The Christ Hymn

One of my favorite sections of Scripture is Philippians 2:5-11. In this passage Paul paints for us a beautiful picture of humility and self-denial in the person of Christ. All to often I read this hymn and I am immediately struck by how I fail to model such humility. Whereas Christ climbs down the latter of success and praise from others, I seem to want to climb as high as I can up that very latter. When you examine the text, you get a picture of just how far down the latter Christ goes.

5 τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, 6 ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ, 7 ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος· καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος 8 ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ. 9 διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα, 10 ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ ἐπουρανίων καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων 11 καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πατρός (Phil 2:5-11).

Paul frames his hymn with a command in v.5: τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (Have this way of thinking among yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus). The demonstrative τοῦτο functions in both a backward as well as forward pointing manner, reminding the reader of what was previously said and also preparing the reader for what follows. Already Paul has exhorted the Philippians to act in a way which cares more for the concerns of others rather than themselves. But in case the Philippians do not know how this looks, Paul gives them the ultimate example of humility, Christ Jesus.

While much has been said in regards to Phil 2.6-11 and the deity of Christ, I tend to think that this is not the main focus of Paul’s argument. While he does in fact make mention of Christ’s deity, ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων (Although he existed in the form of God…), it is in passing and assumed. It is hard to believe that in light of the command in v.5 Paul would focus on Christ’s deity as their motivation to think in a particular manner. The reader may ask himself, How can anyone attempt to even try to have the mindset of Christ since he is God? Rather, Paul focuses on the humanity of Christ.

What exactly was the attitude(s) that Paul says was characteristic of Jesus?

  1. He did not grasp for what was rightfully his (οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ). Although he was God, he did not concern himself with the privileges, honor, or status that came with the title God. In an honor and shame culture like the one we find in Phillipi, the pursuit of glory and honor meant everything. But Jesus did not climb that latter.
  2. Instead, he emptied himself of this pursuit by taking the form of a slave (ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος·). Right here we see the irony of this in full effect. Christ, who is God, refuses to cling to his title, and instead goes the other way and takes on the status of a slave. The Master becomes the slave.
  3. The climb down the latter of success ends with three nails and a cross (ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ). The Lord of glory willing submits to the most shameful death imaginable. In first-century Palestine there was no more shameful way of dying. Not only is the physical pain unbearable, but while you are hanging there in pain you are also suffering the pain of shame, mockery, and rejection.

Thankfully the hymn does not end there. God does not leave Christ with the shame of the cross to bear. Instead, he exalts him higher than he previously was and gives him a name more glorious than any name (διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα). And it is at this name, Jesus, that every knee will bow and tongue confess Jesus is Lord (ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ ἐπουρανίων καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πατρός).

In a culture saturated in honor and the drive for success, Paul turns the whole thing upside down and gives us a picture of what true humility looks like. Instead of seeking honor and praise from man, seek rather how you can serve others in a manner that may lead to your death. But do not worry, God will reward you in heaven.

In closing I am reminded of the words of the Master: “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”

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3 thoughts on “The Christ Hymn

  1. Pingback: Elsewhere (09.28.2011) | Near Emmaus

  2. Pingback: November Biblical Studies Carnival: The Undead Edition « The Musings of Thomas Verenna

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