We have just wrapped up the second week of our study on revival, and tomorrow we’ll discuss this in class. But what we’ll specifically focus on is not the examples given in our workbook, but rather the example of Christ. In an effort to focus on Christ, we’ll be closely examining Philippians 2:3-11. My notes on the passage are below.
2:3-4 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
The phrase here “selfish ambition” is eritheia in the Greek, which has the meaning of “electioneering or intriguing for office, apparently, in the NT a courting distinction, a desire to put one’s self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit which does not disdain low arts.”
I was drawn to this definition because it reflects something I’m familiar with – politics! In fact a secondary definition according to the Blue Letter Bible is “partisanship, fractiousness.”
In politics it is often necessary to put aside the needs and cares of others in order to advance one’s own agenda. To be partisan is to be highly committed to one’s own vision and agenda – without compromising with others. The way Paul speaks of it here is as the self-centered agenda of one who is only concerned with his or her own cares and well-being.
While it seems obvious that we are to not be “selfish”, it is much less obvious how our actions and thoughts are often self-centered instead of Christ-centered or focused on the well-being of others.
Paul goes on to say that we are to “count others more significant” that ourselves. How do we do this? Paul says to do it “in humility.” That means that accomplishing this will require an attitude that is humble. It might seem then, at first blush, that humility is defined as counting others more important than ourselves…but there’s more to it than that as we’ll see later, there’s also a component to humility that not simply puts others first, but has a more broad understanding of our place in relation to God.
Christian, are you above following in the footsteps of your Lord? Are you too good to do as He did? What He is calling for here is the opposite of all human inclination, namely the attitude of pride. We naturally want only to think of ourselves, while Christ urges us to follow His example, have His mind, and have a mind set on others for the sake of His name.
2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
The beautiful thing about the Christian life is that God does not leave us to guess how we are to behave and obey. But not only does He give us the example of Christ, but His Holy Spirit applies that example to our hearts and minds. That is why He can command us to “have this mind” because He intends to fulfill in us the impossible – through the reading of His word, and prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit, God transforms our minds. Our role in this is to not quench the Spirit’s work in our lives and to read and pray. We are to obey.
This is an impossible command without the help of the Spirit. For how can you oh man “have the mind of Christ”? How are you to know what that is? How do you transform your thoughts to match His? Only the Spirit knows what this means precisely, and only the Spirit has the power to enact this transformational process in our lives.
Let us each pray for that powerful work of the Spirit, and for the help to obey and have our minds renewed day by day.
2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
There is so much doctrine in verses 6-8 that James Montgomery Boice says that in them we learn about “the divinity of Christ, he preexistence, his equality with God the Father, his incarnation and true humanity, his voluntary death on the cross, the certainty of his ultimate triumph over evil, and the permanence of his reign.”
One of the most important doctrines that we get from verse six is that Christ was before He was born as a human: the incarnation. He existed before time began, and He was on a plane (an equal plane) with God. As Alistair Begg says, “In eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit shared coequally in all God is. The Son who was about to become incarnate was possessed of the glory of God, indeed, everything that makes God God. Everything that caused the angels to adore God was there in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we begin there, the impact of what follows is staggering.”
John McArthur says that, “In a simple, brief, yet extraordinarily profound way, it describes the condescension of the second Person of the Trinity to be born, to live, and to die in human form to provide redemption for fallen mankind.”
Other versions of the verse say, “He existed in the form of God…” and MacArthur says the word ‘existed’ “denotes the continuance of a previous state or existence. It stresses the essence of a person’s nature, that which is absolutely unalterable, inalienable, and unchangeable.” He goes on to note that the word ‘form’ is ‘morphe’ which “refers to the outward manifestations of an inner reality. The idea is that before the incarnation, from all eternity past, Jesus preexisted in the divine form of God, equal with God the Father in every way. By His very nature and innate being, Jesus Christ is, always has been, and will forever be fully divine.”
Boice also gives us some good cross references for verse six, pointing out that Christ talked about His equality with God the Father when he mentioned in His high priestly prayer, “the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). Even at the beginning of the book of John we see how this doctrine is laid out very plain for us, namely, that Christ has existed “in the beginning” and that he was “with God, and…was God.” Another great reference is Colossians 1:15-17 which states, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” And my favorite reference, John 8:58, which says, “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Boice further sets the scene in heaven for us and has us imagine what must have been the reaction in heaven at the condescension of Christ (something I have long set my thoughts on in other writings). He says, “We must imagine, therefore, that something like rumors of Christ’s descent to earth had been in circulation around heaven and that for weeks the angels had been contemplating the form in which Christ would enter human history. Would he appear in a blaze of light bursting into the night of the Palestinian countryside, dazzling all who beheld him? Perhaps he would appear as a mighty general marching into pagan Rome as Caesar did when he crossed the Rubicon. Perhaps he would come as the wisest of the Greek philosophers, putting the wisdom of Plato and Socrates to foolishness by a supernatural display of intellect. But what is this? There is no display of glory, no pomp, no marching of the feet of the heavenly legions! Instead Christ lays his robes aside, the glory that was his from eternity. He steps down from the heavenly throne and becomes a baby in the arms of a mother in a far eastern colony of the Roman empire. At this display of divine condescension the angels are amazed, and they burst into such a crescendo of song that the shepherds hear them on the hills of Bethlehem.”
