8.2 Philippians -- He Emptied Himself
The most famous passage in Philippians is the much-studied hymn of praise to Jesus in chapter 2:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name...(Phi 2:6-11).
Paul appropriates this creed as a model for Christian behavior. He quotes it in the context of promoting unity within the church fellowship:
make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Phi 2:2-3).
The key word here is humility (Gk: "tapeinofrosune"), which he explains as "count others better than yourselves" and "look to the interests of others." Since the heart of racism is to count oneself better than other races and cultures, nothing could be more offensive to the racist spirit than to lower oneself before them. Humility is the antidote to racism, but only when it is genuine and not feigned. Paul's teaching reminds us of Jesus' own words on humility, recorded only in Luke:
"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk 14:11).
Jesus himself took the place of a servant:
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45).
But there is a step that goes beyond lowering oneself, beyond looking to the good of others and serving them. This is what Jesus did in the hymn Paul quotes:
"he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant"
"emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" (RSV)
"made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant" (KJV)
-- even to the point of humbling himself to death on a cross -- for us.