Written Word

What Does It Mean to Have the Mind of Christ?

A Study of Philippians 2:1-8

The church, the community of believers in Philippi, came into existence when God opened their hearts and they believed and responded to the message Paul preached. (Acts 16:13-15) From the beginning this church supported Paul in his ministry. (Philippians 4:14-16) And his correspondence shows the loving relationship they enjoyed. However, all was not well within the community. Tension existed, bad attitudes had surfaced and humility was in short supply. The spirit of servanthood needed to be restored.

The Problem Identified

From Paul’s instructions we get an insight into the kind of problems that must have existed in Philippi.

“Make my joy complete by being like-minded, have the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” Tension, disagreement and possibly division will erupt when Christians are not like-minded and when the power of love is absent. Communities fragment. Wounds are inflicted on the body of Christ that can take a long time to heal. In such cases harmony will not be restored until the church becomes “one in spirit and purpose.”

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” Ambition is fine as long as it has an honourable goal. (2 Corinthians 5:9) But when a Christian exhibits selfish ambition then the harmony of the church can be disrupted and the doing of the will of God is no longer a priority; personal gain has taken precedence.

“But in humility consider others better than yourself.” Pride will never give consideration to anyone else. Pride dominates: what I want, my rights, what I can gain. Pride operates according to its own agenda and it doesn’t include anyone else unless something is to be gained by such inclusion. We are as Paul says to “consider others better than ourselves.” How do we do that when we know we are more talented than somebody else, better educated than another, more spiritually mature than most, etc.? We must never deny what God has given us remembering it has been given so we can serve others.

We consider others better than ourselves, not by denying our own talents, but by having the right attitude towards people. We must see all people as being important to God, loved by him. We must elevate all people to the status of “important.” We see how this works in everyday situations. We give honour, respect, deference to people whom we deem to be important. We open the door for them, we offer to buy them coffee, we are pleased to do what they ask. Why? Because we deem them important. The composition of the church is diverse: it includes the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated, the weak, the strong, etc. We must view all people, irrespective of status or social standing, as being more important than ourselves. Then, and only then, will we serve them.

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Selfishness views life through the lens of ‘me’. But God would have us take the interests of others into our vision. And when our vision embraces them, not only must we consider them better than ourselves, we must also look out for their interests.

Paul presents the attitude or mind of Christ as a model for Christian behaviour. And by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts we must strive to model our lives after his. Paul makes several points about Jesus:

“Who, being in very nature God” – Paul is affirming that Jesus is God, possessing all the attributes of deity which are revealed in the Bible.

“did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” Jesus did not tenaciously hold onto his equality with God. He who is God never ceased being God – that would be impossible – but for a period assumed humanity. As John says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)

“but made himself nothing” – The One before whom angels bow in ceaseless adoration and praise, the One who made the world, “made himself nothing” through the incarnation!

“taking the very nature of a servant” – He who is in very nature God, when he became man took upon himself “the very nature of a servant.”

“being made in human likeness” – God came in human likeness and inhabited our world. He identified with fallen humanity. He experienced all the temptations and trials we experience.

“And being found in appearance as a man” – Jesus was not a phantom, a spirit or a ghost. He was fully man and fully God. He was God in human form.

“he humbled himself” – Humility marked the life of our Lord. He served the most undeserving of sinners. He washed the feet of a traitor, of another who would deny him and others who would forsake him in his hour of greatest need.

“and became obedient unto death even death on a cross!” Humility, obedience to the Father and his sacrifice upon the cross are inseparable. The awe-inspiring wonder of the cross can only be understood by seeing for whom it was that Jesus died. It was not for good people, but for the ungodly, for his enemies, for sinners like us whose behaviour separates us from the Father.

Change From The Inside

In the first part of this lesson, we saw that problems were manifesting themselves in the church at Philippi. Paul knows that these problems must not be allowed to continue; they must stop immediately. And Paul knows that behaviour is changed only when there is a change in attitude or mind, so he presents the attitude or mind of Jesus as the model for correct Christian behaviour. What Jesus did for us is not something we simply admire. On the contrary: we are to imitate the attitude or mind of Jesus that expressed itself in his incarnation, his humility, his servanthood, his obedience, and his giving of himself in death for the sins of his enemies. It is this attitude that we must exhibit.

Our lives and our churches would be transformed beyond recognition if each of us made it our ambition to display in our daily life the mind of Christ Jesus.