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7. Unity through the Mind of Christ

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Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Sometimes it has been asked, “What is the greatest miracle that Christ ever performed?” Was it turning water into wine or the feeding the five thousand? Maybe it was calming the storms or his resurrection? But the greatest miracle was the incarnation itself—Christ coming down and becoming a man.

The incarnation is the miracle that no one can fully comprehend. How can the omnipotent God—the all-powerful God—become a vulnerable baby? How could someone hold God in his hand? Yet, Christ was so vulnerable as a baby that Satan quickly tried to wipe him out by killing all the baby boys in Israel. The all-powerful God became the all-weak infant.

How can the independent God become the dependent child who needs his mother’s milk and touch to survive?

But not only is this a tremendous concept to grasp, the all-knowing God—the omniscient God who knows all things—became a child who knew nothing and grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:25). How can someone all-knowing grow in wisdom?

The greatest miracle that ever happened on this earth was not changing water into wine, multiplying bread, or even resurrecting. The greatest miracle of all time was the incarnation—Christ coming into this world as a man.

But yet, as we marvel at the incarnation and the birth of Christ, it is not just a concept that theologians should marvel at and ponder deeply. Paul says that the incarnation in some way is a model that should be demonstrated in each of our lives. Our thoughts of this grand event should change us.

Consider what he said: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Other versions say, “Let this mind be in you that was once in Christ Jesus.” Before he teaches us about Christ’s incarnation, he challenges us to develop his mindset.

Paul writes this in the context of a call to the Philippian church to be unified. He says, “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (2:2). This congregation was being threatened by disunity in several ways. There were false teachers in the church (Phil 3:2), people complaining and grumbling (Phil 2:14), and two women fighting (Phil 4:2). Paul taught them that the secret to unity was through studying and applying Christ’s humiliation—his coming to the earth as a man to die for the sins of the world. This makes sense, as it was Christ’s incarnation and death that brought reconciliation between God and man and between men as well. Therefore, we must model Christ and his actions in order to bring unity as well. We must model his actions in order to be the peacemakers Christ called us to be (Matt 5:9).

In studying the incarnation of Christ, we learn secrets to unity. We are commanded to ponder it, and allow the character and attitude of Christ to be ours. It is the remedy for every conflict.

Big Question: What character traits or attitudes of Christ can be discerned from Philippians 2:5-11 that are necessary for the church to have unity.

In Order to Be Unified, Christians Must Practice Giving Up Their Rights

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing (Philippians 2:5-6b)

Paul declares that Jesus is God in the phrase “Who, being in very nature God.” We see this specifically in the two words Paul used, “being” and “nature.” William Barclay says this about the word “being.”

The word which the King James Version translates "being" is from the Greek verb [huparchein] which is not the common Greek word for "being." This word describes that which a man is in his very essence and which cannot be changed. It describes that part of a man which, in any circumstances, remains the same. So Paul begins by saying that Jesus was essentially and unalterably God.1

Similarly, the word “nature” means the “outward manifestation of an inward reality”2  and “the essential form which never alters.”3 This all means that Christ preexisted before the incarnation as fully God and equal to God in his deity, and in the incarnation, he continued in that status. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God.”

Yet, though Christ was God he did not consider equality with God something “to be grasped.” The phrase “to be grasped” means something “to be held onto” or “to cling to.” He instead became nothing.

The phrase “became nothing,” kenosis in the Greek, is often translated “emptied himself.” What does it mean for Christ to empty himself? This has caused a tremendous debate throughout history. Some scholars said that Christ stopped being God when he became man. However, we know that cannot be true since the words Paul used in the very same passage negate that. In addition, if Christ was not God, then his sacrifice could not sufficiently pay for the sins of the world. It also conflicts with many of the teachings of Christ where he clearly claimed to be God. He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). A more accurate understanding of “emptied himself” and what happened in the incarnation is that Christ voluntarily limited his divine rights as God while on the earth in human form. We see this in several ways.

Interpretation Question: In what ways did Christ in his incarnation limit his divinity?

1. In the incarnation, Christ limited his divine attributes such as his omniscience.

Christ said this about his second coming: “no one knows the day or hour of his coming, not the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). The omniscient one put aside the full use of his omniscience.

2. In the incarnation, Christ limited his divine right of independent freedom.

He said this: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19). In his humanity, he could do nothing independently.

