Comments, Observations, and Questions
This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson points its proclaimers to the horrible degradation and subsequent exaltation of Christ Jesus. So God the Son is always the primary subject of any proclamation of Philippians 2:5-11. Its proclaimers can find a wealth of good help proclaiming Christ Jesus in this site’s various commentaries.
But those who have either recently offered a proclamation of Christ’s suffering and exultation or are simply looking for another avenue into this rich passage might also focus on what it says about both Christ Jesus and his followers’ “attitude” (5). Proclaimers will benefit from consulting Stan Mast’s wonderful commentary on Christians’ attitudes’ imitation of Christ’s suffering.
On Palm/Passion Sunday, Christians’ attention is, in fact, naturally drawn to that unspeakable suffering. There is much to contemplate about Christ’s suffering to which Paul alludes when he speaks of Jesus’ becoming “obedient to death – even death on a cross” (8).
However, the Church has historically thought of the Sundays during Lent as “little Easters.” That is to say, at least some of Christ Jesus’ friends have paused in our contemplation of Jesus’ immense suffering to use Lenten Sundays to contemplate his glorious resurrection. So this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s proclaimers might profitably reflect on and talk about Christians’ attitudes as reflections of Christ’s exultation.
In his commentary on this passage, Mast writes, “Paul’s main goal here was not a deeper understanding of the finer points of Christology. No, he was trying to help his Philippian sisters and brothers behave better … Paul’s approach here is pastoral more than intellectual, practical more than theoretical.”
The Spirit might use a careful consideration of the person and work of the exalted Christ Jesus to help Christ’s 21st century friends behave better. Christian ethics are, after all, always grounded in the character of the God who created us in God’s image.
The late biblical scholar Earl Palmer (The Lectionary Commentary, The Second Readings, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 357) wrote, “Paul’s motivation for ethical behavior is not fear. It is grace, and the source of grace is the person Jesus Christ. The problem of our guilt has been resolved. Christ is therefore the foundational starting point of Paul’s total perspective.”
After Christ “made himself nothing” (7a), God made him everything by exalting him “to the highest place” (9a). God raised Christ Jesus from the utter depths of his humiliation to the glorious heights of the highest place. It might seem that Paul means by the “highest place” a geographical spot, perhaps the heavenly realm to which Christ Jesus ascended. But the apostle describes what God did for Christ by using a verb, hyperypsosen, that occurs only in Philippians 2 and is generally translated “highly exalted.”
Through his death on the cross, Christ Jesus asserted his lordship over all lords, including not just Satan, sin, and death, but also over all who would exalt themselves as master. As a result, he deserves creation and its creatures’ complete and willing submission to his loving rule.
Those who proclaim this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson might benefit from spending time exploring what such submission might look like in their particular time and place. Examples might be found in Christ Jesus’ friends’ relationships, finances, and use of time.
Paul goes on to point out that in addition to highly exalting Christ Jesus, God also gave him “the name that is above every name” (9b). This is another case of God raising the Christ who had been obedient all the way to the depths of the cross. God didn’t just exalt him to the highest place. God also gave Christ the highest name.
Though it was and remains in some cultures a fairly common name, few names are more exalted than “Jesus.” The incarnate Second Person of the Trinity’s saving purpose is, after all, embedded in that name. Yet after Jesus lived, died, and rose again from the dead for his people, God gave him a complimentary, perhaps even greater name: Christ the Lord (11).
Those who follow the risen Christ use that name with deep joy and respect. But we never use it lightly. Christ Jesus’ friends use his name in adoration and submission. Yet we never join many of our contemporaries in using it carelessly. Christians whom God has graced with that name carry it humbly but gladly. Yet we never use it to demean others, perhaps especially those who also bear that name.
Jesus’ followers’ attitudes are Christ-like when we use Christ’s name with awe and gratitude. Yet we’re now among an apparently shrinking number of especially North Americans who do so. While God longs for the whole creation and all creatures to submit to Christ’s lordship, everything and everyone naturally submits to the lordship of Satan, sin, and death.
When Christ became obedient to death on the cross, he disarmed all powers and principalities that are hostile to his loving purposes and rule. Yet it’s as if Satan, sin, and death “didn’t get the memo.” After all, they still act as if they’re in control.
Someday soon, however, they too will join the whole creation and its creatures in bowing before King Jesus. Every tongue will eventually confess, either voluntarily or grudgingly, that Jesus Christ is Lord. This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson points us toward that day when all rebellion against Christ’s lordship will cease.
This prospect too shapes the attitude of Christ Jesus’ friends. We remember that Christ gave his life for everything in heaven, and on earth, and even under the earth. So God’s dearly beloved people treat the whole creation and all of its creatures with love and respect. We find ways to share the gospel by what we do and say in hopes that all people will soon gladly bow their knees before Lord Jesus, and eagerly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
All of this, Paul concludes this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson, is “to the glory of God the Father” (11). This helps put Philippians 2:5-11’s whole hymn in its proper perspective. The Second Person of the Trinity’s made himself nothing to the glory of God the Father. Jesus’ took the very nature of a servant to the glory of God. Jesus was humbly obedient all the way to death on the cross to the glory of God the Father.
What’s more, God the Father exalted the Son to the highest place to the glory of God the Father. God the Father gave Jesus the name that is above all names to the glory of God the Father. Every knee will someday bow and every tongue someday confess that Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Here’s an “attitude” that helps Christ Jesus’ friends not only live, but also flourish in the ways for which God created us: everything we do is to the glory of God the Father. Here’s a comprehensive way to orient Christians’ whole lives: everything we say and even think is to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 3’s proclaimers might consider sharing something of their own story of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord before bending their knee to King Jesus. It might resemble mine.
My parents raised me in a home and church that was thoroughly Christian. My parents, siblings and I didn’t deliberately misuse Jesus’ name. My parents modeled for us a submission of their whole persons to Christ’s lordship.
When I was a freshman in college, I wanted to publicly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Within my tradition that involves appearing before the church’s elders to share something of one’s testimony.
I don’t remember much about that appearance other than it caused me to soak in sweat the shirt I wore. But I do remember that it took me longer to bow my knee before King Jesus than it did for me to confess that he is Lord.
Few of my refusals to bow the knee were either public or especially egregious. But I stubbornly clung to the notion that Jesus is Lord over only the most public parts of my life. I considered myself the master of large parts of my inner life.
The Holy Spirit continues to work to align more closely my submission to Christ’s lordship with my profession of that lordship. I look forward hopefully to that Day when the Spirit will perfectly align them, to the glory of God the Father.
Sign Up for Our Newsletter!
Insights on preaching and sermon ideas, straight to your inbox. Delivered Weekly!
Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 10, 2022
Philippians 2:5-11 Commentary