Philippians 2:5-11
The Christ Hymn

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1.  The biblical passage given for today is from Philippians chapter two and verses five through eleven.  They say verses six onward in this text used to be a hymn of praise back then which Paul wrote into this epistle.  Why does a hymn of praise appear abruptly in this letter?  As we read today in the portion of scripture just before, the following is written therein. "Not doing things from a selfish heart or vainglory but humbling oneself and thinking of others as more superior persons than yourself, pay attention to not only your matters but to other people's matters," (verses three through four).  This kind of situation was mentioned because a problem was definitely in existence at the Philippian church.  In this manner Paul quotes a hymn in relation to a specific problem at the church.

2.  But anyway, the way he quotes a hymn in relation to a specific problem at the church somehow leaves an unnatural impression.  How did you all feel about it?  What is quoted here is the Christ hymn arranged so very beautifully.  The theologically important theme is a song in which the theme about the humiliation and the exaltation of Christ is sung.  But, on the flip side, a very common [every day] problem appears in the text, a problem of selfish and vainglorious hearts which is written just before the hymn.  This problem is not just limited to church matters, even within small groups or some larger communities we know all too unpleasantly how the tiresomely vain and selfish hearts of people destroy relationships. So, it's not just the Bible that expressly speaks on this topic; we know that modesty is important and we should pay attention to other people's situations.  However, even though we know it, we are not able to practice that so well.  Everyone has more or less entertained a distressful problem like that.  What in the world does a problem of such familiarity to us and a hymn of praise wherein a profound Christian doctrine is sung have in relation to each other?  [What is their connection?]

The Humiliation Of Christ

3.  At first glance what joins this very unbalanced pair together is clearly the phrase in verse five.  While giving attention to this phrase from verse five, I would like us to think about the relationship between the common problem among us spoken of in verses three and four and the Christ hymn of verses six and so on.  But, actually, the phrase in verse five is rather an impossible verse for translation.  We could translate it according to a number of ways of understanding it.  For example, the colloquial translation of the Japan Bible Society has "Put to practice this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus."  That's a drastic difference in meaning. In the Literary Bible Version it has "Let the heart of Christ Jesus be in your heart."  These are clear and simple.  The New Interconfessional Version is close to these.

4.  "Have this attitude for one another, which is found also in Christ Jesus." This seems, in a word, to be saying, "Please imitate Christ Jesus."   If one asks what part of Christ in particular should we model, we can understand that it is his "humility;" which is because in verse three the word "humbled himself" appears and [likewise] in verse eight the word "humbled himself" appears.  At this place in the original text as well two similar words are in use.  Naturally then, when we think of it like this we can consent to its being quoted as a hymn of praise.  Since the disciples at Philippi would have undoubtedly known this song, it probably became very handy and useful material for admonishing them of their vainglory and selfishness and for teaching modesty.

5.  Well, it is easy to understand if we explain [verse five] in this way.  But, the easy way to understand is not always true.  Upon reading it carefully, we realize that something that doesn't sound right remains.  The first thing to strike me is the organization of the hymn's structure which Paul quoted.  This is evidently divided into first and second halves.  If it spoke only of the modesty or humility of Christ as a model for us, wouldn't the first half alone be enough?  In other words, the part up to verse eight would have sufficed. Why did he have to quote from verses nine and on, I wonder?

6.  So, we take further notice of the portion of the passage that says, "he humbled himself, even to death, that is, he obeyed even to the death on the cross."  Could the one equal to God who went as far as death on the cross truly be a model for modesty and humility as we are thinking?  In the beginning were the two simply so linked together like that, that is, [his] self-deprecation and crucifixion?  Does just this matter of how high the one equal to God made of himself in the lowest death truly become an example of humility?  In reality, if the case is just that Christ merely demonstrated a model of modesty for us, I think he wouldn't have been crucified and killed.  [We can say that] because, generally speaking, we would respect the man of humility and would not hang him on the cross.  If the case is just that the one who was God cast off his glory and took on the figure of humanity, he may possibly be a model of humility.  However, if that alone is what he has said, this matter of the death on the cross is clearly going way overboard and excessive.

7.  As we think along this line, this matter of "humbled himself" in verse eight we understand is not what we would call the virtue of "humility." The important point is "Before whom did he humble himself?"  Furthermore, it is deeply connected to the words "he obeyed" recorded in the same verse eight.  Whom did he obey?  It goes without saying that [he submitted] to God.  This song was singing about how Christ humbled himself before God and obeyed Him.  Better still, the emphasis was on his obedience.

8.  That Christ "was obedient" is to say Christ followed the will of God's heart.  So, what was the will of God?  The will of God which the Bible consistently speaks of is the salvation of humanity.  The will of God which Christ obeyed is none other than the will of God which sent Christ wanting to save humanity.  It was the will of God which was wanting to save humanity who was separated from God by its sin and heading for the losses of eternal life and destruction.  Christ had been obedient to this will.  He had been obedient even to death, what's more, even to death on the cross.

