I’m certain that my readers are familiar with the “Christ Hymn” of Philippians 2:
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, 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, 10so 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. (Philippians 2:6-11 ESV)
There have been volumes written about the Christological implications of this passage. Although Christ was God in his nature, he chose to become a man… not just a man, but a servant. He obeyed to the point of death. Because Jesus Christ gave himself, God the Father exalted him.
But, have you thought about the context of this great Christological passage? Let’s take it backwards. This is the sentence that introduces the hymn:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God… (Philippians 2:5-6a ESV)
Thus, Paul wrote this “Christ Hymn” to show his readers how they should think about themselves. Regardless of their position or importance, they were to consider themselves as servants. Jesus, then, among other things, serves as an example of the way the Philippians should think about themselves in relation to others.
Why was this important to Paul? Again, read the sentences before this:
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 rivalry 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. Have this mind among yourselves… (Philippians 2:1-5a… ESV)
Paul reminds his readers of Jesus’ example not just so they can meditate on the nature of Christ, nor just so they can think rightly about themselves, but so that they have an example and an impetus for treating others as more important than themselves… so that they can live in unity and harmony with one another… so that there is no rivalry or conceit between them.
In other words, the “Christ Hymn” gives us a model for living. We are to live among one another as servants. If even the greatest among us (Jesus Christ) could become a servant and become obedient to God unto death, surely we can also serve others, thinking of them as more significant than ourselves.
Just as God exalted Christ, we should be willing to humble ourselves and trust God to lift us up. As James wrote, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:6-11 ESV) Thus, one of the ways that we humble ourselves before the Lord is in the way we humble ourselves before other people.
For leaders – for those who are attempting to live their lives as an example for others in following Jesus – this should be doubly true. Leaders should be known more for humbly allowing others to have their way than for demanding to have their own way. Leaders should be known more for serving than for being served. I think Jesus said something about that also, and again offered himself as an example specifically for leaders. (Matthew 20:28)
Obviously, we are not Jesus Christ. Our service and our obedience does not carry the same meaning that his carried. However, his service and his obedience serve as an example to us in how to live with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Christ Hymn of Philippians 2 is just one example of how a New Testament author used the life of Jesus as an example for us to follow, not just contemplate.