By: Dn Ng Zhiwen
Philippians 2:5-11 has been understood by many commentators to be an ancient hymn about Christ – His humiliation and exaltation. To properly understand it, we must appreciate the thrust of Paul’s message in this part of the epistle, particularly in 2:1-4. Paul was exhorting the Philippian church to live as a community of grace marked by love, humility and unity (or “one-ness”) of mind. Rivalry and conceit (or “empty glory”; v. 3) should have no place in Christ’s people in their relations with each other. Why? Because that is not the mind of Christ (v.5), or rather, that is not the mind they would have if they were in Christ Jesus. What then is the mind of Christ? Paul would go on to describe this through the hymn.
There are a number of aspects of the mind of Christ that are as challenging and relevant to today’s Christian community (and ministers) as it was 2000 years ago.
Christ was assured of His equality with God, and therefore He saw no need to grasp it.
We are called likewise to be assured of our salvation. More than that, we may also be assured of the covenantal promises of God made to His people, and the glory that we will receive. Most of all, we may rest assured in the love of God – nothing can separate us from that love that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). When we are this assured, what need have we to strive for empty glory?
Christ’s becoming the form of a slave did not mean that He denied who He was in essence. In fact, He affirmed it by becoming a slave.
His example points to the true meaning of humility. There is no false modesty involved. Just as Christ knew exactly Who He was, we too are called to see ourselves for exactly who we are, especially who we are in Christ. Christ, out of the knowledge of His divine character, manifested the nature of God in becoming a slave – thus demonstrating the spirit of self-abasement, motivated by love and obedience to the Father. So too may we follow suit. We may deny ourselves whatever rights and privileges that may accrue to our position, preferring rather to be a slave – why? Because of love, even a loving obedience to God. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). The glorious truth is that when we do this, we conform to the image of Christ.
Finally, let us not forget that the hymn ends with Christ’s exaltation and glory. As Paul writes in Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) The affirmation of Christ’s work came from the Father. God the Father is the One who gives Christ the name above every name, to which every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. What an antidote to the spirit of seeking men’s approval! We are likewise called to seek only to please our heavenly Father, and to seek only the glory that He gives. All else is empty glory. We can let this give us the strength and confidence to walk the road of suffering that precedes glory.
If we conformed to the image of Christ in all aspects of our relational life, it will bring about a radical transformation indeed – in our families and in our corporate church life. It will also transform the way of Christian leadership. The challenge for all church leaders, and even for all Christians in leadership positions in society, is to lead by serving, and to be prepared to abase them-selves to the lowest – while not forgetting who they are in Christ. Humility must be a hallmark of Christian leadership and Christian service – because this is how we will declare the glory of God.