Read the Scripture: Philippians 2: 5-11
Sometimes we think that the early church was more put-together than they actually were. We picture them smiling and singing as they face a violent death… always sweet and kind with one another and with their pagan neighbors.
Not so! Those early Christians were people with problems just like us. Sometimes they didn’t get along with one another. There was selfish ambition… there was conceit among them.
The problem of unrest in the fellowship at Philippi lies behind this week’s text. It is actually the first matter that Paul deals with in his letter. In the verses leading up to our text, Paul tells the Philippians believers, “…if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV).
But Paul doesn’t leave that exhortation hanging in the air. He knows how we’re wired. He’s aware that just knowing what we ought to do is sometimes not enough motivation to do it. So he gives us a reason to put others first, and it’s a powerful reason. In this week’s text (verses 5-11), Paul points to the astonishing sacrifice Jesus made to come into our world. That’s why we should put others ahead of ourselves. Christ put our interests ahead of his.
Most scholars think that Paul is quoting an ancient Christian hymn in these verses, one that he may have learned from the very Christians he once tried to kill! So in his letter to Philippi, Paul uses the lyrics from that hymn to remind the bickering Philippians of how graciously and generously Christ put our needs ahead of his, how he laid aside the rights and privileges that were his by virtue of his position (God the Son) and imprisoned himself in a human form.
And not just any human! He didn’t come as a king, with attendants to serve his every need. He came as a servant, a
first-century Palestinian peasant.
And not just any peasant! His obedience to His Father carried him all the way to the point of death.
And not just any death! God the Son, to whom all glory and power belong, died the agonizing, disgraceful death of a slave, a common criminal. He suffered death by crucifixion.
And why did he give up all that privilege and endure all that pain and disgrace? He did it to bring us back into God’s family, to make us part of His Kingdom.