April 24, 2012
A Major Exegesis on Philippians 2:5-11
Philippians 2:5-11 reads, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The above verses are commonly referred to as “The Christ Hymn”. Paul utilizes this already formed hymn to illustrate Jesus’ mindset to the church in Philippi. Within these verses, Paul uses some very powerful language and imagery about how the church is supposed to live and behave. Phil. 2:5-11 presents Christ’s incarnation, death on the cross, and resurrection as an example of love and humility for the church in Philippi to imitate. Paul gets this point across to the church in Philippi in three key ways. Firstly, Paul’s usage of the word “form” in verse 6 depicts Jesus as one who gave up his high throne in heaven to become a part of the human world. Secondly in verse 7, Paul’s usage of the term “emptied himself” implies that Christ assumed the status of a servant and that the people of Philippi should follow Jesus’ example. Lastly, in verses 9-11, the word “exalted” carries the significance that Jesus was both figuratively and literally exalted to the highest place. In addition to these key elements, Paul’s basic, pre-Trinitarian perspective is revealed through each. With all this being said, the overarching goal of this exegesis is to shed light on what Paul meant to say to the Church at Philippi.
Before I jump right into Phil. 2:5-11, it is vital to become situated in the book itself. The best means to gain a clear perspective is by understanding the historical context of Philippians. The book of Philippians is the eleventh book of the New Testament. According to Acts 16, Paul established the church in Philippi on his second missionary journey. He was accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and another unidentified “coworker” so to speak. Paul’s work in the city was marked with persecution and conflict throughout (1 Thess. 2:2). The date of Paul’s ministry in Philippi is thought to have taken place around 49 or 50 C.E. After his ministry was completed, Paul moved on to Thessalonica. However, Paul’s departure from Philippi did not end his contact with the church there or we would not have this letter today.
The book of Philippians is regularly referred to as one of Paul’s four “prison” letters due to the fact that he indicates he is imprisoned at the time of writing. Paul essentially writes a thank you note to the believers in Philippi for their help in his times of need; for the church in Philippi sent gifts of support to Paul throughout his ministry. In Phil. 1:3 Paul writes, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Paul also used the occasion to send along some guidelines on Christian unity. The contents of Philippians could be roughly broken down into the following: After a greeting and Paul’s prayer for the Philippians (1:1-11), Paul discusses his captivity and its effects on the advancement of the gospel (1:12-26). Next, Paul gives encouragement to the church (1:27-2:18), citing a famous hymn from the early Christian liturgy (2:6-11).
As we arrive at the passage of study, allow me to breakdown 1:27-2:18 further. Flemming indicates in his commentary that verses 27-30 are pivotal for the church in Philippi to understand. In verse 27, Paul indicates the course of action he wants them to take, “Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Verses 1-4 in