Christ’s life of joyful, humble obedience gives us an example to follow. Phil. 2:5-11 is full of rich theological “soil” that will deepen and enrich your understanding of Christ and your walk with Him.
Part 7 of a whole book study series called “Joy in Christ: A Study Through Philippians.”
Today’s passage of scripture takes the form of what many frequently call a Christological hymn. This means it has as its central object Christ, and speaks to His nature and to facets of His work of redemption. Other scripture likely to be thought of as Christological hymns can be found in Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:2-4, John 1:1-14. I will not be addressing whether Paul penned this content or inserted an existing hymn.
Verses 6-11 summarize the eternal Son in describing His pre-existence, constant and present divine nature, eternal equality with God, incarnation, humility, and exaltation. There is such a depth here that I will walk through it quite slowly as there is much to be learned and much to stand in awe of. I felt utterly inadequate to do full justice to these verses, but with God’s help have done what I can!
The Mind of Christ Jesus
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Paul launches into an exhortation filled with rich theological truths. He bases our ability to humbly serve one another on the example of Jesus Christ, who took on the role of a servant, suffering all the way to death on the cross — the ultimate example of a self-sacrificing attitude.
Have this mind. When Paul says have this mind or some translations read, have this attitude, among yourselves, he is pointing back to the previous few verses. We saw in the last study that he was emphasizing the idea that we seek to serve and honor others in the body of Christ above ourselves, even to the point of self-sacrifice.
Among yourselves. Our mind of humility, rooted in Christ, is to be found in us personally and directed toward other believers. In both attitude and action, let Christ’s example of love and humility compel your own love and attitude of humility toward others.
Is yours in Christ Jesus. The spiritual mind is not yours without Christ Jesus, but only in and through Him. In Christ, we have laid hold of immense riches, which are not to be hoarded simply for our own use, to fortify ourselves and lock the treasure away. Instead we’re to pour out on one another (the link here is a list compiled by Grace to You of “one anothers” found in the New Testament and is an excellent way of seeing tangibly how we are called to humble serve our brothers and sisters in Christ).
Christ: Fully God, Fully Man
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
though he was in the form of God. Morphḗ (form) refers to an eternally pre-existent shape or appearance; therefore, the verse speaks in a present and ongoing sense of Christ “being” in the form of God. What is being conveyed here is, Christ was and is God. He never ceased to be God even in his incarnate form. (related: John 1:1; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:1-3)
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. “Grasped” here is huparchó (to have or already have in one’s possession) and “involves continuing to be that which one was before. He [Christ] continued to be God during His humiliation.” (Zodhiates, CWD:NT). (related: John 17:5)
Here many have asked, was Christ equal with God or was He trying to become equal with God? The confusion arises because of the reference (above) to Him being in the form of God. But what or who is there that could be in the form of God without being God? As God, Christ did not then need to be self-aggrandizing, to draw attention to himself or use divine power simply for the sake of promoting Himself. He did not have to desire something that was not already His; rather, He served the Father’s purposes as the next verse says. (Much here is distilled from George Eldon Ladd’s A Theology of the New Testament).
Christ: Humble Servant-Man
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
The phrase here emptied himself is the subject of much discussion among biblical scholars. It is known as the “kenosis” argument from the Greek kenoó. When we look at the word “empty” as a verb, we think that what was formerly inside of, for example, a glass, such as water, was then poured out, leaving the glass empty.
But note that the text does not say that He emptied Himself of something. It does not say He got rid of something in order to take on something else.
“He emptied himself by taking something else to himself, namely, the manner of being, the nature or form of a servant or slave.” (J. J. Müller, The Epistles of Paul to the Philippians and to Philemon; emphasis mine)
What Christ did in the incarnation was not to empty Himself of deity or “trade” divinity for humanity. Many people describe what He did as “laying aside” His deity. This implies that He metaphorically put His divinity and power on a shelf. It is more accurate to say that He limited or restrained His deity and attributes while on earth.
That said, He did use His divine attributes within the confines of what would accomplish the purpose for which the Father had sent Him, to bring the Father glory, and to establish His authority and identity as Messiah.
