May Our Lives Sing!

Philippians 2:6-11:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

As we dive into a Summer-long series on the book of Philippians, we are inviting all of DCV to take time to read this short passage every day. These short seven verses are some of the most powerful words in Scripture about the humble, self-emptying, servant-hearted love of Jesus.

Many scholars believe verses 6-11 were part of an early church hymn or poetic prayer that Paul borrowed in his letter to the Philippians. Whether it was a hymn, a poem or something Paul wrote himself, the whole book of Philippians seems to be an extended meditation on this passage.

If these words were indeed a hymn, it’s possible that the Philippians knew these words well. Upon hearing the letter read, maybe the melody came flooding into their minds. But Paul makes it clear that reading and singing these words are not enough. The words need to make their way from people’s heads to their hearts and from their lips into their bones.

In the Western Church, we tend to think if we get enough knowledge in our heads, we will begin to live differently. We can think our way into a new way of living. But if you’ve been living this Christian life any length of time, you know it rarely works this way. You can have all the theological knowledge in the world, you can have memorized pages of Scripture and still not be anything like Jesus. You can meditate and pontificate about love all day long and still not be a loving person.

Paul doesn’t invite people to simply understand the gospel declared in verses 6-11; he implores people to become that good news and thereby “shine like stars” in a dark world (2:15). Paul points to himself as an example of how to live out the Christ Hymn. Imprisoned for the Gospel, Paul says he has “lost all things” for Christ’s sake (2:8) but has gained a life of joy and contentment in all circumstances (4:4).

He then points to Timothy and Epaphroditus as living examples of the Christ Hymn. Epaphroditus actually put his life on the line in going to visit Paul in prison. “He almost died for the work of Christ” (2:30).

Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus didn’t just understand the good news of Jesus. They didn’t just preach the good news of Jesus. Their lives sang this good news. 

The early church desired to have their lives sing good news too. In the third century, Christian communities created a model for becoming a Christian that included four stages: welcome, instruction, preparation and initiation. You might think the “instruction” phase would involve learning church doctrine and memorizing Scripture. And while that was part of it, the main focus was less on knowing and more on becoming like Christ. When students were tested, they were not asked to recite biblical passages, they were not quizzed on doctrine or asked about their prayer life, although all that was important. But what the church really wanted to know about new believers was how they were treating the poor and loving their neighbors.

Alan Kreider, a professor of church history, argues that the early church seemed to think that people don’t think their way into a new way of living but rather “live their way into a new way of thinking.”

So, this Summer, as we meditate on the Christ Hymn and the book of Philippians, let’s not just commit the words to memory but commit to live them out. Paul says this looks like “doing nothing out of selfish ambition,” valuing others higher than ourselves, and doing everything without grumbling or arguing. What are some habits you could cultivate this Summer to cut out selfishness? What is a practical way you can value someone in your life higher than yourself? Where do I find myself grumbling or being argumentative?

As we seek out practical ways to be more like Christ, as described in this hymn, we will come to realize that His way of living is truly the best way. And our lives will sing that song.

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