Philippians 2:6-11 – The Christ Hymn of Philippians
SummaryPaul incorporates into the Philippian letter an early Christian hymn or confession of faith, describing Christ as an obedient servant. The hymn is not a call to imitate Christ, which would be humanly impossible, but a call to believers to live in the identity of who they are in Christ.
AnalysisIf the Philippians were already familiar with the words of this hymn or confession, then Paul cites them to indicate not only the centrality of the Philippians' faith in Christ but also the identity that is theirs in Christ. Earlier in the letter, Paul prepares the Philippians for singing this hymn or confessing this creed with four statements that express the reality of who they are in Christ. When he says, "If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love [in Christ], any sharing in the Spirit [in Christ], any compassion and sympathy [in Christ]" (2:1), his grammar assumes that indeed "there is" each of these things. Following these four realities, Paul admonishes readers to live out their identity in Christ (2:2-4). The final words of this section preceding the hymn focus on living in light of the Christ hymn: "Let the same mind [or 'heart,' or 'action'] be in you that was [that you have] in Christ Jesus" (2:5).
The hymn or confession itself is one of the most significant depictions of Christ in the New Testament. The poetic language expresses the two natures of Christ, who was "in the form of God" and "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave" or servant. In this "human likeness" and "human form," Christ "humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross." At its midpoint, the hymn or confession turns to the action of God's exaltation, giving Christ "the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus" all the realms of creation are called to bow in homage and every tongue proclaim, "Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
The verses that follow the Christ hymn draw upon the call to live as a slave or servant in the pattern of Christ, which is the focus of the first half of the Christ hymn (2:6-8): "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (2:12), words that express living in Christ and in the presence of God. The hymn changes its subject from Christ to God at the midpoint, when it says, "Therefore God" (2:9), and turns to offer words about Christ's exaltation (2:10-11). This same pattern is also present in the words or exhortation that express God's purpose at work in the life of the slave or servant: "for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his [God's] good pleasure" (2:13).