THURSDAY, MARCH 22
Philippians 2:5-11

Paul challenges Christians reading the letter with the standard of humility and obedience shown by Christ

These verses contain a lot of Christology in a few words – however, the main thrust is the unity and selflessness which is the result of humility of heart.

5  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

This verse is the key to what follows in this poetic passage.

Literally “keep thinking this [attitude] among you, which [attitude] was also in Christ Jesus.”

“With one another” or among you. The meaning is more than an exhortation to everyone to be personally virtuous – or ‘nice’. It means “be Christlike in your church fellowship” – continuing to explain what this looks like. The community of salvation created by the Holy Spirit of Jesus, God incarnate, must confront the pride and strife that is always trying to enter in. As believers, we may not be able to replicate the exact ministry that Jesus exercised, but as followers of His Way, we are called to represent His values of sacrificial love and humility which the Cross demonstrated so unmistakably.

6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage…

“Being in very nature God” – Christ as the second member of the Trinity was, literally, “in the same form as God”, meaning that He shared the image and the glory of God.

He did not regard his existing in a manner of “equality with God a thing to be grasped (NASB, ESV, RSV etc)” or held onto (harpagmos).

Following Lightfoot, an established view is that before becoming incarnate as man, the Son possessed equality with the Father; He resolved not to cling to it.

Another view on this passage is that He had no need to (actively) grasp to attain divine equality because He already possessed it as the eternal Son of God.

7  …rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

“Made Himself nothing” – literally “emptied Himself” (ESV, NASB) “stripped Himself” (Amplified), “gave up His divine privileges” (NLT).

This is best understood as the pre-incarnate Christ letting go of His glory and the omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of God that make Him so distinctly ‘other’. This limitation was necessary for Him to share our human limitations, albeit more perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit than we can achieve. He gave up the particular privileges of His heavenly existence to be born as man, but did not in any way renounce His deity or identification as part of the Trinity. Having the “form of God”, v.6, could not be given up but “the nature of a servant” could be taken up.

“Likeness” stresses similarity but also allows for differences. Paul is saying that although Christ became a genuine man, in some respects He was not like any other man.

8  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Verses 6, 7 and 8 are all part of the same sentence and should be understood together – and in the context of Scripture passages that reveal Jesus as using his divine powers and displaying his glory upon occasions such as miracles and the Transfiguration, but always under the direction of the Father and the Spirit

For further study see Luke 4:14; John 5:19, 8:28, 14:10

9  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name…

The Father’s response to His Son’s extraordinary obedience and humility is to name Him Lord of lords. This underlines a biblical principle which is widely emphasised. The whole passage is about the prerequisite of being in humble submission to God, for His partnership and glory to be realised.

For further study, see Matthew 18:4, 23:12; Luke 14:11, 18:14; Also 2 Corinthians 11:7; Phil. 4:12.

10  …that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There is a connection here to what Daniel saw in the Spirit, Daniel 7:13–14.

This poetic teaching, or perhaps praise song of the Early Church, concludes with a universal acknowledgment of Jesus’ lordship by those living and departed saints, and also the onlooking satanic host and lost humanity in hell in the words of Isaiah 45:23 (cf. Romans 14:11; Rev 5:13).

Application

This teaching is about the power of obedience and humility offered to God for Him to transform. We see Jesus as the supreme example; He who stooped so low is now lifted up, He who made Himself of no rank is promoted to the glorious rank of equality with God. It was a dignity which was His by right but He renounced His entitlement. “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place.”

We are so ingrained with the sense of merit and self-sufficiency, this comes as a difficult lesson. But as the contemporary saying goes, “Less is more”. Less of our egos and opinions so that God can use us without us stealing the glory.

As long as we are human, that will remain a challenge.

For reflection, or as a discussion starter

What area of ego or closely-guarded opinion do you need to let go, like Jesus let go of His divine status? How will you work on it?

Jesus made Himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant – but without losing His divine origins as part of the Trinity

THURSDAY, MARCH 22
Philippians 2:5-11

Paul challenges Christians reading the letter with the standard of humility and obedience shown by Christ

These verses contain a lot of Christology in a few words – however, the main thrust is the unity and selflessness which is the result of humility of heart.

5  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

This verse is the key to what follows in this poetic passage.

Literally “keep thinking this [attitude] among you, which [attitude] was also in Christ Jesus.”

“With one another” or among you. The meaning is more than an exhortation to everyone to be personally virtuous – or ‘nice’. It means “be Christlike in your church fellowship” – continuing to explain what this looks like. The community of salvation created by the Holy Spirit of Jesus, God incarnate, must confront the pride and strife that is always trying to enter in. As believers, we may not be able to replicate the exact ministry that Jesus exercised, but as followers of His Way, we are called to represent His values of sacrificial love and humility which the Cross demonstrated so unmistakably.

6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage…

“Being in very nature God” – Christ as the second member of the Trinity was, literally, “in the same form as God”, meaning that He shared the image and the glory of God.

He did not regard his existing in a manner of “equality with God a thing to be grasped (NASB, ESV, RSV etc)” or held onto (harpagmos).

Following Lightfoot, an established view is that before becoming incarnate as man, the Son possessed equality with the Father; He resolved not to cling to it.

Another view on this passage is that He had no need to (actively) grasp to attain divine equality because He already possessed it as the eternal Son of God.

7  …rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

“Made Himself nothing” – literally “emptied Himself” (ESV, NASB) “stripped Himself” (Amplified), “gave up His divine privileges” (NLT).

