Sunday, January 20, 2008

A study in servanthood - Philippians 2, Part 1

A quick glance at Philippians 2 reveals a fantastic Christological study, as well as a great definition of what true servanthood means.  There's much to say, so for this part, we'll just focus on the general layout of the chapter.

For the purpose of this study, we'll focus on Philippians 2, vs. 1-13.

first, let's take a bird's-eye view of the passage.  Inspection yields that the passage breaks easily into three parts:

Part 1 (vs. 1 - 4) - Paul encourages the Philippians to be servants to one another.

Part 2 (vs. 5 - 11) - Paul cites Jesus as an example of servant hood.

Part 3 (vs. 12 & 13) - Paul concludes with admonishing the Philippians to "work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling"

Having broken down the passage into three distinct parts, we can focus on the second part, as it is the key to understanding everything else Paul is saying.

In Part 2, Paul provides Jesus as the example of servanthood in who He was and how He came to earth to provide us a way to God.  There are some interesting actions to note:

1.  Jesus "did not regard equality with God something to be grasped." (verse 6)

2.  Jesus "made himself nothing" and "took the form of a servant" (verse 7)

3.  Jesus "humbled Himself and became obedient unto death." (verse 8)

Each verse highlights a component of the servanthood which Christ modeled:  Attitude, Being, and Conduct (the ABC's of Servanthood, if you will).

In Verse 6, Jesus displays His servant-like attitude - He "did not regard equality with God something to be grasped".  The Greek behind the word "grasped" literally means something which is seized by force.  In common use, the word typically implied theft.  But in this context, it would probably be best to render the phrase, Jesus "did not regard equality with God something to be seized by force."  In other words, even though Jesus was God in the flesh, He did not consider His status as God to be something to be held on to at all costs.  He was the Supreme Authority, the Ruler of the Universe.   Yet when He was challenged He did not assert His authority (see Mark 4, Matthew 26:50-54; Matthew 27:11-14).  Jesus had a servant's attitude - He gave up what was rightfully His for the good of others.

In verse 7, Jesus displays His nature (or identity) as a servant.  That is He "made Himself nothing" and "took the form of a servant".  It is interesting to note that the word for "form" in the Greek is "morphoo".  "Morphoo" is defined as "the essential expression" of something.  For example, the essential expression of a song is in it's sound.  whether you are enthralled or repulsed by it is a product of your experiences, both past and present, but the song is what it is, nonetheless.  The essential expression of a sunset is in it's appearance - the colors and the light that is present as the sun goes down is the sum total of a sunset.
In the same way, if you had met Jesus while He walked the earth, you would have experienced a servant - more exactly, a devoted slave.  That was His essential expression.  It's also interesting to note that he was previously in the "form of God" - that is, to have stood in Jesus' presence in Heaven,. you'd not have experienced a servant, but the Ruler of the Universe - God Himself.   In His being, through and through, Jesus was a servant to the bone - He did not pretend to be something He was not.

In verse 8, Jesus displays His servant-like conduct.  Here he "became obedient unto death".  It is interesting to note that first He was "obedient" - just like a servant.  But more so, He "became obedient", implying a level of obedience to which He had not previously attained - obedience unto death.  Thus, this third component is not revealed in merely serving turkey at the homeless shelter at Thanksgiving, but finding yourself in increasingly challenging situations where you function as a servant.

More later.

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