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Phroneō – The Christian Mind
What is the theme of Philippians?
It’s the epistle of joy (1:4, 18, 25; 2:2, 17-18, 28-29; 3:1; 4:4, 10) – and we need joy.
It’s the epistle of unity (1:27; 2:1-2; 4:2) – and we always need unity.
But there’s another theme that runs through the whole book – one that only reveals itself when you notice a versatile Greek word – phroneō.
In the most general sense, phroneō means “to think, to use your mind.” However, it doesn’t mean a momentary, isolated thought. It usually describes a pattern of thought. One dictionary gives these renderings: to form an opinion, to think a certain way, to set one’s mind on, to have an attitude.
When you habitually repeat a thought, it becomes an attitude. Every time I see a slice of pumpkin pie, I think, “That looks good!” Whenever my car starts to shake because the vehicle next to me has the stereo turned all the way up, I think irritated thoughts. See a friend, and you smile.
The book of Philippians teaches us about attitudes in every chapter, but you might not notice it if you just look at the English translation. Phroneō is translated differently depending on the context. Look at the variety in the New American Standard version:
Phil 1:7 – For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart . . .
Paul has an attitude of thankfulness toward the Philippian believers.
Phil 2:2 – Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
Paul asks the believers to maintain an attitude of unity toward one another.
Phil 2:5 – Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.
Paul urges Christians to have the same attitude of humility which Christ displayed.
Phil 3:15 – Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.
In context, Paul tells the Philippians to share his attitude of urgency, always pressing forward toward the goal to which God has called us.
Phil 3:19 – . . . who set their minds on earthly things.
Paul warns of the enemies of the gospel, whose sins include an attitude of focus on earthly values rather than heavenly ones.
Phil 4:2 – I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.
Paul repeats his encouragement to adopt an attitude of unity between believers.
Phil 4:10 – But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.
Paul expresses thankfulness that the Philippians had demonstrated their attitude of concern for his welfare.
Who would have guessed that all these phrases stem from the same Greek word? But they do.
We cannot control our circumstances, but we can choose our attitudes.
College president S. I. Hayakawa once wrote:
Years ago I used to notice the differences among motormen on the Indiana Avenue streetcar line in Chicago – a street often blocked by badly parked cars and hug trailer trucks maneuvering in everybody’s way. Some motormen would get steamed up with rage, clang their bells and shout at the drivers. At the end of the day they must have been nervous wrecks, jittery and hypertensive, a menace to their wives and children.
Other motormen, however, could sit and wait for minutes without impatience, calmly whistling a tune, cleaning their fingernails, writing their reports. In other words, confronted with the same objective situation, some motormen lived a hellish life of anger and nervous tension; other motormen had a nice, relaxing job, with plenty of time for rest.
Come back to Philippians again and again and let its truth mold your habits of the heart. It provides a catalog of the attitudes required for a thriving walk with God through difficult times.
Study Hint: Each chapter of Philippians revolves around a particular attitude.
Chapter 1 – Joy, the attitude toward suffering
Chapter 2 – Humility, the attitude toward others
Chapter 3 – Ambition, the attitude toward others (a kind of holy dissatisfaction)
Chapter 4 – Trust, the attitude toward daily difficulties
Where does phroneō appear elsewhere in Scripture? Matt 16:23; Mark 8:33; Acts 28:22; Rom 8:5; 12:3, 16; 14:6; 15:5; 1 Cor 4:6; 13:11; 2 Cor 13:11; Gal 5:10; Col 3:2.
Q: There is a word that intrigues me from Hebrews 7:12 – “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. I’m told it means something along the lines that the New Testament must be considered with the knowledge of the Old Testament – not that the Old Testament has been completely discarded. Like the New Testament being hidden in the Old, and the Old being revealed in the New. The New Testament stands on the shoulder of the Old. More clarity on this would be appreciated.
A: You’re looking at a pair of cognates, a verb (metatithēmi) and a matching noun (metathesis). Both of them can refer to a change of position, a transfer from one place to another (Heb 11:5; 12:27; Acts 7:16). The words are used to describe Enoch’s transfer from earth to heaven. A second meaning is “to change, to cause something to be different,” and that’s the idea in Hebrews 7:12. The words themselves don’t tell you exactly what changed or how drastic the change was. For that, you have to look at the context.
Hebrews 7 is arguing that Christ is a better high priest than the official high priests serving in the Temple. Jews might argue that He doesn’t technically qualify to be high priest, because He wasn’t descended from Aaron. However, that doesn’t matter, because He is a different kind of high priest, one like Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20). A Jewish skeptic might say, “How can he ignore the law that says the high priest must be from the family of Aaron?” And the writer of Hebrews says, “God has changed both the priesthood and the qualifications for priesthood. Jesus is a better kind of priest, not because of his family tree, but because of Who He is.”
The question of how the whole Old Testament and New Testament fit together is way too big to handle here, but that’s a quick explanation of the change described in this verse.
We live in an increasingly hostile society, and believers around the world face persecution. Some have even been martyred for their faith. We may not be called on to die for Christ, but we all have the responsibility of being the kind of “martyr” described by the Greek word “martureō.”
©Ezra Project 2020
Thanks, John, for the insights on “attitude” from Philippians. It reminds me I can choose my attitude in any
circumstance. Hopefully, more and more, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I will choose a godly one.