Connections 04.09.2017: The Hymn of Christ

Philippians 2:5-11

Some commentators say that these verses from Philippians describe Jesus and his mission in the form of a hymn. If so, it is a magnificent and beautiful hymn that encapsulates everything Jesus is and all he came to do. We are supposed to strive for a mind like Christ’s (v. 5). What does that mean? What can we learn about Jesus through this hymn?

1. He is “in the form of God” (v. 6). That is, Jesus is on level with God. In fact, we can say that he is God.
2. He refused to exploit that status (v. 6). While Jesus had every right to make a big deal of himself—he is God, after all—he didn’t.
3. Instead, he was humble enough to take the form of a human being (v. 7). And rather than entering our world as a rich and famous king, he came to us as a poor infant, born to the humblest of parents.
4. Though he was on equal level with God, he chose to show us what it means to obey God in every aspect of life (v. 8). He kept obeying, following the path God set for him, even when it cost him his life.
5. God turned this tragedy around for Jesus with a tremendous victory over death. The one who humbled himself became exalted, with a name above all names. And eventually, every person will know that he is Lord (vv. 9-11).

What kind of mind does Jesus have? This hymn tells us: humble, selfless, serving, sacrificial, obedient, and—one day—triumphant. When I read about Jesus Christ in the Scriptures, I can see the man he was. I can hear his voice, sense his relationship with his disciples, feel his pain over death and suffering, experience his fear about a horrible death, and rejoice in his joy over the beauty in God’s world. I can see him as a kind and compassionate human man. But, as I listen to his words and witness his actions, I can also see him as a glorious, exalted Lord.

As the Philippians hymn tells us, Jesus is not either Lord or human man. He is both Lord and human man.

How can we possibly have the mind of Christ? If we focus only on the fact that he is Lord, we can’t. But if we remember that he was also a human being who lived out this life, we can begin to grasp what it means to have his mind. And we too will be among those whose knees bow and whose tongues confess Jesus Christ as Lord—because he has walked the paths we walk and we know him. What a gracious gift from God!

Discussion

1. What hymns help you feel close to Jesus Christ? Can you name hymns that focus mostly on his humanity? Can you name some that focus mostly on his divinity? Which ones mean the most to you?
2. How well do you think this hymn in Philippians proclaims who Jesus is?
3. What other Bible stories or passages communicate who Jesus is so clearly?
4. Why is it important to see Jesus in his entirety—not just as the human man but also as the divine Lord of all? Do you ever find this difficult to do? If so, why?
5. What do you think God wants you to know as you read through this hymn? How can you remember its truths as we enter Holy Week and approach Easter Sunday?

Reference Shelf

…2:6 commences with the relative pronoun “who”. Its antecedent, “Christ Jesus”, appears at the end of 2:5. Verse 6 makes two claims regarding Christ. First, 2:6 contends that he existed or was “in [the] form of God” (cf. 2 Cor 4:4 and Col 1:15, where Christ is depicted as the “image or likeness of God”. This complex expression appears to be used in reference to Jesus’ pre-existence. No divine afterthought was he; rather, not wholly unlike Wisdom (see Wis 7:22-26; Sir 24:1-17; cf. Prov 8:22-31), he was part and parcel of the divine nature and plan even before time began.

Verse 6 continues by asserting that Jesus, “being in the form of God, did not count equality with God harpagmon.” The Greek term harpagmos appears only here in the New Testament. Moreover, it is not used in the Septuagint and occurs infrequently in extra-biblical Greek literature. The word may be rendered “robbery, plundering” or “a thing to be grasped, gripped.” If the latter, the idea communicated in 2:6 would be that Jesus did not regard his equality with God as something that he had to hold on to for dear life and at all costs; if the former, the thought expressed would be that Jesus did not think being equal with God entitled him to exploit his position for his own personal advantage at others’ expense. Either way, Paul appears to suggest in v. 6 that Jesus did not view his divine status as something to be protected or preserved. In contradistinction to self-consumed rulers and despots, he did not regard his lofty state as a perch from which to look down upon others as he “ruled the roost” and did whatever he willy-nilly well pleased. Both readings of harpagmos, then, accord with Paul’s admonitions to the Philippians in 2:1-5 and are in keeping with what is stated in 2:7.

Far from tenaciously grasping or indiscriminately exercising his divine privileges and prerogatives, Jesus divested himself (lit., “he emptied himself) of his divine position (not nature), prestige, and “perks.” He who was “in the form of God” took on “the form of a slave”. Christ’s self-demoting self-divestiture—of which Paul also speaks elegantly elsewhere (see esp. 2 Cor 8:9)—is precisely the mindset Paul commends to the Philippian assembly.

Todd D. Still, Philippians & Philemon, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2011) 68-69.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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