There are more than just 3 things to learn from the humble incarnation of Christ. This chapter in Philippians 2 reminds me of the way Christ left His heavenly glory, entered into our space, was born of virgin Mary in a manger (Luke 2:1-20), and “made Himself nothing” to die a horrible death in our place.
In Philippians 2, first Paul calls the Philippians to unite in love and humility (vv. 1–4), as exemplified by Christ’s humble incarnation (vv. 5–11). He then exhorts them to live as lights in the world (vv. 12–18), just like Christ’s faithful servants Timothy (vv. 19–24) and Epaphroditus (vv. 25–30) who were both sacrificial and humble like Christ in their service to others. Epaphroditus was so ill, in his service to others, that he came even “near to death” (v. 27). Note: Prepare to go through some form of suffering if you’re entering another culture for the sake of the Gospel (like dying to yourself daily).
3. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6. who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7. but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. 8. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
1. ATTITUDINAL INCARNATION.
(I use the word “incarnation” loosely to refer to humility here). If you’re preparing for short term/long term missions, consider yourself as not equal to the people you are called to serve, “but in humility count others more significant than yourself” (v.3). This is hard, and it takes time. If you, like the Pharisee in the parable (Luke 18:9-14), sincerely think you are “not like other men” you’ll have to learn things the hard way. Why? Because you’re entering a new territory, a nation that may not feel your need to be there. And in any culture, like you, there will be many who strongly believe that they are “not like other men.” Like-minded sinners don’t always make natural friends. It takes the deep sanctifying work of the Spirit to produce long lasting friendships. If you’re going to take sides, take the side of the tax-collector who would not even look up to heaven and said: “Have mercy on me Lord. I’m THE sinner” (i.e, the chief of sinners). If you cannot see yourself as the “chief of all sinners” you will not count others more significant than yourself. If you’re from another country other than Japan, and have never been outside of your “universe,” your individualistic sentiments will hurt your pride in an Eastern group conformist society/culture. Take time to live, observe the surrounding culture and “be quick to listen and slow to speak.” Learn from those that have been there before you. Pick their brains, listen and learn from their wisdom and experience. You can be just you, yet still be Christ-like in your attitude. Remember, your attitude is more important than your aptitude. In the long run, your attitude will be more winsome to those you are serving. The Sovereign grace of God in Christ leads to humility.
“To protect against doing unintentional harm, go directly to the missionaries your church supports and trusts to find out whether they would like a team to come and partner with them. These missionaries can also provide helpful feedback that comes from experience and understanding. Just make sure they feel the freedom to say no and dictate the details of the trip, such as how many people should come. I know of a missionary who asked for eight people, and the church responded by sending more than 100 youth. We need to listen! Some of the best short-term trips involve just two or three key friends sent by the church to visit a missionary in difficult place. If your church doesn’t support long-term missionaries, I would suggest doing so before you consider short-term cross-cultural ministry” (Toward Better Short-Term Missions).
2. POSITIONAL INCARNATION.
Next, when you enter another culture and if you’re put in a place of position, remember you got there through God’s grace and repentance. If you think you got there because you deserve it, repent now. Much grace is available. Everything you are and do today came about because of God’s grace in Christ. You are who you are today by God’s sovereign grace and mercy. He put you in a position of authority to serve those that are under your authority. Keep in perspective that you are always under Jesus’ absolute authority. In matters of “faith” Paul was only a “fellow helper of their joy” (2 Cor. 1: 24). When you are tempted to think too highly of yourself, and if your positional authority does not help you “count others more significant than yourself, ” look to Jesus. Don’t look to your education, qualification or experience to elevate yourself. All your background were also owing to God’s grace in Christ. Your true identity is in Christ. Remember, that “though he was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.” Remember, you’re a servant; and not a boss. A servant is not greater than his Master. In essence, Jesus is calling you to follow Him in His foot-steps and become a nobody for His sake. If you think you’re somebody, becoming a nobody will be hard. But the way is narrow that leads to life. Be encouraged that Jesus has gone the path you could never walk. He walked the narrow path perfectly, and became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He has called us to die to ourselves, to die to our self-entitlement, to die to our rights and dignity, to become like Him in His death by the power of His Holy Spirit. When you are discouraged and tempted to look down on those that are under you that God has called you to serve, remember I Peter 5: 6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7. casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
“When your short-term ministry team leaves a particular setting, Christians will still live and work where you visited. Your desire should be to serve at the request of and under local church leadership. Your disposition should be one of a learner, with the humility to take your cues from national leaders……For example, a church in India has an orphanage, a pastor-training school, and a history of church planting in unreached villages. They don’t need teams of people to do projects they already know how to do. They need funds. I am familiar with this ministry, and the pastor who runs it is a good friend. Small teams have traveled there to assess these needs. With the help of a few churches and organizations providing strategic funding they have housing for the children (that the ministry in India built with people they employed), a place to train their pastors, and a sponsorship program to help a trained pastor plant a church in unreached areas” (Toward Better Short Term Missions- TGC Blog).
3. VISIONAL INCARNATION.
When entering another culture, we come with our own cultural baggage. We cannot help this. We take our worldviews with us. But we also come with our own church cultural baggage- some of which are often helpful and not so helpful because the cultural context has changed. Discernment is therefore crucial. Learning culture is, not less, but more than language. It takes time to assimilate, listen, assess, evaluate and bring the power of the Gospel to bear on the culture. We all have a vision of what we would like to see happen in the culture we’re called to serve- short term or long term. This is great. Vision is crucial. But we’re called to “look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others” (v. 4). Know that your stories or plans are not always more interesting than other people’s stories or vision. Others also have their visions, aspirations and dreams. Be careful not to put on the know it all attitude.
“A little knowledge acquired on short-term trips can be dangerous. Just imagine that three short-term teams from China come to the United States and serve in Lincoln, Nebraska, San Francisco, California, and Detroit, Michigan. They then return to their churches and tell everyone what the United States is like, how the people act, how they struggle with their culture, and how Christians are living for Jesus. Would they really have an picture of the United States? Of course not, but we seem content to tell everyone what Africa is like after visiting Nairobi. We often have no clue about the cultural expectations that inform the worldview of people around the world” (Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short Term Missions Trip).
Ask: How can I use what little I know to build up others? Watch out for things that are already there in the culture, that can serve as a tool of communication. When Paul went to Athens, he said he “walked around and looked carefully” (Acts 17: 23). Taking deep interests in people’s stories and lives takes time. It takes time to apply the Gospel appropriately for a change to happen. Incarnate your vision, and look to the interests of others also. Listen to their dreams, passions and visions. Ask: How can I come along side and help them accomplish their visions and dreams? Paul says: “Do nothing from selfish ambition.” Ask: How can I become a part of a vision that is much bigger than myself or my team or just increasing my own tribe? How can I contribute towards fostering a city-wide Gospel movement that is much bigger than my immediate goals and dreams? How do I fit in this whole scheme of things if God were to start a city-wide Gospel movement? What part can I play with others that are already there in the culture?
And still, if you fail (which everyone does at times) fall on God’s lavish grace. His grace is fully sufficient for you. His work on the Cross is enough for you to cross into another culture. If a day should come that you are tempted to quit and throw in the towel, remember Jesus lived a perfect life you could never live; and died a death you should have died. He rose again on the third day that you might die with Him and be raised up together with Him. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (v.5).
May Christ who “made Himself nothing” remind us afresh of His call to embrace suffering in the cause of making Him known among the nations. Amen!