Not Grasping Supreme Power
When Scripture says that He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” we must understand what this means. It means that Jesus, while still having all of the power and qualities of the immutable 2nd Person of the Godhead, chose to not use them. He set them aside in that He did not choose to be omnipresent, or omnipotent. He in essence still was those things, but did not use tap into their characteristics. MacArthur says, “In becoming man, Jesus did not in any way forfeit or diminish His absolute equality with God.”
I find this term “to be grasped” a difficult one because my mind always runs to using the word “grasped” as a synonym of “understood.” MacArthur does a wonderful job of explaining this word, which is the Greek noun harpagmos (which means to be seized or carried off by force) when he says in his commentary that, “Because Jesus already possessed equality with God, the meaning of ‘to be grasped’ is not taking hold of but of holding on to, or clinging to. He had all the rights and privileges of God, which He could never lose. Yet He refused to selfishly cling to His favored position as the divine Son of God nor view it as a prized possession to be used for Himself.”
That the God of all the universe would humble Himself, and take the form of a “servant” (that is a man – for all men are servants of their creator in the natural order of things), is what dazzled the angels, and what dazzles us still to this day. Oh how deep are the riches and love of Christ and the infinite wisdom and condescension of God the Trinity. How far beyond all measure are His plans and His thoughts. Who can say “I know the mind of God” or “I know His exact will for this and that”? For who can fathom or even deign to identify with the deepness, the fullness, of His love and mercy. He has not only taken on the sinfulness of flesh as an outer garment, He has taken on the sins of the world so that we can have peace with Him. No other way was possible, save this one. No other plan so radical could have been devised by the minds of humanity. No man would or could ever have thought “let’s continue to disobey and sin and as God to become a man and be our sacrifice. Yes, let’s ask the Almighty to die for us.” Such thoughts seem inconceivable, irreverent, and impossible. Yet, that is exactly what Christ did for us.
2:7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Bearing the Likeness of Men
Perhaps no one better describes what this means than Alistair Begg who, in an article called ‘Wrapped in Humility’, says that what humbled Christ was not what He left behind, but rather what He took on – namely the form of a servant:
“It is not by a diminution that He makes Himself nothing. It is by an addition that He makes Himself nothing. He has not ceased to be who He is. But by wearing the overalls – by pouring Himself into them – He constitutes a completely different entity. HE who is a somebody in His own right has become a nobody in order that HE might serve others. Jesus did not approach the incarnation asking, ‘what’s in it for me, what do I get out of it?’ In coming to earth He said, ‘I don’t matter.’
Jesus, you’re going to be laid in a manger. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
Jesus, you will have nowhere to lay your head. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
Jesus, you will be an outcast and a stranger. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
Jesus, they will nail you to a cross and your followers will all desert you. And Jesus says, ‘That’s okay.’
That is what it means. He ‘made Himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.’”
We also are to be servants. I think of the passage from John 13 where Christ was washing the feet of the disciples:
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,  rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”  Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.  I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ (John 13:3-18 ESV)
Surely this remarkable passage speaks for itself. Christ not only laid aside His glory, but He took on the form of a servant, a humble position which we often don’t desire to emulate. Yet if the Lord of glory can bow Himself to this level of humility and servanthood, surely we can follow His example with the help of the Spirit.
Laying Aside His Glory
I believe there is great value in understanding that Christ had laid aside His glory for us. Boice talks about how there are two ideas of glory being conveyed in this passage. The first is a description of His inward character; the second is His outward appearance, which He set-aside during the incarnation. It is this outward appearance that He set aside – the Shekinah – while maintaining the inward character of God.
Boice goes on to talk about how Paul (in 2 Corinthians) compares the shining of Moses’ face with the way we now display the glory of God. He says, “In Him you see God’s glory, which means you see God’s character. As you see it, you are changed into the same likeness by the presence of His Spirit in you.”
“Jesus Chris became like us in order that we might become like Him”, Boice states in chapter 20 of his commentary on Philippians. I simply cannot get over how much depth there is in these verses and how much truth. It’s a difficult thing to rightly divide so much truth and so much wisdom. It almost seems impossible that Christ would put Himself in such a sinful state, but that’s exactly what He did for us (2 Corinthians 8:9 says He humbled Himself so that through His poverty we would become rich).
