Friday, January 16, 2004

Philippians--Joy in Service

This is lesson 6 in a study of Philippians. To start at the beginning, click here.

There is a interesting, but obscure, connection between the four gospels and Philippians 2:5-11.

Let me begin by asking you to ponder the question, "Why do we have four gospels?" At one level, it is because each gospel contains stories and sayings that the others do not. At a more fundamental level, it is because a single historical narrative is inadequate to reveal the complex nature of Jesus the Messiah. Consider these facts:

  • Matthew provides the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph and establishes the legal right to the throne of Israel.
  • Luke provides the genealogy of Jesus through Mary and establishes the blood line from King David.
  • Mark has Jesus just appear and begin ministry. No word at all about where he came from or who is parents were.
  • John tells us that Jesus has always existed.

Why this variation in genealogies?

Consider these points:

  • Matthew relates how kings visited the young Jesus.
  • Luke contains details of the conception of Jesus and the family connection with John the Baptist. He relates how shepherds visited Jesus.
  • Matthew's Beatitudes show Jesus speaking at the top of a hill. He is above his hearers.
  • Luke's Beatitudes show Jesus speaking on a plain. He is level with his hearers. (Note that there is no contradiction here. Jesus obviously reused material as He traveled.)
  • Mark shows Jesus doing more and speaking less.
  • John shows Jesus making claims that relate to His divine nature.
  • Matthew shows Jesus doing miracles from His own authority.
  • Luke shows Jesus doing miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Mark shows Jesus doing miracles motivated by compassion.
  • John shows Jesus performing signs: miracles that point to His divine nature.

Each gospel writer compiled and organized historical material around a conception of who Jesus is. So alongside the telling of the story of Jesus, the four gospel writers present four different portraits of Him. 

  • Matthew presents Jesus as a King.
  • Mark presents Jesus as a Servant.
  • Luke presents Jesus as the perfect Man.
  • John presents Jesus as the Son of God.

We need four gospels because a single history that simultaneously presented Jesus as King-Servant-God-Man would create confusion.

Philippians 2:5-11 contains the same four fold portrait:

God: Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 

Servant: but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 

Man: Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

King: For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 

God: and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Side Note: One of the benefits of studying the Jewish roots of Christianity and recognizing that the New Testament authors were Jews is that one can discern the force of Paul's saying that Jesus has "the name which is above every name." If you have any Jewish friends, ask them, "Who has the name that is above every name?" Note their answer. They will answer one of the following:

  • They will say "Ha-Shem" which is Hebrew for "The Name." These Jews will say "Ha- Shem" whenever they see YHVH in their Hebrew Scriptures. YHVH is the personal name of God. It is where we get the name Yahweh or Jehovah. For the Jews this name is too holy to pronounce directly, so they substitute something else.
  • They will say "Adonai" which is Hebrew for "Lord". These Jews simply use Adonai instead of Ha-Shem.
  • They will say "the Lord" because they know you are a Gentile and do not want to confuse you with either Ha-Shem or Adonai.

But the principle is clear. When Paul says that Jesus has "the name which is above every name" and every tongue will confess that "Jesus Christ is Lord (Adonai in Hebrew)," he is making a strong statement that Jesus Christ is truly God. Any Jew who reads these words of Paul would see it. End Side Note.

Now this exercise has been fun. But what Paul especially means to say is that we are to live like Jesus modeled. He laid aside status to look after our interests. He left heaven for a stable. He left glory to become a servant. He became our kinsman by becoming a man. He died so that we could live.

And Paul is telling us to lay aside our status and interests in order to look to the interests of our Christian brothers and sisters. If Jesus laid down His life, we must also be prepared to lay ours down. Jesus could hear what His Father wanted and He obeyed. We must do the same.

Think back to the Paul's greeting where he addressed this letter to the saints in Philippi "including the overseers and deacons." Leaders must especially practice self-emptying for the sake of the saints they serve and over whom they have authority. True leadership is sacrificial from the top down. Leadership has authority because it has responsibility and must give an account. Jesus laid down His life for the Church, elders and deacons must do the same, so must husbands and fathers in their homes.

As you may have noted, Paul has put forth this idea of honoring others  many times already and in different ways. And, as we shall see, he is not yet ready to put it down. But here is the interesting thing. No letter of Paul hammers the theme of service to others more than this letter to the Philippian saints. But no letter of Paul is more full of joy and rejoicing. The two ideas are not independent. Indeed compare these words in Hebrews with Philippians 2:5-11

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Connecting the two passages we see that Jesus emptied Himself and endured the cross because the fruit, for Him, was joy! The most miserable people that I know are the most self-absorbed. The most contented are the self-givers.

Monday: Christian Workout

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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