November 26, 2020

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (10)

The Washing of the Feet, Duccio di Buoninsegna

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians: Friends in the Gospel
Study Ten: Humility We Must Sing to Imagine

• • •

There are some things that can, perhaps, only be said in poetry, and perhaps this [Phil 2:5-11] is one of them.

• Tom Wright


Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became humanHaving become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

As we mentioned last week, this is one of the most discussed theological texts in the New Testament is Philippians 2:5-11, the “Christ-hymn” that describes the “kenosis” of Jesus.

Gerald F. Hawthorne’s interpretation of Phil. 2:5-11 is one of my favorite commentary passages that I have read in biblical studies.

He first describes the near universal agreement that “vv 6-11 constitute a beautiful example of a very early hymn of the Christian church.” Scholars, however, have a number of different ideas about how the hymn might have been structured. Whatever the versification of the hymn might have been, it is clear that it has two basic parts. There are four main verbs: the first two have Jesus as the subject, the second two have God. The hymn then naturally falls into the story of (1) Jesus’ acts of humbling himself, and (2) God’s act of exalting Jesus.

Hawthorne notes that Paul himself may be the author of the hymn or it may come from another source. The striking insight that I learned many years ago from him when considering this passage is that it appears to be a meditation on an event recorded in the Gospel of John.

“…may be the result of deep meditation…on one particular event from the life of Christ as recorded in the gospel tradition — Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:3-17). Although verbal parallels between John 13:3-17 and Phil 2:6-11 are few, but nonetheless significant, the parallels in thought and in the progression of action are startling. So precise in fact are these parallels that it is difficult to consider them the result of mere coincidence.

Hawthorne uses the following diagram to portray these parallels:

This hymn, whether Paul wrote it or not, emphasizes Jesus’ act of humility using an “descent-ascent motif that is prominent in the Johannine story.”

Gerald Hawthorne also notes another important parallel between the way both John and this epistle reflect on the foot-washing story:

It is also interesting and instructive to note that the purpose of each pericope is similar. The Johannine account is an acted parable to summarize the essence of Jesus’ teaching: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to hold the first place among you must be everybody’s slave” (Mark 10:43-44), while the Philippian text is a hymn to illustrate powerfully Paul’s teaching, which at this point is identical with that of Jesus:  humble, self-sacrificing service to one another done in love is a must for a Christian disciple who would live as a Christian disciple should (Phil 2:3-4).

• • •

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel


  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    Forgive me IMonkers, I know so many of us benefit from the sage words and posts, blessings for them.
    However, I am getting very tired of the introspection of many of our contributors and commentators.
    Do we all live in dim, dank holes contemplating the finer nuances of the OT or the Gospels and the letters etc. The Gospel is Good News to be shared abroad.
    Good reading but I want to hear about your engaging in the propagation of the Good News. Not the rumblings of many words.
    I have great respect for many IMonkers and they have helped me come to grips with some of my dilemmas and questions. They know who they are and I give thanks for their support. I stumble lots, as we all do and some IMonkers lift me to my feet again.
    The contemplation of the beauty of God’s creation may pass many by as they rumble through their tomes looking for ambiguous answers.
    Chaplain Mike gives us poetry, music and the paintings and photos of exceptional beauty each Saturday and Sunday.
    I rarely hear any comments of praise for these inclusions for our benefit.
    On Sundays I am usually the only commentator. Blessings for Bach!
    Today’s beautiful poem from Philippians is a supreme example of the beauty of language and how it relates and permeates to the inner depths of the heart and soul. Consider well the joy. Share it abroad.
    Let us openly confess Jesus Christ is Lord.
    Blessing to all,

    • Christiane says

      ” However, I am getting very tired of the introspection of many of our contributors and commentators. ”


