The Mind of Christ

In his Letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul points to the obedience of Jesus “unto death” as the model for proper conduct by his disciples. His willing submission to death on the Roman cross sets the pattern for his followers, both for their conduct and mindset. And his subsequent elevation to reign over all things is the result of his submission to “death upon a cross,” for exaltation does not precede death, it follows it.

In the key passage in Philippians, the Apostle’s purpose is NOT to engage in metaphysical speculation about the nature of Jesus or his relationship to his Father, but to use his humility and death as an example of how his followers are to think and behave.

Death on Cross - Photo by Dimitri Kolpakov on Unsplash
[Photo by Dimitri Kolpakov on Unsplash]

Paul calls the followers of the Nazarene to conduct themselves properly while living in a hostile culture, and that begins by “
standing fast in one spirit, WITH ONE SOUL, joining for the combat along with the faith of the gospel.” They are to “LET THIS MIND BE IN YOU WHICH ALSO WAS IN CHRIST JESUS.”

His disciples must seek concord and humility, especially in the face of opposition, therefore, the Apostle calls them to emulate the attitude and example of Jesus.


Anyone who wishes to emulate him must do so by “thinking the same thing” that he did, especially by deferring his own needs and desires to those of others. This mindset was epitomized in his self-sacrificial act when submitted his life to death on behalf of others even when doing so meant an undeserved and shameful death.

  • Be thinking this among you, that even in Christ JesusWho, commencing in form of God, considered being like God something not to be seized, but he poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of men; and having been found in fashion as man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Therefore also, God highly exalted him and granted him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of beings heavenly and earthly and under the earth, and every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father, even God” - (Philippians 2:5-11).

Self-sacrificial service even for one’s enemies is what it means to be the Messiah, the one who came “not be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”


To illustrate his example, Paul employs Old Testament language from the stories of Adam and the “Suffering Servant” from the Book of Isaiah.

Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to seize “likeness” with God. Adam was created in God’s image but grasped at divine “likeness” when he ate the forbidden fruit.

In contrast, the Nazarene obeyed God and suffered the consequences. Like the “Suffering Servant” in Isaiah, he humbled himself and submitted to an unjust and horrific death. And for that very reason, God “highly exalted” him.

Like Adam, Jesus began “in the form of God,” but unlike the first man, he “did not consider the being like God something for plunder.” The Greek adjective isos rendered “like” is in the dative case and means just that, “like.”

The clause alludes to the story in Genesis when the “Serpent” tempted Adam - “For God knows that in the day you eat thereof your eyes will be opened and you will become LIKE GOD, knowing good and evil.”

Adam chose disobedience and attempted to “seize” the likeness of God. Paul contrasts his failure with the refusal of Jesus to grasp that same “likeness.”


He, “being in the form of God.” This clause corresponds to the creation account when “God created man in his own image.” So, also, Jesus was in the “image” or “form” of God. In Greek literature, the two nouns are synonymous. The Greek term rendered “being” in English represents the present tense participle huparchō, which means “to commence, begin; to start.”

Thus, Christ BEGAN in the image of God just as Adam did. But he did not seek “likeness” or equality with God, he did not attempt to become self-legislating. Instead, he obeyed his Father by subjecting himself to a most shameful and unjust death on behalf of others.

The Greek noun translated as “seize” means “plunder, booty,” something that is seized by force. Unlike Adam, Jesus did NOT attempt to seize likeness with God. INSTEAD, “he poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of men. And having been found in fashion as man, he humbled himself becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

In this last sentence, there are several verbal echoes from the “Suffering Servant” passages recorded in the Book of Isaiah:

  • (Isaiah 53:12) - “Therefore will I give him a portion in the great, and the strong shall he apportion as plunder, BECAUSE HE POURED OUT TO DEATH HIS OWN SOUL, and with transgressors let himself be numbered, Yea, he the sin of many bare, and for transgressors interposed.”
  • (Isaiah 53:7) - “Hard-pressed, yet HE HUMBLED HIMSELF, nor opened his mouth, as a lamb to the slaughter is led.”

Like the “Servant of Yahweh,” Jesus humbled himself even to the point of suffering a shameful death, and that is how “he poured himself out.” Paul completes his picture by utilizing allusions to two more passages in Isaiah:

  • (Isaiah 52:13) - “Behold, my Servant prospers, he rises and is lifted up and BECOMES VERY HIGH.”
  • (Isaiah 45:23) - “By myself have I sworn, gone forth out of my mouth is righteousness as a decree and shall not turn back, THAT UNTO MYSELF SHALL BOW EVERY KNEE SHALL SWEAR EVERY TONGUE.”

Storm Clouds - Photo by Justin Leniger on Unsplash
[Photo by Justin Leniger on Unsplash]

Thus, Jesus died the death of a “slave.” This uses an image from the Greco-Roman culture.  Crucifixion was considered the most shameful form of death imaginable, and its most horrific aspect was the public humiliation attached to it. It was often used to execute rebellious slaves and revolutionaries.

The disciples of Jesus are called to have that same mind - to seek nothing from self-interest or for “empty glory.” They are to emulate the Messiah who did not seek to exalt himself, and instead, “poured himself out” in humble obedience to his Father.

Believers must conduct themselves in “humility” toward one another just as he did, to lay down their lives for others if necessary. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to have his “mind.”




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