The Form of a Slave

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A Reading from Philippians 2:1-13

1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 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.

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.


Why was the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth scandalous in the context where it emerged? Tom Holland in his book, Dominion, suggests that it wasn’t simply that Jesus was the Incarnate Word made flesh. Although the idea of an absolutely “other” God becoming flesh is an astonishing thought, the ancient Northern Hemisphere had plenty of superficially similar notions of deities becoming human and so forth. Instead, Holland places the scandal of the Incarnation in a more subversive place: it was the kind of humanity Christ took on.

Jesus could have come as a prince or an emperor or a wealthy land baron or a Roman general. Instead, he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” Imagine, the first Christian communities, running about the Mediterranean and Palestinian lands claiming that some Jewish peasant from Galilee is the Creator of the cosmos in the flesh! And not only was his status embarrassing, but “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He died the most embarrassing form of death, yet those Christians were telling their neighbors that in this slave’s humanity was given “the name that is above every name,” and that in this slave’s humiliating death “God also highly exalted him.”

Therein lies at least one facet of the gospel’s power. What separates Christianity from every political agenda and other religious tradition is that Christians are those people who point to the vanishing points of society, the margins, the untouchables, “the least of these,” and dare to say, “To treat them is to treat Christ,” for Christ came as the example of humility, who, despite having the form of God, did not regard others better than himself. Let each of us live into this scandalous grace, that we look “not to our own interests, but to the interests of others.”

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.

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Today we pray for:

St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas
The Diocese of Kericho – The Anglican Church of Kenya


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