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.
In attempting to describe for the Philippians the mind or spirit or wisdom of Christ that they should imitate, he employs the strategy of a wise pastoral leader: he invites them to consider their own words.
This passage about Jesus was most likely a hymn, you see, a hymn that the Philippians had probably sung in their worship on numerous occasions. Now, knowing of their struggles, of their hardship, or the threats both external and internal they faced, Paul invites them to sing that hymn again, this time taking most seriously what it says about Jesus and, in this way, how they might draw encouragement from it.
Much can – and has! – been said about this “Christ hymn,” but I would draw attention briefly to the contrast of the “original form” of Jesus and his “chosen form.” Though “in the form of God” he did not shield himself from difficulty, he did not request the privilege of his station, he did not exalt himself or exploit his status in any way. Rather, he choose to be found “in human form,” subject to all that afflicts humankind; all, that is, that afflicts us.
This is, if you will, Paul’s understanding of the “incarnation” – God’s willing choice to take on our lot and our life in Jesus so that God might identify with us wholly and completely. There is nothing, that is, that we experience – no fear, no joy, no sorrow, no pain, no disappointment, no hope, no betrayal, no dream, no failure – that God has not also experienced. God knows us fully and completely through Jesus, the Son of God who chose not to be exalted but rather to live our life, even to the point of death. And not just any death – in the one line scholars believe Paul added to the familiar hymn – but the humiliating death of being executed as a criminal on a cross.
Why? So that we might know God’s profound love for us, God’s desire to be in complete solidarity with us, and God’s commitment to be always for us.
Thanks be to God.
Prayer: Dear God, remind us always of your tremendous identification and solidarity with us, so that we might know that whatever we may experience, do, or feel, you understand. In Jesus’ name, Amen.