Philippians 2: A Song

For many people this will seem lame, but there are few musicians I appreciate as much as Jon Foreman, frontman of Switchfoot. I’m a massive Switchfoot fan, but more than that, I dig his solo stuff. The reason? It’s poetic, reflective and deep whilst having a simplicity that grabs you. Jon is one of the few artists, in my opinion, who can write music that is musically and lyrically gripping in such a way that it makes me praise God along with him. Christian music is often cheesy to listen to – I love music in church, but you won’t find me listening to Chris Tomlin –  but when Jon writes or sings a song of worship, it grabs me.

A quote of his that sticks in my mind is this;

“All music is worship. It just depends on what you’re worshipping.”

In Philippians 2, Paul makes it clear what he is worshipping – Jesus. In this “Hymn to Christ”, Paul urges the church to set their minds on God, and I find this passage a great way to do that. Meta, right? Jon’s songs are good, but here Paul offers a hymn that blows with my mind every time I read it: It’s a go-to passage if I feel a need to be reminded of God’s huge love and commitment to saving me.

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I tend to be a bit of a nerd; I find doctrine exciting, and it is often through bring reminded intellectually of God’s amazing plan that I come to praise him more. This passage fits the bill. It’s arguably one of the most important passages in the bible for understanding much about the doctrine of God. It touches on relationships within the Godhead, and deals with all sorts of gear surrounding the incarnation; kenosis, hypostatic union and so on. I really value this section of the bible. Fear not, however, I’m not going to delve into the deep, dark nuances of kenotic theories and ecumenical councils.

Paul seems to be saying that the key to love and humility rather than selfishness and ambition comes from having the same mindset as Christ. Clearly that is humility. What strikes me is the way in which Christ’s humility is jarringly, eminently different to the consistent tendencies of the rest of us.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Do you recall the story in the garden of Eden?

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

The obvious must be said – the serpent was lying. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, whilst it did give Adam and Eve some form of so-called wisdom, it was not what they were after. They did not become more like God. They were already like God; in his image, ruling on his behalf, taking his image as his children. Rejecting God and his order in creation was never going to make them more like God – it was only under his blessing that humans had their dominion and life. In reality, what God said proved true; if they disobeyed him and ate, they would die. In this story, the serpent is utterly deceptive, whilst God is entirely trustworthy.

But why is this relevant?

The attitude in the garden is so arrogant and self-exulting. The attitude in the garden – that same attitude we consistently live in – is one of pride, and it is disgusting. We, as humanity, see something forbidden from us, and we want it. We hear the suggestion that we can be like God – that we can, in effect, do away with our reliance on him, or our need to live with reference to him. Upon hearing this, we reach out to be like God. Eve hears that she will be like God, and everything goes on from there. Humanity grasped for divinity, undeservedly, bringing the consequence of death for our rejection of God.

Yet Philippians?

Jesus does the exact opposite. While we reach for divinity that is not ours, he lays aside that divinity that is rightfully his. He sees it as better to humble himself than to take his rightful position in condemning all who have rejected him. It’s precisely the opposite motion. The proud sinner reaches up, tries to become God.

In order to save him, God goes down and dies. We get proud and grasp to be God. We deserve death. So what happens? The Son releases his grasp on that divinity (hey, kenosis!), and dies FOR us. It is just so huge. God became human, that he might die. He humbled himself even to death on the cross.

Many people would say that Jesus was a good bloke, but not worthy of being praised or exalted. Increasingly, people are actually rejecting what he said; relativism, postmodernism and liberalism are either watering down or rejecting Jesus claims and morals. I find it hard, however, to see this passage and not recognise that God the Father is absolutely right in exalting Jesus to the highest place, with the highest name. What a sacrifice.

While we reached up to do away with God, he reached down in love. He died so that we might live, rather than die for rejecting him. It’s a powerful gospel.

It’s almost like Paul gets distracted here for a moment; he has been talking about having love and humility rather than selfishness and ambition, and he goes on to speak of obedience. Yet here, he has a hymn to Christ; there is just so much joy to be found in the gospel here. As Christians, we ought to take the astounding humility and service of Jesus as our model. That is precisely what Paul is saying. And wow – his humility resolves the problems caused by our pride.

The brain-bursting goodness of this passage is one thing. Yet it is also potently sobering. On camp, our ministry was one of applying the gospel to our lives and the lives of the young punks we lead.

“at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

That’s every tongue. Every knee.

I will bow. The guy next door; his knee will bow. My primary school teachers knees will hit the carpet. The kids I take care of at after school care will all fall at Jesus feet. Knees will bow. Knees will bow. And every tongue confess. From the mouth of your pastor will come the confession of Christ. From the lips of your grandparents and mine. From the mouths of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris. All bow. All confess. This is not optional.

There is no escaping this; it is a heavy passage.  It means that when we do youth group, we are dealing with eternities. It means that the way we structure our life as a witness has everlasting consequences. Do you truly and honestly see everyone in your class or your office, and know that they will bow to God? Does your life actually reflect that in the end, everyone will be subject to him? I am sure that if I properly grasped this, I would be a lot more intentional, prayerful and loving.

For everyone will bow, but not all will be saved. The options are clear; either we bend our knees and humble our hearts, confessing him as Lord of our lives now. Or else we will bow in terror and humiliation, as we tremble before the throne of the almighty, awaiting our verdict of condemnation.

Friends, this is scary. Don’t make light of the gospel. Cherish the humility of Christ.

All music is worship. I pray that this song of Philippians 2 will remain lodged in my mind. He is the one I want to worship.

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One comment on “Philippians 2: A Song

  1. Tash Green says:

    solid! I enjoyed this post.

    I like that Jon gets an honourable mention.
    I like that you contrasted Christ’s humility with the attitude of pride found in Eden.
    I like the reminder at the end that every knee will bow & every tongue confess… Echoes what I’ve been thinking about this week to do with the day of the Lord in Zephaniah.

    “It means that the way we structure our life as a witness has everlasting consequences. Do you truly and honestly see everyone in your class or your office, and know that they will bow to God?Does your life actually reflect that in the end, everyone will be subject to him? I am sure that if I properly grasped this, I would be a lot more intentional, prayerful and loving.”

    Bam. I’m putting that in my little black book of quotes.

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