Imitating the Incarnation of Christ: An Exposition of Philippians 2:5-8 -- By: David J. MacLeod

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 158:631 (Jul 2001)
Article: Imitating the Incarnation of Christ: An Exposition of Philippians 2:5-8
Author: David J. MacLeod


Imitating the Incarnation of Christ:
An Exposition of Philippians 2:5-8*

David J. MacLeod

[David J. MacLeod is a member of the faculty of Emmaus Bible College, Dubuque, Iowa, and is associate editor of The Emmaus Journal.

* This is part one in a two-part series, “The Christological Hymn of Philippians 2:5–11.”]

Philippians 2:5–11 is a magnificent hymn,1 extolling many distinctive doctrines of the Christian faith. These include the preexistence of Christ, His deity, His equality with God the Father, Christ’s incarnation and true humanity, His voluntary death on the cross, His glorious exaltation by God the Father, and His ultimate triumph over evil.2 This passage is “one of the most

conspicuous and magnificent of the dogmatic [i.e., theological] utterances of the New Testament.”3 Martin has entitled his monumental study of this passage Carmen Christi (“A Hymn of Christ”).4

Of significance is the fact that this passage with its several affirmations about Christ was written about thirty years after the death of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.5 These statements were made openly, and not in a controversial way as if Paul were trying to make a case against false teachers who were denying those truths. Paul’s tone suggests just the opposite—that these doctrines were the settled, common certainties of the whole Christian community.6

The hymn,7 then, presents much doctrinal or theological truth

about the person and work of Christ. Yet it is included in Paul’s letter to the Philippians for practical reasons. It is addressed to Christians who were tempted to be unloving, divisive, selfish, arrogant, and overly concerned about their own rights.

The congregation was “in danger of disintegration because of a competitive spirit creeping in among the members.”8 In verses 1–4 Paul urged them to practice humble, self-sacrificing, self-denying, and self-giving service. In verse 5

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