Friday, January 21, 2011

Beautiful Mind

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:05-07, NKJV).
Years ago, as a new Christian, I read this verse for the first time and had no clue what it meant. Then a beloved brother in Christ (the same one who challenged me to memorize whole books of Scripture), pointed me to a slightly different translation of verse 6: who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, (Philippians 2:6, NASB). Better, but still not getting it. Then I did a very brief study on the Greek word, harpagmos (har-pag-mos'), variously translated as "robbery" or "a thing to be grasped", and it became blazingly clear.  And this points out a couple of very useful suggestions in studying the Bible, three of them actually: 

  1. Pick one or two "favorite" reliable translations (mine, in descending order of preference, are NKJV, NASB, KJV, NIV), and don't be afraid to compare them. It may give you insight into the meaning of a particularly interesting passage. 
  2. Consider the verse in context, meaning don't just camp out on a passage in isolation, but both back up and go forward a few verses to avoid idiotic interpretations that arise form cherry-picking a single thought, like "There is no God." (Psalm 53)
  3. Get a Strong's or other Concordance and dig into the original language a bit.

It was by following these simple steps that my understanding about "robbery" and "a thing to be grasped" crystallized into a sparkling diamond of truth, and it's this: Christ, though very God, did not view His Deity as something that He must hold onto like a thief holds onto his spoils, or a desperate and greedy person holds onto a valuable. Instead, out of love for us and filial obedience to the Father, he let it go, and "emptied Himself" to become one of us so He could die in our place! Now, that concept of "emptied Himself", is why these verses are referred to by scholars as the kenosis passage, the Greek word that means "emptying".

I recall the precise moment that it all came clear to me, and it felt like I imagine suddenly finding a priceless treasure would feel. I was amazed, and joyous, because of what it said about the One to whom I had committed my life and soul. I understood that my Jesus had given up something eternally inconceivable, the privileges and power of Godhood, to become eternally a Man so that He could die for me! I am not about to argue the point sometimes raised about God ceasing to be God, and how could that happen? Nor, will I argue with someone who honestly says that rather than ceasing to be God, He took on an additional nature to become Man, and chose to be born, live and die on the earth solely in His humanity. I don't argue those points because, frankly, those are valid questions and premises in my mind, and I don't understand things like the Trinity (not really), nor how God could die, either. I am old enough to know what I don't really know. So I just shut up.

But the bottom line for my heart is this: Jesus set aside something incomprehensibly magnificent to become someone like me, though without sin, to suffer the punishment I so richly deserve, and He deserved not at all; and He did so out of an abundance of mercy, grace, and love that I can scarcely imagine, let alone put into words. And it is that abundance of mercy, grace, and love that characterizes His indescribably beautiful mind. The same mind that the Apostle Paul exhorts each one in the church to have by letting it be in them. That is an intriguing way to say it, as if those characteristics of Jesus' mind are standing at the door of our own thick heads just waiting to be invited in.

Of course, the Lord did not just become a Man, but He became a Man of no reputation. I believe this describes two additional attributes of the Mind of Christ, which we, his people, are to cultivate: humility and approachability. Have you noticed that it is mostly arrogant individuals who feel the need to defend and broadcast their reputations; those whose main concern is their own advancement and maintenance. That's why immediately prior to these verses, Paul exhorts us to esteem others better than ourselves. It is the first necessary step in looking out for more than our own narrow interests. The epitome of that attitude is Christ Himself, who, knowing that all power had been given into His hands, washed the filth off His disciples feet. That is the type of humility in view; a disposal of dignity on behalf of others.

As far as someone being approachable, the best picture I can paint is one of the difference between interacting with someone famous versus someone unknown. Most regular people hesitate to approach famous people, or people who have reputations. It's just a natural reluctance that is difficult to overcome, a kind of a "Oh, I don't want to bother or impose on such an important person." In contrast, Jesus was inviting - even little children were perfectly comfortable in His presence, no doubt eager to climb up onto His lap and feel right at home.

Beyond even becoming a Man of no reputation, He took on the form of a bondservant, a doulos (doo'-los), which literally means slave. He came to serve and not to be served. We say that like it's even remotely understandable, but I for one, have great difficulty in comprehending that He who is called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Light of the Word, the Beginning and the End, who was given all authority in Heaven and Earth, was born to a couple living in poverty and who was raised in the backwater village of Nazareth from where nothing good ever came. That is not how mere humans would have orchestrated the coming of the King, but it is how our God ordained it.

And finally, whereas He came in the form (morphe - mor-fay' ) of a slave, His life's shape, so to speak, His likeness was human, through and through. That's what the Greek word, homoioma (hom-oy'-o-mah) means - the exact resemblance, the same identity, as men. Us. His creatures. To serve us and save us.

I confess to not getting this mind of Christ, this infinitely beautiful mind, made more awesome by Who it was who became these things on our behalf. It would be like us becoming a flatworm, but even that is a faulty analogy, because we didn't create the flatworm. We just share creature-hood with it.

Nonetheless, whether I can comprehend or describe or fathom this mind, I know it stands at the door and knocks. It is part of my inheritance as a child of God, part of the New Creation that He made me.

My job is to just let it be in me. To open that door and be transformed by that Mind, and through that, be His instrument to transform the lives of those around me. Heady stuff, indeed.