Laying Down Reputation to Become a Servant to Christ

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

“But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

“And be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23).

These are all exhortations from the apostle Paul. He’s telling the people of God, “Let the mind that is in Christ — the very thinking of Jesus — be your thinking also. His mindset is the one we all are to seek.”

What does it mean to have the mind of Christ? Simply put, it means to think and act as Jesus did. It means making Christ-like decisions that determine how we are to live. It means bringing every faculty of our mind to bear on how we actually can have the mind of Christ.

Every time we look into the mirror of God’s Word, we’re to ask ourselves: “Does what I see about myself reflect the nature and thinking of Christ? Am I changing from image to image, conformed to Jesus’ likeness by every experience that God brings into my life?”

According to Paul, here is the mindset of Christ: “(He) made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).

Jesus made a decision while he was still in heaven. He made covenant with the Father to lay down his heavenly glory and come to earth as a man. He was going to descend to the world as a humble servant. And he would seek to minister rather than to be ministered to.

For Christ, this meant saying, “I go to do your will, Father.” Indeed, Jesus determined ahead of time, “I am laying down my will in order to do yours, Father. I subjugate my will so that I may embrace yours. Everything I say and do has to come from you. I’m laying down everything to be totally dependent on you.”

In turn, the Father’s covenant agreement with the Son was to reveal his will to him. God said to him, in essence, “My will won’t ever be hidden from you. You will always know what I am doing and how I am doing it. You will have my mind.”

Now, many people today who claim to be followers of Jesus have never made a decision to live as the Lord did. Instead, they live comfortably with their flesh — their tempers, their character flaws, their bosom sins. And they’ve never wanted to change. They say, “That’s just my nature. It’s the way I am.”

But when Paul states boldly, “I have the mind of Christ,” he is declaring: “I too have made myself of no reputation. Like Jesus, I have taken on the role of a servant.” And Paul asserts that the same holds true for every believer: “We [all can] have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

You may wonder: when and how did Paul actually take on the life of a bondservant? This man had been a persecutor of believers, a killer at heart. How could such a man ever have the mind of Christ?

Paul could pinpoint when it happened exactly. Acts 9 describes how and where his decision took place: in Damascus, on a street called Straight, in the house of a man named Judas.

At the time, Paul was still known as Saul. He was on his way to Damascus with a small army, to take Christians captive, bring them back to Jerusalem, and imprison and torture them. But Jesus appeared to Saul on the Damascus road, blinding him and directing him to go to Judas’ house on Straight Street. “And (Saul) was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink” (Acts 9:9).

In those three days’ time, Saul’s mind was being renewed. He spent the entire time in intense prayer, “counting,” or reconsidering, his past life. And what he saw of it, he now began to despise. That’s when Saul became Paul.

This man had been very proud. He had been full of misguided zeal and sought the approval of other high-minded religious men. But then, he said, “Christ came and revealed himself in me, and I renounced my old ways. No more man-pleasing, no more following religious trends. I now became Christ’s.”

“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

Paul was a man who could say, “I once was somebody. All my peers, including my fellow Pharisees, looked up to me. I was a Pharisee among Pharisees, climbing the ladder, and I was considered a holy man, a powerful teacher of the law. I had a reputation in the land and was blameless in the eyes of the people.

“But when Christ apprehended me, everything changed. The striving, the competing — everything that I thought gave my life meaning — was surrendered. I saw that I had missed the Lord completely.”

Paul had once thought his religious ambitions — his zeal, his competitive spirit, his works, his busyness — were all righteousness. He had thought it was all for God’s glory. Now Christ revealed to him that it was all flesh, all for self.

Therefore, Paul stated, “I laid aside all desire for success and recognition. And I determined to be a servant.” “Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more” (1 Corinthians 9:19).

Paul saw that Jesus took upon himself the life of a servant. Here was the very Son of God, yet with a servant’s heart. Likewise, Paul knew that he also had been made a son of God, by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. But, like Jesus, he also desired to be a son with a servant’s heart. So he determined to become a bondservant to Christ and his church.

Beloved, I, too, know that I am a son of God. Yet, like Paul, I also want the servant heart of Christ. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Having the mind of Christ means going beyond theology. It means subjugating our own will to take on Jesus’ concerns.

The Holy Ghost came to a godly man living in Damascus named Ananias. The Spirit instructed this man to go to Judas’ house on Straight Street, lay hands on Saul and restore his sight.

