Becker Bible Studies Applications
Philippians 2:1-11 - Having the Mind of Christ
"If [there be] therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, [being] of one accord, of one mind." (Philippians 2:1-2 KJV)
1 ¶ If [there be] therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, 2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, [being] of one accord, of one mind. 3 [Let] nothing [be done] through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven, and [things] in earth, and [things] under the earth; 11 And [that] every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11 KJV)Outline
I. If a congregation of believers benefits or desires the consolation in Christ, comfort of love, fellowship of the Spirit and bowels and mercies (Philippians 2:1)
It is through the example of Jesus Christ and his emulation and acceptance of the complete nature and being of the LORD God that believers learn to conform to their Savior's mind and ways. When believers desire to assume Christ's complete nature within their own being, they first must receive the deeper blessings of love, fellowship, and compassion, as they emulate his mind and walk in humility in fellowship with each other. Just as Jesus Christ is God through form made by emulating and accepting the complete nature and being of the LORD God, so must the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ conform to his mind and ways by assuming his complete nature within their own being, emulating his mind and walking in humility in their fellowship with each other. A faithful follower of Jesus Christ, who intimately embraces his nature, will one day come closer to representing Jesus Christ completely. A faithful Christian's goal should not have expectations of being translated to the actual Being of God, but rather the opportunity to give up self completely and absorb the absolute nature of Christ to closely match the relationship of Jesus to His Father.
In our humanness, the potential for complete absorption of His Nature is impossible, given our fallen state. However, the concept of complete submission to the omnipotent, omnipresent LORD God through His Son Jesus Christ allows believers to comprehend the unique qualities of the Triune God. Further, it helps establish the goals of spiritual growth for the individual believer to absorb as much of His nature as possible on earth, to be successfully realized in its completion upon ascension into the Kingdom of Heaven. Philippians 2:1-11 offers us a glimpse of this possibility through the example of Jesus Christ in His relationship with the LORD God. Paul shares the heart and mind of Jesus Christ with his beloved planted church of faithful believers in Philippi. He gives detailed instruction of spiritual things concerning the deeper loving relationships of the individual believers towards the congregation, the congregation towards each other, the congregation towards Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ towards men, Jesus Christ towards the LORD God, the LORD God towards Jesus Christ and all created beings toward Jesus Christ to bring glory to the LORD God in the fullness of spiritual teachings.
The church in Philippi was planted by Paul on his second missionary journey. It was a highly organized fellowship of believers, and judging from the names they must have mostly been Gentiles (The King James Study Bible). It was highly beloved by him and became a powerful ministry and witness to Christ even though Paul's sojourn was brief. It was from this church that Paul received many fellow laborers, including Lydia and her household, Epaphroditus (2:25-30), Euodias and Syntyche (4:2), Clement, an unnamed friend, and other "fellow laborers" (4:3) (The King James Bible). In fact, Epaphroditus was one of the reasons the letter to the Philippians was penned as Epaphroditus had delivered their gifts to him in prison and shared with him the things happening within their church.
Paul's letter is offering his thanks for his beloved convert's gifts to him while he is in prison. He had heard of strife and discord within their fellowship together, and writes encouraging words focused upon their fellowship and exhorting them to live in Christian harmony with each other. Philippians 2 speaks of the deep expectations that Jesus Christ has for Christian fellowship, and uses his example to teach the church how to get along.
John Calvin makes a strong observation of Paul's intense need for things to go well with the Church of Christ without personal regard for his own needs. "He was kept shut up in prison, and bound with chains; he was reckoned worthy of a capital punishment - before his view were tortures - near at hand was the executioner; yet all these things do not prevent his experiencing unmingled joy, provided he sees that the Churches are in a good condition" (Calvin). When Paul's serious plight is considered with his unselfish focus on encouraging Christian unity, it is easy to declare that Paul indeed had the mind of Christ that is reflected within these passages, and worthy of teaching the things of Christ the he wants us to know.
The literary context of these passages begins with the word "If" which captures the thought of verse 1:27, which is a "bridge between the apostle's call for the unity of the church in the face of threats and a continuation of that summons for such concord and harmonious community relations as will gladden his heart" (Martin). It is preceded with a prayer by Paul that the Philippians may love each other with knowledge and discernment. After speaking about his imprisonment, Paul summons them to display good conduct that reflected the gospel of Truth, and gives deeper instruction into that concept and then reminds them that their conduct was a testimony to the unsaved.
