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.