May 29 Sermon Resource

The Christ Hymn

Philippians 2:1-13

Accompanying Text: Luke 6:43-45


“Philippians 2:5-11…Despite being a beautiful passage, it has been a source of great controversy. The biggest question is: Why is it in Philippians, and why is it so different from the rest of the letter?

It has a double theme, which is very clear — emptied/exalted and down/up. There is a beautiful balance, with Jesus coming all the way down to the cross and then going all the way up to the very top. He empties himself, and God exalts him…

Some people suggest that Paul is quoting a hymn which the early church sang and which suited the point he is making. But we no evidence for that — it may even be that Paul is composing a hymn here. After all, when something touched Paul’s heart deeply, he often lapsed into poetry. In the Bible prose is used to communicate God’s thoughts, but poetry is used to communicate his feelings…” [1]

“The ‘Mind of the Messiah’ is then the subject of one of the greatest Jesus-focused poems of all time. Echoing Genesis, the Psalms, and Isaiah in particular, it tells the story of Jesus going down to the lowest depths and then being exalted as Lord of the whole world. The poem works at several levels. It expresses many things Paul believed about Jesus himself — the truly human one, the ultimate Israelite, the Servant of the Lord, the embodiment of Israel’s God in person, the reality of which Caesar was a shallow parody…This is the story of Adam (everyone), of Israel, of the One God — all in the form of a perfectly balanced poem about Jesus…Its careful structure, giving full weight to the cross in the very center, encapsulates exactly what Paul most deeply believed about the gospel. It is because of the cross — the defeat of the powers — that Jesus has been exalted as Lord and that every knee shall bow at his name…Learning to think as the Messiah had thought, Paul insisted, was the only way to radical unity in the church…Once again, Paul is using his letters to teach his church not just what to think, but how to think…His job was to inculcate in them the mind of the Messiah”. [2]

Thoughts re application today

“Some use this passage to support what is called the Kenotic theory of Christ. The word ‘kenotic’ comes from the Greek word kenosis, meaning ‘emptied’. They debate how much of God Christ emptied himself of when he became a man. What did he let go?

From this comes a very dangerous theological assumption — that Jesus was not 100 percent God when he was on earth, but emptied himself of part of his divinity in order to become man.

It’s certainly obvious that he left part of his glory behind…he also left is omnipresence behind — he could no longer be everywhere…It’s also clear that he did not know everything…He left behind his omnipotence too, because he could only do miracles after the power of the Holy Spirit had come upon him…

So there is no doubt that he emptied himself of many of his privileges and his powers. But the key is that he did not in any sense cease to be God: he remained 100 percent divine and 100 percent human — he was fully both…So it is crucial to realise that the things he gave up were not of his nature but of his privileges. ‘The fullness of the Godhead still dwelt in him bodily’, even though he laid aside his privileges…

Actually, this whole passage is neither liturgical nor theological, but from the content of the letter, it is an ethical passage — it is about Christ’s attitudes and choices. You can tell a man’s character from his choices, and we see here the extraordinary choices Jesus made’”. [3]

“The summing up of history within a single person had profound social implications. Christ is ‘the one new man’ in whom Jew and Gentile find a new common identity…Through his willing obedience and humiliation, Christ had reversed the arrogance and presumption of the first man and so received the glory and honor due to the image of God (Phil 2:5-11). In so doing, he had become the model for all who would live as the Creator intended”. [4]

‘In life and in death, in obedience and sacrifice, he served others. This is the great underlying theme of Philippians 2:5-11. Christ Jesus looked not to his own interests, but to the interest of others”. [5]

“Echoes of kenosis (Christ’s self-emptying) reverberate like thunder throughout the New Testament…

The writer of first epistle of Peter builds his entire message around the theme of Christ’s self-emptying love, understanding that Christ trusted himself wholly and utterly to the Father rather than trusting himself to his own strength (1 Peter 2:23). Here we see the mystery of kenosis grounded in the heart of the Trinity…

It is not too much to say that the fullness of God consists in God’s self-emptying, God’s power to give up God’s very life for the sake of others, indeed of every other. It is this that we see in the incarnation: Christ empties himself for the sake of humanity, and in this act of supreme self-surrender Christ affirms the fullness of God’s almighty love”. [6]

Some other Scripture Resources

  • Hebrews 2:5-15
  • Ephesians 2:14-18
  • Titus 2:11-14
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9

GCI resources

Footnotes and references

  1. David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible: a unique overview of the whole Bible, published by the HarpersCollinsPublishers, UK, 2015:1067-1068.
  2. Tom Wright, Paul: A Biography, published by SPCK in the UK in 2018, 2020:273-274.
  3. David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible: a unique overview of the whole Bible, published by the HarpersCollinsPublishers, UK, 2015:1068-1069.
  4. Mark Strom, Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace and Community, published by IVP in USA in 2000:88.
  5. Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement, published by IVP, UK, in 2014:82-83.
  6. Michael Jinkins, Invitation to Theology, IVP, USA, 2001:132-133
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