Living in Like-mindedness

What does it mean to be “like-minded” as Christians? We tend to think it means no disagreements, no real differences, a homogeneity in thought and action that actually becomes repulsive. We value variety, creativity, differences that enhance and spice up life.

Bonhoeffer’s small book Life Together probably spurred my thinking on this idea. One of his key concepts is that, in order to live in community the way God intended, we can’t really primarily relate to each other through natural human affections and understanding. Our first line of commitment must—each individually—be to God himself. We then relate to each other via that primary commitment to God. (I remember an analogy used in a marriage seminar of how that works for in the husband-wife relationship, using as the object lesson a set of steel balls hung from strings touching each other. The balls move in relation to the strings they are strung from—a picture of being “hung” from God—and only interact with each other as they swing on that string.)

That concept became clearer to me today meditating on the book of Philippians. As I did a word and concept count, in just over 100 verses and over 2200 words, there are at least 15 words and 13 concepts that relate to living in like-mindedness—concepts such as considering others better than self and looking out for the welfare of others; sharing in sufferings, in giving and receiving, and in pressing into goals; and following patterns of Paul and others like him.

Clearly, though, this does not result in a blandness in relationships together, nor in a mass-produced cloning of mindless robots. Paul encourages two women to agree with each other “in the Lord,” not necessarily in living their whole lives exactly alike. He plans to send one of his aides to the Philippians for the purpose of getting news back, but another to stay permanently, since that was where he had come from in the first place.

Jesus certainly did not intend his disciples to “follow” in the exact same steps of each other: He pointed out to Peter (at the end of John’s gospel) that, no matter how long John lived, even if it happened to be until he returned to the earth, Peter’s call was to follow Jesus directly, not looking at John’s calling with envy.  And a look at how the apostles and other early Christians ended their lives of following reveals different geographic directions, different peoples to take the gospel to, and different martyrdoms: none except John lives out a long life, and even he suffered exile and perhaps even, according to some, having been boiled in oil in a futile attempt to kill him.

Like-minded following means that my calling enhances yours, and yours mine. It means that we complement each other, fill up what’s lacking, and together bring the Kingdom closer. You may be direct the instrument of meeting someone’s needs that I could never be, simply because of your specific background—e.g., someone who has come out of heroin addiction can speak far more clearly to an addict’s need than I ever could, but there are other areas I can speak into that they never could.

I have to give you grace to live out who you are and what your calling is, and you have to give me that same grace. Our perception of each other’s need has to go through the lens of the Father’s eyes, with a confidence that He knows far better than we how to satisfy that need best. If I try to meet that need out of my own limited understanding, I may get in the way of what he really wants accomplished in your life. (That’s where some come up with the concepts such as “tough love” and avoiding “enabling.”)

And in the final analysis, I cannot be the judge of whether you’re at the “right” place in the Lord, because he is able to bring you or me around to where we each really need to be. One picture I like is of us as located somewhere on the spokes of a bicycle wheel, held together at the center, but together allowing the wheel to function.

THE ONLY WAY for us to be truly “like-minded” is for each of us to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Philippians 2:5 in most modern translations says tells us to have the same “attitude” that was in Christ Jesus when he humbled himself, became incarnated, and took it all the way to the Cross—but a few older or more conservative translations still retain the word “mind.” What mind was in Christ, that we should have a mind to be like him? He did only what he saw the Father doing, he said (John 5:19). That is the only reason he performed no recorded miracles from the age of 12, when he knew with a settled certainty that he had to be doing the Father’s work or business, until the age of 30, when he entered ministry and began to do the amazing miracles he was known for over the next 3 years.

Each of us must learn to hear the Father individually, and only then will we really be “like-minded.” But how each of us hears him will be as unique as our fingerprints, our eye-scans, the imprint of our lives in the world. (The number of possibilities expressed exponentially would without a doubt have at least 3 digits, i.e., the number 10 followed by at least 100 zeroes! Imagine that many ways of hearing the Lord!) And, tucked away in Scripture, is a promise that that will be the case: In Jeremiah 31:34, quoted in Hebrews 8:11, the promise is made that EACH of us WILL KNOW HIM, from the least to the greatest, and that NO ONE WILL NEED ANYONE TO TEACH HIM!

Jesus, referencing the passage from Jeremiah in John 6:45, takes it to its logical conclusion, pointing out that like-mindedness we have been aiming for: “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” (NIV) Jesus heads up the enterprise; he is the Maestro, the CEO, the head of the body, the Chairman of the Board, the Commanding General of the army. So as we relate to him individually, we come into alignment for HIS purposes at HIS direction—and thus become “like-minded,” even though my job or instrument or assignment is different from yours. Our goal is unity and harmony, to be able to play symphonies together, to maximize the efficiency and profitability of the corporation (the “body”), or whatever analogy we choose to use.

Even though we find our place in him individually, ultimately we find it corporately as well. Learning how to do each is equally difficult in its own ways, and finding the balance between is a life-long process. When and how do we need solitude, private prayer, aloneness? When and how do we need fellowship, corporate worship, ministry together? Jesus directs us in these, but we have to learn how to hear, and often that means missing the mark, the trial-and-error of learning how to listen. Ultimately, like-mindedness starts with listening to Jesus, and ends with listening to each other as well as to Jesus.

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