Few people would argue that the general attitude of many people throughout the world is anything but Christ-like. That is nothing new. Paul wrote a most loving appeal to the elders and deacons along with the whole congregation in Philippi in ancient Turkey. He counsels those who have left a world of bad dispositions, selfish attitudes, and harmful inclinations. He encourages an attitude of humble obedience to God. In the process, Paul provides four examples of this right mental attitude. Note how the great missionary introduces this appeal.
1 So if there is any encouragement incorporate within Christ, if any consolation of love, if any sharing of Pneuma, if any inner feelings and compassions, 2 you Philippians fill me with joy so that you may be minding the very same thing, having the same love, joined together in soul, minding the one thing -- 3 do nothing out of contentiousness nor from vainglory, but rather with lowly-mindedness be considerate of one another, 4 not just looking after your own selfish things, but also those things of others. [NCMM]
What a tug at the heart Paul delivers! How could anyone not respond to such a loving approach. This is one of the most appealing paragraphs in the Christian Bible as he warmly reaches the hearts of the Philippians. Note the basis for this appeal: a] Love consoles, encourages, and gives incentive to a higher good; b] a sharing or communion with the spirit of God arouses a common human feeling among Christians; and, c] the inner feelings of compassion and empathy creates an atmosphere of affectionate tenderness.
Paul then lists what would make him truly joyful in Christ when he enumerates several personality characteristics. First, he encourages a likemindedness, or as one version put it: “by your mutual identity of purpose.” [BER] In one form or another the word “mind” occurs several times, embedded in several Greek words. “Minding” - as in “minding” the store” - may mean pay attention, or keep a certain attitude or frame of mind.
Second, Paul encourages “the same love,” or as another version words it: “fostering the same disposition of love.” [WMS] Third, he exhorts they should be “joined together in soul.” That is, hearts beating in union. [Compare the “one soul” at Acts 4:32.]
Then in this same appeal Paul asks that they be “minding one thing.” That is, focus on this one thought. With the same interest and enthusiasm as that ancient congregation we wonder what this could be. He counsels us to “do nothing out of contentiousness.” What does that mean? It means not to be self-seeking, possessing no spirit of intrigue or hidden agenda, or never acting for private ends. [2 Corinthians 12:20; James 3:14] Contention, usually spawned by jealousy, will destroy a Christian group and divide it further. Ambition, a disgusting thought in the Church, has been at the root of many cases of strife as groups polarize around competing leaders. [Compare Galatians 5:25, 26.]
Rather, nothing should be done based on vainglory, vanity, petty ambition, pride, empty conceit, or egotism as many versions phrase it. Lowly-mindedness will produce true humility, modesty, and low thoughts of self. This very idea goes in the face of modern notions of self-esteem, another way of saying self-pride.
Such an attitude will cause all to “be considerate of one another.” It will cause each one to show regard for one another as though others were more important than self. A Christian is publicly identified by consideration for others accompanied with good manners and decency. This calls for love and empathy, and here Paul actually defines love without using the word: “Not looking after your own selfish things, but instead those interests of others.” He writes in a similar vein at 1 Corinthians 10:24, “Let no one seek just self-concerns, but rather the concerns of others.” [NCMM]
However, can Paul produce real examples of all these wonderful ideas? Can he point to actual role models who may be copied or imitated in having the right mental attitude? Paul will now produce four examples of the correct disposition from the standpoint of God.
5 You Philippians continue to have this mind that was also in Christ Jesus - 6 who though existing in a god’s form did not consider retaining things equal to divinity -- 7 but rather he emptied himself, and took a slave’s form, and became in the likeness of humans. 8 And, having discovered himself in a human frame, [he] made himself lowly and became obedient until a death, but death on a stake. 9 Because of this the God highly exalted him, and graciously gave to him the name over every name. 10 So that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend - of those in heaven and those on earth and those [buried] underground, 11 and every tongue should make a confession that Jesus Christ is Lord unto God’s glory - [the] Father. [NCMM]
Of course, we could expect Paul will first point to the greatest human example of all - Christ Jesus himself. It is this “mind” [attitude, spirit, disposition] that every Christian strives to imitate, even though there will be failures and set backs. What characterized Christ’s basic thinking and attitude is now discussed by Paul.
Our purpose here is not to get side-tracked on portions of these verses dealing with the nature of Christ. We do not want to miss Paul’s purpose - cultivating the Christ-Mind. Before Jesus the Nazarene came to earth, born of the virgin, he existed as a spirit being, the first of God’s creations. As God’s only-begotten Son [or, god (John 1:18)] he was the preeminent of all creatures. [Colossians 1:15] In this realm he is called the Word [or, Spokesman] by John 1:1. When the opportunity was raised him to leave his celestial dwelling, with its position and privileges, he did not grasp to his breast his divinity, but was willing to empty himself.
