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Philippians 2:5-11

“Take a knee.” For anyone who’s ever played a sport, it’s a commonly heard phrase at the end of any practice. Often used as a time to reiterate the game plan before an upcoming contest, or as a time to instill and reinforce the techniques learned during practice, taking a knee is a posturing of the body, to cease from all motion for the sake of listening and reflection.

Historically, taking a knee was a practice of showing respect or submission. Kneeling before a king or queen was a sign of commitment, to be of service for the cause of the kingdom of which they were a part of. In England today, recipients of a knighthood knelt before either Prince Philip or Queen Elizabeth, entrusting them to not slice off an ear lobe as a sabre is lowered on either side of their head. In ancient and medieval time, kneeling was also a posture used to demonstrate one’s piety. In many renaissance-era works of art, the pious are often seen kneeling before an image of Christ or in the presence of an object the artist deems as sacred.

Today, outside of the world of high school athletics, the idea of taking a knee is seemingly a foreign concept, unless you’re a fan of the National Football League. The act of taking a knee has become a hot button issue, with American football stars taking the knee to bring to light the issues of injustice and brutality facing African Americans around the nation. The posture, initially meant to “bring systemic racial and ethnic inequality”[1] to light, has created a social backlash. In a culture based on competition, winning, and losing, and being the best, the idea of taking a knee has seemingly taken on a different light. For some, taking a knee has become a sign of disrespect.

Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is written intentionally to a community that embodies this posture in their service to both the Lord and Paul’s mission. Paul looks with fondness upon the Philippian church. They have provided for him in numerous ways, so the language of chapter two seems to express an encouragement to continue modelling Christ’s love and care in the midst of everything going on around them. In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul’s example of the Christian life embodies an attentiveness to the posturing which Christians are called to assume, modeled for us in Jesus himself. In the very opening of verse five, Paul is asking the reader (and to the larger extent, the community) to have the same mindset that Christ had. As the passage unfolds, we are made privy to multiple examples of embodying the postures set out for us in the example of Jesus. Let’s look at some of these examples and unpack these, for the sake of faithfully living into the image of Christ.

Jesus “but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave (v.7).” Let’s begin by acknowledging the difficulty of this verse. Rather than embracing the full gamut of his Godliness, Jesus accepts the fullness of his humanity. Why would Jesus consciously choose not to utilize the power in which he has access (and we are talking “consciously”, as Paul’s usage of the word exploited suggests that a decision was made on behalf of Jesus not to assume the fullness of his divine power)? In emptying himself, Jesus enters the limitations of humanity.

Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death (v.8).”

At the name of Jesus “every knee should bend… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (vv.10-11).”

If there is a major theme in the story of our culture and society, one to consider would have to be the pursuit of power. Whoever has the power makes the rules. Can we all agree to enjoy a story where the underdog wins, the righteous character overcomes adversity and triumphs? We pursue stories that end with a win. [1] NBC News. 2021. “Kaepernick’s kneeling protest still misunderstood five years later.” Accessed January 18, 2022.