The Philippian believers were probably mostly Gentiles. There is no reference of a synagogue present in Philippi when Paul first visited them, nor is there mention of a Jewish presence. We can assume then that these believers had little background with the Tanakh (Old Testament). When Paul writes to them, he doesn’t directly quote any Old Testament scriptures. This is the only epistle of which this is the case. Instead, Paul cites examples of how they are to live. He begins with the example of Yeshua from 1:27 to 2:18, continues with the examples of Timothy in 2:19-24, Epaphroditus in 2:25-30, and concludes citing his own example in 3:1-16. Even though Paul does not quote the Old Testament, the epistle has the flavor of its Hebrew roots and Jewish author.
One place in particular that shows the Hebraic “flavor” is in the example of Yeshua. Paul exhorts the Philippians to be like minded with one another going on to describe that like-mindedness as having the mind of Christ.
Philippians 2:2-5 NKJV 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
Paul, then, breaks in Hebraic poetry in describing the mind of Christ. Hebraic poetry has the quality of “parallelism.” Each phrase is repeated using slightly different words but conveying the same meaning. A good example of this is Psalm 2 which begins with the stanza:
Psalms 2:1-2 NKJV 1 Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
In this stanza, we see the following equivalences:
· The nations rage = The people plot a vain thing
· The kings of the earth set themselves = The rulers take counsel together
· Against the LORD = Against His anointed
The passage in Philippians has this same quality of parallelism. Not only does this passage exhibit Hebraic parallelism, it exhibits the trait of chiasm (Ky’-az-um) a symmetric writing pattern in which the ideas are presented in reverse order around a central theme. While not unique to the Bible, this structure is pervasive in the Torah.
What, then, is this mind of Christ that Paul communicates through this piece of Hebraic poetry? We quote it here from Young’s Literal translation so we more readily see the form of the original writing.
Philippians 2:6-11 YLT 6 who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God, 7 but did empty himself, the form of a servant having taken, in the likeness of men having been made, 8 and in fashion having been found as a man, he humbled himself, having become obedient unto death--death even of a cross, 9 wherefore, also, God did highly exalt him, and gave to him a name that is above every name, 10 that in the name of Jesus every knee may bow--of heavenlies, and earthlies, and what are under the earth-- 11 and every tongue may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Breaking this down to its chiastic structure and parallel phrases, the passage looks like this:
A: Being in the form of God = Not robbery to be equal with God
B: Emptied himself = Took the form of a servant
C: Made in the Likeness of men = Fashion as a man
D: Humbled Himself = Obedient unto death: death on the cross
C: God has highly exalted him = God has given him a name above every name
B: At the name of Jesus every knee should bow = Every tongue should confess
A: Jesus Christ is Lord = Glory of God the Father
Paul begins and ends by clearly stating the deity of Yeshua. His natural state is equal with God and His lordship is the glory of the Father. Yeshua then emptied Himself. Note that this is a voluntary choice. He is the one who empties Himself. Emptying oneself is to take on the form of a servant! Take a moment and just ponder this concept.
Yeshua then came in the likeness of men; He was fashioned as a man. The Greek words for “likeness” and “fashion” mean, respectively, “to resemble” and “the outward appearance.” This presents that mystery that Yeshua is both fully divine and fully human. He is like us but not entirely; He is much more!
Yeshua, who is much more than we are, demonstrates true humility to us. To be humble is to be obedient! In this era in which we emphasize God’s grace, we lose sight of God calling us to a life of holiness—a life of obedience. This word translated obedient is #5255. hoop-ay'-ko-os from 5219; attentively listening, i.e. (by implication) submissive:--obedient. It is formed from two words, hupa meaning under and akouo meaning to hear.
#5219. hoop-ak-oo'-o from 5259 and 191; to hear under (as a subordinate), i.e. to listen attentively; by implication, to heed or conform to a command or authority:--hearken, be obedient to, obey.
The root word akouo is the Greek word used in the Septuagint to translate sh’ma, which means to hear and obey! Yeshua, who is equal to God, humbles Himself to hear and obey even to obedience on the cross! This is the central theme of this piece of poetry! This is the mind of Christ! This is the mind Paul exhorts us to have in us!
The result of Yeshua’s obedience, of emptying Himself and humbling Himself to death on the cross, is exaltation. God the Father has exalted Him and given Him a name to which everyone bows and confesses that He is Lord. This is the glory of God the Father!
Yeshua tells His disciples that those who want to be great in God’s kingdom will be those who humble themselves, emptying themselves of “self” and taking the form of a servant.
Mark 9:33-35 NKJV 33 Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, "What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?" 34 But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. 35 And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all."
In our flesh, we resist this injunction. Surely, we don’t really need to empty ourselves; we don’t need to really become the servant. We think we can practice righteousness by following the rules; by outward appearance. But this only leads to weariness and resentment. Yeshua tells all who are burdened and weary to come to Him.
Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV 28 "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
This passage, like the one in Philippians, is Hebrew poetry in a chiastic structure.
A: All who labor = all who are heavy laden
B: I will give you rest
C: Take my yoke upon you = Learn from Me
C: I am gentle = I am lowly in heart
B: You will find rest
A: My yoke is easy = My burden is light
The central theme of this passage, like that of Philippians 2:6-11, is Yeshua’s humble nature. He is gentle and lowly in heart. But equal with that in the central position is our obedience, our total surrender to Him as we take on His yoke and learn from Him.
Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus
Shalom and be blessed,
Dan and Brenda Cathcart
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