31 December 2016

Philippians 2:6-11

"At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (vv. 10-11)

Psalm: Psalm 96:10-13


If you are reading this study on the scheduled day, tonight is a night full of promise, fireworks, parties, music - and also a time offering space to reflect, regret, saying goodbye, and welcoming in the potential of a brand new, shiny, sparkling, New Year. For many people, today (and the next few days) are marked out by questions of personal ambition and passion. What do we want to achieve over the next year? What characteristics do we want to develop? What might we want to change in our lives?

These questions are not a new phenomenon, however.

Throughout the letter to the Philippians, Paul encourages his hearers to remain group-orientated rather than individualistic in their outlook. This group identity is then marked out by people committing themselves to living in harmony, unity, humility and hospitality.

This passage, often treated as a later addition to the letter, and seen as an early hymn celebrating Christ's identity. However, such interpretations neglect the significance of these verses in this overall structure of Paul's argument.

Rather than being a poetic interlude, there is recent scholarship to suggest that instead, here, Jesus becomes exhibit A in Paul's desire for the Philippian church to be marked out by harmony, unity, humility and hospitality. Jesus provides the definitive example of the type of behaviour that should characterise the Christian life.

Through Jesus, God has moved into the neighbourhood - and has done that in fully human form. Jesus' humility means that he transforms the world through service and humility, rather than through power and violence. Jesus willingly puts himself at the mercy of the powerful, and those seeking to be popular. Jesus is obedient to the violent method through which God's love is ultimate shown to the world. It is this sacrifice which enables the full flourishing of humanity, as the Philippian church (and us), are invited to proclaim Jesus' lordship and authority.

The need for distinctive group identity in the face of the challenges of individualism is more pertinent than ever in our contemporary lives. As a local, connexional, and global movement, being marked out by following Jesus' example, and by being a community identified by harmony, unity, humility and hospitality, may indeed be the way to change the world.

To Ponder

  • How might this passage impact upon any resolutions you might be making?
  • Which is most important for you - harmony, unity, humility and hospitality? What one thing can you do today to demonstrate this characteristic to someone else?
  • Listen to a version of the hymn 'At the name of Jesus.' What strikes you on this hearing?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Joanne Cox-Darling

Joanne Cox-Darling is a Methodist presbyter currently serving in the Wolverhampton Circuit, where most recently she participated in a harvest festival in a farmyard, surrounded by a 'small' dairy herd of nearly 200 cattle. Joanne is the chair of the Christian Enquiries Agency ( - described by the Archbishop of York as the "possibly the easiest form of evangelism you will ever do".