Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

Philippians 2:5-8 Devotional

Philippians 2:5-8 Devotional

Philippians 2:5-8. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Reflection. As we saw in the previous devotion on 2:1-4, Paul exhorts Christians to invite others into their experience of God’s love and emulate Christ’s demonstration of it. Let’s make one straightforward observation before shifting our focus to the famous ‘Christ hymn’ (2:6-11). Paul starts, “In your relationships with one another.” Therefore, the life worthy of the gospel (1:27) is not one lived in isolation from or indifference towards other believers. Rather it is seen in a life spent - or poured out (2:17) - in service of one another. In an age and culture that has valorised individualism, Paul’s exhortation to follow Christ’s example directs us back towards community. But it also takes us beyond merely identifying with it to sacrificially investing in it.

The motivation for a life worthy of the gospel is nothing other than the gospel. Paul does not only demand selflessness; he fixes our eyes on its most vivid expression: the Son of God. However, all too often our scope for Christ’s self-giving is the cross. But Paul takes us further back. Before Christ’s ministry and death he was “in very nature God” (2:6). The Son dwelt eternally with the Father (see John 1:1-18). Philippians is regularly referred to as Paul’s most joyful letter, for he doesn’t manage to pen many verses between outbursts of sheer delight in God. But as we reflect on this “equality” that the Son shared with the Father, words fail to express the splendid life of God the Father, Son and Spirit. I imagine that our greatest ecstasies appear as a dark valley when compared to what the Son enjoyed before his incarnation. Yet he was not concerned only with his own “advantage” (2:6). As the ESV translates 2:6, “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Instead, he valued others ahead of himself and looked to their interests (2:3-4).

I have preached on this passage at Christmas in the past. Each time I catch myself veering into the mystery of what is described here. How can God make himself “nothing,” or empty himself (2:7)? What does it mean for the divine to be made “in human likeness”? Such debates tickle my interests as a theologian. But these verses are more concerned with what the did, resulting from his unfathomable love. We need not answer speculative questions about what the Son ‘gave up,’ or ‘lost.’ For we read that he took “the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (2:7).

One of the purposes of this was undoubtedly to die on the cross (2:8). But Paul does not even appear overly concerned with the salvific action and merits of Christ’s death. Instead he impresses on his readers that the Son of God, in the person of Jesus Christ, was a servant of others. This was not done begrudgingly. For Christ obediently counted others more significant than himself. And before we point out that this was a matter of obedience let us remember that it was also a grand expression of humility (2:8).

I wonder if part of the reason we struggle to imitate Christ’s selflessness and sacrificial example, both in our actions and attitude towards others, is due to our reductionistic view of the cross. The scope in these verses is cosmic and eternal. But often we only see that old rugged cross and hear how Jesus died for us. Using this hymn, Paul broadens our vision to include what Christ possessed before his incarnation and death. He gave up more than we will ever comprehend. He surrendered what was rightly and forever his, so that we might grasp it by faith. The Son left heaven so that sons and daughters can hope to enter in. What we receive in the gospel truly beggars belief. When we understand, even in part, what God has done for us we can learn to have the same mindset as Christ towards others.

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