“Let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus”
I count myself fortunate to have this beautiful passage to reflect on. The only problem is that it contains so much. So I intend concentrating on the words “Let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus”.
The context that Paul writes from is that the Philippian church is plagued with envy, rivalry and selfish ambition. He asks them at the end of chapter one to live lives worthy of the good news of Christ so that they can stand firm in one spirit with one soul striving for the faith of the good news.
The opening verses of the chapter tell us that Paul is talking about something that is true. He starts with If …” IF there is any exhortation in Christ, IF any consolation of love, IF any fellowship of the spirit, IF any tender mercies, IF any compassion …” The context of this verse means that he’s not expressing a doubt; he’s expecting that the Philippian Christians as well as we today will nod our heads and say “Of course there IS exhortation in Christ, there IS consolation of love, there IS fellowship of the spirit, there ARE tender mercies and compassion. Most of us have experienced at least some of these things and know they are true and real.
So, having established these truths he goes on to say “Well then, because these things are true, make my joy full by thinking the same way – Be likeminded, Have that same love, be of one accord and be of one mind and that will make Paul’s joy complete. The four phrases are just different ways of saying the same thing. Paul is calling on the Philippians to be fully united with one another in order that they can support each other. He later develops this to say that in order to be fully united Christians must practise humility. He goes on to say that true humility is characterised by demonstrable concern for others.
The phrase “having the same love” is important in view of how Paul develops his thinking later in the chapter. The word Paul uses is agape. Agape love, in comparison to philos love, is about concern for the good of another person. It’s more a doing word than a feeling word. Unlike philos (brotherly love) it doesn’t mean we have to like a person or approve of what they’re doing or enjoy their company but what it does mean is that we have to demonstrate our love in a practical fashion. The love that is a translation of the word philos has an element of mutuality in it – you give some you get some back. Paul wants us to emulate the love of Christ who gave up everything and became as a slave in order that he could show us his unconditional and total love. We should emulate Christ who was completely committed to serving undeserving people at huge cost. Because we have that example of the life of Jesus – a life of pure love, complete service we have something to aim for. Even with that example always in mind we’ll never be perfect but with God’s help we can hopefully improve and bring our lives and love in line with the life and love of Christ
Jurgen Moltmann is probably one of the foremost theologians of the 20th century. He was a patriotic German who grew up in Nazi Germany and was drafted into the army towards the end of the war. He was captured and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Scotland where he was made to perform heavy manual labour. He wasn’t a Christian at this point but had begun to read a new testament that he’d been given. One winter he had an awful cold and no handkerchief. He was forced to wipe his nose repeatedly on the harsh coarse fabric of his sleeve…a bit like sandpaper. He looked up as he did so and saw a woman looking at him. She then spoke to the guard and handed him something. The guard gave Moltmann a piece of soft white cloth. At first he stared at the cloth then realised what the woman had done. This was easily one of the most significant gifts he had ever received. It didn’t cure his cold or free him from imprisonment, but it showed him someone cared enough to fulfil his need. This was an act of grace, of love, of agape towards a hated German. That woman became as Christ to him. She helped heal his loneliness, gave him hope and ultimately that led him to become a Christian theologian who influenced many many people with in particular his theology of hope.
That woman’s act wasn’t a very big deal in one way but its results were huge. Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats towards the end of Matthew’s gospel. The judgement given to those who gave agape love to the sick, the prisoner, the stranger and the naked is to be welcomed into God’s kingdom. Jesus makes it very clear that those acts of selfless love are the keymarks of the Christian life….like the gift of a rag for Moltmann’s nose.
Some of us are knitting angels…we’re hoping in some way in spite of Covid to be able to distribute them around Sale at Christmas time. We might leave them around for people to pick up or give them to care homes or undertakers. They’ll each have a label on with some words of love and cheer and be free to be taken away. I like to think that in a very small way we’re offering agape love and a sign of hope to those who receive our angels.