The Mind of Christ (Philippians 2:1-11)
Purpose of the Session
The purpose of this lesson is to help us see how seeking to understand the mind of Christ can bring unity among God's people.
The word if in this verse has the force of "since." The four phrases are presented as the basis for Christian unity: Since there is encouragement in Christ, and so forth.
Paul tells his readers to make his joy in them complete by "being of the same mind," that is, by actively pursuing truth together. He tells them to have a mutual love for one another that is identical to Christ's selfless love. They are to live together in harmony and to glorify God.
Paul's use of the words selfishness and conceit suggests three ideas:
- Rivalry or party spirit must go!
- Being convinced that you are right when you are wrong must go! Do not selfishly fight for your view!
- A selfish looking out for your own interests must go! Apparently, these attitudes were showing up in the Philippian congregation.
Paul counters these negative commands with a positive one: Fix your eyes on the good points of others. That is, "in humility count others better than yourselves" (verse 3). Humility in the ancient world was descriptive of a slave mentality and therefore to be avoided. To be humble meant to be base, of no account, unfit. But for Christians humility was a virtue. Jesus continually taught that Philippians 2:1-11 servanthood is the essence of Christian ministry.
The way of thinking Paul has been writing about was also Jesus' way of thinking. Christians are to cultivate the mind of Christ by following Jesus' example.
This section is usually regarded as a hymn. It has two "stanzas." The verses 6-8, speaks of Jesus' humiliation. The verses 9-11, of Christ's exaltation.
Stanza 1: This section progresses from the heights to the depths. The pre-existent Christ ("in the form of God" [verse 6]) takes the "form" of a bondservant (verse 7). The bondservant is killed because he is obedient to God. His is no ordinary death but death on the cross. Thus, the sublime descends to the point of lowest degradation.
Some people think of Christ emptying himself as Christ setting aside his divine prerogatives. To others it carries the idea that Christ becomes what he was not before, a human being.
Stanza 2: The exaltation of Christ is accomplished in one mighty act, not in stages as was his humiliation. "Highly exalted" (verse 9) is a phrase used only here in the New Testament. It means to be "super exalted." Because of his obedience Christ is given the supreme name: Lord.
The word Lord in the New Testament is the same as Yahweh, God's own name, in the Old Testament. He who had been a bondservant is now the mighty Lord! With this idea the hymn has come full circle. He who was in the form of God at the beginning has now attained the super-exalted name Lord. Every tongue will confess him, and every knee will bow before him. In this act of exaltation and submission, the Lord God is glorified.
Beginning the Session
All of us have concerns that occupy our minds most of the time. Ask your group: What do you suppose other people think about most of the time? Then ask: What do you imagine Jesus thought of most of the time? In order to compare the group members' responses with what Paul calls "the mind of Christ," ask the group to read Philippians 2:5-8. Be sure the members identify:
- humble obedience to God
- self-giving love for others
- sacrificial service
Discuss by comparing and contrasting ideas they share.
Developing the Session
Words for Bible Times
The threat of turmoil in the Philippian congregation revolved around two women (Philippians 4:2-3). The exact reason for the discord is unknown. In spite of the problem Paul commends the Philippians for their identification with his ministry. The apostle regards them as genuine Christians, and his letter exudes an optimism that the problem can be resolved.
The situation at Philippi raises important questions. Why do Christian leaders allow themselves to become the focus of unrest in the church? What is the responsibility of church members when leaders are at odds with one another?
Notwithstanding, Paul is confident that God is working in the Philippian church (Philippians 1:6). His prayer for them is that they increase "more and more" in the knowledge of God's will and in spiritual understanding in general (Philippians 1 :9-11). The apostle urges the congregation to live lives "worthy of the gospel" (Philippians 1:27), to avoid disputes (Philippians 2:14-16), and to set their minds on things good and pure (Philippians 4:8-9). And, inclusive of all, the Philippians are to cultivate the mind of Christ in themselves (Philippians 2:5)
In Philippians 3:1-16, Paul defends his apostleship against the charges of false teachers. In his defense he calls attention to his single-minded devotion to Jesus Christ. Paul's testimony serves two purposes. It sets forth his credentials as an apostle, and it reminds the Philippians that Christ alone is the basis for unity and love.
Words for Our Time
To discover joy in life is one of the basic components of being a healthy person. John Wesley certainly believed this. He taught that however we do it, the pursuit of happiness is the deep-seated goal of every person. By happiness Wesley did not mean living by some pleasure principle: "If it feels good, do it!" Rather, he preached that happiness, or a sense of satisfaction, is the gift of God through Jesus Christ. Wesley, like Paul, believed that true happiness can be found only in God, not in oneself or in the values of society.
Paul believed that the gospel-or the "good news"-produced joyous people. In fact, the concept of joy is one of the dominant themes of the Letter to the Philippians. Point out to your group how many times the words joy (1:4, 25; 2:2, 29; 4:1), rejoice (1:18; 2:17, 18, 28; 3:1; 4:4, 10), and content (4:11) appear in the Letter to the Philippians. See how many times the apostle finds cause for being happy, even in prison! If this letter is any indication, Paul was a genuinely joy-filled person. Ask the group: Does your situation in life like a prison to you? Do you believe happiness is possible with life as you now have it? If not, what needs to change? How can Christ help change it?
Words for My Life
In Philippians 2:1,11 we find two other ways in which Jesus is to be our model: in suffering and in exaltation. The Suffering of Christ Paul writes that Jesus "became obedient" to the extent of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). Though mentioned only once, this suffering of Jesus is the focal point of his humiliation and the reason for his exaltation (Philippians 2:9). Paul says that he wants to "share [Jesus'] sufferings" (Philippians 3:10) in order to "attain the resurrection" (Philippians 3:11). The church is to share Jesus' sufferings in obedience to God's redemptive plan. Paradoxically, the healer suffers. He does it because of love-and so do we.
Ask your group: How can we "share" Jesus' sufferings? What was the real suffering of Jesus? How will God help us in our sufferings?
The Exaltation of Christ Paul writes that God exalted the obedient Jesus. We can barely imagine what it must have been like for Christ to enter into his glory (John 1 7:5). A slight hint of exaltation was experienced by those present at Jesus' transfigura, tion (Matthew 17:1,8). Revelation also has a vision of the exalted Christ (Revelation 1:12-18).
The point for us is that exaltation followed self-sacrifice. Jesus said his followers would suffer in this life but "in the age to come" would receive life We must learn to endure hardships patiently with our eyes on the future.
Concluding the Session
The theme of "the mind of Christ" touches every phase of Christian existence. For Paul, to have Christ's mind shapes what we do as well as what we believe.
The special focus of Paul's insistence that we have the mind of Christ is on our unity with one another. That unity does not come easily but at the cost of deep humility and self-sacrifice. True unity pays rich dividends, however. It pleases God, creates Christian community, and brings peace.
Ask your group: Does this kind of unity-or the desire for it-characterize our church? our class? our lives?
Close with these words or your own prayer: Gracious God, lead us into the mind of Christ. Help us experience humility and self-sacrifice so that we might thereby live in perfect unity with one another. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.