Philippians 2:5-11

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on April 9, 2017.

Philippians 2:5-11 is one of the most familiar and discussed texts of Scripture. These seven verses entertain theological issues such as the hypostatic union of Jesus, the kenotic formula, and the ontological and functional realities of the Trinity. Though these issues have their place, these are not really the matters Paul is addressing. The milieu of this passage is one of believers learning to live their life as a community. It is a text ethical in nature in which Paul stimulates the practice of humility and unity among the believers exhibiting Jesus as the supreme example. The preacher needs to be careful not to get entangled in doctrinal issues that could detract from the greater message.

Following his greeting to the community of Philippi (1:1–2), Paul prays for them to reach unity (1:3–11). Next, he presents his own life as an example (1:12–26; 4:9) and exhorts the church to live lives of humility and unity without (1:27–30) and within the congregation (2:1–4). To illustrate, Paul draws from what is most likely an early Christian hymn-poem that praises Christ’s story of incarnation, crucifixion, and exaltation (2:5–11), and urges the Philippians to pattern Christ’s life story to address their particular situation (2:12-18).

Paul exhorts them to have “the mind of Christ” (2:5). In their mutual relations, they should adopt the same attitude of love and humility that marked the Lord (2:5). But, isn’t it true that one thing is to be called to have “the mind of Christ,” and another to nurture such habit of mind individually and collectively? So, how can the Philippians be a people characterized by unity and humility? Paul intimates that the first step is to know well Christ’s story. This is the Gospel story of Christ leaving the glories of his preexistent, eternal state to undertake humanity through cross death.

Accordingly, Paul proceeds to describe Jesus’ incarnation, his humble renunciation (2:6-7). He highlights the paradoxical aspect of the mystery of the incarnation. Jesus, who was in the form of God, chose the life of a slave. While the movement of people inclines toward an upward mobility and the greater fulfillment of human dignity, Christ inclines toward a downward mobility to the point of suffering the vilest humiliation of death on a cross. He did not consider being God as the basis for receiving but for the offering. In the incarnation, God identifies with humans to provide them amazing grace; transfusing new life from God to humans (John 3:16). How is this? Christ becomes what humans are so that humans can become what Christ is (2 Corinthians 5:21): love, unselfish, humble, obedient servant (2:1-4). Through the incarnation, Christ offered his very life to rescue sinful humanity from eternal death and lead them to eternal life in God’s presence.

Paul then points to Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus humbled himself to the point of death. He recalls the lowly circumstances of Jesus’ life: he not only became a man but a poor man whose beginning was in a stable (Luke 2:6-7), raised in a remote place where nothing good was expected (John 1:46), and with no place of abode (Matthew 8:20). The depth of his humiliation was demonstrated by dying on a cruel cross where he identifies with humans’ sufferings, pain, and death. There are no shortcuts in the believers’ life. If they are to nurture Christ’s habit of mind, they must follow Christ’s model of humility, which entails serving and sacrificing for each other irrespective of personal cost. This is consistent with Isaiah’s prophecy of the “servant” who would suffer and even die, but eventually be exalted (Isaiah 52:13).

Next, Paul omits the resurrection and speaks to Jesus’ exaltation. Jesus was freely granted by the sovereign will of the Father, a place as universal “Lord” and supreme over all creation. Could Paul’s image of worshiping communion embody the forthcoming fellowship believers are having with God and with one another in eternity? It could be. Yet, Paul’s foresight of eternity does not validate believers’ inaction in the here and now. Believers are to live out the life of obedience, humility, unity and service God is working in them by emulating the Lord Jesus (2:12-14). Paul might be prompting believers of their need to bow their knee and confess with their tongue that Jesus is Lord in every area of their lives. If believers “humble themselves,” in service to God and others they too will be exalted (Matthew 23:12; 1 Peter 5:6).

So how can a preacher today challenge his listeners to nurture the mind of Christ? A good approach is to model Paul’s method of proclaiming the story of Jesus.  People today need to be refreshed with the story of Jesus. This was Peter’s approach in his Pentecostal sermon in which he proclaimed the full story of Jesus. (Acts 2:14-36). Isn’t this the story that stirs people’s hearts? Those committed to Jesus have learned that this is a story worth living and dying for. Though Paul omits the resurrection, it is vital that the preacher emphasizes in the story the inseparability of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, for God’s ultimate triumph is found in the crucified and risen Savior.

Fostering the humility of Christ and becoming a unified whole is the result of believers actually situating themselves within Christ’s story. Believers need to know the story and be inspired and challenged to live it out daily. Paul’s conviction is that Christ’s redemptive story is embodied in what God did for us through his incarnation, humiliation, crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation. Hence, the sermon must summon believers to imitate the life of Christ in a holistic manner. The preacher might enquire what it means to bear Christ’s mind. Does the believers’ communal life reflect the mind of Christ? Are believers serving and sacrificing for each other? Are there marks of humility and unity among them? Paul is of the firm conviction that bearing Christ’s mind should mold the life of the faith community and their bonds with its neighbors.


Edgardo Martinez Mitchell
Minister of Missions and Evangelism
First Baptist Church El Paso





Tags: unity, humility, mind of Christ, incarnation, crucifixion, servanthood, obedience, exaltation

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