Let This Mind Be in You

Jesus Christ, being equal with God the Father (Php 2:6), submitted Himself as an obedient servant to the Father (7-8) and esteemed His Father greater than Himself. (Jn 14:26) In highlighting this attitude in Christ and calling us to be like Him (5), Paul is telling us how to walk in humility by esteeming others better than ourselves. (3)

The Greek word translated better is ὑπερέχοντας, huperechōntas, which means superior, surpassing, above, over, better than. The word compares and contrasts one with another. The renowned theologian Albert Barnes, in his exegesis here, understands better in a moral context: the humble consider others to be, apart from God’s grace, morally superior to themselves.

While saints are currently being trained and equipped to judge all human behavior (1Co 6:2-3), it’s tempting to practice on our own before the time (1Co 4:5), without full knowledge of God’s Way, or of the human heart. (1Co 2:11) Not a good move. (1Co 4:3)

While we’re not to evaluate others’ moral goodness yet (Mt 7:1), trying to decide how good or bad someone is or determine what punishment or reward they deserve, we may act as if others are morally superior to ourselves, above us; we may esteem or consider them to less evil than we would be without God’s restraining grace. This violates no law of God, and in following Christ, in emulating His lowliness and meekness (Mt 11:29), God tells us to do exactly this: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Php 2:3)

God will judge us all according to our works (Ro 2:6), measuring and evaluating our thoughts, motives and actions according to His perfect, righteous standard (Jn 5:45); we’ll each score on the moral spectrum uniquely, no two of us being exactly alike. If we think to place ourselves above anyone else on this scale, with no way of knowing precisely where we stand, or exactly where anyone else does, we’re being presumptuous, proud (1Pe 5:5), thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. (Ro 12:3) Rather, in lowliness of mind, we’re to avoid any tendency to exalt ourselves. (Ga 6:3)

In esteeming others better than ourselves, we should not conflate moral superiority with significance (ESV95), or value (NIV) or importance (NASB95); in providing His Son as an atoning sacrifice for each and every individual, God has infinitely valued each human being equally; we ought not to consider any person more or less valuable, significant or important than any other. Doing so is partiality, being a respecter of persons (De 16:19), which violates the law of Love. (Ja 2:8-9) In love and humility we’re to prefer one another in honor (Ro 12:10), not value, pleased as others are lifted up above ourselves.

Further, we should not confuse humility merely with a call to serve others. While it’s clear Christ humbly submitted Himself to His Father as a servant, it doesn’t follow that we’re to submit ourselves as servants to others; this is actually forbidden. (1Co 7:23) We’re to consider ourselves servants to Christ, not other people, and order our lives to as to please God and not men. (Ga 1:10) In submitting to God we will generally serve others in love (Ga 5:13), and defer to the needs and interests of others (Php 2:4), yet this is always in a context of stewardship and wisdom before God, not a blanket, boundaryless neglecting, disvaluing or demeaning of ourselves in interpersonal relationships. (2Co 8:13)

Christ, our example in humility, though He didn’t consider God the Father morally superior to Himself (for both are morally perfect), He did defer to the greatness and majesty of His Father, to the Father’s Headship within the Trinity itself. (1Co 11:3b) We’re called to follow His steps (1Pe 2:21), to emulate Christ’s lowliness of mind in our relations with one another, yet we can’t do exactly as Christ did here, using the same scale He did with His Father, since on that scale of headship all those within each gender are equivalent with one another. (3a)

Since we’ve eliminated importance, significance and intrinsic worth or value as proper ways to rank ourselves, the only relevant scale or ranking we may rightly refer to here in esteeming others better than ourselves is a moral one, the scale God Himself will use to rank us. (Mt 5:18) However, we’re forbidden to make any formal judgements of ourselves or others for the time being. (7:1-2)

Thus, our default position, if we’re going to esteem others better than ourselves, must be one of considering ourselves to likely be at the very bottom of this moral scale, to potentially be, apart from God’s grace, the most evil person who has ever lived, as Paul the Apostle evidently did (Ga 3:8, 1Ti 1:15), and in this God calls us to follow his example. (Php 4:9)

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The Covenants of Promise

In God’s dealings with the nation of Israel there are two covenants (binding agreements) in play: the first is a conditional covenant made with Israel at Mount Sinai (Ga 4:24); the agreement is that if Israel will obey God’s Law He will bless them, otherwise He will curse them. (De 11:26-28)

The second (or new) covenant is an unconditional covenant God will eventually make with Israel: He will put His Laws into their minds write them in their hearts (He 8:10), be their God and accept them as His people, ensure they all know Him, and put away all of their sins. (11-12) He will give each of them a new nature which delights in His laws (Ro 7:22), redeeming and saving the entire nation. (Ro 11:26-27)

This first covenant with Israel is not a promise of salvation by works; it’s simply a promise given to Israel as a nation to bless them if they honor and follow God’s law to the best of their ability, evidently as a signal to the rest of us that there’s tremendous blessing in obeying God (Ps 1:2-3), and trouble if we don’t. (Ps 119:118) Israel has, of course, failed miserably to keep their end of the covenant and are being punished by God as a consequence.

The second covenant God will eventually make with Israel certainly is a promise of redemption and eternal salvation for Israel as a nation, but it’s incomplete and mysterious at present, how He will accomplish this and what it will look like.

