I stumbled upon footage from a British newsreel crew who filmed six-year-old Flannery O’Connor on her family farm in 1932. Flannery, who would go on to become an acclaimed US writer, caught the crew’s curiosity because she’d taught a chicken to walk backward. Apart from the novelty of the feat, I thought this glimpse of history was a perfect metaphor. Flannery, due to both her literary sensibilities and her spiritual convictions, spent her thirty-nine years definitely walking backward—thinking and writing in a counter-cultural way. Publishers and readers were entirely baffled by how her biblical themes ran counter to the religious views they expected.
A life that runs counter to the norm is inevitable for those who would truly imitate Jesus. Philippians tells us that Jesus, though His “very nature” was God, didn’t move in the predictable ways we would expect (2:6). He didn’t use His power “to his own advantage,” but “rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (vv. 6–7). Christ, the Lord of creation, surrendered to death for the sake of love. He didn’t seize prestige but embraced humility. He didn’t grab power but relinquished control. Jesus, in essence, walked backward—counter to the power-driven ways of the world.
Scripture tells us to do the same (v. 5). Like Jesus, we serve rather than dominate. We move toward humility rather than prominence. We give rather than take. In Jesus’s power, we walk backward.
How has Jesus demonstrated a way of walking backward in the world? Where is God calling you to live out Christ’s humble example?
In Philippians 2:1–11, Paul calls believers to live counter-culturally. He wasn’t naive about the capacity for believers to live driven by “selfish ambition” (v. 3), by a self-interested need for power or control. It would be only natural for the Philippian believers to continue the habits learned in their culture, which Paul described as a “warped and crooked generation” (v. 15).
But Paul urged them to learn to live “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). And in chapter 2, he paints a stunning picture of the life believers are invited into, one of radical self-giving love (vv. 1–4). Living in a community marked by unity, joy, and freedom is only possible when we follow the example of Christ (v. 5) and remain rooted in, nourished by, and sustained by the Spirit (v. 1).