Many, many scholars believe Philippians 2:5-11 is a Christ-hymn or early creed of the Christian church that Paul is citing, but Gordon Fee argues convincingly that this passage has a Semitic parallelism structure, not a Greek hymn structure, and is in keeping with Paul’s usual style. But the debate rages on and is reflected in different Bible translations: the NIV, NET and NLT offset the text as poetry, the ESV, NASB and NKJV include it in the paragraph as prose.
We shall leave these scholars to their debate until someone unearths the sheet music. In the meantime, let’s look at the basic structure of this passage and see what Paul is drawing our attention to at the centre of the chiasm. I’ve highlighted the key words that show the parallel or contrasting ideas.
A – Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus
B – Who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped
C- but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of men.
D- Being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself
E- by becoming obedient to death
E’- even death on a cross.
D’-For this reason also, God highly exalted him
C’- and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name
B’- so that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth
A’- and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
The cross is the centrepiece of this passage, flanked by Christ’s humiliation and his exaltation.
Jesus humbled himself and obeyed the Father all the way to the Cross.
We see Jesus’ flint-faced determination to obey the Father throughout the Gospels. When the devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness and offers to give him all the kingdoms of the earth if he’ll just bow down to him, Jesus stands firm in his resolve to obey the Father. When Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from going to his death in Jerusalem, Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan […] for you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus sweats blood, wrestling with God in prayer: “Not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
In other words, the only way for Jesus to take his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high was through the Cross. It’s the same for us. Our humiliation doesn’t consist of giving up the riches of heaven and taking on a human body but admitting we aren’t good enough to face God’s righteous judgment on our own. That hurts our “I’m OK, You’re OK” pride. Like the Prodigal Son, we have to get out of the pigsty and throw ourselves on the Father’s mercy. Also like the Prodigal Son, we will be welcomed with celebration.
The Father rewarded the Son’s obedience by exalting him above every name.
Three days later, Jesus rises from the dead and forty days later he ascends to heaven. Shortly after, when Stephen is being stoned, he says with his dying breath, “I see […] the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Christ has been exalted to the place of supreme authority. In Revelation 7:9, John sees a multitude from “every nation and tribe and people and language” standing before Christ and praising him, in fulfillment of the statement “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
At the end of time, no one will be able to escape the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord. It’s going to be a rude awakening for those who deny this now, but for those who bow the knee to him in this life, enduring persecution as he did, we have the promise we will reign with him in the next. (2 Timothy 2:12)
I love this passage. It’s a reminder not to be overwhelmed either by my own suffering because Christ suffered too, or by the crazy mixed-up world because even the most puffed-up, perverse politician shall bow the knee to Jesus in the end.
For a lot of people, the Bible is either art or truth. For me, it's both, and I hope to persuade readers in both camps to see the other perspective.