Philippians 3:1b-4:3: Christology and Kyrios #30daysofPaul

Let’s talk about Christology.

I love Christology. This is the kind of thing I nerd out about.

Christology is the theological study of the nature of Christ.

It’s a sub genre of systematic theology. It’s the process of exploring what one means when one refers to Jesus as “Christ.” It’s studying the role that Jesus Christ specifically plays in our faith.

Exciting stuff, right?

It concerns such things as:

the divinity of Christ,

the eternal nature of Christ,

the miracles and teachings of Christ,

Christ’s birth,

Christ’s death,

Christ’s resurrections,

what it means to call Christ “Lord”,

what it means to call Christ “Son of Man,” or “Son of God,”

the role of Christ in the Trinity.

It is the theological, academic, focused study of all things “Jesus.”

We are talking about Christology today because some scholars consider Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and specifically chapter 3, to be one of the earliest examples of Christology.

Now, let me clarify a bit. Each of the Four canonical Gospels are advancing a specific Christology, ones that advance the arguments they are making in their accounts of the life of Jesus.

Additionally, Paul has reflected on the nature of Christ in earlier letters. But Philippians is the first time there seems to be a specific emphasis on such.

It begins in chapter 2, with the hymn Paul quotes in verses 5-11:

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

7 but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

8 he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—

even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Clearly and obviously, the early churches were playing with who and what Christ was, and what his life and death meant.

This beautiful early hymn says things we take for granted today, but at one point in the young church, these things weren’t so well-known. At some point, somebody wrote these things down, as a way of laying down a marker for what Jesus meant to the church.

That process is Christology.

So, back to chapter 3.

Paul, throughout his letters, likes to use the Greek words “Kyrios” to describe Jesus. Kyrios means “Lord.” Kyrios is central to the development of early Christology.

The common use of kyrios by Paul established it as the go-to title for Jesus. The early ideas about who Jesus was and what he did were all colored by the use of the word. It is impossible to understand the development of the meaning of Jesus to those who lived when he did without understanding the importance of this word.

Early in chapter 3, Paul recounts the confidence he could have in who he was, due to the great names and titles and associations he had:

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

But he switches gears, and makes one of his most famous statement through all of his letters, one of the most quoted verses in the New Testament:

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.

This right here. This is so, so important to our understanding of the nature of Christ, to our common Christology.

To associate one’s self with a kyrios, with a Lord, was to associate one’s self with success, with power and prestige and honor. All the great things you had done, all the titles you won and the powerful relations you had, would raise you in the eyes of your kyrios, would be immensely important to your standing in the world.

And Paul is saying Jesus turned that all on it’s head.

By associating with our kyrios, Jesus, we don’t count those earthly accolades in the credit column. Instead, they are counted against us. They are debits to our accounts.

Because in Kingdom of this kyrios, the least are counted as the first.

Our standing with God does not come from the honors we have achieved. It comes from our willingness to lower ourselves, to become meek and lowly, to live in service to others, instead of served by others.

And it’s that way because that is the example we saw from the life of the one who showed us God.

Jesus humbled himself.

He ate with the sinners.

He hung out with the outcasts.

He touched the sick.

He mourned with the small.

His success came through failure; the symbol of his victory, of the victory of God’s Kingdom, was not a crown,

or a scepter,

or a throne.

It was a cross.

It was the place of the most humiliating execution possible. It was the tree of dishonor and shame and public ridicule. It was the final resting place of traitors and slaves and the scum of the earth.

He was tortured and killed. His followers were scattered, his name forgotten.

And yet, here we are, twenty years after his ignominious death, and Paul has branded him kyrios, and announced the way in which we properly honor our Lord.

That’s Christology right there.

That’s working through what and who Jesus was, what his life meant.

Isn’t that exciting stuff?

Next: Romans 1-3

For a PDF of the 30 Days of Paul reading plan, click here.


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