Philippians 2:5-11, The Christological Hymn

This Tuesday, we will be discussing Philippians 2:1-11. In verses 5-11, we have, I believe, the most profound statement of the Christian faith in all of Scripture.

The Christological Hymn (vv.6-11)

Most scholars understand vv.6-11 to be a pre-existing Christological hymn that Paul incorporates into his letter to hold up Christ Jesus as the example of what a life in Christ looks like. In the ancient world, it was common to have hymns (songs of praise) extolling the nature and the virtues of a God or simply a king. (The most famous of these is Cleanthes’s Hymn to Zeus.)

Since Christian worship was modeled on Jewish worship which incorporates psalms of praise, presumably the early church, particularly the Gentile church, wrote hymns to Jesus. Paul specifically references these hymns (1 Cor. 14:26, Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16) and includes parts of these hymns in other letters as well (Col. 1:15-20, 1 Tim. 3:16). The earliest account we have of Christian worship from pagan sources is Pliny’s letter to Emperor Trajan (c.110) where he writes that in their gatherings Christians “sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.”

Scholars also think that Paul did not write this hymn based on the Greek wording used. This hymn was probably known to the Philippians, and therefore Paul’s quotation of the hymn gives added authority to the point Paul is making. Usually, Paul will quote the Old Testament to make his point, but the absence of Jewish members of this church precludes Paul from appealing to the Hebrew Scriptures.

This hymn is organized in a “V” structure that is similar to the opening of John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18) or the letter to the Hebrews (Heb. 1:1-4). The left side of the “V” is Christ’s descent and self-humbling from divine pre-existence through his Incarnation and Death. vv.6-8. The right side of the “V” is Christ’s exaltation and glorification which will be recognized by all of creation.  vv.9-11. This is the gospel story in a nutshell.

Paul’s Usage of the Hymn: (v.5)

Paul’s purpose in quoting this hymn is found in verse 5. In the prior verses, Paul’s concern is that the Philippian’s manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ and that this is achieved in their unity through humility. In this verse, Paul is telling his audience that they, in their relationship with one another, should have the same mindset that Christ Jesus had. We should be imitators of the one that we follow.

The Humbling of Christ: (vv.6-8)

Paul says to think about Christ Jesus. He was in the form (Gk. morphe) of God. The Greek morphe means that the outward appearance or form truly represents and embodies the very nature of the inner essence. To be “in the form” or “morphe” of God, means to be equal to or to have God’s very nature. But. Christ did not see his situation as something to be taken advantage of (per N. T. Wright). Rather Christ voided himself (Gk. kenosis) of his divine privileges, and instead of asserting his divinity, because as a slave. See, John 13. As a slave, Christ became perfectly humble and obedient, not only to death but to the most humiliating and dishonorable death that someone could suffer.

Paul’s use of this hymn is not simply theological or metaphysical, but social. In Roman society (not unlike our own), social status and honor were the social currency. Paul is saying that if Christ Jesus could have asserted the social status and honor of being God (not too unlike the emperor) and deliberately chose not to for our personal benefit, then what is our excuse for also not abandoning our own social status, rivalries, and disputes for the benefit of others, and particularly, others in our congregation. If Jesus relinquished his divine privileges, then we should relinquish our social privileges. If Jesus became the servant of all and suffered death, then we also should become the servant of others and put to death whatever stands in the way. 

The Exaltation of Christ: (vv. 9-11)

The second half of the hymn begins with the word “therefore.” In the first half of the hymn, Christ was the actor. In the second half of the hymn, God is the actor. It is God who restores Christ to his divine status. This restoration makes Christ as God is. Christ is exalted. Ps. 46:10. Christ is given the name above all names. Ps. 138:2. And it is to him, as to God, that every knee shall bow, and tongue confess. Isa. 45:23b. The exaltation and glorification that occurs on the right-hand side of the “V” is due entirely to the actions of God.

Paul is telling us that the grasping for glory and honor and social standing is not for us to strive towards. Our honor and glory come from God, not the world. Our honor and glory come as a result of humble servitude. As Jesus himself teaches “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matt. 12:11.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is beef kababs with watermelon salad. Discussion about 6:45. All are welcome.

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for the one who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Cor. 5:14-15

2 thoughts on “Philippians 2:5-11, The Christological Hymn”

  1. Pingback: Philippians 3:1-7, Confidence in the Flesh – Ancient Anglican

  2. Pingback: Philippians 3:8-11, Gaining Christ – Ancient Anglican

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