The literary style of abrupt and discontinuous fervor is revealed through Paul's passing rapidly from one theme to another in his letter to the Philippians and suggests a level of stress caused by his imprisonment and possible feelings of impending doom. He speaks to the church as friends and equals, and avoids writing his name with the customary title of "apostle," an indication of his great degree of affection he holds for this congregation, and his sense of urgency to teach them the deeper things of belief (Jamieson).
A gathered congregation of faithful believers in Jesus Christ may receive, and should desire, four specific blessings as a result of their Christian fellowship. Those blessings include comfort of love from a relationship with Jesus Christ and between each member of their congregation, a sharing of fellowship with the Holy Spirit's presence in their midst, and a deep compassionate concern for each other. It is suggested that this list of blessings is not merely capable of existing in fellowship, but rather, there is an assumption that the conditional "if" is true, thus believers are "obligated" to fulfill greater expectations as a result. (Gaebelien) While this list seems simple and forthright, a deeper realization of the importance of fellowship can be discovered through the specific use of the words "bowel and mercies" denoting compassion within their very depths of being for each other. Colossians 3:12-13 puts this list into a harmony of deepest value for the establishment of Christian virtues in fellowship together as they " Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also [do] ye" (Colossians 3:12-13 KJV). These blessings reveal the fundamentals of virtuous expression of Christianity, and form the basis for the lesson that Paul delivers to his beloved church at Philippi.
It is the Christian fellowship of intense love that has brought the church together and realized the blessings of Christ, with the deep love for each other moving all to embrace the blessings fully. But Paul speaks of even a deeper need within the fellowship of believers that is necessary to keep their togetherness in a place that would bring joy to him. It is good that love, compassion and the moving of the Holy Spirit in their midst brings them together, but to complete the fellowship process, they must have the same love for each other and Christ, the same sentiments, and the same mind.
Paul warns them against anything that is done through strife or vain-glory existing in their midst. Calvin adds deeper understanding to this concept as he points out that "Strife is awakened when every one is prepared to maintain pertinaciously his own opinion; and when it has once begun to rage it rushes headlong in the direction from which it entered" (Calvin). Calvin also enlightens understanding by defining vain-glory as an action that "tickles men's mind, so that every one is delighted with his own inventions" (Calvin). Ralph Martin adds to this by explaining that "If selfish ambition is the symptom of the malady the root cause may be seen in vain conceit, lit. 'empty glory', which is equally reprobated in Galatians 5:26" (Martin).
Paul encourages each individual congregant to consider the needs of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ without fleshly glorying with ambitions of power. It is important to note that Paul's teaching used the word "also" as he encourages them to look after other's things. This denotes the acceptance of individuals to care for their own things as well as others, and does not prevent individual attention to personal things as long as the focus is upon the things of others.
Paul's instruction goes even deeper as he encourages the gathered Christian brothers and sisters to have the same mind with Jesus Christ as he has with his Father. Jesus has the nature of the LORD God, and knew that he was equal with Him, yet, he made himself of no reputation, and accepted death upon the cross in the most weakened positions of human existence that man could assume. Calvin suggests that the "form of God" speaks of the majesty of a king, and not necessarily the attributes of God, choosing to interpret this passage as speaking of the great height that Christ descended from to become a humbled man, thus exhorting believers to follow that example (Calvin). It is important to determine whether this thought captures a comparison between things greater and less, rather than between things similar; the first suggests merely the setting of stage to make a point, while the latter gives us a small snippet of greater understanding of the nature of our Triune Godhead. The Greek word "morphe" speaks figuratively of the "nature" and can thus exclude Calvin's suggestion that it is speaking merely for comparisons sake. Martin agrees closer to the interpretation of the "form of God" representing the actual person of Christ with pre-existence and glorification (Martin). With the realization that Jesus Christ "thought it not robbery to be equal with God," we can know that this is a "clear assertion of Paul's part of the deity of Jesus Christ" (Nelson). Thus, the strongest argument can be made that the "form of God" is speaking about the nature that Jesus shared with his Father through the giving of his complete self, and the separation from his God attributes by choosing to humble himself as a human being according to His Father's Will.