In fact Hebrews 5:8-9 says this: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

As a man, Christ learned obedience to the Father in a way he never did as God the Son. Isaiah 50:4 says this:  “The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.”

The Son in his incarnation gave up his independent right as God. He relied totally upon the Father and did nothing apart from him. Like a man, each morning he got up to hear the Father’s will and direction. In his incarnation, he was guided like a man dependent solely upon God.

3. In the incarnation, Christ limited his glory.

He put aside the manifestation of his glory and instead hid it in flesh. In heaven he was glorified daily by the angels and the righteous men made perfect, yet as a man he received scorn and shame. He gave up his glory for the life of being a man. In fact in John 17:5, he prays, “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”

But we see this emptying in many other ways.

4. In the incarnation, Christ gave up moment by moment intimacy with God.

We see this on the cross. There he was totally separated from God as he cried, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” (Matt 27:46).

5. In the incarnation, he gave up the wealth of heaven to become poor.

Second Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

In the incarnation, Christ limited his God-head. He laid aside many of his divine rights in order to become a man and serve others, and it was in his incarnation that he brought unity on the earth. He became a man and died so people could be restored to God and to one another. This mind must also be in us.

Interpretation Question: What other ways do we see this attitude of being willing to give up one’s rights as necessary for unity in Scripture? How can this be applied practically when in discord?

We see the need to give up rights in a conflict in several Scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 6, people in the church were suing one another. Look at what Paul said to them: “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” (6:7).

Paul says, “Why not just give up your rights for justice in order to have peace?” Often in our relationships, instead of giving up our rights for the sake of others, we hold grudges and get in fights. Paul implies that keeping unity is sometimes as easy as giving up our rights. We need to just allow ourselves to be wronged and forgive those who wronged us.

He teaches something similar in Romans 14 to a church that was divided over secondary issues like food and days to worship. He essentially says, “You want the answer to fix the disunity in your church? Give up your rights!” He said, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall” (Romans 14:21).

The incarnation speaks to us about giving up our rights for the benefit of others in order to reconcile relationships. Christ put aside many of his rights on earth, and we must do the same. This type of mindset will heal churches, and it will heal marriages and relationships. In order for us to be peacemakers like Christ, we must often give up our rights.

Application Question: In what ways has God called you to give up your rights to better serve people or work for unity?

In Order to Be Unified, Christians Must Practice Servanthood

but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Philippians 2:7)

One of the things that must be learned from the incarnation of Christ is that we must become servants.

The word “nature” means “the outward expression of the inward nature.”4 The Son of God did not become a servant when he came to the earth; it was an expression of who he always was as God. It was an outward expression of his inward nature. This teaches us that the abiding nature of God is that of a servant. It is a phenomenal concept to consider. Look at what Christ said about his second coming:

“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. (Luke 12:35-37)

Christ said that when he returns to the earth, though the Master, he will serve all his faithful servants. He will have them recline at the table and wait on them. This is a concept that is mind blowing. When Christ came to the earth as a servant, he was representing the very nature of God. This must be our nature as well, if we are going to be a church that is unified. We must serve others.

The Greek word “doulos” used for “servant” tells us a little more about Christ in the incarnation. A “doulos” was a bond servant—the poorest of the poor. A bondservant usually didn’t even own his own clothes. One commentator said this:

Jesus did own His own clothes, but He owned no land or house, no gold or jewels. He owned no business, no boat, and no horse. He had to borrow a donkey when He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, borrow a room for the Last Supper, and even was buried in a borrowed tomb. 5

Christ came to earth to be a servant. This is what he said to his disciples: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

One of the greatest pictures of this was when the disciples were arguing about who would be greatest in the kingdom in John 13, and Christ took off his robe, got on his knees, and performed the duties of a servant as he washed their feet. He then said, “Blessed are you if you do the same” (v. 17 paraphrase).

The very reason many of us are in conflict is because we don’t want to be servants, and we certainly don’t want to be treated like servants. It is the desire to be served and esteemed that often leads to discord. However, this was not the mind of Christ, and it shouldn’t be ours either. He was willing to become low and take the form of the lowliest servant, even though he deserved glory. 

Application Question: What does being a servant look like? How do we develop this mindset?

1. A servant considers others better than himself.

Listen to what Paul said in the previous verses: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

This is what a servant does. He doesn’t ask, “What will make me the most happy?” or “What is best for me?” He asks, “What is best for those I serve?”