What we can see for ourselves here in Christ’s kenosis is that it has to do with the attitude with which He came to live among us. In keeping with the context of humble service that Paul talks about here, our self-denial and taking up our cross daily to serve and honor Christ and others is an emptying of our self — that self that would naturally want to take glory and power to itself for its own ends.
Christ: Obedient Even to Death
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
As verse 7 emphasizes, Christ took on the role of a slave in human form. (related: John 1:14) He became for us what we could not become for ourselves. John Calvin puts it this way:
“It was for our benefit that he who was to become our Redeemer was true God and true man. It was his task to swallow up death. Who but Life could do this? It was his task to conquer sin. Who but very Righteousness could do this? [Calvin, Institutes, 51, Battles 1536 edition]
Here in verse 8, we see that Christ submitted to death on the cross. For Him it was His purpose in coming to earth as a human and yet as God this was humiliating. John MacArthur in his sermon “The Humiliation of Christ” describes the cross this way:
“Christ suffered not just death, but death on a cross–the most excruciating, embarrassing, degrading, painful, and cruel death ever devised. Crucifixion came originally from the Persians and was adopted by the Romans. It was used to execute rebellious slaves and the worst of criminals only.”
Christ’s obedience was absolute. For example, He didn’t try to stand up for His “rights” or fight back. He didn’t do what we as humans might have wanted to do with His power, for example, smite the religious rulers or destroy those who opposed Him. (related: Isa. 53:7; 1 Peter 2:23; Heb. 12:3) He walked in obedience and He went to the cross in obedience.
Christ’s incarnation was necessary to identify Himself with sinners, to be in likeness to us, so that we could have a Savior who had fully experienced our weakness without sinning Himself. (related: Col. 1:22; Heb. 2:14, 4:15) His death as a man was necessary to completely obliterate our sin debt with God. In going to the cross, Christ set aside all His divine prerogatives out of love and mercy, with the purpose of affirming God’s holiness and justice.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. [2 Cor. 8:9 ESV]
Christ took on the poverty and frailty of a human life. What makes me marvel is the fact that Christ took on this task of redemption out of love. He took it on joyfully. He took on His shoulders the wrath of God over humanity’s sin and He did it humbly. Not only was the path He walked fraught with suffering and humiliation on a physical level, but He also suffered spiritually in the separation from the Father. That suffering culminated in His death on the cross, the ultimate symbol of shame and humiliation.
Are you and I willing to humble or empty ourselves to the point of death, even if that death doesn’t mean a physical one such as Christ endured, but the death of our own personal desires? Are we willing to joyfully and humbly pour ourselves out for the sake of others, that they would know and see the love of Christ in and through us, and get nothing in return (from them)?
A New Name, Exalted
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
You may notice just with a surface glance at these verses that the word “name” is repeated three times; in particular, “the name” is called out in importance.
Because in response to Christ’s obedience, to His humbly laying down His life for us who believe, God gives Christ a name that reflects a new role and status: Kyrios. We see this where Paul writes and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Kyrios (Lord in Greek) gives the idea of functional deity, not that He was not God before and is now God, but that it is through Christ’s death that God accomplishes the restoration of the world, and through Christ that God will judge the world. (related: Rom. 2:16)
- The name God gave Christ is one that demands submission, respect, and honor from all creation. (related: Isa. 45:22-25; Rom. 14:10-12)
- In one sense, this submission and respect has not been fully realized. It is an accomplished fact: Christ is seated at God’s right hand and does possess this name and authority. However, those still remain (at the very least humanly speaking) who do not now acknowledge Christ as Lord and will later; however, at that point, it will be too late for salvation). (related: Eph. 1:3-23, especially vv. 19-23; Heb. 1:1-9)
- It glorifies God to exalt Christ. There’s an interesting relationship here in that Christ humbled Himself to suffer humiliation and obediently go to the cross, all the while pointing to God’s glory as His chief aim. In turn,this verse conveys that God is glorified by the entire creation confessing that Christ is Lord.
- When you put your faith in Christ, He is at once your Lord and Savior. You do not first trust in Him as Savior and later trust in Him as Lord. He is one and the same.
As Christ humbly chose to serve others and glorify the Father, I pray that we, too, see and pursue His example in joyful obedience.