Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:6-11).
One trembles with awe and proceeds only hesitantly before adding any human commentary to such an ancient, God-breathed passage of scripture. In vv. 6-11 we have the famous “Christ Hymn.” This ancient hymn may have originated with Paul, or could possibly have been circulating since the earliest days of the Jesus movement. What is most important for our purposes is how much rich biblical truth is packed into this theologically potent poetic refrain.
As I suggested in a previous post, the Christian life is much like the long, slow, grace-filled, and Spirit-led process of partnering with God to put all the pieces of our lives back together like a jigsaw puzzle so that the finished product looks like picture of the box — Christ. The central goal of the Christian life is to be conformed to the image of Christ to the glory of God.
Yet, what exactly does Christ look like? Once all the pieces of our lives are put back into their place, what does the image of Christ look like?
The Christ Hymn paints a vivid, poetic picture of the character of Christ.
The spiritual insights into the character of Christ and the call toward Christ-like living in this passage are almost numberless. Yet, let us focus on just five this time around — two today and three next time. Remember that Paul inserts this poem here to help us discover exactly what kind of attitude is fitting for a person who is following Christ’s example.
1. Stepping down and serving others. Jesus, though sharing all the power and privileges that belong to God, is willing to set them aside in obedience to God’s greater will and take on the role of a servant to others. Jesus is fully God but is willing to become fully human with all that entails in order to suffer and die for our benefit.
What does this mean for us? We are to follow Christ’s example and hold loosely to our own positions of honor, power, prestige and privileges. This is especially true when these sorts of things cause us to believe that those beneath us in position, power, and privileges are supposed to serve us who are “above” them. Jesus shockingly turns the tables by making himself nothing, or “emptying himself”, and taking on the very nature of a servant. Paul just told us to “consider others better than yourselves” (v. 3). He learned that from Jesus himself, who is the ultimate example of someone stepping down from a position of power in order to serve others.
We might call the pattern of Christ’s life a V-shaped life as this graphic shows.
2. Radical obedience to the Father’s will. A Christ-like attitude will also place obedience to God and self-sacrificial love for the sake of others as the highest badges of faith. Jesus’ entire life was one of loving, willing submission to the authority of the Father. “The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31; cf. 5:19). Jesus, like Abraham before him, was willing to obey God even to the point of the greatest conceivable sacrifice. He “became obedient to death — even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Jesus obeyed the Father’s will. Period.
This is a great challenge for us who live in a culture that resists all authority other than ourselves, and the word “submission” is equated with “weakness” or, worse, ruthless subjugation or abuse. Let us remember that Jesus, who himself shared complete and harmonious unity with the Father and Spirit, did not submit himself begrudgingly out of fear or by force. Rather, we are told that it was “for the joy set before him” that Jesus “endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). This is the Jesus Paul is helping us “fix our eyes upon.”
Next time we’ll uncover three more powerful aspects of Christ’s example we are to imitate in our lives of gradual transformation into the image of Christ by the power of the Spirit.
Are you starting to get a clearer picture of the Christian puzzle box cover? Stay tuned.
Originally written in 2009 as part of the “Dear Philippians” series.