If you started this series with me last week, you know that we’re covering the book of Philippians. As we’ve already discovered, the theme of the book is “others before self”, and the Apostle Paul is getting this message across using an example/appeal format. Once again, I want to heavily encourage you to study this book for yourself as we go through this broad overview… I can’t cover everything! Now that we’re a little further in, though, I do want to help you out with a keyword before we start digging back into the text.
The central keyword that Paul uses in this letter is the Greek word phroneo, which means “to be of the same mind” or “to have this attitude.” It’s a bit of a hard one to pin down in English, but usually it has a connotation of being in harmony with somebody else. It’s translated a few different ways in the text, so I’ll give you the references if you want to mark it. (I’m using the New American Standard, by the way.)
1:7—“feel this way”
2:2—“being of the same mind” and “intent on one purpose”
2:5—“have this attitude”
3:15—“have this attitude” and “have a different attitude”
3:19—“set their minds”
4:2—“to live in harmony”
4:10—“concern” and “were concerned”
As you can see, the word occurs nine times, which is kind of a lot for a book with only four chapters. You can also see how it would be powerful in Paul’s letter, whether he’s saying, “Have the same attitude… as this example I’m going to point out to you” or “be of the same mind… with each other.”
Alrighty, then, jumping back into the text.
Example #2—Christ (2:5-11)
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death
even death on a cross.” (5-8)
No, my computer did not just spaz out and mess up my line breaks. I want you to look at the downward trend. First, Jesus had a mindset. He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (6). That phrase “a thing to be grasped” is the Greek word harpagmos, and this is the only occurance of it in the New Testament. Literally it means “that which is to be held on to forcibly.” So, then, Jesus didn’t think that his equality with God was important enough (in comparison with something else) for him to hold onto it forcibly. Because of his mindset, Jesus took an action. He “emptied himself” (7) of his heavenly privileges by becoming a man. Not only did he become a man, he became a “bond-servant” (7). Not only did he become a bond-servant, but he “humbled himself by becoming obedient” to God’s will even to the point of death, even to the lowest death possible: death on a cross (8).
Once again, we can see the theme: “others before self.” Jesus regarded OUR salvation as so important that he left heaven for it. That’s about as selfless as it gets, ladies. In this passage we can also see the role of humility in selflessness. Jesus’ action began with a humble mindset. He knew just how awesome he was. He knew that He HAD equality with God, but He didn’t let that change His thinking. He went from a higher status than any of us will ever reach to a lower despair than any of us will ever have to go through, all for us, a grossly imperfect world.
But that’s thankfully not the end of the story. Paul goes on to tell us, “For this reason, God highly exalted Him…” and continues speaking about the exultation and power Jesus received in verses 9-11. Paul is reminding the Philippian church just who their Jesus is, because he’s about to tell them how important it is that they follow His commands.
Appeal #2 (2:12-18)
First, Paul implies the church, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (12). Hear that? SALVATION. This quarrel between these two women was reaching such a point that it was a salvation issue! Look at verse 13: “for it is God who is at work in you.” It sounds like the fight was even impairing the congregation’s ability to reach the community in an effective way. If they were known for the fact that Euodia and Syntyche just couldn’t deal with each other, how would that reflect on God and his church?
Fortunately, Paul once again offers the solution to the problem: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (14). Grumbling is complaining, and where does complaining come from? Selfishness, of course! We think ourselves important enough that we feel the need to voice our dissatisfaction with something. Disputing, too, is a result of selfishness, just like we’ve been talking about. So, will being selfless get the church at Philippi its credibility back? You betcha. Take a look at 2:15: “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (emp. added). Why should we do all things without grumbling or disputing? Why should we be selfless? It will help us keep our salvation (like in vs. 12), and it will set us apart from the world.
So we have Paul the Apostle and the Lord Jesus Christ for examples… big shoes to fill, don’t you think? Stay tuned, though. We’ll be back at it next week… Paul’s about to show us that you don’t have to be God’s Son or even a seasoned missionary to be selfless.
By Melissa Hite
Melissa (age 16) attends Bear Valley church of Christ with her parents, Michael and Lynn, and her little brother, Matthew. Her goals include continually growing closer to God and eventually becoming a writer and a mom. On her blog, Christ Crossed My Heart, you can find other poignant, well-written posts.