Having the Mind of Christ
In the verses immediately preceding our text, Paul exhorted the Philippians to be like-minded and to be of one mind. The phrases used in the original Greek literally mean to “think the same thing” (τὸ αὐτὸ φρονῆτε) and to “think one thing” (τὸ ἓν φρονοῦντες). His point was that the body of Jesus Christ must be united in its thinking as it engages in his service.
But what is this one thought that should unite us as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ? Paul answers this question in our text, where he uses the same word for a third time. Here he says, Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. The thought that we should all have in common — the mind that should control our thinking — is the same mind that occupied our Lord Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry. Or to put it another way, our Savior is the best and greatest example of the thoughts and doctrines that should govern all of us.
In fact, the expectation that we find in our text is common in the New Testament. I Corinthians 1:10 says, Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. A few verses later he identifies that mind again as the mind of Christ: For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16). Likewise, Peter wrote, Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin (I Pet. 4:1).
In light of this, let’s now examine what Paul says about this mind that was in Christ and should be in us.
The word that best describes the mind of Christ in our text is humility. He humbled himself, the apostle says, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Defining humility is a little bit of a challenge. One definition of it is to have or show an awareness of one’s defects. Obviously this does not apply to the Lord Jesus, who had no defects. Another definition is a low condition or rank. Certainly Jesus was low in condition as a result of his incarnation. In fact, theologians often speak of his humiliation as one of his states. Yet, even this does not exhaust all that Paul meant. On the other hand, Jesus was not low in rank. Our text says that he thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Even in his incarnation, the person of the Son was and continued to be true and eternal God.
Well, what then is this humility that characterizes the mind of Christ? In our text it is Jesus’ willingness to submit himself entirely to the will of his Father, regardless of any personal cost. In other words, humility, as used in the Bible, has nothing to do with what you think about yourself or with what others think of you. Its only concern is what God thinks of you, and his concern is whether you submit yourself heart and soul to do his will.
Consider Jesus’ submission to his Father. Although he held the stars of heaven in place and guided the movements of the solar systems, he voluntarily veiled his eternal glory in the garments of human flesh to accomplish the Father’s will concerning our salvation. Although he was equal to the Father in everything that constitutes deity, and had the right to be loved and adored by his creatures, he chose instead to make himself of no reputation and in obedience to the Father entered the world as if he were just another little baby. He had no halo identifying him as someone special; in fact, one passage in the Old Testament seems to indicate that he was not particularly attractive (Isa. 53:2). Imagine what people must have thought when they heard that he was conceived before his mother’s marriage was finalized. Throughout his entire life, he was scorned, mocked, mistreated, abused, misunderstood, tempted and ridiculed. The world treated him as a total outcast. But all of this, you see, was according to the Father’s will. Isaiah wrote, He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa. 53:3). To put it another way, He came unto his own, and his own received him not (John 1:11).
The most amazing thing about all of this is that he suffered all of these injustices in obedience to the Father for us.
One question church has asked repeatedly over the years is, Why did God become man? Why did the Lord Jesus Christ take the form of a servant and come in the likeness of men?
One thing that’s clear in our text is that Christ did not become man in order to satisfy some inner need to identify with the sufferings and weaknesses of humanity. He came to accomplish a purpose, viz., to glorify the Father by saving those whom the Father had set apart for everlasting life. We call this plan or arrangement the Covenant of Redemption.
The Covenant of Redemption may be defined as the agreement between the Father and the Son to provide salvation for the elect. The Son agreed to assume a perfect and complete human nature, to live under the law of God without sin, and to offer his life of perfect righteousness in substitutionary, sacrificial death for those whom the Father had chosen unto eternal life. It was his part to earn everything necessary for our salvation. To sustain him in his work, the Father in turn promised him all that he would need to achieve his goal, including a virgin birth and the fullness of the Holy Spirit. And as a reward for fulfilling his mission, the Father further promised him a people of his own — a kingdom of believers.
Psalm 2 refers to the Covenant of Redemption: I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Here we have the Father’s promise of a reward. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. These are aspects of the obligation Christ assumed in the covenant (vv. 7–9). So also with Psalm 40: Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. The opening of the ears refers to the Old Testament practice of piercing a person’s ear to make him a perpetual slave. God would rather than one truly serve him than bring sacrifice. In the book of Hebrews, this is applied to Christ and is paraphrased as a body hast thou prepared me (Heb. 10:8), thus indicating his full and complete submission to the Father. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart. Christ undertook this obligation voluntarily (vv. 6–8). Jesus himself mentions this covenant in John 6, where he said, All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. Here, again, Jesus refers to his mission. And what did that mission entail. Jesus continues, And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day (vv. 37–40).
Our text says that Christ’s humility, i.e., his obedience to the Father in the Covenant of Redemption, required him to robe himself in humanity, so that he could suffer death in our place. Question 40 of our catechism says, “Satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God.” We cannot atone for our sins because we increase our guilt daily. Others kinds of creatures (e.g., animals and angels) cannot satisfy the perfect justice of God in our behalf for two reasons: first, God will not punish other creatures for the sins we have committed; and secondly, even if there were a perfect man who was willing to bear our sins, no mere creature has the power to sustain the full weight of God’s wrath without cursing him. Our Mediator, then, must be man because man sinned, and he must also be God to be able to endure the severe judgment of God to which our sin has exposed us (cf. HC 12–15). According to the perfect justice of God, nothing else would do.
