Saviour of All Fellowship

Dear Friends in faith,
Like Colossians 1:20, our passage of Philippians 2:5-11 exhibits a hymn-like structure in harmony with its stirring thoughts. Taking verse 5 as a title (we will look at this verse in more detail later), we might outline the passage as follows:


empty imageA.   [Christ Jesus was] inherently in the form of God, [deeming] it not
   pillaging to be equal with God,
B.   Nevertheless empties Himself
1.   Taking the form of a slave,
2.   Coming to be in the likeness of humanity, and
3.   Being found in fashion as a human,
C.   He humbles Himself, becoming obedient unto death,


C.   Wherefore also, God highly exalts Him,
B.   And graces Him with a name that is above every name,
1.   That in the name of Jesus every knee should be bowing,
2.   Celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and
3.   Every tongue should be acclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord,
A.   For the glory of God the Father.

    No outline will exhaust all the structural features of a passage such as this or serve to display all the significant points of comparison. But perhaps we can see some of these in what I suggest above. Here the phrase “even the death of the cross” becomes the pivotal point of the hymn. The actions of Christ are emphasized in the first half of the passage, and the actions of God in the second half. On Christ’s part, the verbs are “empties” and “humbles”; on God’s part they are “exalts” and “graces.” In the first “A” section we see Christ solely in relationship to God, and this is expressed in a rather passive way (“in the form of God) and a negative way (“not pillaging” or rather, not taking away from God’s glory in His position of equality). But in the final “A” section, we see Christ as Lord over all creation [including at least all of humanity], being the active Channel of glory to God the Father.
The cross is the basis for glory.
    We do not have space in a newsletter such as this to discuss our passages very thoroughly, but I welcome your thoughts and will include some of them as we continue through this year. The following comments are from brief papers on our passage.
    “Christ came in the likeness of humanity, not as a Prince but in the form of a slave, to fulfill that for which the flesh was created and that is to be crushed (Gen.3:15) . . . . Nevertheless, when He fulfilled His mission He sought the same glory He had before His incarnation and nothing more. Listen to His words, “And now glorify Thou Me, Father with Thyself with the glory which I had before the world is with Thee” (John 17:5) . . . . However, the grandest display [of the outcome of] His humility is still in the future, when the work of the cross is being completed in the reconciliation of all . . . that in the name of Jesus every knee should be kneeling, celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and every tongue should be acclaiming that Jesus Is Lord for the glory of God the Father” (Phil.2:9-11). (Anthony Trotman).
    “The declaration of universal and total reconciliation is complete in the original text of Philippians 2:5 to 11. There is no room for theological juggling of biased opinions concerning the reconciliation of all . . . It is a principle with God that out of death comes new life. Out of Christ’s death comes new life for all alienated beings . . . .” (This is from a paper entitled “Philippians 2:8-11, All in all” by John R. Rachoy. Brother Rachoy has an interesting idea about the meaning of Philippians 2:10 which he connects with Ephesians 1:21 as indicating a “saving” or “reconciling” power in the Name of Jesus over every name.
    Going back to verse 5 now, I wanted to observe that this hymn concerning Christ’s emptying of Himself to the death of the cross, and God’s exaltation of Him, is given in a very practical portion of Scripture. Christ is our example for walking with humility (Phil.1:27-30) so that we can become actively useful to God in our lives. We will not have the correct disposition apart from believing the truth concerning Christ, and believing the truth will not aid us in our lives unless it is having an effect on our thinking and acting.
    P.T. Forsyth (1848-1921) was a British theologian who changed from a “liberal” viewpoint to one that was more “evangelical” because of the influence of Paul’s epistles on his thinking. He wrote “It pleased God also by the revelation of his holiness and grace, which the great theologians taught me to find in the Bible, to bring home to me my sin in a way which submerged all the school questions in weight, urgency and poignancy. I was turned from a Christian to a believer, from a lover of love to an object of grace” (POSITIVE PREACHING AND THE MODERN MIND, Hodder and Stoughton, 1906, p.281). Many of Forsyth’s writings support the truth of universal salvation, and here, I think, we have an insight into why he was able to do this so effectively. it is when we realize that Christ’s death was on behalf of sinful humanity, and the cross is the sole means for salvation, that we see the necessity of God’s glorious ultimate. When we begin to comprehend that we are objects of grace, we realize that all will be objects of grace.
    Hence, in Philippians 2:5-11 Paul focuses our attention on the example of Christ. He emptied Himself even to the death of the cross for the good of all mankind (and the whole universe) so that we all can be involved in that greatest of good: bringing glory to God.
    It is a struggle for those who are trained in the traditional view to appreciate the joy and power in this message of universal reconciliation and universal acclamation of Christ’s Lordship. here are a few reactions to this message sent in by our readers: “You had better not tell anyone else in case this isn’t true.” “I hope it could be, but I wouldn’t want to take a chance.” But another person said with delight, “Why, then He could even reconcile Satan, couldn’t He?”
    It is the fear it might not be so, or more likely the fear that if it is so it is a dangerous doctrine, that lurks in many believers’ minds and keeps them from rejoicing in this goal of God becoming All in all. i can’t help but suspect that their problem is not how to find this goal taught in such a passage as Philippians 2:5-11. Their problem here is rather how to avoid this conclusion.