Of course, Ananias knew of Saul’s reputation. And he realized this was going to be dangerous. Yet here is how the Holy Spirit recommended Saul to Ananias: “Behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11).

The Lord was saying, in essence, “Ananias, you will find this man on his knees. He knows you are coming. He even knows your name, and why you’re being sent to him. He wants his eyes opened.”

When did Saul receive this inner knowing? How did he receive this vision, this pure word from God? It came through fervent praying and supplication. In fact, I believe the Spirit’s words to Ananias reveal what moved God’s heart about Saul: “Behold, he prayeth.”

Saul had been shut in with God for three days, refusing all food and water. All he wanted was the Lord. So he continued on his knees all that time, praying and seeking God.

When I was growing up, my preacher father taught me, “God always makes a way for a praying man.” There have been periods in my life when the Lord has provided indisputable evidence of this.

I was called to preach at eight years of age, when the Holy Spirit came upon me. I wept, prostrated, praying and crying out, “Fill me, Lord Jesus.” Later, as a teenager, I prayed until the Spirit came upon me in divine intensity.

As a young pastor in Pennsylvania, a deep hunger rose up in me that caused me to pray diligently. Something in my heart told me, “There’s more to serving Jesus than what I’m doing. Oh, Lord, I can’t live so far beneath what I read in your Word. I’d rather die than live as selfishly as I have.”

So I spent months on my knees — weeping and praying for hours at a time — when finally the Lord called me to go to New York City to minister to gangs and drug addicts. That was more than forty years ago.

I also was on my knees eighteen years ago, seeking God with tears and loud crying, when he called me back to New York to start a church in Times Square. Once again, the Lord said, “I want your will, David. I want you to have my mind, my concerns.”

If I have ever heard from God — if I have any revelation of Christ, any measure of the mind of Christ — it came not through Bible study alone. It came through prayer. It came from seeking God in the secret closet. If there is any visible measure of Christ in me, it is because of spending time with him in the secret place.

There are dire, awful consequences for neglecting prayer. “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3). How can any of us who are in Christ expect to avoid the consequences of prayerlessness?

I know what it’s like to have the highway of blessings in my life slowly become uncharted. I know what it’s like to have the well of living water choked at the spring, and dry up every blessing in my life. That’s what happened during my periods of carelessness about prayer.

In those times, my prayer life consisted only of meditation and quiet times. I had no effectual fervency in prayer. Why? The cares of life robbed me of my time with the Lord.

So, what happened to me in those times? Servanthood turned to self-pity. Ministry seemed like a burden, not a blessing. And misery upon misery flooded my soul.

I battled loneliness, weariness, unbelief, a troubling sense of having accomplished little in life, even thoughts of quitting the ministry. And the blessings of God were hindered: my relationships soured, I lost discernment, and fresh revelations of Christ no longer came.

Yet I also knew the glory of returning to be with the Lord in prayer. As soon as I returned to my prayer closet, the blessings began flowing again. I had joy and peace, relationships were healed, and God’s Word came to life.

“(Uzziah) sought God in the days of Zechariah…and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:5). “(King Asa) sought the Lord…and he hath given us rest on every side” (14:7). “All Judah…sought him with their whole desire; and he was found of them: and the Lord gave them rest round about” (15:15).

Scripture makes it clear: praying servants find blessing and rest on every side.

If I seek to please man, I simply cannot be a servant of Christ. If my heart is motivated by the approval of others — if that’s my mindset, influencing the way I live — my loyalties will be divided. I’ll always be striving to please someone other than Jesus.

A few years after the apostle Paul was converted, he went to the church in Jerusalem to try to join the disciples there. “But they were…afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).

The apostles knew Paul’s reputation as a persecutor. “[I] was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ: but they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed” (Galatians 1:22–23).

Barnabas helped the apostles get over their fear of Paul, and they offered him fellowship. But Paul decided to itinerate among the Gentiles. Indeed, Paul is careful to describe his calling very clearly. He states that it came “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (1:1).

He then adds emphatically: “I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ…. I conferred not with flesh and blood” (1:11–12, 16).

What Paul is saying here applies to all who desire to have the mind of Christ: “I didn’t have to read books or borrow men’s methods to get what I have. I received my message, my ministry and my anointing on my knees.

“I tell you, these things came while I was shut in with the Lord, interceding and fasting. Any revelation of Christ I have comes from the Holy Spirit, who abides in me and leads my life. I cannot allow myself to follow the trends and devices of others.”

