Known as the Carmen Christi, the song of Christ, Philippians 2:5-11 may well be an early Christian hymn, or at least, part of one. Translators cannot decide whether it should be set off as poetry or as prose because it is rhythmic but not fully balanced. Paul may have used a familiar song to make his point—similar to a way a preacher today might cite a well known song but change a word here or there to make a different point—the new point made here, though, is very important.
Using a keyword in this letter, Paul calls on the reader to think like Jesus (Phil 2:5). Next the song explains how to think like Jesus. Jesus, who exists as God, did not consider that privilege as an opportunity to grab more for himself.
Instead, consistent with the nature of God, he “emptied” himself or made himself nothing, taking on the “form” of a slave. Thus, he demoted himself from divine omnipotence to menial service. The demotion follows a staircase pattern: He emptied himself
taking on the form of a slave
in the likeness of humanity
in the shape of a man
becoming obedient to death
even death on a criminal’s cross
At the heart of this passage is the call to think like Jesus. How does this look? That to be like God is about giving self away. To hoard either power or possessions to oneself is not like God.
This song emphasizes the completeness of this giving away. Jesus gave up the prerogatives of Godness to become a human for the sake of others. Jesus’ renunciation of his privilege was so complete that he died a criminal’s death.
The completeness of Jesus’ giving it all away is implied in v. 9. Here God the Father is the one who exalts Jesus and gives him the name above every name. At this name, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess. The name referred to here is Lord (v. 11). The inspiration for this point comes from the ancient prophet Isaiah where Lord refers to YHWH, God’s personal name.
Before me every knee will bow;
by me every tongue will swear.
They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone
are righteousness and strength. (Isa. 45:23b-24a)
While I would never pretend to know all the mysteries regarding the nature of God, such as how could God become human, did God really die, or how Jesus was still God, yet human, this text is clear about one thing:
God’s nature is about giving not getting. Consequently, those who follow Jesus will grow into givers not getters. This is how we think like Jesus.