Now, if anyone had the right to set his own interests above those of others, it was Jesus Christ. But he did not do so. We, on the other hand, are not only creatures, but miserable, rotten, sinful creatures. Our sin has ruined the righteousness with which mankind was first created and has made us loathsome to the Creator apart from Jesus. How arrogant, then, must we be to demand our own way, as if our ideas and opinions were equal to or superior to God’s! Like the Philippians, we must let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. In submission to our heavenly Father, we must look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others (Phil. 2:3–4). Christ is our example. It is only by having his mind (that is, his thoughts) that we can truly be likeminded in the things of God.
Exalted above Every Name
Here also we find that we really seek our own best interest only when we submit ourselves to the perfect will of God.
For many years, liberal theologians have portrayed Christ as if he were completely devoid of all self-concern. When the storm nearly upset the boat in which Jesus was sleeping, Peter, worried about dying, woke him from his rest. Jesus, of course, stilled the wind and waves. But why did he do so? These theologians say that he did not do this for himself but for the others whose lives were in danger. He was not concerned at all about his own safety.
But this is ridiculous. Yes, Jesus quieted the sea for Peter and the others who were with them, but he also did it for himself. He knew that he had come into the world to fulfill a specific mission, and to accomplish that mission he had to live long enough to get the job done. Had he perished in the sea storm, he would have been disobedient to the Father and just as deserving of God’s wrath as we are. And further, what was good for him was also good for everyone whom he came to save. The good of the one, when it is based on the revealed will of God, is always the good of the many. Or, to borrow from this morning’s text, when we are likeminded in the things of God, it is impossible to be at cross-purposes with one another in the church.
Was Christ interested in his own glory during the time of his humiliation? You bet he was. Although his humanity veiled the glory of his deity for that brief time, he never lost sight of the fact that his chief purpose was to glorify and enjoy God forever. He prayed before his arrest, I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was (John 17:4, 5). The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews puts it this way: Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).
Jesus understood that the only acceptable means of seeking God’s glory is obedience to God’s will.
Jesus’ total obedience to the Father is demonstrated in his temptation. At the beginning of his ministry, the Spirit of God drove him out into the wilderness to be tempted forty days by the devil. Now, keep in mind that this was not an ordinary temptation such as you and I experience every day. It wasn’t even one of the more extraordinary temptations that we face occasionally. It was a temptation for Christ to establish his kingdom and seek his glory in a way other than the Father had planned. The devil said, Command that these stones be made bread. The Lord used this as an opportunity to establish the principle that his kingdom must be established on the rock-solid foundation of the Word of God and not on his or anyone’s supposed needs. When the devil took him to the pinnacle of the temple and encouraged him to jump off into the hands of angels, Jesus trusted the Father instead. In other words, his kingdom would not come by the miraculous intervention of heavenly beings, but by the simple proclamation of the gospel — sinful ministers preaching to sinful congregations, working with sinful elders and sinful deacons, reaching out to a sinful world. Is it possible for such a method to work? Jesus said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. That is, we should never think that we know better than God how the church ought to work. Then the devil showed our Lord all the kingdoms of this world and all their glory. Worship me, he said, and all these will I give thee. Here Satan offered Christ a way to glory that avoids the ignominy and pain of the cross. Jesus replied, Get thee hence, Satan. He was not willing to consider this option even for a minute. He knew that it was not the right thing to do either for himself or for us. Instead, he made it clear that there is no alternative to worshiping and serving God as he has commanded: Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
In today’s text, we see that Jesus, after rejecting Satan’s offer of instant gratification, waited for the Father to glorify him as a reward for his work. Paul wrote: Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The exaltation of Christ adds as many benefits to our redemption as his humiliation does. Questions 45 through 52 of our catechism list benefit after benefit — justification, sanctification, glorification, Christ’s heavenly advocacy in our behalf, the presence of the Spirit within the church, the benevolent government of Christ, and the promise that Christ will come again.
Though there is a wealth of theology in all of this that should not be ignored, Paul’s purpose in this discussion is to acquaint us with the mind of Christ so that we might imitate it in our own lives. Jesus temporarily set aside his own comfort and convenience in obedience to the Father’s will to secure our salvation. One mark of Christian brotherhood, therefore, is to put aside our own inclinations, comforts and desires in preference to the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. And when we do so, we will find that we’re seeking our own good in the process. This is the mind of Christ.
Now, if Paul had only wanted to give an example of humility, he could have cited many other persons. Perhaps he could have named even himself, which he did at other times.
But there are two reasons why he did not do so here. The first is that there is simply no better of example of humility than Jesus Christ. There is no one else whose humiliation was as comprehensive — who existed in the form of God (and was himself fully God) and took upon himself the form of a slave in order to redeem miserable sinners. Had Paul, David or Abraham been cited, it simply would not have had the same effect.
Secondly, Paul also wanted to give the theological foundation for true humility. If humility is a complete and total submission to the will of God, and if sinners are by nature totally opposed to the will of God, then we have to ask ourselves whether there can even be such a thing as humility. And the answer, of course, is Yes. Humility can be a characteristic of God’s people because God the Son humbled himself to bear our sin and to teach us how to walk in the ways that please God.
As redeemed sinners, therefore, we have no right to assert ourselves over our brothers and sisters in the Lord. There is no place in the Christian community for self-promotion or strife. If we are not embracing the mind of Christ and practicing true humility, if we are not preferring others over ourselves, then we ought to question our standing in Christ.
Our prayer for ourselves and for others in the church should be that we would all put on the mind of our Savior Jesus Christ, who, being in the form of God, made himself of no reputation and took upon himself the form of a servant for our good. And in doing so was exalted above all creatures — a glory that we’ll also share in with him.
May God make us all think the same thing, and may that one thing be to serve him who bore our sins on the cross and rose again for our justification! Amen.