Posted: 28 Mar 2011 12:00 AM PDT
FEW PASSAGES HAVE AS MUCH THEOLOGY and ethics in them as Philippians 2. We can pick up on only a few of its wonderful themes:
(1) Scholars have translated Philippians 2:5–11 in all kinds of creative ways. In large measure the NIV has it right. Christ Jesus, we are told, "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped [or possibly "exploited"], but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness" (Phil. 2:6–7). All that is quite wonderful, a glorious description of the incarnation that prepares the way for the cross. I might reword the translation in the first line of verse 6: "Who, being in very nature God." At the level of raw literalism, that is a perfectly acceptable translation. But Greek uses participles far more frequently than does English, and Greek adverbial participles, such as the word being in this line, have various logical relations with their context—relations that must be determined by the context. Probably most English readers mentally paraphrase this passage as, "Who, although he was in very nature God …" Certainly that makes sense and may even be right. But there are good contextual reasons for thinking that the participle is causal: "Who, because he was in very nature God." In other words, because he was in very nature God, not only did he not consider equality with God something to be exploited, but he made himself a nobody: it was divine to show that kind of self-emptying, that kind of grace.
(2) "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5), who did not regard his rights as something to be exploited, but who humbled himself and died a death of odious ignominy so that we might be saved—and was ultimately vindicated (Phil. 2:6–11). The exhortation of Philippians 2:5 thus supports the string of exhortations in Philippians 2:1–4. Reflect on how this is so.
(3) The verses following the "Christ hymn" (as it is often called) of Philippians 2:6–11 emphasize perseverance. "Therefore" at the beginning of verse 12 establishes the connection. Christ made himself a nobody and died a shameful death but was finally and gloriously vindicated, and therefore we too should take the long view and "work out" our salvation "with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). Of course, there is all the more incentive when we recall that "it is God who works in [us] to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil. 2:13). We reject utter passivity, "letting go and letting God"; rather, we work out our salvation. Yet at the same time we joyfully acknowledge that both our willing and our doing are evidence of God's working in us. And he will vindicate us.
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