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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Thursday, October 29

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
—Philippians 2:5-7

In Philippians, Paul makes a sustained argument on behalf of a different way of seeking honor. The Greek tradition held honor as appropriate public regard for persons of great virtue. It would be inappropriate for a great soul to be falsely modest or to seek humility. Great people deserve great honor, according to the Greeks.

But Paul turns that on its head with his examples of honor. Paul sings a hymn glorifying Christ "who, though he was in the form of God... emptied himself, taking the form of a slave... and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name." (Phil. 2:6f)

We've lost the shock value that this poem carries. Crucifixion was the most humiliating public shame imaginable—worse than our sanitized forms of capital punishment. But for Paul, this self-emptying into humility is true honor. "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves." (2:3) Aristotle would think that to be preposterous.

For Paul, honor is like being a slave who brings glory to God through humble service. Paul asks us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (2:12) The translation "work out" also includes the notion that we are to "work forth" our salvation, to demonstrate our humble trust, living in a continuing process that is not yet complete.

He encourages us always to keep an eye toward the end, confident that Christ's triumph will produce eternal honor, for him and for us. His proclamation: those who follow this way of the cross will share true honor, the honor of the crucified Christ.

It is a very counter-cultural message.

Gentle God, so ground us in your Spirit that we may humbly embrace the cross of Christ and empty ourselves in service to you and our fellow creatures, through the crucified and resurrected One. Amen.

These Signposts were originally published on in 2005.