As a new youth pastor in 2006, Philippians was the first book I went through with the little clan of students I was starting with. I can remember vividly a discussion I had with one of the students, a senior at a local private Christian high school, when we went through Phil. 2:1-11. She told me that her leadership group had adopted Philippians 2:1-4 as their passage to describe how they wanted to serve the school unselfishly. The interesting part of the discussion was when she said “It wasn’t until tonight, when you went past verse 4 into verses 5-11, that I realized just why we should want to obey verses 1-4.” What a tragedy it is when the commands given to Christians are detached from the gospel truth proclaimed to their hearts!
It has been my passion for years to see the answer to “why serve”, or “why be humble” as “because of Jesus”. Because of him, I can joyfully let go of competition or rivalry and work alongside people, enjoying their gifts and employing my own for others’ benefit. The easiest verse to overlook in these 11 verses, for me, is verse 4 – look also to the interests of others. If I don’t actively do this, I won’t do it at all. It’s perhaps slowly becoming more natural through the work of the Spirit, but only through consistent repentance of failure to do so. God looks after my needs and interests (not always what I believe I want but what he knows I need) so I can in turn look away from myself towards others. Christianity is unique in that, rather than saying “turn inward to find joy and meaning” it tells us to “look outward, to Jesus, to see the One who gave everything for you. And in turn, respond and give everything to and for him.”
While the academic “theologizing” of 2:6-11 is important (understanding what it means that Jesus “made himself nothing” for example), it is rarely those explanations that motivate our hearts to worship and serve God. Instead, we need to see the fact of his obedience, his humility, and his service of us on the cross, dwell on it, and live our lives in light of it. My hope is that I can become obedient in all that God would have me do with a willing heart, taking joy in my gifted-righteousness through Jesus. I love the “therefore” in v. 9 as well – because of all of this, in view of what Jesus did on the cross, the Father raised the Son and exalted him, and gave him the name above all names. One day all people will recognize Jesus as Lord; I want to spend my life acknowledging that fact and helping others to do the same.