If you had to pick a passage that best sums up the main message of the Bible, which would you pick? I know, that’s a really hard question. How can one little paragraph sum up a large book consisting of sixty-six separate books written over a thousand years by many different authors?
Now, this is totally hypothetical; so, at one level, it is silly to ask. And yet, it’s a valuable question because it forces us to wrestle with what the Bible is really about in its essence. So which paragraph would you pick?
Which Scripture Summarizes the Message of the Bible?
There are plenty of good options. Martin Luther believed that Romans 3:21-26 was the heart of the whole Bible. If you disagree with Luther, maybe it’s Ephesians 2:1-10, which contains the well-known “For by grace you have been saved through faith…” passage. Or, maybe Galatians 3:10-14, which connects the death of Jesus all the way back to the promise to Abraham. Or perhaps it’s the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 when the resurrected Jesus sends out the apostles to make disciples of all nations. Surely Jesus should be the one who could capture the Bible’s message in a paragraph, right?
While that’s tough to argue against, but my pick would hands-down be Philippians 2:1-11. It packs the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the exaltation of Jesus into one little paragraph. Christmas and Easter are joined together, with the Day of Ascension thrown in, too. Not only this, but Paul sets these in the context of the whole cosmos and the universal lordship of Jesus over all creation, as well as in the nitty-gritty of everyday relationships.
It’s as transcendent as the night skies and the vastness of space, and as earthy as an exhausted young mom changing another diaper. If you really got this passage of Scripture and lived it out, your life would overflow with the fruits of worship and love. Let’s take a look in a bit more detail.
A Theological Hymn
First, look at the spectacular theological hymn in verses 6-11. In poetic form, it succinctly summarizes the gospel story. Jesus, though he was equal with God the Father in his divine nature, chose to empty himself of his divine rights, take on flesh, and become a human. Jesus, though he was a king, became a humble servant and died the humiliating death of crucifixion for the forgiveness of sin.
Yet, through that obedience, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him as Lord over the whole world. Just as God designed it when he created all things, a faithful human reflects what God is really like to the world and is given dominion over creation (Gen. 1:26-28). In one small poem, this hymn beautifully captures the good news, the story of the whole Bible.
An Arrow Toward the Cross
Second, look at the reason why Paul gives us this spectacular hymn in verses 3-5. For Paul, theology is never an end in itself. It is always meant to point us to a relationship with Christ; it’s meant to be lived out in the trenches of real life in a broken world. Here, it is the ground for Paul’s call toward humble, other-centered love. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,” he says. “But in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (v. 3). Why? Because “Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself…” (vv. 6-7a). “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (v. 4). Why? Because Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (v. 8).
A Call to Unity
Third, look at Paul’s aim for this church community in verse 2: “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Paul wants unity among the believers in the church at Philippi. He wants well-to-do women like Lydia, and blue-collar civil servants like the Philippian jailer, and people at the bottom of the social ladder like the slave girl who had been possessed by an evil spirit (Acts 16:11-40) to live in harmony, united by their common faith in Jesus.
So, What’s the Main Message of the Bible?
This is the Bible in a nutshell: The story of Jesus leads those who are united to him by faith to live in humble, other-centered love toward one another in a way that his people from all kinds of different backgrounds live in harmony with one another.
I can’t think of a paragraph that is more relevant to our fractured world than this.
As Christians, how are we doing at living this out? Are we counting others more significant than ourselves and considering the needs of others more than our own? Do our lives display unity—are we living in harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we embracing and living out the same mindset exemplified by Jesus in his incarnation, servanthood, and death?
Let’s strive to demonstrate Philippians 2:1-11 in the way that we live—sharing the richness of the gospel, the relevancy of its message, and a desire for unity—that compels the world around us.