    Perhaps the most common explanation is that the bowing and acclaiming of Jesus’ Lordship will have a dualistic sense. In THE EXPOSITOR’S BIBLE COMMENTARY, vol.11 (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1978), Homer A. Kent, Jr., puts it this way, “Paul does not imply by this a universal salvation, but means that every personal being will ultimately confess Christ’s lordship, either with joyful faith or with resentment and despair– (p.125).
    However, Gerald F. Hawthorne takes another approach in volume 43 of the “World Biblical Commentary” series. On philippians 2:10 he writes, “Suffice it to say in general that not always are purposes realized or goals attained–not even divine purposes and goals (cf. Luke 7:30, Ps. 33:10). Hence, it is conceivable that beings, who are created with the freedom of choice, may choose never under any circumstances to submit to God or to his Christ” (WBC philippians, Word Books, Waco, 1983, p.94).
    To me these are real dangerous doctrines; they can only stunt spiritual growth. If we have exercised our free will in cooperating with God for the achievement of His goal, and others will never do so, then indeed we are better people than others. But this is exactly the attitude Philippians 2:1-4 is seeking to eradicate in the believer’s life. How is god glorified by resentment and despair, and why does Paul exaggerate the exaltation of Christ if not everyone will honor His Lordship? There are so many scriptural objections to the two comments above that I feel i should cut off the discussion for now lest I fill the rest of the letter with replies.
    I enjoyed reading an article about Robert Short in the March 15, 1986 issue of The Detroit News. As many of you know, Short is the author of several popular books presenting important Biblical themes with illustrations from comic strips, cartoons, modern literature and films. His best known book is THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PEANUTS (John Knox Press, Richmond VA), but his most recent publication, SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN and THE GOSPEL FROM OUTER SPACE (both published by Harper and Row, San Fancisco) are most explicit in affirming that God’s purpose is to reconcile all to Himself. This newspaper article written by Kate DeSmet quotes Short as saying at a recent lecture on the campus of Albion College (my Alma Mater, incidentally), “The historical root of turning away from Christ, believe it or not, lies in [the] teaching of eternal torment.”
    Can we be thankful enough to be able to believe that philippians 2:10,11 is universal in scope and fully glorious?
    On page 3 I said that it is the fear that it may be harmful to believe God will actually save all mankind that keeps many from taking our position. The most common biblical support offered for this reticence is the translation of the Greek word aionios as “everlasting” in Matthew 25:46. While it is difficult to harmonize the whole passage with the traditional teaching about eternal Hell for those who “refuse the offer of the gospel,” a correct understanding of the Greek words aion and aionios would clear up the problem immediately.
    John Wesley Hanson’s book, THE GREEK WORD AION––AIONIOS, TRANSLATED EVERLASTING––ETERNAL, IN THE HOLY BIBLE SHONE TO DENOTE LIMITED DURATION (Northwestern Universalist publishing House, Chicago, 1875) is a great aid toward this understanding. We have it available to those who want a copy. The cost is $5.00. Three publications from the Concordant Publishing Concern, 15570 Knochaven Road, Santa Clarita, CA 91351, are excellent in this regard: the book, ALL IN ALL BY A.E. Knoch, and the booklets entitled “Eonian” and “Whence Eternity?”. The latter is a study by Alexander Thomson showing how the translation “eternal” and “everlasting” entered into the English Bible.
    All of this is, as I have said above, helpful to our understanding. But “understanding” is not an end in itself. It must become a means to a way of thinking and living that glorifies God the Father. Hence in Philippians 2, God’s purpose to exalt Christ by bringing all to honor and praise Him as Lord trains us in humility and compassion. In Christ’s emptying of Himself and in His obedience to the death of the cross we not only learn but are effectively motivated to think of others and their needs, and this without any sense of frantic despair over the ultimate fate of those who remain stubborn.
    In 1921 a Bible teacher from Chicago named Joseph S. Johnston wrote and published a book entitled CHRIST VICTORIOUS OVER ALL. The various topics are treated in an informal (and sometimes rambling) way (somewhat like these newsletters), but the first chapter is based on our passage of Philippians 2:5-11. It is entitled “He Humbled Himself,” and I will close this letter with a few quotations from that chapter:
    He humbled Himself. But man has misunderstood this attitude. In creature ignorance, pride and self-importance, He has been maligned and despised. “Unadorned, without honor, He was not respected,–nor sought or desired. Despised and neglected by men, a man in His sorrows acquainted with grief” (Isa.53:3). “Ye have limited the Holy One of Israel.” The way of salvation–Christ crucified, the power of God and the wisdom of God–is professed, but its adequacy is denied by resort to other means which seem more practical . . . .
    He became “obedient unto death,” even the death of the cross . . . . This great landmark in the relations of God and man indicates not only the depth of human sin, it is also the place of deepest humiliation reached by the Son of God. From this on, the glories of His person are gradually unveiled, until . . . under His Headship there is a reconciled universe . . . a perfected cosmos . . . in which condition of order and beauty, every intelligent creature worships Him in the name that is exalted above king, above Priest, above Judge, above Lord, above any man-made counterfeit title, such as “great moral Governor of the universe . . . . It has been good to speak of these things with you. Greetings to each one in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Yours in Him,
Dean Hough


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