    • +1

    • Susan,
      Just some thoughts in response to your post
      Re: Introspection
      Light without darkness is no light for us. It’s only in contemplating, at least occasionally, the dim, the dark and the somber that our joy is made real. Frankly I blame the boss, Chaplin Mike. If he posts something on the darkness of God or the nature of sin, people will respond appropriately. If the post is something about the great joy and peace that comes from knowing God I think people will respond in kind as well. Now if a particular person or persons is just morose regardless of the post then perhaps an encouragement to that individual might be where you want to go but I don’t think IMonkers generally need that encouragement.
      Re: Paint and music
      If there is a Monet exhibit in town I will go with my wife one time but then she has to go again by herself. She needs personal time with Mr. Monet and she gets teary-eyed because she is so moved by the beauty. That’s just not gonna happen with me. I like the impressionists OK but they don’t make me jump out of my seat. I think the same goes for classical music. You probably just don’t have many avid classical music fans here so you’re not going to get a great response. I think that’s just fine. I think it represents a sort of Sabbath for everyone involved, especially CM who doesn’t have a heavy moderation load on those days.
      I know you want CM to be encouraged and confirmed in what he does with positive reinforcement but you may desire that more than he needs it.

      • The irony is that it takes introspection for us to change, which appears to be the desired outcome of the person commenting.

        • If only life were always about the pluses. The art, the joy, the warm fellowship. I guess we find ourselves at cross purposes sometimes. One is seeing joy when another is seeing only pain.

          • Oh, yes, indeed. The body of Christ – aka the Church – is immensely schizophrenic. People living in great joy standing beside those in great pain.

      • I’m with you, Chris, on the music thing. I don’t usually comment on the Bach stuff because it doesn’t interest me. Toss some U2 out there, though, and I’ll chatter like a little bird.

    • Some of us live in Job and Ecclesiastes, and can’t relate to the Psalms and gospels.

  2. Susan Dumbrell says

    Spring would love to come
    Winter shivers about us
    thin sun shines weakly

    roses prunes waiting
    anticipation of Spring
    embers glow in grate

  3. Ronald Avra says

    I had never thought of the similarities between the passages in John and Philippians. That is an interesting observation.

  4. I like the John parallel, too. I think the descent/ascent motif is the whole point –

    NOT “Because of that obedience”.

    That’s interpolation; it doesn’t say that in the Greek. It’s only “therefore”. So we have to figure out, as has been said elsewhere, what the “therefore” is there for. (Ugh – dangling participle!) I realize Peterson’s translation is more at the dynamic end of the spectrum, but I think he misstepped here.

    I like “The Message” a lot – it was a great help to me as I was shaking loose some stinkin’ thinkin’. But, adding in the idea of obedience when it doesn’t appear in that place makes obedience the point. Doing so takes the focus *away* from kenosis and humility and elevates morality instead. Uh uh. Jesus obeyed and we also do need to obey, but for us that is secondary; we obey from our heart in love and gratitude *after* we first comprehend an inkling of Jesus’ – and the Father’s! – love and condescension in humility for us, not because we’re hit upside the head yet again with some sort of hyper-morality – like when people say that the point of the Beatitudes is that Jesus is trying to ram home how far short of perfection we fall. No, No, NO! (See Dallas Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy” for a much better interpretation.)

    Maybe this doesn’t affect others the same way, but this is a sensitive point for me coming from my background and with my tendency toward perfectionism. Making morality/obedience the primary thing for us, and constantly hearing that from well-meaning Christians of all stripes, kept me in a kind of chronic despair for many years.


    • One of the speakers at a conference I attended last week talked about how many Christians view God as a “moral manager” and how that view shapes our lives, usually negatively. Chronic despair is one symptom/outcome, yes.

  5. Really like this today-the side by side.
    Honestly, this has been my prayer lately…to wash others feet (ummm, figuratively, I hope you realize that), and it’s been heart changing for me. Certainly not comparing me to Christ’s foot washing, but the idea of it has become part of my contemplation, and my daily thought–especially, especially, especially with those who are the most difficult (for me) in my life.
    If Jesus did it, I need to. Again, not a comparison, but following His example in the 21st century with family members, and church associates.
    Not easy, but certainly has freed me from being their judge, elevating myself, being continuously frustrated, and wanting to walk away.
    This has only come by the power of the Holy Spirit, cuz otherwise, yep….i’d be walkin’ away from it all.