Mind of Christ

The obedient death of Jesus becomes the paradigm for service to others, the pattern disciples are summoned to emulate - Philippians 2:5-11. 

In Philippians, Paul points to Christ’s obedience as the example of proper conduct by his disciples. His submission to a shameful death on a Roman cross set the pattern that his followers must emulate if they are to become like him. And his elevation over all things is the result of that “obedience to death” - Exaltation did not precede death, it followed it.

At the start of his exhortation, Paul exhorts the Philippians to conduct themselves properly while living in a hostile culture, and this begins by “standing fast in one spirit, with one soul, joining for the combat along with the faith of the gospel, and not being frightened in anything by the opposers.”

The Apostle calls for concord and humility, especially in the face of opposition, and he appeals to believers to emulate the example of Jesus.


Anyone who chooses to follow him must do so by “thinking the same thing” that he did, especially deferring to the needs of others. And this attitude is epitomized by the self-sacrificial death of the Son of God who submitted to death on behalf of others even when it meant an undeserved and shameful death.

  • Be thinking this among you, that even in Christ JesusWho, commencing in form of God, considered being like God something not to be seized, but he poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of men; and having been found in fashion as man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Therefore also, God highly exalted him and granted him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of beings heavenly and earthly and under the earth, and every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father, even God” - (Philippians 2:5-11).

To illustrate his example, Paul employs Old Testament language from the stories of Adam and the “suffering servant” in the book of Isaiah.

Unlike the former, Jesus did not attempt to seize “likeness” with God. Adam was created in God’s image but grasped at divine “likeness” when he ate the forbidden fruit. In contrast, Jesus obeyed God and suffered the consequences.

And like the “suffering servant,” he humbled himself by submitting to an unjust death. And for that very reason, God “highly exalted” him.

Like Adam, Jesus began “in the form of God.” But unlike Adam, he “did not consider the being like God something for plunder.” The Greek adjective isos rendered “like” is in the dative case and means just that, “like.” The clause alludes to the story when the “serpent” tempted Adam:

  • (Genesis 3:5) - “For God knows that in the day you eat thereof your eyes will be opened and you will become LIKE GOD, knowing good and evil.”


Adam chose disobedience and attempted to “seize” the likeness of God. To the Philippians, Paul contrasts his failure with the refusal of Jesus to grasp that same “likeness.”

The clause “being in form of God” corresponds to the creation account when “God created man in his own image.” So, also, Jesus was in the “image” or “form” of God. In Greek literature, the two nouns are synonymous.

The term rendered “being” represents the Greek present tense participle huparchō, which means “to commence, begin; to start.” Thus, Christ began in the image of God just as Adam did.

The Greek noun rendered “seize” means “plunder, booty,” something that is seized by force. Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to seize likeness with God.

Instead, the Son of God “poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of men. And having been found in fashion as man, he humbled himself becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

In this sentence, there are several verbal echoes from the “suffering servant” passages in Isaiah:

  • (Isaiah 53:12) - “Therefore will I give him a portion in the great, and the strong shall he apportion as plunder, BECAUSE HE POURED OUT TO DEATH HIS OWN SOUL, and with transgressors let himself be numbered, Yea, he the sin of many bare, and for transgressors interposed.”
  • (Isaiah 53:7) - “Hard-pressed, yet HE HUMBLED HIMSELF, nor opened his mouth, as a lamb to the slaughter is led.”

Like the “suffering servant,” Jesus humbled himself even to the point of suffering an unjust death, and that is how “he poured himself out.” Paul completes his picture by utilizing allusions to two more passages in the book of Isaiah:

  • (Isaiah 52:13) - “Behold, my Servant prospers, he rises and is lifted up and BECOMES VERY HIGH.”
  • (Isaiah 45:23) - “By myself have I sworn, gone forth out of my mouth is righteousness as a decree and shall not turn back, THAT UNTO MYSELF SHALL BOW EVERY KNEE SHALL SWEAR EVERY TONGUE.”

Thus, Jesus died the death of a “slave.” This uses an image from the Greco-Roman culture.  Crucifixion was considered the most shameful form of death imaginable, and its most horrific aspect was the public humiliation attached to it.

His disciples are called to have this same mind - to seek nothing from self-interest or for “empty glory.” They are to emulate the Messiah who did not seek to exalt himself, and instead, “poured himself out” in humble obedience to God. Believers must conduct themselves in “humility” toward one another just as he did.

Exaltation follows obedience, humility, and self-sacrifice; it does not precede them. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to have the “mind of Christ.”


Language of the New Testament

Two Little Horns?