Paul yearned to get back from Rome to his spiritual children in northern Greece. He wrote: ‘I hold you in my heart … with the affection of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 1:7-8). But his thank you letter to them for their recent financial support (Philippians 4:10-20) also conveyed his concerns about tensions and friction between some of them (Philippians 4:2-3). He urged them: ‘Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus’ (2:5). Leaving nothing to their speculation, he detailed five essential ingredients of such a mind-set in Philippians 2:1-11. From several available Greek words for ‘mind’ he selected phronema (Philippians 2:2, 2, 5), which means: the mental focus of one’s moral convictions.
- Encouraging attention
He begins: ‘So, if there is any encouragement in Christ’ (Philippians 2:1) – using ‘if’ in the sense of ‘since all the following realities have already been granted to us “in Christ” …’
The main syllable in the English word ‘encouragement’ means ‘core’ or ‘heart’ (as in an apple’s core), that came via the French coeur from the Latin cor. Christ, who put heart into us when we became his followers, will continue to do so as we encourage each other, especially any who hade been feeling disheartened. But we must do this, not by psychological ‘mind-over-matter’ pep talks, but ‘in Christ’ – that is, by reminding one another of his work for us and in us.
- Comforting support
Paul continued: [if there is] ‘any comfort from love …’(Philippians 2:1). It’s possible to be adrenaline-high in courage yet still feel lonely and desperately want to prove oneself. He does not advocate that we merely dish up pity (‘Oh! you poor souls’). The ‘fort’ syllable of ‘comfort’ signifies strength. Paul had just demonstrated this personally in his previous paragraph (Philippians 1:27-30). I once had a colleague reply to my self-pitying whining with a growled ‘I don’t buy that garbage!’ which did me more good that if he had massaged my pathetic ‘hurts’. However, such comments must come ‘from love’, out of a genuinely caring for others and not from impatient despising of them.
- Empathetic affection
If there is ‘any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy …’ (Philippians 2:1). Paul does not direct them to a method of painting-by-numbers or one-size-fits-all formulas. He bids them to get inside others’ feelings and minister encouragement and comfort to them with ‘affection’. If you have ever been offered detached, virtuous and ethical advice devoid of warmth, you know that it left you feeling discouraged and uncomfortable.
- Harmonious thinking
Paul’s joy had lost some of its glow when he heard of their discordant views, so he urged them to ‘complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind’, by thinking and acting unitedly (Philippians 2:2).
- A humble disposition
Like Jesus, ‘who … made himself nothing’ by exchanging ‘the form of God’ [morphe = the outward expression of one’s true inner identity] for ‘the form [morphe] of a servant’ [bondservant with no personal rights] (Philippians 2:6-7), let us ‘in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each … look …to the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:3-4).