What kind of attitude or frame of mind is conveyed by the fact Christ “emptied himself”? First, he left behind or emptied himself of his grand and awesome privileges and positions. This may be compared - though weakly so - if the President of the United States was willing to leave his office and become a medical missionary in the slums of India or Haiti after the manner of mother Theresa. The thought is impossible.
But not so with Christ. He was willing to “take a slave’s form.” He was willing to become not only a slave of God, but also a slave to other human beings. Thus, Christ “made himself lowly” exactly as Paul had made the appeal in the opening verses of chapter 2. But, how far did this attitude or disposition of a humble slave go? Paul writes that our Lord “became obedient until death.” And not just any death! Not a death in old age, slipping peacefully away during sleep. Not even an honorable death as some hero. Rather, he was executed as a condemned criminal that to many observers would have thought he brought reproach on God.
Because Christ had the right mental attitude - that of a humble, self-less and obedient slave - his God exalted him to a superior position than the one he had before coming to earth. “Raised to the very highest place,” one version paraphrase it. This exaltation also involved a new name or reputation, for Christ was given “a name over every name.” This is something he did not possess before. It was not merely the Hebrew name Ye·shu'a` or Yehoh·shu'a`, or even its Greek form, Ieosus and its anglicized form, Jesus. Though these may identify the carpenter from Nazarene who left his footprints on the seashore of Galilee, it was really the character and authority this name possessed by virtue of his attitude - his humble obedient unto death.
Though no other example could ever equal this, what other role model of a person with the right mental attitude does Paul point to? Himself!
12 And so, my beloved, just as you always obeyed -- not just in my presence only, but now much more in my absence - all of you continue to be working out your personal salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For God is the One working within you Philippians, both to will and to work within [His] good pleasure. 14 Continue doing everything apart from whisperings and criticisms, 15 so that all of you may become faultless and pure - ‘God’s unblemished children among a crooked and twisted generation,’ [Deuteronomy 32:5] in whom you all shine as luminaries to the world of humankind. 16 Get a firm grasp on Life’s Word leading to my boasting during Christ’s Day, proving that I did not run without purpose, nor ‘labor in vain.’ [Isaiah 49:4] 17 Despite that I am being poured out as a libation upon the sacrifice and public work of your faith, I continue to rejoice - and I am rejoicing together with all of you Philippians. 18 In the same way all of you continue to rejoice and jointly rejoice together with me. [NCMM]
Continuing on his theme of the right mental attitude, after considering the example of the obedience of Jesus, Paul mentions “obedience” again. He reminds how the Philippians had been obedient to Paul as an elder in the Christian Church. [Hebrews 13:7, 17] In this context Paul tells the elders, deacons, and fellow members of the congregation that they should “Continue to be working out your personal salvation with fear and trembling.” Other versions put this, “reverence and trepidation.”
If there is one verse in Paul many would wish to remove it is this one. Others try to “twist” Paul’s obvious meaning. [2 Peter 3:16] Though God does his part in our salvation [Philippians 2:13], we also must do our part - which requires works which reflect faith and love. The Nazarene taught such, and a review of the word “work” in the Gospels will prove this. [Matthew 5:16; 11:19; John 3:19-21; 6:28, 29; 14:12] And in Paul elsewhere. [Acts 26:20; Romans 2:6, 10; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Timothy 2:10; 5:25; Titus 3:8, 14] This right mental attitude is reflected again at 2 Corinthians 7:1, “As a result, having these promises, beloved, we should cleanse ourselves from every fleshly and spiritual pollution, perfecting holiness in godly fear.” [NCMM]
Christ himself held such fear as part of his right mental attitude and was thus perfected by his own obedience. On this subject Paul writes: “[Christ] was heard because he feared God and though he was a Son he learned obedience by the sufferings he endured. And having been made perfect he became responsible for everlasting salvation to those who obey him.” [Hebrews 5:7, 8 ASV, ALF, KNX]
Happily Paul says we are not alone in this effort! We can never attain the Christ-Mind with its right mental attitude without God’s own energy. Paul says God “gives you the energy [ENERGON] to do what He wants.” [BEC] With God’s energizing assistance the Nazarene disciple can “both possesses the will as well as actually produce the work in harmony with His good pleasure.” Not only must the desire to do God’s pleasure be present, but also the energy must be expended in order to accomplish this. God provides all the tools needed to accomplish this - His Word, His Church, His Pneuma, or holy spirit. [Ephesians 4:11-6; 1 Timothy 3:15-17]
This matter of working out one’s own salvation must be “apart from whisperings and criticisms of others” with a judgmental attitude. Grumbling and fault-finding are not part of the Christ-Mind. It is a terrible failing of most humans to express their judgments and criticism to friends. This is called “gossip” - a word in English traceable to that talk among friends. However, this often can develop a negative tone because of either egotism or jealousy. What results are contentions and slander, both works of the flesh.
This right mental attitude cannot be half-hearted but “faultless and pure.” As a result of this Christ-Mind all can become “God’s unblemished children among a crooked and twisted generation.” With such a perfected character each Saint may “shine as luminaries” or heavenly lights, standing out as a person who caries Christ in the heart into daily life.