9.   Actually they say the words "even to death on the cross" were probably not originally included in the hymn because the rhythm of the poetry here is out of kilter.  Therefore, we can understand these are words Paul boldly inserted as explanatory.  The intentions of Paul here are apparent to some degree.  When Paul added the words "until death on the cross" it was because the will of God was to save humanity by means of Christ's death by the cross.  He was stressing that point here.  Paul makes what he meant clear by repeating it in another letter.  For example, he speaks like this in the letter addressed to those disciples at Corinth.

10.   "All these things have come from God; God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the mission of serving in reconciliation.  That is, God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, and without calling into account the sins of humanity, he entrusted to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore, as God urges [others] through us, we fulfill the role of Christ's ambassador.  I ask a favor of you on behalf of Christ.  Please make reconciliation with God.  God made the one who has nothing to do with sin [as] sin for us.  We have been prepared to obtain the righteousness of God through this one," (Second Corinthians 5:18-21).

11.  In order for us who have sin to recover a relationship with God, God convicted a sinless person as a sinner.  That was God's will.  Furthermore, the one who followed obediently in God's will was Christ the sinless person.

12.  To be brief, what we must first read into this song was not the humble figure which ought to be a model.  That's not it at all, rather, it is that what Christ did for us was to save us sinners filled with self-glory and self-pride.

The Exaltation Of Christ

13.   Therefore, the reason the quote of the hymn does not end in verse eight becomes clear as a natural matter of course.  The plan of God did not end with Christ's getting hung on the cross and dying there.  The plan of God goes all the way to glory being ultimately brought to God the Father.  In verse eleven, when the text says "he glorified God the Father," that is [the plan].  How would he glorify God?  It was through "all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth bowing down to the name of Jesus and all tongues proclaiming in public that 'Jesus Christ is Lord.'"  "To proclaim in public" is to make a confession of the faith.  "Things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth" are words which came from the world view of that time.  In short, it is "all of creation."  Then, how does making the confession of faith "Jesus Christ is Lord" bring glory to God and result in praise of God the Father?

14.  What we ought to notice there is after all the reference to the name of "Jesus" daringly made here.  It is not that "Christ" is just spoken of, but the text says, "they will kneel to the name of Jesus" and it says, "Jesus Christ is Lord."  That means that the kneeling of all persons was toward the one named Jesus of Nazareth who hung on the cross.  This message becomes clear that the one we ought to confess that "he is Lord" is unmistakably none other than the one who hung on the cross on Golgotha's hill.

15.  Why is the one who hung on the cross confessed as Lord?  It is because God is exalting Jesus and has given him a name that excels every other name. That very name is the name "Lord."  That is indeed the name of God in the Old Testament scriptures.  He gave him that name because, as I said before, Christ followed the will of God to perfection and fulfilled the work of salvation.  Please give it some thought.  Respecting in worship the one who was crucified and died as one equal to God was not something to be taken for granted.  Instead, from the way this world looks at things we could call it something completely beyond common sense.  But, in spite of that, if we still confess "Jesus Christ is Lord," it is none other than confessing that on the cross indeed is salvation.  To put it another way, it means recognizing and confessing oneself as a sinner who can only be saved by that cross.  Therefore, we no longer have any human pride at that point.  At that point where we just confess that he redeemed and freed our sin by the cross, there is no room for human pride to get in.  It is because the work of his salvation expresses supremely that the grace of God exists.  Therefore, that factor leads to a bringing of glory to God.  That very thing gives praise to God.

16.  The entire world, all of creation, will glorify God like that.  The entire universe will lift up God in worship like that.  The will of God is going in that direction.  But, it is not going that way in our every day reality.  We still do not yet see the truth that all knees will bend before the name of Jesus.  However, the important thing is not how the present situation seems.  What [counts] is where in the world history is going as it is being lead by the will of God.  The history of all creation is heading for worship in the kingdom of God.  It has already been set off. That's why we are here.  We are here as persons confessing Jesus Christ is Lord.  We are here as persons bringing glory to God as worshippers of God. This is a certain sign that things have begun already.  Furthermore, the will of God is heading forward and advancing towards a goal.  While they are singing of the fact Christ was crucified to save them, this hymn of praise which Paul quoted thus makes clear where persons given salvation through that work of Christ are exactly heading.

17.  As we have seen from the above mentioned discussion, the design by which Paul quotes this hymn was not just saying "please imitate the humility of Christ."  Verse five means nothing of the kind.  As I quoted earlier, the colloquial version translates it as "Put to practice this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus."  In this case, "the mind which is yours in Christ Jesus" is the confession and praise of those saved by the cross.  It is a confession that "Jesus Christ is Lord" and thus it brings glory to God.  In other words, it is worship which a saved sinner offers up in Christ Jesus.  When people practice that amongst each other they will be freed from hearts of vainglory and selfishness.  At that very point, true self-humility takes place.

18.  True modesty is only produced by true worship of God.  If a person only intends to be humble by modeling another, even by modeling Christ himself, he will end up becoming proud of his self-humility without noticing it.  Humanity is indeed poisoned by vainglory and haughtiness to that extent.  Therefore, what we must first consider is becoming a true worshipper.  [What we must first consider] is not how to deal with our own sinful nature but to become true worshippers by first looking to Christ in dependence.

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