It matters a great deal how we think about other people. We encounter people every day—in our homes and schools, at work, in the grocery store, at the gas station, in crowds, on the highways.
Most of the time we don't regard people much at all. We avoid eye contact, rarely offer a greeting, and only seem to notice others when we want something from them or they've done something to tick us off.
Instinctively we know this isn't right. But how do we overcome this natural indifference, even hostility toward others? Paul tells us: Do not regard others according to the flesh. Instead, regard them as we regard Jesus.
Easy enough to say. But how do we practice this?
Others as we see them
There are two aspects to this matter of regarding others. The first is how we see them. Are they just masses of flesh and blood, crashing around in our way or waiting to do something for us? Are they simply short or tall, irritating or funny, hard or pleasant to look at, beneath or above us? If we only look on the outer person—the one we can see with our eyes—we will have a hard time serving as conduits of grace and truth into their lives.
Paul says his generation used to regard Jesus like this, when He was among them, walking, teaching, caring, helping, and irritating His opponents. They marveled at Him, it's true, but they also had a hard time figuring out how a mere man could still the waves, feed the multitudes, and endure suffering and death at the hands of unjust men. As long as they regarded Jesus in this way, they could abandon or persecute Him whenever it suited their purposes.
But Paul said he no longer regarded Christ this way. Now, with the eye of faith, he could see Jesus resurrected, reigning, building His Church, glorified in power and beauty. All Paul's manner of relating to Jesus changed on that Damascus road when He ceased to be merely a flesh-and-bones curiosity and made Himself known as a living Spirit, the Lord of Lords. While Paul was certainly aware of the stories of Jesus and His glorious ministry among men, he no longer regarded Jesus primarily in this way. Paul set his mind on the things that are above, where Christ is seated in the heavenly places (Colossians 3:1-3), and all his decisions and actions were based on how those would appear to the exalted Christ, his King.
Just so, Paul says, we should regard others—not according to their outward presentation, but according to their eternal composition, as spiritual beings destined either to languish in hell or be lavished upon by the glorious Savior forever. This takes a little doing, because, frankly, the outer persons of the people we encounter each day can put up some serious obstacles. If you doubt this, ask others how they feel about you.
This new attitude toward others must be nurtured in prayer, meditation, and works of selfless service. The more we are able to keep in mind that the people around us are susceptible to grace and truth, as beings made in the image of God, the more likely we will be to treat them that way, and to appeal to that sense of divinity within them that longs to respond to the presence of God.
Others as we see them
By praying for the people around us, remembering that they are the image-bearers of God, and believing that they can respond to acts of grace and words of truth, our behavior toward them will change. This is how Jesus saw Paul, and it became how Paul saw Him, and all the people around him, as well.
But something has to happen within us for this to happen. We have to begin to exercise the mind of Christ that we possess by grace through faith (1 Corinthians 2:16). We need to think like Jesus thinks, and not let our own fleshly concerns get in the way.
What fleshly concerns? Selfish interests. Daily tasks. Goals and objectives, dreams and aspirations, wants and likes, habits and routines. It's very easy to conduct our daily lives through such lenses as these, so that everything always has to be just so, and everyone we meet simply has to get in line with our way of being-in-the-world.
But that is to regard others through our own flesh. Even if we see them as spiritual beings susceptible to grace and truth, if our fleshly ways command our words and deeds, we'll never get around to ministering to others the way Paul ministered to all the difficult people in his life. By exercising the mind of Christ we engage our daily activities—and the people within them—with a new priority: seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteous first of all. This, Paul says, is the way of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit, and finds favor with God and brings blessing to men (Romans 14:17-18).
But this doesn't come easily. After all, daily duties press in, things happen unexpectedly and fast, and there often isn't time to think before we respond. Hence the need for time to "bivouac" the mind of Christ, to exercise it, make space in our thinking for it, learn to have it as the default mode of all our thoughts and ways.
Here again, prayer and meditation are the key. The more we devote ourselves to prayer—Paul recommends without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)—and the deeper, more consistent, and more fruitful are our times of meditation, the more the mind of Christ will begin to replace our fleshly mind, taking captive even our "worldly" activities and making them—all of them—obedient to the cause of King Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
If we are to regard others as we regard Christ, we must see them as beings open to His grace, and we must learn to see ourselves, and live our lives, as His chosen, redeemed, empowered servants, who think more highly of others than of ourselves.
Better than ourselves?
Our natural tendency is to think more highly of ourselves than we do of others. Paul says that won't get it done. That's still regarding others as fleshly beings by being merely fleshly beings ourselves. He says that we ought to think of ourselves with the sober judgment Christ provides (Romans 12:3): We are His servants, gifted and called to be agents of grace and truth in a sin-dark world. We must learn to esteem others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:2). When we are regarding others as the spiritual beings God has made them, and ourselves as the servants of Christ for the sake of the world, we will be right where the Lord wants us to be—and where our neighbors sorely need us to be.
But again, the key to this is not firmer resolve or some patch-on formula. The key is the mind of Christ, the indwelling power of Christ, and the path-leading Word of Christ saturating our minds and shaping us, by God's Spirit, increasingly into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:12-18). That is, we will not have the discipline to regard others as Jesus does until we develop the disciplines that enable us to regard Jesus as He is.
It's really that simple. Let us press on to regard others no longer according to the flesh—theirs or ours. Rather, let us see as Paul did, as Jesus can enable us, by engaging the presence of Jesus more, and more deeply.
Are your spiritual disciplines sufficient to enable you to regard others as Jesus does, and to love them as He would?
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition, and dean of the BreakPoint Centurions Program. His daily devotionals are available at MyParuchia.com and ColsonCenter.org.
This article originally appeared on BreakPoint. Used with permission.