Philippians 2:5-11 Humility & the Incarnation

5. Paul has been discussing unity through humility. In order to more fully demonstrate the humility that he is discussing, he presents Christ as the ultimate expression of humility. As we see in the verses below, he does not present specific actions and teachings in Christ’s life that point to humility. He holds up the totality of the Incarnation as the height of humility.
He encourages the church to have this same mind or attitude that Christ had. The word “mind” comes from the Greek word phronema which means mindset. As someone in class mentioned, it is the state of mind that controls and results in your normal action. Whatever your phronema will determine how you act.

6. This passage begins to show the depths of humility that came with the Incarnation. First, He did not “regard equality a thing to be grasped”. Paul is not suggesting that Christ is not equal to Father. In fact, the opposite is being suggested. The word “grasped” means to have or hold onto something that is not originally your own. It could have been acquired by legitimate or illegitimate means. This is why some versions use the term “robbery”. Fr. Farley says that Christ did not clutch onto the power and status of the Godhead like a treasure that He could lose. As a classmate stated, Christ while continuing to be God was willing to relinquish the prestige of Divinity and become man.

7. This further explains what Paul means by Christ relinquishing the status and prestige of Deity. He came in the form of a slave. As God, Christ could have come in any form He desired. In fact, I think most people would have imagined God to come as royalty, yet Christ did the opposite. He was the one person who could choose his parents or situation in life, yet he chose the most humble of circumstances. He was born in a cave used for animals and his first crib was a feeding trough. This alone suggests the level of humility that is present in Christ. It also suggests something that essential to the nature of God. Christ is the face of God for us. He reveals to us the Father. Therefore humility was not something that He “put on” for His time on earth, but it is part of who God is.

8. If Christ demonstrated humility by birth and position in life, His death was the ultimate expression. He was obedient to the Father to the point of crucifixion. Crucifixion was the worst possible death that could have been conceived at the time. Rome reserved it for their worst criminals. The Jews considered it to be a curse on someone’s soul (Deut. 21:23). Yet Christ embraced this most humiliating death out of obedience to the Father.
In class, we discuss the relationship of humility and obedience. We agreed that one could be obedient without humility at least outwardly, but one could never be humble without obedience. True obedience the act of surrender your will to someone else. This not only applies to our relationship with God but all of those in authority.
Another point can be made about this verse especially in relation to Heb. 5:7-10. How did Christ who was God become obedient and learn obedience? First, Christ as God has eternally submitted His will to Father. In fact, their wills are indistinguishable and completely united. But in what way did Christ learn obedience? The Fathers discussed this passage continually because of their struggle with Arianism and other heresies that threatened the belief in Christ’s deity. Christ is two natures in one person. It is His human nature that learned obedience. One aspect of the Incarnation is that Christ took on human flesh in order to deify or sanctify it. Human nature was unruly and wild and separated from God. The Incarnation sanctified man’s nature so that man could participate in the life of the Trinity. The Passion was the pinnacle of obedience and was part of the transformation of human nature so that now it was able to commune with God and ultimately become the dwelling place of God.
One final note concerning this passage will be mentioned. As mentioned above the early Fathers had to contend with this passage to defeat Arianism. The ironic fact is that the Arians used this passage as well to prove that Jesus was not God. Ultimately, the Orthodox position of Christ won the day. The winning argument although was not convincing Biblical exegesis but the argument from liturgy. The Fathers eventually proclaimed that their view was right because that the Church had always worshipped Christ as God and to follow Arius would require a change in the Church’s worship.

9-11. When Jesus assumed our nature His obedience sanctified and deified human nature so that it could share in communion with God. Within one person Jesus united divine nature with human nature. Now our nature can unite itself with God. So even when Paul is talking about exaltation, it is the raising of human nature to the throne of God.

Additional Notes:

The relation of this passage to Mary. Within Orthodoxy, this passage is the epistle reading for two Marian feasts (Nativity & Dormition). Why did the Church choose these readings? I think for two reasons. First it reminds us that Christ is the center of our faith. Mary ultimately points to Christ. In all our iconography of Mary, she is always holding Christ pointing people to him. In fact any veneration we have of Mary is ultimately an expression of that acknowledgement that her son is God. Secondly, Mary is the perfect example of this Christ-like humility. In fact, that is another reason we honor Mary. She is the paradigm for the Christian life. She heard the voice of God, humbly accepted God’s Word, and God was born in her body as a result, then she told those around her what God was going to do. This is the example that we are all commanded to follow.
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