2:8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
There’s certainly a specific comparative example here. One is that of death, and the other is that of death on a “cross.” The latter is a death that was not unfamiliar to the men and women of the ancient near east, and was a form of punishment that the Romans perfected during their rule over a massive portion of God’s earth.
In the verses before us we read that the very same God who is God of the universe has condescended to take up the form of a creature, a human. God’s most splendid creature is the human being, and yet humanity has been poisoned. For thousands of years our sinfulness has rotted away the pure nature of our first parents. Through one man sin entered the world, and here we are some 4000 years after that first event and Christ is pouring His holy nature into an unholy, imperfect, poisoned creation. This is the state of our surroundings.
Paul said that Christ finds Himself in this state of humanity, and what is His reaction? Does He burst forth in radiance and glory and allow the throngs of adoring angels to declare His majesty night and day? No. Instead He does the opposite of what His human nature must have told Him to do. He humbled Himself. He obeyed. And by humbly obeying He did the one thing that fallen humanity has failed to do time and again for thousands of previous years. In the beginning of His humanity, throughout His humanity, and the conclusion of His humanity He did one thing we seem to never be able to do: He obeyed God. He did not obey so that He would be rewarded with land, with money, with promotion, with worldly possessions or love. He obeyed because He lived to please the Father, and to bring glory and honor to YHWY. He lived a perfect, obedient life, rejecting the cursing call of sin that His cloth of humanity constantly tempted Him with. He won the battle over sin, and did not give way on the path to Jerusalem, on the Via Dolorosa, on the steps of Golgotha, on the cross itself. As His hands were nailed to the wood, He nailed the final victory and the deathblow to death itself and once and for all in a grand, humble, horrible moment of mercy conquered humanity’s sin and its hold over man’s destiny.
Now, if Christ did not put himself above obedience, dear Christian, shall we? Do we say within ourselves “I am going to obey all that I can, but there are just some things that I can’t commit to doing.” Christ, the very Son of God, the One true authority on this planet, did not have this attitude. Paul is calling us to submit our entire lives to obedience. This is so radical, so hard, and so difficult for me to do. There is nothing I want more (humanly speaking) than to please and obey myself. I want to do what I want to do. Sound familiar?
Therefore my prayer for you and for myself is that we ask for God’s help in surrendering in brokenness and humility to what it is He wants us to do. I pray that we emulate our Lord Jesus Christ and love others more than ourselves, and to love the Lord with all of our hearts, minds, and souls.
2:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is the reward of Christ, and in it we have our own reward and hope. This is the end of the narrative that started out in verses 6-8 so bleak. In the end, Christ is raised from the dead, and glorified. This speaks not only of the past and current situation of Christ’s reign, but also of His future reign when it says “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” We know that right now this is not the case. Millions rebel against God and His Son. Yet we see here that eventually all will either serve Him willingly and joyfully, or be made to acknowledge Him in shame.
I love what Spurgeon says about this passage, he says, “this is a very bottle of cordial to the lip of the weary Christian, that Christ, after all, is glorified.”
Hebrews 2 speaks volumes on this front:
 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.  But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.  For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Hebrews 2:8-11 ESV)
Therefore what is the “end game” of all of this humility? What is the point? What is the purpose? The purpose for Christ was the bring glory to God the Father – the thing God cares most about, perhaps, is His own magnificent glory. And because we are to love that which Christ loves and hate that which He hates, we must therefore turn our minds toward valuing the glory of God more than we do now, which means we must value the reputation of God while we are here on earth.
The Reputation of Christ on this earth has been maligned more than any other public figure in the history of creation. Yet it is this reputation, this man, that we are called to identify with. We are not to be ashamed of Christ or His Gospel (Romans 1:16) because it is He who changed us, who saved us, and who called us from darkness into His marvelous light. Peter puts it this way:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)
The great triumph of this verse is the articulation of the reality that even though Christ humbled Himself during His incarnation, He will one day be seen for the glorious king His is. One day those who spat among Him, and those who continue to do so now, will bow their knee and be forced to acknowledge His kingship.
Therefore humility will one day give way to public exaltation.
We see a shadow of this principle in the proverbs and other parts of Scripture where we are told that if we humble ourselves God will exalt us. What does it mean to be exalted? It means to take our rightful place beside Christ in His glory. It means to be identified with the glorious Son of God.
Sometimes exaltation leads to suffering in this life because we are identifying with Him and the world hates Him, so they will cause us to suffer. But take heart, He has overcome the world (John 16) and our exaltation will be public and in Him.
We can no rejoice in the reality of this truth, and the fact that one day He will bring all things to a close, all of history and all of sorrow, all of pride and all of sin. In that day, we will be publically exalted with Christ.