3 January 2015

Philippians 2:5-11

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (v. 5)

Psalm: Psalm 98:4-9


When we looked at a passage from Colossians yesterday, we saw that the call to live as Christians followed from a great statement at the beginning of the letter of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Here, Paul takes a different approach. He has begun to urge the Philippians to live out the gospel (the good news about Jesus) faithfully in spite of difficulties and then, to explain why and how they should do so, he includes a creedal statement or possibly an hymn that might already have been known to them. It is familiar to many Christians today, not perhaps in this reading but in Caroline Maria Noel's paraphrase ('At the name of Jesus') which was long a staple of school assemblies.

There are two ways in which the passage can be understood, depending on how the word that NRSV in verse 6 translates as "to be exploited". It may mean that Christ was (before the birth in Bethlehem) eternally equal to the Father and yet chose to humble himself in the human condition. Or it may be understood as Christ being like Adam, made in the image of God, but resisting the temptation to which Adam succumbed of wanting to be "like God" (Genesis 3).

Either interpretation is possible. The key point is that Christ chose to be humble and to take the lowest place - not only (metaphorically) of a slave but of a slave condemned to the most shameful of deaths. Yet precisely because of his humiliation, God exalted him to the place above all other places. The poem can be drawn in the form of a V as Christ moves from divine greatness to human degradation to divine greatness.

This needs to be heard in the context of the Roman Empire where orders were given in the name of powerful officials, the Senate, or the Emperor himself. Jesus now has a name that is greater than any of those. The words may even have been familiar at the time that they were included in Philippians but they are political dynamite. A crucified man is Lord of All.

To Ponder

  • This passage is an exhortation to the Philippians to be humble and not to think too highly of themselves. Why is that (at least for some people) so difficult?
  • New Year is a time to take stock and to assess priorities and for many Methodists tomorrow will include the Covenant Service. What does it mean to you to say that Jesus Christ is Lord?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..