God’s Better Way (Phil. 2:1-11)
Philippians 2:1-11 is one of the richest texts in the whole of the Greek New Testament. It is a passage that any modern theologian would have been honored to write. It emphasizes the humanity of the historical Jesus – His earthly life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection, and example. If confesses belief in the full humanity of Jesus along with His oneness with God as full Deity. It identifies the core requirement for Christian unity, namely the cross as a symbol of suffering and self-denial.
Once again, Paul is no arm-chair theologian. He seeks to relate faith to action in the world. The mind of Christ must permeate the real world of everyday life, not only in the fellowship of the saints but also the realm of “secular” affairs.
The Bible does not separate believers from the world in which they live. It never divides one’s private life from one’s public life. At the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and at the very center of the book of Philippians, is a message of power through weakness, joy through sorrow, victory through defeat – in the real world. Just as Jesus taught us that the way up is down, so Paul teaches us that there is only one way forward in Christian unity, and that is for Christians to lay aside their “rights” and with humility of mind esteem others as more important than themselves.
No Christian can be at peace with God if he or she is constantly at odds with other Christians. There can be no unity where there is desire for personal prestige. Disunity destroys the very heart of the church. It is useless to think that we can be unified unless we are first willing, like Christ, to empty ourselves and make ourselves of no reputation.
Humility and self-renunciation – these, then, are the great qualities that marked Jesus’ earthly ministry. He led, not by personal ambition, but by self-sacrifice. We may well think to ask ourselves some questions at this point:
Paul is telling us that it is the very nature of God to give rather to grasp. Jesus really and truly became the slave of humanity even though He was (and is) Master and Owner of everything.
Although we may have not robbed or defrauded another person, we may still not live sacrificially. Like the Rich Young Ruler, who had great possessions, it never occurs to us to give away what we have and spend it on others. But, Paul says, in a world bent on getting, the Christian is to be bent on giving. An honest assessment of our own priorities, without conceit or false modesty, is one of the first steps in recovering the teaching of Phil 2:1-11.
It is surely significant that Paul singles out the life of Christ as the great example of self-abnegation, for Christian love is nothing other than Christ’s sacrificial love poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Thus he concludes this wonderful passage by saying that if a Christian is honestly living out the Christ-life, God the Father will receive glory and honor for it. That, in a nutshell, is the message of Phil. 2:1-11: the follower of Jesus does not think of his or her own glory, but only of the glory of God.
This indeed is God’s “better way.”
March 2, 2009
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.