In the interim, in between these two covenants, we’re left to work out an understanding of how we’re all to relate to God, for it’s through these two covenants God reveals His redemptive plan. (Ps 50:5) They hold within them the keys to having a relationship with God; in being estranged from them we have no hope, and are without God in the world. (Ep 2:11-12)

Yet these two covenants with Israel don’t comprise the whole picture: God makes a third covenant related to redemption, but this one is unique in that God makes it with Himself (Ga 3:20); this is a covenant between the Father and the Son (He 10:8-10): the Father gives the Son a group of people (the elect, or chosen) to redeem, and the Son redeems these people for the Father. (Jn 6:37) This covenant is flawlessly secure because both parties to the covenant are unfailingly perfect. (Ro 4:16) This divine agreement is actually the first covenant of the three, made in eternity past (Ep 1:4, 1Pe 1:19-20) and publicly formalized, revealed and confirmed in front of Abraham, well before Sinai. (Ga 3:17)

The eternal covenant between God the Father and God the Son is evidently related to the two covenants God makes with Israel in that God produces obedience to the Law in the hearts of His elect as required in the Sinai (first) covenant (De 5:29) by providing Himself as the new heart (Ez 36:26), the divine nature within the elect (Co 1:27) inclining us to obey (1Pe 1:2), as promised in the future New Covenant with Israel. (He 10:16-17) In this way, God unites us with Himself and His Law so we partake in both of these two covenants of promise He makes with Israel (1Ti 1:6), giving us hope of eternal life and fellowship in Him. (Ep 2:13-14)

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Stone Him

Since God’s Law requires stoning stubborn rebellious sons (De 21:20-21a), it seems most Christians would argue the old Mosaic laws, or at least some of them, are obsolete, inconsistent with the Law of Love. (Ro 13:10) This is so obvious to most of us it’s offensive to suggest otherwise. (Ps 119:172) Yet Christ affirms otherwise: the entire Mosaic Law remains valid so long as Heaven and Earth stand. (Mt 5:18-19) We do well to ponder the maxim: Obviousness is always the enemy of correctness. (Is 8:20)

First, note that this command to stone a defiant son may not be obeyed in isolation, parents taking matters into their own hands: following this command requires the collective assessment and agreement of an entire civil community. Parents accuse the son of rebellion in front of the city elders, in the city gate where civil matters are formally resolved. (De 18:18-19) The elders then enquire, question the parents, the son and others familiar with the situation, and must align with the parents in their struggle. Then all the men of the community participate in executing the son, after his legal conviction.

So, unless parents live in a society which incorporates the civil aspects of Torah within its legal code (as every society should), this command to stone a rebellious son cannot be rightly obeyed. This does not mean the law is obsolete; God has not abolished it (Mt 5:17); it simply doesn’t apply outside this civil context. However, when Messiah returns to rule the nations (Ps 2:9), we can be sure He will enforce this law (Mi 4:2), and it will be holy, righteous and good. (He 1:8)

Secondly, the charge requires both parents to publicly testify that their son is in willful rebellion against them both (De 21:20a), implying both parents are uniquely accountable for training their children into adulthood, and in this case neither parent has been successful in getting their son to cooperate

Thirdly, the requirement for the son to obey implies he is still a child, not yet an adult, and therefore unable to provide for himself; he remains under his parents’ roof and dependent on them, and therefore required to obey them. Further, the context implies the son is sufficiently mature to understand the gravity of the consequences of his rebellion; though still a child, he is choosing to defy his parents and is old enough to be held accountable for his actions.

Finally, the accusation must include the sense that the son, in addition to being defiant, is focused on pursuing his own interests and pleasures. (De 21:20b) The rebellious son is intent on gratifying his own personal appetites without providing for himself; he is acting irresponsibly and burdening his parents rather than contributing to the welfare of the family.

These public accusations, and the threat of brutal execution looming before him, provide a final opportunity for the rebellious son to repent, or perhaps to expose his parents if they’ve been neglectful, abusive or cruel. (De 25:1) In either case, the conflict is dealt with decisively by the community such that open childhood rebellion is not normalized at any level within the culture. (De 21:21c)

Just imagine this command of God playing itself out in a society over decades, over centuries, as parents raise up children amidst grandparents, aunts and uncles, extended family all keeping an eye out for domestic strife, ready to intervene, to love, encourage and advise as needed.

What parent could afford to be careless, negligent or selfish here, unreasonably harsh or undisciplined, knowing a bloody execution could be the outcome? That they’d lose a son, nephew or grandson in brutal termination before the entire community. To be remembered as the family who couldn’t control their kids.

What sobriety this would encourage! (Ti 2:1-6) What self-control and wisdom! What prayerful discipline of all the children in the household, care taken to promptly and prayerfully address any signs of rebellion with firmness, impartiality, fairness, consistency and love! (Pr 19:18)

How it would encourage wisdom in courtship! to choose a compatible, godly spouse, to intentionally avoid turmoil and chaos in the home. How it would motivate parents to collaborate and work together to solve relational issues, both between themselves and among their children, to seek God in maintaining a loving, stable equilibrium in the family, constantly aware of the pulse and disposition of each of their children as they grow and mature.

Might this be a good thing?

And what are our alternatives? Tolerate such abuse and disruption in the family? Do nothing of consequence to deter and prevent it? (Ps 119:155)

And how is that working out for those who despise God’s Law? (Pr 28:9)

I hear the Jews claim that throughout their recorded history, not a single Jewish son has ever been stoned for rebellion. If true, this certainly is something to think about, as we search down the corridors of our prisons — it’s rare indeed to find among the inmates the son of a practicing Jewish family.

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