As an introduction to the hymn in which Paul describes Christ’s self- emptying, he pleads with the Philippians to change their minds, that is, not to shift positions on a particular issue, but to alter, transform and recondition the way in which they relate to one another.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5)Advertisement
Paul does not ask for perfection from the Philippians, or from us, before acting like Christ, he asks whether we have “any” encouragement from Christ, “any” consolation from love, “any” sharing in the Spirit, “any” compassion and sympathy. Paul is asking whether we connect to a modicum of the life in Christ, a smidgen of the Spirit, an iota of compassion and sympathy, for if we do, we must then:
1) Be of the same mind;
2) Have the same love;
3) Be in full accord and of one mind;
4) Not act from selfish ambition or conceit;
5) In humility regard others as better than ourselves.
Note that not once in Paul’s list does he ask that we divide liberal from conservative Philippians, orthodox from unorthodox Christians, smash the arguments of those with whom we disagree with apologetic tour de forces, or put down those with whom we differ. Naturally, some might say, that was then, a time when the Church was not rife with erroneous Ephesians, problematic Philippians and cafeteria Corinthians; this is now, and the politics, civil and ecclesiastical, are much more serious, the errors much more significant. Perhaps, they might say, Paul’s advice is valid for his own age, but our task is to weed out the bad Catholics and purify the Church.
Paul’s advice is perennially valid, as we all know intuitively. The problems faced by the Philippians are no different in significance or meaning to them than ours are to us. They faced the eternal significance of their behavior and actions just as we do. Nevertheless, we are called to act with humility not conceit, precisely with those with whom we do not share the same mind, with whom we are not in full accord, with whom we do not have the same love. I must admit that it is to my own mind a struggle to know exactly how one gains “the same mind,” “one mind,” “full accord” when there are genuine and deep disagreements regarding serious spiritual, religious and civil issues. It cannot mean papering over hard issues or pretending they do not exist.
It is clear, however, that Paul is asking us to put Christ at the center not ourselves, as in v. 5 he says to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Christ’s behavior must be our model, but so, too, must he be the locus of our unity. It is also necessary to see the humanity of one another, for whom Christ forsook equality with God and emptied himself to take on the same human likeness as our enemies share with us. A truism, yes, but with the coming of Christ, we are all in this together, not only in sin, but in salvation. How can the process of dehumanization be maintained when the transcendent one granted grandeur to our shared human being?
Finally, though, disagreement must be thoroughly disarmed, and I use that word purposefully. Gary Anderson, in his book Sin: A History, 5, cites the work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, who note the militaristic character of language describing argument and dispute, such as “attacked every weak point,” “indefensible,” “won an argument,” “shot down all of my arguments,” and many others. Anderson says,
In short, the way we conduct arguments is influenced by the way we conceive and talk about them. “Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance,” Lakoff and Anderson propose; “the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, experience them differently, and talk about them differently.” Indeed, Lakoff and Johnson conclude we would probably have a hard time understanding what these individuals were doing. So embedded is our understanding of argument in idioms of attack and aggression that we would find it difficult to label such activity “arguing” (5).
The model for disarming argument is given by the self-emptying of Christ, disclosed by Paul in the Hymn to Christ, who gave himself to those who were hostile to him. So, Paul says, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” The sharing of this same mind is in the doing of it.
John W. Martens
Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens