There have been many great (and many not so great ones, but impactful nevertheless) human minds throughout history. And no doubt, they all viewed the world they occupied very differently. In fact, when you study one of them long enough, you can, in a sense, imagine how they might view a current situation or problem; and perhaps, with much probability imagine how they might attempt to solve it. We often see this, for example, in modern political discourse when our constitutional founders are evoked in order to hypothetically engage current issues. We hear things like, ‘James Madison,’ or ‘George Washington would think this of this situation and he might say this about it and give this answer’ (I’m being intentionally vague here).
Another example is musicologist Barry Cooper, a scholar of all things Beethoven. As everyone knows, the great German composer Ludwig van Beethoven is most famous for his 9 symphonies, but as rumor has it, and as some desperate fragments may suggest, Beethoven had set in motion a 10th prior to his death. However, Cooper who has lived and breathed Beethoven, took the existing fragments and was able, as if ‘putting on the mind’ of Beethoven, to assemble a complete symphonic movement (what was playing when you came in), now known as the controversial Symphony No. 10. Cooper states, “The prospect of hearing a Beethoven work that has been absent for over 200 years should be of much interest to anyone who loves his music, even if my reconstruction may differ slightly from what the composer wrote.”
But what if Beethoven could posthumously extend his mind to others? What if from beyond the grave he could allow us to participate in his unparalleled musical genius so that we too could make beautiful symphonies, sonatas, and concertos? Well, I’m not sure, but a world filled to the brim with marvelous music would probably be a good place start. And though it is fun to imagine such tantalizing scenarios with various historical figures, there is One historic Person, in fact, whose mind is truly available, Christ’s.
In fact, we are summoned to put on the mind of Christ.
Read Philippians 2:1-11
If I were to borrow from the previous analogy vss. 1-4 would be symphony No. 10 (the reconstruction in the present for Paul) and vss. 5-11 would the previous 9 symphonies (the in-hand symphonies of Beethoven that serve as the pattern for the reconstruction). Paul, as could the congregation at Philippi, could ‘put on the mind of Christ,’ because they had the blueprint that informed them in the historical condescension, incarnation, selfless obedience, and substitutionary sacrifice of the Messiah on the cross as the original symphonic pattern. Max Anders adds:
Paul proceeds to give examples for the Philippians to emulate. The first is Christ. He is the supreme example of humility, love, and selflessness. Christ’s model brings to life Paul’s words. As believers are united with Christ, we are to have the same attitude as Christ, one of humility. Paul expresses the same thought in Ephesians 4:2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” All believers should share this humble, selfless mind-set of Christ.
Yes, but I believe, St. Paul is also saying much more. In fact, if we look closer, Paul’s request is to “to let this mind be in you” (passive); now, if we give this the full force that it deserves, Paul is saying that, Christ’s actual mindset (presumably through union in the Spirit) is trying its best to have its way with us according to the pattern that Christ himself has already laid down. It’s as if Beethoven could so unite himself to your own way of thinking that you could view the world as Beethoven indeed did.
Now for his symphonic pattern Paul reaches for the dense poem in vss. 5-11 for the humble and loving mindset of Christ. Jesus, who, in some profound sense, existed before his human birth as “equal with God,” but didn’t [as God] see this divine reality as a thing to exploit for his own benefit, but understood his own divine self-reality as necessitating the incarnation and humbling crucifixion (now, this is a super huge point!) to the benefit of others. In other words, when Jesus was the pre-incarnate Son of God he didn’t understand his being God in terms of a self-benefiting reality, but one that required a humble incarnation and crucifixion! N.T. Wright adds:
Let’s clear one misunderstanding out of the way in case it still confuses anybody. In verse 7 Paul says that Jesus ‘emptied himself’. People have sometimes thought that this means that Jesus, having been divine up to that point, somehow stopped being divine when he became human, and then went back to being divine again. This is, in fact, completely untrue to what Paul has in mind. The point of verse 6 is that Jesus was indeed already equal with God; somehow Paul is saying that Jesus already existed even before he became a human being (verse 7). But the decision to become human, and to go all the way along the road of obedience, obedience to the divine plan of salvation, yes, all the way to the cross—this decision was not a decision to stop being divine. It was a decision about what it really meant to be divine.
You see, through the Spirit, the humble and other-sacrifice of Jesus will so assimilate itself in the mind of the believer that she/he would begin to see God, the world, and others as he did. Being human, indeed as it is to be God himself, would not entail serving self, minding to one’s own affairs only, gaining power over others, or lavishing things upon one’s self, but instead, “Do[ing] nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count[ing] others more significant than yourselves. [And] letting each of you look not only to his or her own interests, but also to the interests of others” (vss. 3-4, ESV).
Thus, it will no longer do to view the world and our place and purpose within it with an old mindset that is bent back upon itself. This, because, we are now summoned to so immerse ourselves in the previous symphony of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection that we begin to see the world and our intentions within it as he did. And so, through our own personal Christ-pattern symphonies the world can indeed hear and see the wonderful and kenotic music of Christ once again. To quote the great scholar Andrew Lampe:
To understand this term kenosis is fundamentally critical to understanding God’s nature. Understanding this nature of God is crucial in understanding our relationship with God. For example, kenosis utterly rejects the traditions and churches that are militaristic, tyrannical, hyper-nationalistic, or display a form of demagoguery that is attributed to the senior pastor… Kenosis at the very heart of it accepts churches that are loving, freedom-based, and display a strong element of self-sacrifice. From the senior “leadership” on down to us communion giving peons. We should be imitating God’s example displayed through His love for creation and namely that of humanity by always working to improve the welfare of others even at the cost of our own welfare. This is one of the ultimate ways to be that light on the hill for the rest of the secular world. We’re judged as hypocrites, tormentors, liars, and firebrands, etc… And if we were to imitate God’s kenotic nature, can you imagine the incredible things we would be able to accomplish? We would truly be an extension of God.
Therefore, let this mind be in you.