“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” -Philippians 2:5
Today we blame a lot on someone’s Attitude. In our modern [American] culture this can mean practically anything. It can mean your mental stability, your mindset, your heart set, your gut reaction, what drives you, ambition, love, emotion, or a plethora of other things. But in Philippians it takes on a more specific [cultural] meaning that had a great wealth of traditional Hebraic understanding.
This simple sentence is PARAMOUNT to the Christian journey and had foundational thinking rooted in ancient Judaism since the time of the Torah. The word translated as “attitude” in English is the Greek verb phroneo. It is important to see that in English we have translated it changing it to a noun rather than the Greek verb that it was intended. The intention of the original language was to show the continuing action of the ancient Torah principles that is transferred and made new in Christ.
When I attended Moody Bible Institute in the early 1990’s it was the center of training for Jews for Jesus. The first week I was there I was invited to a messianic synagogue and witnessed a young child recite one of the minor prophets, the entire book. He did so slowly with skilled oration demonstrating his understanding of the poetic narrative and that he thoroughly knew the content. I leaned over to my friend and said, “that is amazing!” She looked back at me visibly disgusted and said, “you have no idea.” I continued to represent the average evangelical Christian to someone who was extremely turned off by my notion of faith and devotion. Why?
I grew up in Awana cramming verses into my head spewing them out as fast as I could. This is American learning and far from the original idea of being immersed in Torah. In ancient Hebraic culture you demonstrated that you not only memorized the Scripture but that you thoroughly understood and applied it to your heart, soul, and mind (the SHEMA). This was the idea of “knowing” the Torah. It was more than simply memorization, it was an “attitude” for life.
When Paul writes about having the same “attitude” of Christ this is what he was referring to, it is a melding of what was sacred and what was made alive and new in Christ. To not “just” have the SHEMA upon you every day, but even take this a step further to have complete servanthood within the attitude. (Servanthood had been replaced by the second temple with a rabbinical hierarchy that Jesus often spoke against.) Today we don’t even match the SHEMA’s idea “attitude” let alone upgrade it to a Jesus sense of it.
Getting back to the text, phroneo was a verb that took into mind practical thinking and living. This is likely an idiom style word that would have reminded them of the words and many teachings of the SHEMA, & the Jewish tripod. It was a balance of life based on Torah understanding, worship within the heart, and culminated in compassion of the hands. In Jewish circles this is often explained as “HEAD TO HEART TO HANDS.” Then Paul takes it one step further and applies the servanthood of Christ. This is a total mind, heart, and hand transplant.
Today as modern Christians we have forgotten the balance. I have long said that American Christianity has lost two of the most important recipes for the foundation of what God asks of us; sacred devotion and the “understanding” of the scripture that is well demonstrated by the hands. Most churches are so fixated on salvation that they leave the rest of the church around an elementary level of Torah or scriptural understanding. According to the Judaic mindset if you don’t have the foundation of Torah (scripture) you can’t expect it to permeate the heart and it certainly won’t be demonstrated by the hands. Sadly, I would propose that is why our modern church doesn’t often look much like the hands of Christ. Perhaps the hands of our church today don’t resemble the hands of Jesus very well because we never got the foundation of the scriptures “memorized” and therefore haven’t taken on the attitude that our hands and heart should demonstrate.
Today we need to get back to a thorough sacred understanding of God and His word tied to the heart and exhibited in the hands of Christ. This is what God has asked of His followers for thousands of years, is it completely lost today? Jesus said leave your stuff on the beach and follow me, but most of us haven’t even made it to the beach yet.