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Philippians 2:1-11: The Mind of Christ

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

So, if you find any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from God's love, any mercy or compassion, then fulfill my joy that you would have common purpose: a common love, unity in spirit, unity in thought.

Let nothing be done for self-empowerment, nor for self-exaltation. Rather, in humility consider others better than yourselves. Do not look to your own interests, but to those of others.

Take this mindset to heart -- the mindset of Christ Jesus, who,

"Though He was divine in form,
He did not consider equality with God
A thing to be exploited.
Rather, He emptied himself;
A servant's form He assumed.
Taking human likeness,
He was perceived to have
A man's appearance.
He humbled Himself,
Became obedient
To the point of death
-- death on a cross.

Wherefore God highly exalted Him
And conferred upon Him the Name
which is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus
Every knee would bow
In heaven,
On earth,
And below the earth,
And every tongue confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father."

____Translation Notes
1. "if you find..." It's difficult for me to choose whether to say "if there is," "if you have," or "if you find" any encouragement in Christ. The meaning is pretty much the same, but "if you find" (i.e. if you experience) is more personally grabbing. I believe that is how Paul would say it in English.
2. "Encouragement in Christ." Is this encouragement from Jesus supernaturally, or from other Christians because of Christ? Both the Greek and the English are open to either possibility.
3. "Any comfort from God's love." This is interpretive. "Comfort of love" could also mean "loving comfort" [from God or from other Christians], or it could mean compassion for another person (due to either God's love or being loved by the community or due to one's love for the community). This phrase is open to many understandings, and I don't think there's any avoiding the need to make an interpretive choice when translating it.
4. In verse 2, I made a parallel that made it more lyrical than it is in Greek. I would not dare say I "improved" Paul. I think the "common...common...unity...unity" works well. Note that Paul first puts forth the idea of "common purpose," and then the other three parts of this are expansions on that idea.
5. I likewise stylized the "self-empowerment" and "self-exaltation" in verse 3. The self-empowerment idea is more literally "strife," but the two are often one and the same thing, are they not? I think poetic license allows for this, although this could be misunderstood to mean that you should never try to better yourself. However, I would not be responsible for that misunderstanding. I think the context makes it clear it's talking about rivalry (especially paired with self-exaltation).
6. Note that italics indicates minor emphasis and bold is major emphasis.
7. For verse 5: "Let this mindset be in you, which is also in Christ Jesus" just is strange English. As far as I know, it may also be strange Greek. If it is strange Greek, then a translation that focuses on accuracy only would do well to translate it that way. However, this is a literary translation, and so I'm giving myself enough poetic liberty with regards to making the text flow better than it does in other translations.
8. Verses 6-11 constitute a hymn, though it's hard to say if it's composed by Paul or someone else. One thing that will jump out at you is that I start it with "though He was divine in form" rather than "was in very nature God (NIV)." I don't know if the Greek word should be translated as form or nature, but form sounds more natural. I may change my mind there. The Greek does allow for "divine form" rather than "God's form." I would argue this is what it means. HOWEVER, don't think I am anti-trinitarian. The rest of the sentence makes it clear he had God's power, so he is God.
9. Note also that I capitalize pronouns related to Jesus because it's a hymn and that's something we do in our hymns. I also used two archaic words, because our hymns are always old-sounding in English. "Wherefore" means "consequently" or "as a result," and "to confer" means to grant, such as a king bestowing a gift upon someone (I tried "bestow" already but it didn't feel right).
10. "A thing to be exploited." This could also be interpreted as "robbery" (KJV, NKJV) or "a thing to be grasped" (NIV, Message, etc.). By "grasp," it would mean "a thing to be physically touched." I do not think "grasp" works here, especially since I always understood "grasp" to mean "understand" here, but the Greek does not allow that. I do not think "robbery" fits the context, and "grasp" is misunderstood, even if it might be technically correct. My reading follows wording of the NRSV and the sense of the TNIV.

This passage starts off with an appeal for humility and cooperation based on the workings of the Holy Spirit among the Philippians. The ultimate example of this humility is Christ himself. It is Christ's self-surrender that led to his exaltation, and it is this trait that Paul wants the Philippians to emulate.

Note how the word "joy" functions in this section. He's using it to refer to his hope that the Philippians would be united. If they fulfill this hope, he will have joy. Why did he use the word "joy" instead? Joy is a theme of this book and it is given a very particular definition. I'm not going to explain further just yet -- you'll have to tune in next time!

The theme of death makes yet another appearance. Paul connected his own (potential) death with immeasurable gain back in chapter one, and now he connects Christ's sacrificial death with his immeasurable gain, also. Note also the phrase "to the point of death." It will appear again.

The meta-theme of unity/conformity/obedience makes an appearance here. Remember that it first manifested at the end of chapter one, in that we are only to measure our patriotism by how patriotic we are for the Gospel (rather than for racial/national patriotism). Now we are to conform to Christ's obedience to God. This is our example. Note also the term "servant." Paul referred to himself and Timothy as "servants" in the opening rather than calling himself an apostle as usual.

Although no words along the line of "gain" or "abundance" appear in the text of this passage, it is clear that by refusing self-empowerment and self-exaltation, Christ made gain by his obedience and death. So the theme is represented nonetheless.