Paul said this about himself: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19).

Servanthood is not only the doorway to unity in the church but it’s also the doorway to uniting people with God. It is the doorway to the gospel. Paul served others in order to win them to God. Christ did the same. He met people in their weakness and served them. We must also become slaves of others if we are going to effectively preach the gospel.

2. Servants serve without a need for applause.

Christ described the mindset of a servant in a parable he gave in Luke 17. It says,

“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10)

Christ asks a rhetorical question. He says when servants do what they were told to by their master, should they expect to be thanked? He then commands us, “when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants, we have only done our duty.’”

True servants don’t need to be thanked or rewarded. Serving is reward enough. How often do we harbor grudges or evil thoughts because we don’t feel appreciated? Servants serve to bless others, not to be blessed by others. A characteristic of a servant is that they serve without a need for applause.

Application Question: What are some other characteristics of a true servant? In what ways is God challenging you to grow in your servanthood?

In Order to Be Unified, Christians Must Practice Humility

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:7)

One of the attitudes that we must practice and develop from looking at the incarnation is humility. It is our pride that creates most of our fights and disagreements. We feel as though we deserve this or someone owes us. Essentially, both Falls in heaven and on earth were created by pride. Satan and man wanted to be like God.

But the one who brought peace to the earth and good will towards men was humble. He was willing to become low. Not only did he humble himself to become a human and a bondservant, but he humbled himself to death, even death on a cross.

When Paul says “even death on a cross,” he was demonstrating the gravity of Christ’s humility. For the Jews, being on the cross was equivalent to being cursed by God. This potentially was the worst way for a Jewish man to die. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says,

If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

Whoever hung on a tree overnight was cursed by God. This meant they were cut off from the promises and blessing of God. They were outside of God’s grace. This was the most shameful death for a Jew because it brought God’s curse.

But, nevertheless, Christ humbled himself to die the worst death possible in order to become a curse for us (Gal 3:13). On the cross Christ was cut off from the blessing of God. He cried out to him, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” On the cross he bore the shame of the world and the full wrath of God for our sins.

Paul is actually trying to show a continual pathway of humility demonstrated in Christ’s incarnation. Christ humbled himself by becoming a man. He further humbled himself by becoming the poorest of the poor—a bond-slave. He humbled himself ultimately by dying on the cross—the most shameful death possible.

Let this mind be in you that was once in Christ Jesus. If Christ was humble enough to lower himself to the greatest possible extent, how can we boast in anything other than him?

How can we boast about our skills, our job, or our educational background when the God who has everything is humble? Every gift that we have comes from God. He is the source of all good things---our intellect, our athletic ability, our discipline, and anything else. All are gifts of his grace. How can we boast in ourselves or look down on others if it is all grace?

Humility is an attitude we must develop as Christians, and it is this attitude that will help us work for unity. We must be willing to humble ourselves to the greatest possible extent for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

The word “opposes” literally means he fights against them, but he gives grace to the humble.

Application Question: How can we tell if we are struggling with pride?

Pride will manifest itself through our words. “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Pride often shows up in boasting—talking about our works or achievement. It also will show up in insecurity. We become insecure or ashamed if we are not as good as we think we should be. Insecurity and shame are just pride unfulfilled. “I don’t look this way.” “I’m not good at this.” It is just another form of pride.

Pride will not only show up in how we talk about ourselves, but it will show up in how we view and treat others. The Pharisee said of himself, “I am so glad that I am not like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). He built himself up by tearing down somebody else.

Application Question: How can we practice humility, especially when in conflict? In what ways is God calling you to grow in humility?

In Order to Be Unified, Christians Must Practice Absolute Obedience

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:7)

But not only do we see humility in this verse but also obedience. Again, Paul means to show how far Christ was willing to go in order to bring unity between God and humanity and between humans in general. He was willing to be obedient even unto death. Why did Christ come to earth? “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everything lasting life” (John 3:16).

Christ came to the world because of the Father, but As we seek to have the mind of Christ, we must develop his absolute obedience. he also died because of the Father. Listen to what he prayed right before the cross: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

His obedience made him willing to not only give up his glory but even die. This especially applies to seeking unity in the church. If we practice absolute obedience to God’s commands as well, this will help the church live in harmony. Listen to some of God’s commands in considering unity:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:18-21)

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

We are commanded to do as much as depends on us to live at peace with others. Like Christ, we often must obey to the greatest extent in order to bring unity. We should ask ourselves in every conflict, “Is there anything else I can do in order to have peace?” “Can I humble myself more?” “Can I further give up my rights?” “Can I serve more?”