In fact, Paul points out that before he ever considered going back to Jerusalem, “I went into Arabia” (1:17). He’s saying, in other words: “I didn’t get my revelation of Christ from the saints in Jerusalem. Instead, I went into Arabia, to the desert, to have Christ revealed to me. I spent precious time there, being emptied of self, hearing and being taught by the Holy Spirit.”

Please understand: Paul wasn’t some proud, arrogant, lone-ranger preacher. We already know he had a servant’s heart. He had emptied himself of all self-ambition, and had found total satisfaction in Christ.

Paul wouldn’t need a single person to show him how to preach Christ, or how to win sinners to the gospel. The Holy Spirit was his teacher now.

When Christ became his total satisfaction, Paul set his affection on heavenly things:

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1–3).

Sadly, this isn’t the practice of many Christians today. A church leader once confessed to me, “My father was a dirt-poor missionary all his life. When he retired, he was still poor. He barely had enough to survive.

“I was called to ministry as well, but I made up my mind I would not be like my father. I would be a minister who lived well. I vowed to make money and invest it, to constantly build up what I had.”

This man did make money. But his motive was all wrong. He trusted in his own ability to build a future and care for his family. In the end, all of his investments went wrong, and he became embroiled in a controversy over his finances.

Thank God, eventually he was driven back to Christ. And he repented of setting his mind on the things of the world. Now he’s set on having the mind of Christ, and things are changing for him.

It was to the Philippian Christians that Paul first introduced the truth, “Let the mind of Christ be in you.” Paul wrote this message to them while imprisoned in Rome.

It was from a jail cell that Paul declared he had the mind of Christ, casting aside his reputation to become a servant of Jesus and his church. Now he wrote, “I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state” (Philippians 2:19).

This is the thinking, the outworking, of the mind of Christ. Think about it: here was a pastor, sitting in jail. Yet he wasn’t thinking of his own comfort, his own hard situation. He was concerned only about the spiritual and physical condition of his people. And he told his sheep, “My comfort will come only when I know you’re doing well, in spirit and body. So I’m sending Timothy to check up on you, on my behalf.”

Then Paul makes this alarming statement: “For I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state” (2:20). What a sad statement! As Paul wrote this, the church around him in Rome was growing and being blessed. Clearly, there were godly leaders in the Roman church. But, Paul says, “I have no man who shares with me the mind of Christ.” Why was this so?

“For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (2:21). Evidently, there was no leader in Rome with a servant’s heart — no one who had cast aside reputation and become a living sacrifice. Instead, everyone was set on pursuing his own interests. None had the mind of Christ. Paul could trust no one to go to Philippi to be a true servant to that body of believers.

Paul’s words here cannot be softened: “Everybody’s out for himself. These ministers seek only to benefit themselves. That’s why there’s nobody here I can trust to naturally care for your needs and hurts, except Timothy.”

As we look around the church today, we see the same things going on in many congregations. Ministers and parishioners alike are going after the things of this world: money, reputation, materialism, success. They are called to serve the church of Jesus Christ, but they don’t know the mind of Christ. And Jesus’ mindset is one of sacrifice, love and concern for others. In Paul’s words, “Everyone seeks his own agenda.”

We live in a time when there is a worldwide threat of planned nuclear or chemical explosion. Millions of people’s hearts are failing them for fear. And the church of Jesus Christ is being challenged as never before in history.

As I survey all this, I ask: “Where is the voice of authority in Christ? Where are the shepherds, the congregations, the lay Christians who are thinking as Jesus does? Where are those who aren’t pursuing their own agendas, but are seeking the mind of the Lord in these times?”

Those who are focused only on bettering themselves are drifting away from intimacy with Christ. They may preach Christ, but they know him less and less. And they’re opening themselves to great temptations.

I ask you: Is your church thriving, yet no one seems to be likeminded with Paul, setting their affections on Christ’s concerns? What about you? When you see someone who’s unemployed, do you pray for them? Do you seek ways to be of assistance, to serve?

Where are the young Timothy’s today? Where are the young men and women of God who will reject the siren call to success and recognition — and instead set their hearts on fervent prayer, bringing everything in their lives under subjection to become true servants of Christ and his church?

Our prayer should be: “Lord, I don’t want to be focused only on myself in a world that’s spinning out of control. I don’t want to be concerned about my own future. I know you hold my path in your hands. Please, Lord, give me your mind, your thinking, your concerns. I want to have your servant’s heart.” Amen.