In Michael Gorman’s wonderful new collection of his studies about participation in Christ (Participating in Christ: Explorations in Paul’s Theology and Spirituality (#ad)), he proposes a translation of Philippians 2:5 that starts off that famous song about Jesus in 2:6-11, and I will provide here the NIV’s translation:
2:5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Gorman, with finesse and nuance, sorts out three options: the imitative view (NIV above), the locative view (ESV: “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”), and the community or narratival view (Gorman). He pushes us away from a moral ethical individual view into a more communitarian view of what Paul is saying here.
Here is his conclusion, so read carefully:
I have argued that Philippians 2:5 is best translated as “Cultivate this mindset — this way of thinking, acting, and feeling—in your community, which is in fact a community in the Messiah Jesus.” This interpretation means that what is “in” Christ is not a disposition that is to be adopted or imitated, but a community that is to be shaped by the person the community inhabits, the person whose story is narrated in 2:6-11. Thus, while 2:5 is not imitative, it is also not merely locative. The location is inseparable from the story; the Messiah is inhabited only as his story is continued in analogous ways in the community. This is a theology and spirituality of participation, as Paul had already hinted in 1:8. Paul presumes a continuity between the self-emptying and self-humbling Messiah Jesus and the reigning Lord Jesus in whom the church exists.
Paul’s mode of exhortation, then, is not simply to present Christ as an xample of the correct inner attitude, nor even of correct actions. Rather, Paul emphasizes the “in the Messiah Jesus” dimension of the church’s existence, grounding his exhortation in that dimension: those who live in the Messiah are to be conformed to the pattern of his self-humbling and self-emptying, not merely as imitators of a model, but as persons whose fundamental identity is to participate in him and thus in his story. Paul may speak of “obedience” (Phil. 2:12), but it is an obedience to the Obedient One (2:7) and enabled by participation in him.