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The Mind of Christ (Philippians 2: 3-11)

by T.V. Philip

T. V. Philip, born in India and a lay member of the Mar Thoma Church, has worked and taught in India, Europe, USA and Australia. He is a church historian, and a former Professor at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India. The following appeared in The Kingdom of God is Like This, by T.V. Philip, jointly published by the Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Christava Sahitya Samithy (CSS), Cross Junction, M.C. Road, Tiruvalla-689 101, Kerela, India. The material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Philippians 2: 3-11

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross.

The letter to the Philippians is a beautiful letter. The New Testament scholars say it was written while Paul was in prison, but it repeatedly speaks of Christian joy. It exhorts the Christians in Philippi, "Rejoice, rejoice always in the Lord". It tells them not to be anxious about anything, for anxiety is the cause of all evil, but to bring everything to God in prayer. They are to be kept and guarded by the peace of God which passes all understanding.

Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia. Luke describes the missionary work of Paul and Silas in Philippi in Acts chapter 16. At Troas, Paul had a vision at night, a man from Macedonia calling him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us". The first person to be baptized in Philippi was Lydia, a seller of purple goods. But Paul and Silas had great trouble there. The whole town turned out against them because they had cast out an evil spirit from a young girl who was in the habit of sooth saying, which brought gain to her masters. They were put in prison. About midnight there was an earthquake and the doors of the prison were opened. We are familiar with the subsequent story of the conversion of the jailer and his family.

Out of all those troubles a church was formed in Philippi. It was a small congregation but a strong one. Paul was happy about them in many ways, especially their participation in his missionary work. He was thankful for their partnership in the gospel from the first day. But Paul was sad about one thing in the congregation. It seems from the letter there was a serious problem which was destroying their fellowship. Some people in the congregation thought that they were better than others. They believed they knew best and that others should listen and accept their opinion and leadership. In other words, they wanted to rule over others.

The question of leadership, prominence and dominance has been in the church from the very beginning. The disciples of Jesus Christ argued who should be the first among them. The sons of Zebedee wanted to sit one at the right hand of Jesus and the other at the left when he came in glory.

People who think they are better and wiser than others have a tendency to manipulate others according to their plans and for their self-interest. When we try to impose our ideas on others, they will resist. When they start resisting our manipulation, they become a problem for us. We see them as obstacles and we complain that but for such and such a person things would have been better in the congregation, in the family and in the community. "Hell is other people". Such an attitude towards others destroys our fellowship. It seems that such a situation existed in Philippi and Paul pleads with them that they should give up this selfish attitude. He tells them not to do anything from selfish ambition or from cheap desire to boast. He exhorts them to be humble towards one another, always considering others better than ourselves. Look out for one anotherís interest, not just your own.

Then Paul exhorts them to look to Jesus and follow the same mind we find in him and which we can also receive from him. Then Paul in a sentence or two very graphically describes the person of Christ: What is he, what is his mission, and what it is that we learn from him.

Though he was in the form of God, he was God in his own right, not because he snatched it from somebody else. He did not use his exalted position to exploit others, to manipulate others. He threw away his position for the sake of others, for the service of others, for the salvation of others. For the sake of fallen humanity, he emptied himself of his glory, position and power, became a slave for the service of others and finally died on the cross for the sake of others. Paul is making a contrast between the ways of human beings and the ways of God. Human beings try to climb up to heaven; they want to be like God, standing on the shoulders of fellow human beings and pursuing their ambition at othersí expense.

In contrast, Christ came down from heaven, crossed the boundary between heaven and earth for the sake of fallen and alienated humanity. He stood at the place where human beings suffer, are rejected and lonely. He took upon himself the misery of humankind and gave up his life in their service.

When the gospel says that God has highly exalted him and has given him a name above every other name, it does not mean that God gave him great privilege and position as a reward. On the contrary, his humiliation was his glorification, his death on the cross was his exaltation, becoming a slave was his kingship. His lordship was the lordship of suffering love. Therefore one cannot look at Jesus without seeing suffering humanity in Jesus. This is what we see in Jesus. Paul exhorts the Christians in Philippi to have in us this same mind, the mind of Jesus Christ, which is also available to us in him.


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