The Same Mind?
Background Scripture: Philippians 2:1-13.
Devotional Reading: James 3:13-18.
I believe that Philippians 2:5-11 is one of the most beautiful and profound passages that Paul ever wrote. And if we remind ourselves of the circumstances under which it was written, it is even more impressive.
First, we have to realize that Paul is writing this letter from a Roman prison and his life was in danger. Who would expect such eloquent, yet clear speech from a man in jail?
Furthermore, being in jail prohibited Paul from journeying to Philippi and dealing in person with the growing threat of a congregation split into rival factions. A letter might seem a poor substitute, but what a letter.
We need to remember also that Philippi had a special place in Paul’s heart. When he was in Troas, Paul had a vision of a man pleading: “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9-15).
So Paul set sail from Troas and via Samothrace and Neapolis, he arrived in Philippi, which soon became a remarkable congregation, one that was now teetering on the edge of disastrous controversy. Thus, Philippians is a letter reflecting both joyful appreciation and deepening concern.
Paul knows what is in the minds and hearts, and his response is something between a plea and a command: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (2:1,2).
It is a very literate statement, yet it also seems irrational. How can the deeply divided people be in “full accord” and “of one mind?”
Congregations and denominations have been agonizing over that one almost from the beginning. Christians very often are of conflicting minds. So, are we to pretend that we agree?
I believe the key to this dilemma is to rethink Paul’s admonition: “Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (2:2).
Is Paul speaking about all Christians holding the same ideas about their faith, speaking of it only in one way. That certainly has proven futile since the earliest days of the gospel.
The “one mind” of which he speaks, is not the ideas and expressions of the faith and experience, but the underlying goal, the inward disposition, the condition of mind that makes them one in Christ.
There are diverse reasons for Christian disunity, but Paul covers the major share when he writes: “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 you have 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 unto death, even death on a cross” (2:5-8).
I believe there is no rift in a church or the Church that can withstand the healing power of humility. We must realize, however, that humility doesn’t mean we are worthless.
In the 19th century, there were two bishops who really did not like each other and found many ways to be in contention. But they realized that it is unseemly for bishops to loathe each other.
So, instead of resolving their personal differences, they turned their personal antipathy into a theological battle. How ironic that the issue they chose was “sanctification.”
Eventually, the denomination split into two smaller bodies, each assuming it had fought for a vital theological truth. The problem is not the absence of the Holy Spirit, but the presence of human ego.
J.B. Phillips translates 2:4 sharply: “Learn to see things from other people’s point of view.”
What an example Paul sets before every Christian: “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 unto death, even death on a cross” (3:6-9).
Christ “emptied himself” — he didn’t give part of himself and hold back the other part — “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,” (2:7).
And Paul holds that before us as what we can and need to be.
So, is it possible for people like us to have the mind of Christ? Why don’t we try and see for ourselves?