Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Pattern of Christ' Death, Our Pattern

I have just finished working through the so-called 'Christ-hymn' of Phil 2:6-11. Awesome piece of Scripture. It has to be one of the most difficult pieces of the Bible too. Scholars debate it deeply.

They question whether it originally existed as a hymn sung in the early church. If so, what are its origins? Did it emerge from some Jewish or Hellenistic Christian? Is it influenced by some Hellenistic or other religious idea? Is Jesus here being contrasted with Adam, with Wisdom, with Satan, with a dying and rising god, with the emperor; or, is he supreme above all? Was it written by Paul or some other earlier Christian? Should we interpret it against the backdrop of what we think its origins are? Should we interpret it as Paul's work, and do so against the backdrop of the unity and mission problem in Philippians?

Then, there is the structure of the hymn. There are possible chiasms, couplets, links (e.g. form of God/servant), dependent clauses, participles and more. Then there is the view that if it originally was a hymn, then did Paul add lines. Many argue for example that he added 'even death on a cross;' and 'in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.'

Then there is the meaning of difficult Greek words like morphe which means form and usually refers to the appearance of something. Is Paul merely saying Jesus 'appeared' to be in this form? What harpagmos mean, that Jesus did not grasp for something he had (unlike Adam, Satan, Emperor); or is it that he did not exploit, grasp onto, or exploit something he had (i.e. divinity)? And what does it mean for Christ to 'empty himself.' These are hotly debated.

Some think it says nothing about Jesus' divinity initially; rather, Jesus, unlike Adam, did not grasp after divine equality. As a result he was exalted i.e. adoptionism. Then there is the vexed question of what every knee 'in heaven... under the earth' means? Are they spiritual powers or human powers or both. And what does it mean that Jesus is 'the name above all names.' How far do we push this? Questions, questions, questions.

As I look at the hymn and have studied Philippians, I take it more in the traditional sense. That is, Jesus being in essence God, did not seek to exploit or use his divine equality for his own advantage and gain. Rather, he gave it up to save the world. The passage shows the movement of Jesus from divinity, to humanity, to service, to death on a cross. This to me is the climax of the first part of the hymn, God on a cross for love's sake.

Paul is in Roman prison about to face Nero and probably death. Paul either writes it or uses it to challenge the Philippians. The Philippians are facing a similar challenge (1:30). They are also divided, some seeking personal glory and ambition (2:3) and they are scrapping (2:14-15; 4:2-3). Paul is urging them to rediscover what it means to be 'in Christ.' The words would be greatly challenging, telling them to keep going all the way as Christ did, in obedience (check out 2:12 here).

The second part of the passage would also have been greatly comforting to Paul and the Philippians as they lived the challenge of being persecuted for Christ. It tells them and us that we will receive a reward for our hard slog for Christ, eternal life. We may not gain the 'name that is above every name' as Christ did, but we will be 'in that name' i.e. 'in Christ.' We will be welcomed into eternity, granted the prize, experiencing the joy of having our bodies transformed into indestructable bodies and live in the renewed creation... bring it on! (Check out 1:19-23; 2:17; 3:8-14; 4:3).

Christ is the supreme model or pattern for our lives in this text. No matter what glorious attributes we may have (see Paul's list in Phil 3:4-6); we are to die to ourselves and emulate Christ. Christ left the glory of equality with God, the form of God, and became one of us, taking up up the form of a slave and obeying God all the way, all the way to death. And not just any death, he died the most humiliating death of all, death on a cross. Naked and humiliated before the power of Rome and the forces of evil, he was utterly destroyed and his mission seemingly ended. Yet here is where the power of God is found, in the power of the cross, the power of service, the power of love.

This is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written. It unlocks the secret of the universe. That secret is love. Love that dies to save. Love that takes up a towel to wash feet. Love that takes up a cross and follows Jesus. Love that denies self and lives for others (check out 2:4).

Too many Christians today live in Sunday and forget Friday. The power of life and resurrection is loose in the universe and it will win. But in he meantime we are to live as Christ lived. We get up every morning, we pray for strength and hook up with God to get reminded of why we are doing what we are doing (to save, restore and build God's world). We take up the towel and cross and we press on. We refuse to relent. We are here to serve, serve, serve. How far are we to serve? Only until death! At times we feel like stopping for a bit of pampering. Consider Christ and his life? This is our life. The cross is not only our salvation it is our pattern. It is love revealed. It is the heart of God seen. Jesus on a cross was God on a cross.

Incidentally, if we take the view that God is omniscient, he planned this from the start. Wow! He planned to create us, he set it up so that we would live forever with him, he gives us the option of accepting his free offer, he knew we would reject it and rebel against him, yet he knew he would step in and save us and in the most amazing way. How much does he love us? Too much for me to know. Got to go, hard to see the screen.


Anonymous said...

Thank you and bless you mate.

AndyD said...

That's awesome Mark, especially your bit near the end about remembering friday and living as Jesus lived...well said...I look forward to studying this with you next semester!