We are also commanded to forgive as Christ forgave. Many say things like, “I have forgiven them, but I don’t want to talk to them. I don’t ever want to see them again.” We are commanded to “forgive as the Lord forgave us.” This means continuing to love them and seeking to grow in intimacy with them, if at all possible and wise.

Christ was able to achieve unity by obeying God even unto death. His peacemakers help in bringing unity by practicing absolute obedience to God as well. Are we practicing obedience to the furthest extent?

Application Question: Are there any ways you are not practicing absolute obedience in your life, especially regarding unity? If so, what is keeping you from completely obeying God?

In Order to Be Unified, Christians Must Practice an Eternal Perspective

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

We see that because Christ did not hold onto the rights of his deity and became a man, because he served others, because he humbled himself and was obedient even to death, God exalted him.

In fact his exaltation includes privileges he didn’t have even before the incarnation. Hebrews 2:17 says, “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” Christ had to become man so he could become our high priest in heaven and be a propitiation for our sins. Christ has been exalted because of his humiliation.

He has been given a new name and that name is “Lord” in verse 11. One day all people unsaved and born again will call Christ “Lord” and bow down to him. The only difference is that some people will be saved by this confession, while others will do it as they are under eternal judgment. But nevertheless, all will call Christ “Lord.”

We no doubt learn a secret here. Though it may be hard to let go of our rights, though it may be hard to practice sacrifice and to put others before us, it is the pathway to eternal glory.

God will glorify saints just as he glorified Christ for having this mindset. Christ said this: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). He will bless believers eternally for humbling themselves to work for unity. The way down is the way up.

Satan sought glory without a cross and without humility and was brought down. Man also sought glory without the cross and was humbled, but those who seek it through humiliation and servanthood shall be exalted.

While on the earth, Christ always had an eternal perspective. He said this to Pilate before the cross: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).

Christ realized that his time on the earth was not his time to be exalted. His kingdom was in heaven. He understood that one day the Son of Man would come in the clouds to establish his kingdom on the earth (Mark 13:36). He also taught that the meek would inherit the earth (Matt 5:5). Many are currently fighting for their piece of the earth, but at Christ’s coming, it will be taken from them and given to the meek—the humble.

Christ had an eternal perspective. This enabled him to humble himself, become a man, become a servant, and become obedient unto death. He knew this was the pathway to being exalted and ultimately to bringing glory to God. Look at what Paul said: “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (v.11). Christ’s exaltation has brought glory to the Father. He prayed this right before the cross: ‘“Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1).

And ultimately it will be this way for every saint who has an eternal perspective. They will be rewarded for not having the grasping hand, being a servant to others, and practicing a lifestyle of humility and obedience to the glory of God. Their riches are in heaven and not on this earth. The person whose heart and mind are earthly will continually fight for the things of this world—causing discord with others. But the person whose mind is heavenly will fight for unity. His eternal mindset will enable him to give up his rights and serve all.

Application Question: In what ways is an eternal mindset helpful in seeking unity? How can we develop an eternal mindset in order to be peacemakers?

Conclusion

The greatest miracle in the world happened 2,000 years ago; the eternal God became a perishable man. The omnipotent God became a fragile child. The omniscient God became one that grew in stature and wisdom. Yet, this is not just for us to marvel at; it is ultimately meant to change our lives. Let this mind be in us that was once in Christ Jesus.

The Philippian church was being threatened by discord and disunity, and it was the humiliation of Christ that was the remedy. Christ humbled himself by becoming a man and dying on the cross to unify people with God and with one another. We must model his attitudes—his mindset—in order to be peacemakers as well.

What are the attitudes we must develop in order to have unity in the church?

  1. In Order to Be Unified, Christians Must Practice Giving Up Their Rights
  2. In Order to Be Unified, Christians Must Practice Servanthood
  3. In Order to Be Unified, Christians Must Practice Humility
  4. In Order to Be Unified, Christians Must Practice Absolute Obedience
  5. In Order to Be Unified, Christians Must Practice an Eternal Perspective

1 Barclay, W. (2003). The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., p. 42). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 129). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 Barclay, W. (2003). The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., p. 42). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 75). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 129). Chicago: Moody Press.

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