I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Philippians 2:5-11
C. Other texts for Year A for 6th Sunday in Lent, Palm Sunday
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
5 How do we block out having the mind of Christ? Consider being full of Christ-like mind set, i.e. Christian mindfulness.
6 Since Christ “was in the form of God,” then are we too in the form of God? Consider Psalm 8: “You made [mortals] a little lower than [gods (Massoretic) | angels (LXX, Targum, Syriac)]. Would other organisms consider us as gods (Genesis 1:28)?
7 How then are we, finding ourselves in human form, to take on the form of a slave? Consider Adam’s servitude to the earth (Genesis 3:23).
8 We are to be obedient to God. Not to the church nor to any other human institution, not even to ourselves.
9-11 We hope not to be exalted for our actions or faith, but that God would be exalted through our actions!
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- Paul is urging the Philippians to do for Christ as they would do for him, even more so.
F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
- None noted.
- Some interpreters suggest that present form of the hymn includes words not found in the original hymn to yield a poetic meter.
II. Literary Study.
A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?
- The letter was written by Paul, but the hymn may have existed independently of the letter, either composed by Paul, or incorporated by Paul to make a point.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
- John 13 (Jesus washing the disciples’ feet) has a similar structure and descent followed by exaltation.
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
- Verse 5 is especially difficult. Various English translations add helping words to avoid unintended English nuances. The Message offers: “Think of yourself the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” The operative verb is in the second person present imperative.
D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?
- Verses 6 – 11 are poetic. Although the surrounding sentences are rhetorical.
- The hymn, if considered apart from the letter, has a clear Christological message: Christ is God. But the letter uses the hymn to make a strong ethical command: Humbly obey God, like Christ. Combined they say: Obey like Christ, for God is in you. Hence in verse 13 Paul wrote: “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
III. Question the text.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of Gravity: What would Jesus Do?
- Emotional Center: Slave-like obedience to God.
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- How are we, as mere mortals, to adopt a Christ-like form of thinking?
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- This is the most important part of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and the most difficult to interpret. Verses 6 – 11 summarize the Gospels. But verse 5 demands that we must confess Jesus Christ is Lord and demonstrate Christ-like servant-hood by our actions.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Gerald F Hawthorne (Word Biblical Commentary: Philippians, Word Books, 1983) notes that since 1899 there has been broad agreement that these verse contain an ancient hymn, but there is much disagreement as to the structure of that hymn with regard to strophes and which if any words would have been omitted in the original Greek hymn to yield the particular meter. He also notes diverse scholarly opinions if Paul composed the hymn, if Paul adopted or adapted it from some other writer, and if John 13 (Jesus washing the disciples’ feet) guided the writer of the hymn. The hymn makes a clear Christological case for Christ as God, but Paul uses it to make an ethical statement. He recommends translating verse five to retain implied parallels as:
This way of thinking must be adopted by you,
Which also was the way of thinking adopted by Christ.
He discusses the use of /morfh/; discarding translating it as form, glory, image, mode of being, or condition/status, as each being partially correct and problematic. In considering verse 7, he summarizes interpretations of what the author intended by “he emptied himself”. And of what Christ emptied or poured out from himself. He interprets the obedient death of Christ, incorporating vicarious atonement, as obedient to God and serving people.He described the second half of the hymn, vv. 9 – 11, as shifting from Christ acting in humble obedience, to God acting to exalt Christ.