Bible Commentary

PHILIPPIANS 16: Puzzle Pieces & Box Covers (Phil 2:5)

rembrandt-apostle_paul“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…”


“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”
(Phil. 2:5) 

Have you ever tried putting together a puzzle without having the box cover to show you what the finished product is supposed to look like?  Without the cover picture we only a jumble of pieces that might, taken individually, give us a small taste of beauty, but nevertheless leave one wondering what larger, more beautiful whole they are supposed to be forming. 

The individual and corporate life of the Christian is much the same.  Our lives often feel like a bunch of pieces we’re trying to put fit together to form something worth looking at.  In truth, we are each incomplete puzzles in the hands of God. Paul tells us elsewhere, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Eph. 2:10).  That is, God in Christ is taking all of the broken, fragmented pieces of our old lives and transforming them by the Spirit and carefully putting us back together again like a precious puzzle that will serve it’s intended purpose.  The finished product will be individuals forming a worldwide community of people who display God’s glory and divine artistry.  

puzzle_pieces300x199Instead of a puzzle, Paul uses the similar metaphor of individuals being fit together like building blocks to form God’s Holy Temple wherein His presence dwells: “In [Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph. 1:21-22).  

Paul has already assured us earlier in this letter (1:6) that God doesn’t leave his puzzles halfway finished, like a bored child walking away to find the next interesting thing to occupy himself with.  “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).  Yet, we are not lifeless puzzle pieces in God’s hand. We are living beings with free will who God invites to cooperate with the Spirit in the lifelong quest of becoming evermore “conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son” Jesus Christ. 

Yet, there are days when we lose sight of the big picture.  There are days when our lives feel like a cardboard box full of fragmented pieces of various shapes and colors that don’t seem to fit anywhere or form anything beautiful or valuable.  All too often we waste our time trying to force pieces that don’t quite fit, just guessing and going about in our life of faith without abox cover to show us what we are trying to make and what the finished product is supposed to look like.  

We desperately need a box cover for the Christian life.  

Good news!  Philippians 2:5-11 is Paul’s attempt to provide Christians with a beautiful, graphically alluring and poetically dazzling box cover for the Christian life.  How is God fitting all of the broken and fragmented pieces of our lives back together again?  When we’re cooperating with the Spirit of God and anchoring our lives in Christ, what should our our lives look like?  Paul attempts to find language to adequately address these questions for us here.  

The answer: Christ himself is the box cover.  

JesusPuzzleChrist provides the ultimate example of what it means to live a fully human life in perfect relationship with God, others and self. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (2:5).  Thus, Christ-likenes is the goal of our faith.  Yet, another appropriate reading of the Greek reminds us that Christ is also the source of our faith: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (2:5).  Yes, God is putting our lives together like a puzzle, transforming each piece and putting them in their proper place — but this is a gift that “is yours in Christ Jesus.”  That is, we become what God always intended us to be only as we are united with Christ by grace through faith.

So, if Christ is the perfect box cover, then what exactly does this Christ look like?  In the verses that follow (vv. 6-11), Paul will stretch his vocabulary and the limits of human language to provide a poetic description of the nature and character of Christ.  Stay tuned.

8 replies »

  1. Well written, my friend. Here are some of my favorite words from one of my favorite pastors on how Phil. 2:5ff works out in Christian leadership: “Jesus’ ministry is so simple that most pastors consider it naive: Word. Friendship. Sacrament. Leadership. That’s all. Jesus’ life has a general narrative direction. We call this general direction the Way of the Cross…His life flowed toward the cross at all times. He never climbed any first-century ladders of sucess. The devil showed him plenty. The people begged him to climb them. Jesus rejected ladders and consistently chose the downward road of sacrifice…The power to do pastoral ministry and its central focus, that which gives every aspect of it meaning, lies specifically in the everyday, concrete following of Jesus, led by him on the Way of the Cross. That is how we become parables of Jesus and deliver him to the people we meet (2 Cor. 4:10-11).” – David Hansen, “The Art of Pastoring: Ministry Without All the Answers”. IVP: Downers Grove, IL (1994) p.27

    • Amen. A “cruciform” life IS the way true of discipleship (Mark 10:35-45).

      I owe a lot to Jurgen Moltmann for maintaining a robust “theology of the cross.” I’ll be posting a 3 or 4 part series on Mark’s handling of Isaiah 53 and Daniel 7 as the background of Mark 10:45 later this summer. I hope you check it out.

      Peace. JB

  2. Nice and well written, I was seaeching for puzzle images to preach the same message, your devotion has added much to the sermon. Just wanted to share a scripture with you that I plan on using to present this message. Gos Bless you mt freind and newly found brother in Jesus. pastor Doug
    Psalms 139:16 KJV
    (16) Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

  3. Thanks for sharing, The scripture is misquoted however. It’s not Eph. 1:21-22 it’s Eph. 2:21-22 that it is writtin: In [Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit”
    I happened to be researching for an art project and saw it was an error.

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