] Dennis E. Johnson, Philippians, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013), 141.
[vii] Johnson, 104—5.