Thursday, March 22, 2012
Bible Study Series: Philippians 1:27-2:18
“Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear news of you, that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind struggling together for the faith of the gospel, not intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is proof to them of destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For to you has been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him. Yours is the same struggle as you saw in me and now hear about me. If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work. Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you. In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.” (NABRE)
This section of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is probably the most famous, due to the beautiful and theologically-rich Christ-hymn of 2:6-11. While a number of Paul’s letters deal with ethical and behavior admonitions during the second half of the correspondence, in Philippians, however, Paul quickly moves from his thanksgiving and personal circumstance to giving instructions to the community about how to live in Christ. That is not to say that this section is lacking in theological importance, but it is clear that Paul is emphasizing the continued importance of communal life, in Christ, for the community of Philippi.
We see in verse 27 that Paul reminds them to “conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ”. Again, this comes immediately after Paul’s own account of his Gospel work (12-26), where he describes the difficulties and at times opposition he has experienced. The Church of Philippi, too, has her enemies or “opponents (28)”, yet they are called to continue the struggle. The opponents that are mentioned are likely some of the Pagan Roman citizens of Philippi (ICSB NT/NABRE). This struggle may include suffering, which should not be surprising considering what Paul has had to endure. The ICSB NT mentions that “Suffering brings great benefit to ourselves and others. On the one hand, it purifies us of selfishness and makes us sharers in Christ’s redemptive work. On the other hand, it pushes the gospel into the world as believers bear witness to the Lord Jesus through persecution and martyrdom (358).” In any situation or circumstance, they are called to “stand firm”.
Philippians 2:1-11 is a plea to remain united and humble, with Christ as their example. Verse 3 is particularly forthright: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.” Thus, what makes St. Paul most happy is when “Christians are at one with each other, in union based on love and the example set by Christ-the very best example of humility (Navarre 501).”
This leads into the majestic Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:6-11. Likely an early Christian hymn, these verses are some of the earliest written testimony to the divinity of Christ. It is difficult to say if this hymn comes directly from Paul or from the community or even a combination of both. In any case, Philippians 2:6-11 has two clear movements. The first, consisting of verses 6-8, reveals the humiliation of Christ, who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (or “exploited” as in the NRSV).” Not only did God condescend and become man in the Incarnation, He also did not use his divinity for any “selfish purposes (ICST 359).” Paul is contrasting the mind of Christ, with those of the many rulers of his day, Herod or Caesar, who used their position for personal gain. One can hear the echoes of Matthew 20:25-26 here: “But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.’” The model is clearly Jesus, who came as a “slave” and accepted death, and not some ordinary death, but rather the humiliating death of crucifixion.
Beginning in verse 9, we begin the transition from humiliation to exaltation: “Because of this God greatly exalted him.” In his discussion about what, in Christ, is exalted, St. Athanasius remarks: “This expression ‘he exalted him’ does not mean that the nature of the Word was raised up [...]. Terms such as ‘humbled’ and “exalted’ refer only to the sphere of humanity, since only what is humble can be exalted (Navarre 502).” This is important, because of the typological connection between Adam and Christ, the second Adam. For Adam was made in God’s image and then grasped at equality with God in Genesis 3, thus he was brought low by God. Christ, on the other hand, was in the form of God and did not grasp at equality with, thus he was exalted by God. Because of this reality, the “name” of Jesus has great power! This is very obvious in the Acts of the Apostles, where miracles and entry into the Church are done through the “name of Jesus Christ”, see Acts 2:38, 3:6, 8:16, 10:43, and 22:16.
The final part of this section, verses 12-18, reminds the Philippians to act as children of God. Since God has raised Christ from the dead, the daily life of a Christian should be radically transformed. The Christian must live his life recognizing these implications, thus the need to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you.”