This is best understood as the pre-incarnate Christ letting go of His glory and the omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of God that make Him so distinctly ‘other’. This limitation was necessary for Him to share our human limitations, albeit more perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit than we can achieve. He gave up the particular privileges of His heavenly existence to be born as man, but did not in any way renounce His deity or identification as part of the Trinity. Having the “form of God”, v.6, could not be given up but “the nature of a servant” could be taken up.

“Likeness” stresses similarity but also allows for differences. Paul is saying that although Christ became a genuine man, in some respects He was not like any other man.

8  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Verses 6, 7 and 8 are all part of the same sentence and should be understood together – and in the context of Scripture passages that reveal Jesus as using his divine powers and displaying his glory upon occasions such as miracles and the Transfiguration, but always under the direction of the Father and the Spirit

For further study see Luke 4:14; John 5:19, 8:28, 14:10

9  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name…

The Father’s response to His Son’s extraordinary obedience and humility is to name Him Lord of lords. This underlines a biblical principle which is widely emphasised. The whole passage is about the prerequisite of being in humble submission to God, for His partnership and glory to be realised.

For further study, see Matthew 18:4, 23:12; Luke 14:11, 18:14; Also 2 Corinthians 11:7; Phil. 4:12.

10  …that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There is a connection here to what Daniel saw in the Spirit, Daniel 7:13–14.

This poetic teaching, or perhaps praise song of the Early Church, concludes with a universal acknowledgment of Jesus’ lordship by those living and departed saints, and also the onlooking satanic host and lost humanity in hell in the words of Isaiah 45:23 (cf. Romans 14:11; Rev 5:13).

Application

This teaching is about the power of obedience and humility offered to God for Him to transform. We see Jesus as the supreme example; He who stooped so low is now lifted up, He who made Himself of no rank is promoted to the glorious rank of equality with God. It was a dignity which was His by right but He renounced His entitlement. “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place.”

We are so ingrained with the sense of merit and self-sufficiency, this comes as a difficult lesson. But as the contemporary saying goes, “Less is more”. Less of our egos and opinions so that God can use us without us stealing the glory.

As long as we are human, that will remain a challenge.

For reflection, or as a discussion starter

What area of ego or closely-guarded opinion do you need to let go, like Jesus let go of His divine status? How will you work on it?

The kingdom purpose of God has to be spiritually discerned

THURSDAY, MARCH 1
1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Our opinions can blind us to God’s intentions if we are not prepared to let them be changed – especially by the Gospel

18  For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19  For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

18-19  Paul is loosely quoting Isaiah 29:14 and allowing God to speak these words again to the Corinth church  which like its city, was characterised by people holding strong opinions, with some arrogance.
20  Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

20  The Athenian statesman Aristides said that on every street in Corinth one would meet a so-called wise man who had his own solutions to humanity’s problems.

20  “Philosopher of this age” refers to a kind of dispute using clever but devious logic, called sophistry, which the Greeks liked to engage in.

20  Paul uses his own brand of straightforward oratory – four rhetorical questions together with the anaphora of “where is… where is… where is…” to drive home his point to Greeks who expected this form of persuasion.

21  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 21  The preaching is not foolish, but the message of the Cross doesn’t at first make sense to people of the world – whether Jews or Greeks, in this context.
22  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom… 22  Different cultures have different starting points. The Jews’ history was miraculous deliverance (Red Sea, Jehoshaphat’s deliverance, Gideon), encounters (Abraham, Mount Sinai) and signs (e.g. through Elijah and Elisha). The Greek nation had a long background in philosophical debate and oratory. Jesus’ self-sacrifice in shameful, if sinless, death didn’t satisfy either Greek intellect or Jewish desire for God’s intervening hand.
23  …but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…  23  “Stumbling block” originally meant a tree-stump. In Scripture it meant an attitude or action that obstructs others and causes them to sin. The Jews looked for a Messiah of political power. Jesus – in their unbelieving view – had not only failed to remove the Romans, but had been put to death by Romans, the Roman way.
24  …but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 24  Those with spiritual eyes to see, recognise the true power, the power of God in Christ crucified, and the true wisdom of how God saves in Christ.
25  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 25  God’s order has the effect of turning the world’s order upside down. Paul is using irony here, a figure of speech that was much used by the Greeks.

Application

When Paul had a dream in Troas that led to his mission crossing the sea to the Greek and Roman culture of Macedonia, he needed to connect with people in different ways. The Greeks were great debaters and they looked for logical, rather than historic, support for the message they were hearing.

The story of Jesus’ sinless life and then horrific death as an innocent victim who became a sacrifice for sin for all who would believe, is a story that defies logic. It can only be grasped by faith. And the more we seek to understand it and find grounds for it in the way that philosophy demands, the more we distance ourselves from the faith that brings revelation.

Paul is meeting his new Greek converts where they are in their understanding and speaking their kind of language – to tell them, “It doesn’t work that way!”

God’s purposes are higher than our purposes and of course the heavenly perspective is like the view from an aircaft window seat compared with a walk in the valley far below.

Only prayer and an openness to the bigger picture that the Holy Spirit gives us, if we ask Him, can show us how to relate Jesus resurrected, to a world cynical and demanding of proof. Paul knew those barriers too, and he consistently relied on demonstrating and proclaiming Christ, the wisdom of God and the power of God, to overcome them.

For reflection and discussion

How difficult do we find it to stand up for what seems to others to be foolish, illogical, and just not ‘cool’? Who helps us to be credible and relevant?