There is something important here that Paul associates with the Christ-Mind. One must “get a firm grasp on Life’s Word.” One can only do this by continuous study and meditation of His Word. [Psalm 1:2; John 17:17]
Such will require a sacrifice. Now it is never a sacrifice unless one gives up something. Perhaps one of the most valuable things we possess is - time. Paul uses this analogy of sacrifice when he points to himself as an example of the right mental attitude, “I am being poured out as a libation [that is, a drinking offering] upon the sacrifice and public work of your faith.”
Can Paul provide further examples of this Christ-Mind with its right mental attitude? Indeed, he does. He points to two personal examples with whom he was very familiar.
19 Now, I am hoping in [the] Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you Philippians soon, so that I also may be a cheerful soul, knowing about those things pertaining to you. 20 For I have no one else of such equal soul who will genuinely care for your matters. 21 Because all of the others are continually seeking their own concerns and not those of Christ Jesus. 22 But you Philippians are aware of the proof he gave, that like a child to a father he slaved together with me regarding the Evangel. 23 For a certainty, then, this is the person I hope to send to you as soon as I know about my own matters at the moment. 24 However, I am confident in [the] Lord that I will also come soon. [NCMM]
Paul points to his own missionary companion Timothy as a fine example of the right mental attitude, or models of humble, self-sacrifice. Paul said that Timothy was a person of “equal soul.” That is someone with a balanced and focused disposition, attitude, or inclination. This was reflected in his “genuine care” for matters of the Philippian church. For the young elder had a “genuine interest in your welfare.” Timothy was a model of what Paul had written about in Philippians 2:3, 4.
Timothy stood out even among other Christians. For Paul becomes somewhat critical of others who had been described in Philippians 1:15-17. Persons who were contentious and lacked pure and loving motives. He says of these, “All the others are continually seeking their own concerns.” James Moffatt puts it, “everybody is selfish.” Paul likely refers to those negative disciples of Philippians 1:15-17. This is a serious condemnation of selfishness which manifested itself within the Church in the 1st Century. We should not be surprised then, that despite all this fine counsel in Philippians, many today may also walk in self-focus, jealous ambition, slanderous talk that divides, and ego-centric persons who carry pride as a uniform.
It can be very discouraging when we are confronted by those who do not have the Christ-Mind though professing to follow Christ. Their attitudes, dispositions and inclinations contradict their claims. However, often there are fine examples among us who can me imitated as models of the right mental attitude. Some of these may not be the older ones, though they can, but may be some very young in years. One example comes to mind of a young boy of ten who reads and speaks so fluently before audiences of various sizes. And yet his mind-set remains humble and obedient and brings praise and honor to his parents. One can look at this lad and see what Jesus meant when he said God’s Kingdom belong to such child-like persons.
But can Paul point to another example? One who struggles with sickness and depression and yet remains someone to look to for the Christ-Mind? Yes, and so let us consider the last case Paul gives.
25 However, I consider it a necessity to send to you Philippians Epaphroditus - my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, but also an apostle and public worker for my needs -- 26 since he was longing to see all of you. He was so depressed when he knew you had heard he had fallen sick. 27 For he was sick and near death, but the God had mercy on him - and not only him but also on me - so that I should not have sadness upon sadness. 28 So then, I sent him sooner so that when you Philippians saw him again you would rejoice and I would be less saddened. 29 So now, you Philippians welcome him in [the] Lord with all joy, and continue to honor such persons. 30 Because he came near to death in behalf of the Lord’s work, putting his soul in great danger, so that he might completely make up for your lack of public work in my behalf. [NCMM]
Yes, Paul introduces us to a brother with a difficult name, Epaphroditus. He is called an “apostle” by Paul and by this he means a church messenger of representative, or a special envoy from Paul himself. He says the poor soul was “depressed” because of his worry over the Philippians. The Greek here is interesting, ADEMONON, and can mean full of heaviness, or distressed. Christians may become “depressed.” [1 Thessalonians 5:14] Particularly this may be so if one is coping with a serious illness as was our brother here. Paul describe his condition as “sick and near death.”
Paul says to “honor such persons” Disciples with the right mental attitude who have demonstrated self-sacrificing work on behalf of the Gospel and the Church, should be treated with respect and godly manners. [1 Corinthians 16:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:12] Hard-working elders are worthy of “double-honor.” [1 Timothy 5:17] “Honor” may include material assistance. [See Matthew 15:4, 5.]
Are we not happy and glad that Paul wrote such helpful words? Can we not see from the examples of Jesus, Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus how we also can cultivate the right mental attitude? As we grow in Christian life and worship can others see how our attitude has changed? How our disposition and inclinations have been redirected after the example of our Lord? How they can see in us the Christ-Mind at work - not as a mere facade or veneer -- but as a living, breathing example of how Christ himself may have walked? [Mark Heber Miller ©MM]
For a review of this material in Philippians chapter 2 consider these review questions:
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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