We encourage you to read all of Philippians 2 each day this week. As you do today, focus on verses 5-8, printed below.
5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
History says the city of Philippi was full of retired Roman military men. Ask them who was a great leader and they’d have named Alexander the Great, the Greek leader who conquered nearly all of the known world, or the Roman Emperor Augustus who forcibly ended a civil war in the empire. Yet Paul urged the Philippians to be like Jesus (the Christ = anointed one), a vastly different kind of king. “Instead of using his position to gain things for himself, Christ used it to give to others.”*
Lord Jesus, I call you Lord, not despite your humble, serving life and death, but because of it. As I worship you, send your Spirit to grow more of your self-giving love in my heart. Amen.
* Jerry L. Sumney, study note on Philippians 2:6 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 377 NT.
** Wright, N.T., Paul for Everyone, The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 101-103). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
*** Greek insights from I-Jin Loh and Eugene A. Nida, A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. New York: United Bible Societies, 1977, pp. 59-60.
This passage of Philippians is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. When I saw that my assigned Scripture for today was this one, my first reaction was to get excited. The hymn that Paul includes here in verses 6–11 is beautiful and, in my opinion, is one of the greatest summaries of gospel in all of Scripture, and it has had a rich and meaningful application in my own life.
After that initial wave of excitement, though, I began to feel a sense of dread. You see, this passage has been meaningful to me, but it’s not easy. On the contrary, it is consistently one of the texts in Scripture that most challenge me.
The hymn describes Jesus as sacrificing his privilege to become human and, ultimately, give up his life in a humiliating death. And then Paul tells us to adopt that same attitude. What does that even mean for me? Does it mean each of us are called to give away every part of ourselves, even unto death?
I don’t have a great answer to that question. But it did start to click a while back when someone mentioned to me that they thought one of the main reasons Jesus came was to show us what it meant to be truly human. When I read today’s passage with that idea in mind, it transforms the passage – it is no longer an impossible standard of living, but is instead a radical, but achievable, reorientation of my priorities.
Society tells me to see how much (wealth, food, goods) I can stockpile, but the example of Jesus tells me that to be the human God made me to be, I ought to see how much I can give away.
Society tells me to protect my life at all costs, but the example of Jesus tells me that to be the human God made me to be, I ought to love the life of my neighbor more than my own.
I want to be authentically human, to be the human I was created to be. But this is more than simply a mental shift, as if I could think differently without actually changing the way I live. It requires me to be aware of the privileges I have and consciously give them away.
This is something I’m still figuring out. I don’t always know how to do that. But I’m continually working to become more human.
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