Good Trouble - Philippians 2

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Creative vs Coercive

Paul’s Master Narrative

This coming Sunday, we head into week 3 of our series, Good Trouble where we will look at Philippians 2:1-11. Bible Scholar, Michael Gorman, calls Philippians 2:1-11, “Paul’s master narrative” because it gets at the very heart of Paul’s writings. Why are these verses so significant?

The passage begins with Paul calling the Philippian church into a life of humility, service, and sacrifice;

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Paul is describing what it looks like to be the people of Jesus, the Church, in the world. He says, we are to look and act different because the people of Jesus don’t pursue selfish ambition but “count others more significant.” Where the world says “get what’s yours” the people of Jesus are to “give of themselves.” Paul says, we do that because it’s what Jesus did:

 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though [because] he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

The ESV (and other modern translations) add “though” to the phrase “in the form of God” but the Greek doesn’t necessitate this inclusion and modern scholars including NT Wright and Michael Gorman argue that instead of “though” the translation should read “because he was in the form of God.” This change better corresponds to the contextual evidence of the Biblical narrative and makes a powerful statement about who God is and what is revealed in and through the incarnation. I.e. because Jesus is God, he condescended––gave up power––and sacrificially gave himself for his people. Incarnation is in character with God not despite it (because vs. though). The very nature of God, revealed in the incarnation, is one of self-giving love.

Pau’s words stands in stark contrast to the world of ancient Rome where emperors (Nero at the time) demanded to be worshiped as a god because of/through their accumulation of power. Rome built their empire and enforced their infamous Pax Romana (peace) with coercive power and to that kind of power, Paul (and the Church) declared that the true King of the universe operated differently and was at work building a different kind of people/Kingdom.

It’s easy to hear that and think, Rome was powerful and Jesus wasn’t. But that doesn’t make any sense. Jesus defeated death, rescued us from sin, and promised to right all the brokenness of our world. Jesus is powerful but in a life-giving and generous way. Rome wielded coercive power in order to control, dominate, horde, protect, and preserve. But Jesus, all throughout Scripture, abounds in generous power that gives and gives and gives; creating something good and beautiful for the sake of others (think Gen. 1).

That’s what Paul is writing about in Philippians 2:1-11. In a few short verses Paul is showing us how and what Jesus is doing in the world–-the means and the ends of the Kingdom. And then, he’s inviting us to join Jesus’ work.

Jonny Morrison