(Read the text here)
In this passage, Paul is trying to teach the Philippians about sacrifice and being other-centered. To do so, he uses what scholars think is an early hymn about the sacrifice, suffering, and obedience of Jesus Christ. Jesus was in very nature God—he had the ultimate power position, not just in his grasp, but in his very being. But Jesus did not consider ultimate power something to be grasped. That’s not what he was after, that’s not what he valued, that’s not the basis on which he made decisions. Rather, “he made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant…”
Whereas Jesus was in very nature God, he chose to manifest himself as a servant. He became a human being, but even as a human being he did not choose to be a king or a power broker, rather, he “humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Jesus understood the principle that God exalts the humble and humbles the exalted, and so he came and gave us a shining example of what it is like to sacrifice everything for the sake of others.
And in the end, “the very nature of a servant” is obedience. As it says in Hebrews 5:8-10, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered…” What’s important about Jesus life and example for us is not just that he suffered or just that he died a heinous death, but that he did those things in obedience to the Father. It is Jesus’ perfect obedience that sets him apart from the rest of humanity, and it is from his obedience that we should learn most. This is the “attitude of Christ Jesus” that Paul mentions in verse five.
Jesus' obedience caused him much pain, but it was not without rewards. “Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name…to the glory of God the Father.” God exalts the humble, and the humble are marked by obedience. As we are obedient to the Father, as we choose the destiny that He has chosen for us, we too will receive His rewards! We too will be exalted, not to the place of Jesus, but to a place at God’s table!
Paul concludes the passage like this: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” As we look to Jesus’ example, let us imitate him, but let us recognize that it is God who does the “heavy lifting”! God will give us the will, the desire, and the ability to act according to his calling on our lives and our churches, as we depend upon the finished work of Christ on the cross. His yoke is easy, his burden is light.