I had a discussion with someone today who noted that it takes a lot longer to read these Bible Studies than it took to read the devotionals. It should. The devotionals, which I know were long by devotional standards anyway, were designed to help you read the Bible through in a year, and meditate on and apply God’s word to your life. These studies are designed to draw you deeper into God’s word in a large enough block of time that God will break through your daily busy-ness and speak to you. My plan is that you would read what I write and question everything. Look up correlating verses. Check your sources that might give you a different view. Wrestle with God’s word. I try not to put application in here, although that’s an important part of Bible study, because I want you to find applications that apply to you. I will be posting daily bites of the studies on my Facebook page, for those who want shorter reads, but I encourage you to study God’s word intensely and in large blocks.
This week’s study looks at one of the first hymns of the Christian faith. This hymn reflects on the natures of Jesus as fully God and fully man. Hymn singing is such an important part of worship and early Christians practiced singing praise to God when they met. This is but one of the hymns they used, but it’s a beautiful example of a hymn. The main message of the hymn is humility.
- If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, 2. Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
Paul could have begun this section by asking, “What does having a relationship with Jesus mean to you?” Instead he asked that main question using four conditional questions to drive home the fact that knowing Jesus should make a difference. Each of these conditional questions is of the format, “If this is true, and we know it is, then do this.” So, he asks them if they have any consolation or comfort according to other translations in Christ, with the implied addition of “and I know you do.” A relationship with Christ bring comfort and consolation in difficult times. Paul reminded them that when troubles came, Jesus was there comforting them. His next question could be rephrased as “if His love has ever brought you comfort,” with the same implication as the first question. Our relationship with Him comes from His love for us, and to me it appears to be repetitive. That’s not bad though, it was a re-emphasis that made the original proposition stronger. Paul upped the intensity of the comfort that comes from a relationship with Him.
He moved from their relationship with Christ to their relationship with each other in Christ when he asked if there was any fellowship of the Spirit. There is a fellowship, a community when God’s people get together that was best expressed by a non-Christian in ancient Rome when he said, with disgust, “Those Christians! They love each other before they even know each other.” If you read much of what I write, you’ve probably read that before, but it’s such a beautiful picture of how Christians should be seen. That’s fellowship of the Spirit. The last conditional is hard for us to look at from a modern perspective, but in the past, people used bowels the way we would use the phrase “depths of my heart.” So Paul here was asking if there was any mercy, any compassion coming from the depth of your heart toward others – and again, there should be. After all four of these questions were asked, he let them know what he was expecting: if all these are true, and we know they are, then make Paul’s joy complete be being on the same page in your Christians walk.
When you break down the words, “fulfill,” according to A.T. Robertson, could better be translated as Fill full. In other words. Paul’s cup of joy would be filled up if the Philippian church continued in unity. That unity comes from having the same mind-set because they were supposed to be focused on Christ. They were to have the same love, the love that Christ had for all people. They were to be united in word, thoughts, and deeds.
- Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
As Paul warned the church not to do things through strife, selfish ambition, or pride, I can’t help but wonder if he had in mind the preachers mentioned earlier in this letter. Whether he did or he didn’t, we’re reminded that it’s possible to do all kinds of things, even good things, with the wrong motivation. We may be at odds with someone and we want to show ourselves the better person. We may accept a challenge when someone says that we can’t do something and commit to accomplishing that challenge to show that other person they were wrong. Our goal is to accomplish great things to rub it in the face of those who told us we couldn’t. Motivation is an important part of our work for Christ, and Paul would remind us that our goals in life should never include putting people in their place or denigrating them. Instead, we should accomplish great things for God by putting others ahead of ourselves. We should see people with the same value that God sees them and seek to uplift them.
We live in a world that treasures the idea of “looking out for number one.” We devour self-help books, we’re into do it yourself projects, and we work hard to take care of our physical bodies. Paul would remind us, as Gale Sayers said in his autobiography, that “I am third.” We should be third because Jesus is first, others are second, and I am third. We’re called to look out for the welfare of other people while we’re caring for ourselves. My personal opinion is that we are personally responsible to help people in need. That may sound like an innocuous statement, but many Christians don’t agree with me. They believe that the best way to meet the needs of others is through government intervention. We could argue that point, and probably never agree, but I will say that I have more respect for those who think we need the government to help others and work toward achieving that goal than people who claim to be Christians, talk about the need to be independent and self-reliant, and never do anything to help others. Caring for others should cost us personally, but it’s a cost we should joyfully pay since our ability to help others comes from God’s provision for us. When we care for others, we don’t use our own resources – we use the resources of Almighty God who’s entrusted us to be stewards of these resources. Let’s use what we have to help others as we share the love of Christ with others.
- Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
There is only one way for Christians to live in unity, and that’s if we have the same mindset as Jesus. As the following hymn, for most scholars believe that verses 5-11 are an early hymn of the church, indicates, that mindset is humility. We need to have the humility of Jesus who gave up everything to bring salvation to us – not because we deserved it, but because He loves us.
- Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
Paul makes it clear that he believes that Jesus is God. Jesus was in the same form as God. The NIV translates that as the same nature as God. When Paul described Jesus being equal with God, and Jesus thinking it wasn’t robbery, I believe that he meant that Jesus wasn’t robbing the Father of any glory by being equal with God. A.T. Robertson said that was how He appeared to those who saw Him in heaven. How often do we think about what Jesus gave up when He came down to earth? While it says that He was of no reputation, the circumstances of His birth caused many to think less of Him, since most hadn’t heard the story of the Incarnation at that point in time. When He came to earth, He didn’t come as a member of the ruling class, He came like a servant, a slave if you will, in a human body. His human body was real, just as His eternal divinity was real. He was fully God and fully man at the same time and Paul recognized that.
- And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Although He was equal to God, He came to earth in the form, the nature of a man. Just as verses six and seven deal with the deity of Jesus, verse 8 speaks of the full humanity of Jesus. He didn’t exalt Himself and take a seat in a royal palace, instead, He humbled Himself; he obeyed the authorities even to the point of suffering one of the cruelest deaths at that time. The cross wasn’t the height of heaven, it was the bottom rung in the depths of man’s cruelty to man.
- Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If we just left the story at the cross, Jesus would have been one of thousands of Roman subjects (not citizens, because they couldn’t be crucified except in extreme circumstances) who had died on the cross. Instead we have the resurrection. Instead, God highly exalted Him by raising Him from the dead and seating Him in the heavenly places. How powerful is the name of Jesus? When the end comes, just the mention of His name will cause all beings in heaven, on earth, and under the earth to bend their knees and bow down to Him. Those who are in heaven, usually describes angels, in the earth are those who are living, and under the earth refers to those who have died. All will recognize Jesus as Lord. It may not be literal bowing, but it will include universal homage and a declaration of the lordship of Jesus. That declaration will bring honor and glory to God the Father. There will be joy and celebration when this work is finished!
Bible readings for the week