Formations 01.26.2020: Caring about the Right Thing

Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Via Crucis–Station VII, 19th century

Philippians 2:1-11

There’s a Greek word in Philippians 2 that is hard to translate simply. In verse 2, Paul writes, “Be of the same mind.” A more literal translation would be “Think the same thing,” but even that isn’t quite right. When you and I say, “think,” we imagine an intellectual exercise. But Paul’s word (phroneo, if you want to impress your friends) describes a full engagement of the mind and emotions. It’s not just “think the same thing” but “care about the same thing,” “immerse yourself in the same thing,” “give the same thing your utmost attention.”

What might happen if members of a church thought about, cared about, and immersed themselves in the same thing? What if they gave this thing their utmost attention?

I’ll tell you one thing: that church had better choose the right thing to devote their heart, mind, and soul to. Things could go catastrophically wrong if we chose the wrong thing.

So Paul helps us here. He uses the same tricky verb in verse 5, where the NRSV says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Once again, we might render Paul’s words something like “Think this—care about this, immerse yourself in this, give this your utmost attention—in you [or among yourselves] which was also in Christ Jesus.”

Do you want to know what is worth being preoccupied with? Paul challenges the Philippian believers to care about the things that Christ cares about. And he goes on to tell us what this is. Jesus took a path of humility that sought the interests of others as demonstrated when he emptied himself of divinity and humbled himself to the point of death on a cross.

The gospel message doesn’t end there, though. God raised Jesus from the dead and crowned him with glory, to the end that everyone might confess that Jesus is Lord.

Death leading to resurrection is a common theme in Christian spirituality, and it is firmly rooted in Scripture. Paul urges his readers to identify with and find comfort in this truth.

Discussion

• How do Paul’s words guide us in imitating Christ in his humility?
• What hope of resurrection can we have even before physical death?
• Where do we see “crucifixions” among us? Where do we see “resurrections”?
• How does Christ’s resurrection shape our participation in these places?

Reference Shelf

A Suffering Apostle and a Persecuted Church

The passage in [Philippians] 2:6-11, an early hymn of Christ’s acceptance of suffering that led to his exaltation, is inserted to show how God can bring triumph out of obedient devotion to his will. Perhaps a suffering apostle and a persecuted church were so contrary to what some had expected of the Christian life that they were beginning to doubt. Paul must clear up this matter (1:27-30). He does so by showing that loyalty to the gospel often entails such trials as both he and they were facing. But God is in it with them, and he will bring them through. They should not be cowered or give in; he wants to be proud of them even if he has to pay the price of his apostolic service in death (2:14-18).

Ralph P. Martin, “Philippians, Letter to the,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 685.

Serving the Lord with Humility

If vv. 1-2 call the Philippians to loving unity, vv. 3-4 admonish the assembly to selfless humility. Verses 3a and 4a instruct the congregation what not to do, whereas vv. 3b and 4b direct the recipients to embrace a pattern of thinking and acting that values and privileges others. Unlike those who preach out of envy, rivalry, and strife (eritheia) (1:15, 17), Paul enjoins the fellowship to do nothing arising from “strife/selfishness” (eritheia) or “empty conceit” (lit., “vain glory” [kenodoxia]). Neither are they to pay (undue) attention to their personal con- cerns. On the contrary, with a mentality of humility (tapeinophrosyne) they are to regard (hegeisthai) others as better than themselves. The embrace of such counsel would have required self-denial from the Philippian believers, which would have seemed radical, if not ridiculous, in a culture preoccupied with status and honor.

In the poetic description of Christ Jesus’ condescension that follows in 2:6-8, it is said that he did not regard (hegeisthai) equality with God a thing to be grasped (2:6) and that he humbled himself (2:8). In addressing the Ephesian elders, the Lukan Paul maintains that he served the Lord in Ephesus with all humility (tapeinophrosyne) (Acts 20:19). Furthermore, Paul insists in 2:4 that Philippian believers concern themselves with one another’s needs as opposed to their own. Later in the letter he will applaud Timothy for doing precisely that, even as he chides unnamed others for their failure to do the same (2:21).

Todd D. Still, Philippians & Philemon, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2011).

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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