Hymn to Humility

In our ongoing series examining some of the greatest verses of the New Testament, last week we examined Ephesians 2 and talked about salvation by grace, through faith. We finished up noting that while our works do not save us, Ephesians 2:10 notes “…we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” That is to say that God did not merely save us from sin, death and hell, but saved us to good works.

It is that notion that leads us into one of my favorite passages Philippians 2, we’ll look at the verses 2:1-18 in (naturally) three parts. And if your getting the feeling that we’ve discussed this before, we did it on 9-10-10. Should this little treatise be insufficiently boring you can also read my earlier notes on Philippians 2 here.

Actually, while you could divide it into three parts its really better in two, or better yet more like a donut (a shape that should be familiar to all Southern Baptists as donuts and coffee prior to Sunday School are as near to a sacrament as we come). By that I mean there is a whole surrounded by the argument Paul makes in 2 parts. (See what I did there?)

So lets take up the “whole” first, that would be in 2:6-11. Biblical scholars of all stripes agree that this passage represents a hymn of the very early church. There is considerable evidence in scripture and in contemporary accounts of the early church singing hymns to Christ and a large hymnology (though mostly lost to us). Arguments rage over whether it contains vestiges of gnosticism, whether Paul was the author, if there is evidence for an Aramaic urschrift, or if this is a piece of Heilsgeschichte. (That last one is funny, go ahead and laugh.)

Here is how it lays out as a hymn with six strophes (from an analysis with way too much information by Ralph P. Martin):

A (a) Who, though He bore the stamp of the divine Image,
(b) Did not use equality with God as a gain to be exploited;

B (a) But surrendered His rank,
(b) And took the role of a servant;

C (a) Accepting a human-like guise,
(b) And appearing on earth as the Man;

D (a) He humbled Himself,
(b) In an obedience which went so far as to die.

E (a) For this, God raised Him to the highest honour,
(b) And conferred upon Him the highest rank of all;

F (a) That, at Jesus’ name, every knee should bow,
(b) And every tongue should own that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’.

All that stuff is great for scholarly types that like to sling around German terms and pepper their papers with snippets of Greek, but what are we to make of this hymn? Just this: that even though Jesus had the right to love himself as God, he was obedient to the point of his own horrible death. That this man Jesus, alone among all men, had the right to the things that only God has a right to (glory, honor, power, worship). All men desire these things, but only the one man had the right to them. And it was this man, this Yeshua of Nazareth, who gave up all these things out of obedience to God, the Father. In a sense he was the only man who could give up being God because he was the only one who is God (as much as we might like to be). But because he regarded obedience more important than his Godhead, he was made both Christ and Lord and given all those things he had given up.

But back to this Heilsgeschichte business. This is a nice German compound word (aren’t they all) that means a view of history that emphasizes God’s saving acts and views Jesus Christ as central to them. What do you think, does the hymn fit that definition? Why or why not?

So that’s the “whole” the real sacrifice of Jesus was not his just death, many have died for a cause. But all they had to lose was their lives. Jesus gave up much more than just his life, he gave up what all of us want most — to be God.

And the donut? The first part of the dounut is in 2:1-5. Here Paul urges the Philipians to:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus

Then in 2:12-13 he says:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

And here is the connection back to Ephesians: the works we are called on to do as the handiwork of God who both made and saved us is to “in humility value others above yourselves” and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” If our call is to be like Christ, what does the “whole” suggest he was like? How was it Jesus worked out his relationship with the Father? I like the notion that this “working out” is something that happens on the inside. That we allow what has happened to us by grace through faith to work its way from inside our hearts into the world around us. The love Jesus felt for the Father worked its way to the outside and resulted in Jesus’ obedience even to the point of death on the cross.

And here’s the hard question: what do we find working out from inside us?