We’re currently in a series by guest writer Marc Rader, in the book of Philippians. It’s written as a dialogue between Paul and Clement (an imaginary member of the Philippian church.)
In today’s section Paul continues his reflection on Jesus’ willingness to set aside his rights and privileges for the good of others focusing on his death on a cross. As I did yesterday, I have included the text of Philippians 2:5-11 in the notes. The text is from The Message.
Paul – As I sought to address the disunity that was beginning to fracture the community of faith in Philippi I used a familiar hymn to reflect on Jesus’ willingness to descend from his lofty position alongside the Father to become human. This willing humility was the basis of his actions on our behalf; the basis of his suffering.Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
Clement – A cross! This is still one of the hardest things to come to grips with about the good news. For Roman citizens, crucifixion is almost unthinkable. It’s not the pain of the death that is so unthinkable, but the shame of it.
In my brief travels with Paul I have heard him share accounts of the death of Jesus that he heard from the apostles themselves. They all emphasis the mockery of the crowds, the insults of the religious leaders, the cruelty of the soldiers and the abuse of the criminals.
To die a shameful death says something important about the sort of life you lived. To die in shameful circumstances can only mean that you lived in shameful circumstances. To be flogged would be preferable!
That we follow a crucified saviour is so counter-cultural! Trying to explain how someone who suffered the indignity of crucifixion is worth following is the big apologetic question.
Paul – The cross is a perfect symbol for followers of The Way. It indicates a new way of thinking; a new way of living. Yes, it was for our redemption and forgiveness, but its implications are felt not only in eternity or our relationship with the Father, but in our relationships with one another. The emphasis of this hymn is not on the redemptive aspects of the cross for us but on the decisive action of Christ to humble himself for our benefit. I am always led to praise when I consider these benefits, but am also reminded of his example!
Clement – The shift from shame to praise was stark.Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.
This was the Christ we follow. The same Christ who was humiliated on the cross is the same Christ who is now exalted, not just exalted, but exalted above all others – Jesus is Lord, not Caesar!
Paul – Was the exaltation of Jesus a reward for his obedience? If it is, can my friends expect the same – reward? Is following Jesus through suffering and opposition only worth it if God pays up in the end? This is the language of duty, of doing something because of the pay. This isn’t the motivation of Jesus. He didn’t undergo humiliation in order to get something out of God and the “reward” if you want to call it that, wasn’t some sort of merit as we might hope for, but the vindication of the sort of self-sacrifice that Jesus made. And even this was from God. He was not forced to do this but did it as an extension of his grace.
Clement – There were a few shouts of praise as Epaphroditus finished this declaration of the promise of every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord.
Paul – My only concern was that they’d get lost in the doxology and forget why I had used this example in the first place.
Clement – We knew however, that there was more to it than glory and praise. There may very well be some reward for a humble lifestyle, but what Paul was calling us to was not to reflect on the glory but to set our eyes on Christ’s lifestyle of self-sacrifice, to not put ourselves first, to not try to get ahead at the expense of others.
Like Paul, himself, who was willing to forego heaven for our benefit, who was willing to allow others to preach in a spirit of competition without using his apostolic authority.
Paul – If my friends would embrace this lifestyle; an open-handed lifestyle they would make my joy complete and be living as citizens of the kingdom that is to come.
Clement – This was what we could do to make Paul’s joy complete; to have the same attitude that Jesus had; to forgo our own privileges, benefits and rights for the good of others.
The hymn he had cited didn’t say everything about Jesus. It didn’t mention the resurrection or explore what Jesus’ death accomplished for us, but it did present a powerful model of living.
Epaphroditus had paused again, to let us catch our breath a bit and as he did we shared a few looks around the room. This letter from Paul was going to create a lot of discussion! For now, however, we were ready for whatever else our beloved apostle wanted to teach us.
To think about
It is too easy to use our circumstances for our own advantage rather than for the good of others. So easy, in fact, that we often don’t even realise we’re doing it. Give some thought to your behaviour today and keep track of all the little ways you turn situations to your own advantage. And once you have a little list try to turn situations to the good of those around you instead.
Pray that the Holy Spirit would show you where you our seeking your own good and to grant you the courage to put others first.