I think the greatest motivation for living how we ought to live is contained in these three verses. Read them slowly, carefully, reflectively, perhaps repeatedly.
. . . Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8, ESV).
They’re beautiful, aren’t they? Scholars argue about the meaning of about every phrase in them—a testimony to the depth of meaning present—but most agree that they form the lyrics of an early church hymn.
Picture a group of first-century Christians, sitting on the floor in one of their homes in downtown Philippi, singing a deeply reflective song about Jesus. I wish we knew the melody so we could sing it today.
The essence of the song is this: Jesus gave up something hugely significant.
He was “in very nature God” (NIV), and he certainly didn’t give up his deity, but he gave up the appearance of deity.
“He emptied himself,” which probably just refers to the incarnation: the God of all creation became a lowly human being.
But what kind of human being did he become? A king? A nobleman? A baron?
No, he was born in a barnyard in Bethlehem to poor parents and grew up to live as a servant and died the accursed death of crucifixion. Why?
So you and I could be saved.
The last couple of weeks on this page we’ve thought about biblical commands to put others before ourselves, to think less of ourselves than we often do.
We struggle with that, and we’ll probably continue to struggle as long as we’re in the flesh. But in these verses, Paul quotes a hymn that gives us all the motivation we need. If God himself could give up the glory of heaven and put my needs before his own, can’t I do the same?
If he could draw me to himself even as I so often disappoint him . . . if he could be patient with my weaknesses and failures and foibles . . . if he could forgive me.
Then can’t I try to imitate him in his self-sacrifice and in some feeble way reflect him to the people around me?
That’s what Paul was singing about, so let’s sing about that today too. —Chuck