Song to the Philippians

Song to the Philippians

Song to the Philippians.

Please read Philippians 2:5-11.

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…

who, although He existed in the form of God

did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,

and being  made in the likeness of men,

and being found in appearance as a man,

He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,

even death on a cross.

Therefore also God highly exalted Him,

and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth,

and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.” (NASB).

CONTEXT. St. Paul established a thriving church in Philippi during his second missionary journey. Philippi was in Macedonia, northern Greece, and considered a part of continental Europe. The bustling city was a successful commercial center on a famous Roman road, the crossroads between Asia and Europe. It was a flourishing Roman colony that was flush with cash as well as paganism. Paul’s church there was the first Christian church established on the European continent. Most of the church were Gentiles, since Philippi was major stopping point for those traveling through the Roman empire.

Paul dearly loved the Philippi church, and a reader of this letter can easily pick up the affection he had for the believers there. His letter to the Philippians is mostly a love letter containing a thank you note to the church for their generosity. The church had given Paul a gift of money for the ministry, and Paul, being a prisoner in a Roman prison, was happy to write to his beloved church and thank them for the gift. Philippians is a letter about joy, suffering, Christian living, and the sufficiency of Christ. The letter was written to encourage them in the Faith, to strengthen each other in the church, and remain unified in Christ.

THE SONG. The centerpiece of Paul’s letter is this early church hymn that exalted Christ, that revealed the superiority as well as the humility of Jesus. This hymn has come down through history as a powerful example of a “Christ Hymn.” Philippians is a Christ-centered epistle, and the hymn is a profoundly Christ-centered song. It moves from Jesus’ preexistent glory, to obedient death on a cross, to His exaltation. One could easily call this the “Servant Song” as well, with the focus on Christ’s humility, servanthood, and obedience. Paul introduces the hymn by advising that we should all have this attitude of Christ among ourselves, that we need to embrace the example of Jesus’ humility in our daily walk in the faith.

To what can we compare this Divine voluntary movement of Jesus becoming man? Is there anything in nature that mirrors God putting on flesh? How about an eagle choosing to become a sparrow? No, that won’t work, because they are both the same species, merely one bird becoming another bird. The Son of God is not the same substance or species as a son of man. Those two beings were altogether different.

How about a lion giving up its lionhood, the king of the jungle, choosing to become a housecat? No, same thing. Same species.

How about Julius Caesar voluntarily becoming a household slave? Caesar would be emptying himself of all that privilege, honor and glory, as well as those Roman palaces, and all that power he enjoyed as a ruler of the known world. But this brings up the earlier objection… this in the end is just one man changing roles, going from one kind of man to merely another kind of man. Same species again.

The fact is, there is nothing in nature that provides a clear picture of Jesus emptying Himself of His stature as God to join humanity. Jesus was of a different substance, a totally different being. The Triune Lord in heaven was full of other-worldly glory, attributes, and self-sufficiency.

  1. Jesus was better than perfect, choosing to take on the frailties of human nature. He was an immaculately pure Being embracing the tarnished image of Himself. He was everything and become nothing, a willing volunteer of love.
  2. He was bigger than the universe, His presence was uncontainable. Yet He became as small as a fetus. His immensity stretched outside of natural space, yet He chose to occupy finite space. “His center is everywhere, His circumference nowhere.” ¬†(Lockyer).
  3. Jesus was older than time itself, He was outside time, everlasting and eternal. Yet He submitted to chronology, to the reality of measured time. There never was a time when He wasn’t, but still He chose to live within the past, the present, and the future.
  4. He was the Co-Creator, yet he chose to become something created. He was the Maker becoming the made. He is the artist creating a painting, then volunteering to jump into the painting, a portrait painter becoming the portrait.
  5. Jesus was the source of all energy in the universe, more powerful than energy itself. Yet He submitted to a human energy level, with its fatigue, weariness and need for sleep and rest.
  6. He moved from utter independence to dependence on other people. He didn’t need anyone for companionship, for the Triune Lord was a Community of Love. He didn’t need personal relationships in heaven, because they had each other in the Godhead. He enjoyed everlasting fellowship within the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s a miracle of love that Jesus became needy for human help and human companionship.
  7. He was higher than the angels, but He chose to become lower than a servant. He voluntarily became underprivileged, marginalized, relatively insignificant in human terms. He was highest and chose lowest. He was the Author of Life who was obedient unto death. Jesus is Eternal Life that chose death.
  8. Jesus was more brilliant than a genius. He was all-knowing. He knew everything there was to know, and then infinitely more. His knowledge surpassed knowledge itself. He gave up this attribute, to submit to learning knowledge on earth, to growing in wisdom. Jesus went from being the ultimate Master to a humble apprentice.
  9. He exuded heavenly majesty, was beyond beautiful. Jesus invented beauty on earth. Anything that appears to have a graceful, colorful, sublime beauty is just a meager hint, is just the merest spark of the holy fire of beauty emanating from the Godhead. He surrendered this unfathomable beauty to become One who is described in Isaiah 53:2, “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about His appearance, nothing to attract us to Him… One look at Him and people turned away. We looked down on Him, thought He was scum.”

Is there anything that compares to Jesus emptying Himself, pouring Himself out, setting aside the pure glory of His Being for a season of human existence? No, there is nothing that compares with that level of humility. No wonder the angels sing around the throne that He is “worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev. 5:12). It’s no wonder Paul’s majestic hymn closes with this resounding verse…

Therefore also God highly exalted Him,

and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth,

and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.”