Interestingly, the English understanding of the word morph is defined as the smallest part or basis which continues to have meaning, a definition which leads to further contemplation of the nature of the Trinity through the study of this deeply significant word. Regardless of the interpretation of analyzing the "form of God, there is no doubt to the proper conclusion that this passage reveals that it is his humble acceptance of God's Will that Jesus desires his own followers to emulate.
Jesus Christ made himself of no reputation; he accomplished this purposely through his own doing. Jesus took upon the form of a servant; he consciously chose to accept this condition. However, it is important to note that Jesus "was made" in the likeness of men; the LORD God actively made Jesus to resemble human beings. Three different actions, with three different purposes were recorded in the Word of God to reflect three different natures of Jesus Christ; two made through Christ's hands and choices, and one made through his Father's hands and will.
It is this example that Paul exhorts believers to follow, with humble acquiesce toward each other in the mind of Christ. Believers in fellowship should make themselves of no reputation, without glory and attention getting, in the manner of Christ, and willingly serve others as he had served his Father.
The LORD God exalts his beloved son highly by giving him a name which is above every other name. This significant act causes every created being in heaven on earth and even in hell to know that Jesus Christ is Lord, and all should fall to their knees and all should confess with their mouths of Christ's position in exaltation. It was his humble acceptance of his Father's will that brought the greatest of rewards of Fatherly pride in His sons accomplishment of His will at the abandonment of his entire being and his complete acceptance of God's way. Care must be taken with this passage, however, to remember that Jesus Christ came to earth for the purpose of salvation, not for the merit he would gain from his Father. Calvin suggests that Satan puts profane imaginations in men's minds by suggesting that "Christ suffered upon the cross, that he might acquire for himself, by merit of his work, what he did not possess" (Calvin). Jesus Christ came not for reward, but in deep love for His Father and His creation, and one can never deny that intent. In that example, Christ asks for the same mind from those who claim his blessings, and promises those who are faithfully congregated to be given a new name one day with their reward. (Revelation 2:17 KJV) We must always do the things of Christ with his mind because of the love for him, not for the things of reward that will eventually come to us in Heaven.
Christian fellowship is shared Christian virtues brought together with blessings bestowed upon their gathering by Jesus Christ. His blessings however, require a consistent effort to have the same mind as he expresses toward His Father in Heaven, giving up self for the love of the one He serves. Christians must strive to keep self-focus and strife away from their gatherings together, and work toward the Christian fellowship that fruitfully produces Christian love and compassion in their midst. We must teach this "task theology" to fellow believers through the focused illustration of the ultimate example of humility, and ensure our own congregations conform to Christ's example.
Also, many Christian faithful have difficulty in understanding the concept of Jesus Christ sharing the nature of God, thus, able to be called God Himself. Philippians 2:1-11 helps a believer to understand the relationship of Jesus Christ to His Father, and our relationship to Them. When Jesus is called God, antennas go up among those who believe in the LORD God as the one and only God, rightfully so. However, when the LORD God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are declared of one nature, it is because His Son and Holy Spirit choose to accept and reflect His same nature. This acceptance results in more than a representative of God, but rather the presence of God Himself through their begotten existence and their complete joining of their nature to His.
Taking this concept of our great nature of God that is within each of us, we must also acknowledge our own humanness. This Scripture gives the example of humility that Christ emulated even through His Godhead, and exhorts believers to copy His example. There is a fine line between humility, and portraying those things that made clean by God to be unworthy. (Acts 11:1-10). Philippians 2 give believers a sense of spiritual humility, without forcing a worldly humbleness often demanded upon Christians by those who misinterpret the Word of God.
Calvin, John. 2005. Commentaries on The Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians. Michigan: Baker Books.
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About the Author
Kathy L. McFarland is a Becker Bible Studies Teacher and Author of Guided Bible Studies for Hungry Christians. She has received her Bachelor of Science degree in Religious Studies from Liberty University, and is currently seeking her Master of Divinity (Professional Ministries Track) degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary & Graduate School. Kathy is a noted expert on Old Testament exegesis, Christian apologetics, and Bible typology and mysteries.