Following with Joy

Week of February 5, 2017

The Point:  We can live in love and humility even as Christ did.

The Humility of Christ:  Philippians 2:1-11.

[1]  So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, [2]  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. [3]  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. [4]  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [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 made himself nothing, 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. [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.  [ESV]

The worthy life [1-4].  There is always a blessing to be had from the word ‘therefore’ (So) in the Bible. It makes us stop and look back to the preceding clause before we move on to the ensuing effect. Behind 2:1 lies Paul’s discussion of the worthy life in 1:27-30. In that passage his concern was more with the fruits or effects of the worthy life – how it issues, for example, in the steadfast stand. In 2:1, Paul is returning to take up the great theme of worthiness again. Paul connects Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ [1:27] with complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind [2:2]. By making this connection Paul is identifying the worthy life of the gospel with a life of unity. Two things help us to feel how important this was to Paul, and if we can start by sharing his point of view it will lead us to a more urgent consideration of what he is teaching us. First, he has already dwelt on the topic of unity in 1:27 as the necessary equipment against a hostile world, but now he returns to it again. It was not enough to say it once; it must be said again, and said in a different way. For if 1:27 is all we are told about unity, then it is simply an aspect of Christian expediency, a tool for a task: unity in order that the world may believe. Paul’s repetition of the subject not only underlines its importance but lifts it to a higher level: unity is not just a useful weapon against the world, but rather it belongs to the very essence of Christian life, for it is the way in which Christians display outwardly what the gospel is and means to them. Unity is the gospel’s hallmark; it says to all who examine it, ‘This life is worthy of the gospel.’ Secondly, Paul says, concerning the life of unity, complete my joy. Paul teaches us that the life worthy of the gospel is a life of unity; the life of unity matches the apostolic ideal for the church. Needless to say, Paul meant a very specific sort of unity. In 2:1, Paul proceeds to declare four things which are true about every Christian and which lay a factual foundation on which the life of unity is raised up: if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy. If does not imply uncertainty, but rather has the meaning of ‘since’. Before the life of unity can be lived there are certain things which can be assumed as true about those who are to live as one. These things exercise a pressure upon those to whom they apply, urging them into united living with each other. Both of the words encouragement and comfort are full of gentleness in their New Testament usage. They share the idea of a true concern, itself the product of love for the needy and productive of those words and deeds designed to lead folk out of their need into a fuller life. In Christ Christians experience the loving concern which has reached out to them in their need, which was unwilling that they should remain needy, and which gently invites and encourages into a new life. In the love of the Father, they have found deep consolation, the voice that speaks to their sorrows, the hand that touches their hurts. And, as Paul would have us see them, these blessings now encourage us to be to each other what God in Christ has been to each of us. This experience of the Son and the Father has come to us through the Holy Spirit, who is Himself the eternal bond of fellowship within the Trinity. In Christ, He pours this aspect of the divine nature, participation (fellowship), upon the church. To have received the gift of fellowship but to fail to exercise it must be a central denial of saving truth. What, now, of the fourth item, affection and sympathy? In relation to each other, these words are root and fruit. Affection is the inner source of the emotions, equivalent to our use of ‘heart’ as the seat of feelings. Sympathy is the feelings themselves, emotions reaching out towards their object. Paul has, in fact, turned to the subjective side of salvation. The person saved by Father, Son and Holy Spirit is made, by them, into a new creature with a new heart and new sensitivities. This too spurs them on to a new life with new relationships and new possibilities of identifying deeply with each other: another motive and spring of unity. Paul saw unity as a by-product of the great truths on which the gospel rests, but he did not see it as coming about automatically or effortlessly. It comes only by effort, obedience and deliberate cultivation. For this reason, the truths of verse 1 lead into the exhortation of verse 2. We are at once struck by the inwardness of Paul’s requirements. By contrast with 1:27, where he included striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, he is here preoccupied with mind (twice), love and accord. These things involve the inner attitudes of the individual Christian. There cannot be true unity if there is inner antipathy. Paul emphasizes a unison of minds: of the same mind … of one mind. The priority task is agreement in the truth. But within this there is unity in love: having the same love. What can this be but a love identical with God’s love, His own love bestowed on us so that we act and react as He would do? It is also a unity of accord. If we allow the word love to cover the emotional aspect of the unity we are to enjoy, then accord can be allowed to stress the volitional side. Paul’s vision of unity includes mind, emotions, and will. A new feature appears in verses 3 and 4, which, although not absent from verse 2 as we shall see, was not explicitly mentioned. It is the word each. Now the individual is in the center of the picture. The responsibility for the worthy life of unity is individual, personal, mine. Verse 3 describes the wrong attitude towards oneself in the realm of aims (rivalry), and in the realm of assessment (conceit). This is followed by a correct attitude towards oneself in the realm of assessment (humility) and in the realm of aims ( each looking to the interests of others). Paul’s joy is not in the wellbeing of the church in general, but specifically in a church living the gospel life of unity in mind, heart and will, devoted to the task of unselfish mutual care.

The mind of Christ [5-8].  The present passage uniquely unfolds the cross as seen through the eyes of the Crucified, and allows us to enter into the mind of Christ. We tread, therefore, on very holy ground indeed. We do well to remember that this privilege is given to us not to satisfy our curiosity but to reform our lives. What was it that seemed important to Jesus? What principles did He cherish? What objectives? On what footing were His choices made? The revelation of the mind of Christ is presented here as the story of a great change. It begins with one who was in the form of God [6], that is, one who possessed inwardly and displayed outwardly the very nature of God Himself. As is plain, verse 6 is speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ before His incarnation. We must, therefore, use such ideas as ‘display outwardly’ with care, for we know nothing of the conditions of His heavenly state: all we can affirm is that in Christ Jesus there was that expression of being which is identified with the essential nature and character of God, and which reveals it. What a change is expressed in verse 8 when He who was in the form of God humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. How this could happen we cannot know; that it did happen we are assured. There is great stress on the fact that this change came about by voluntary decision and in this we begin to enter into the mind of Christ. Verse 7 says He made himself nothing, and verse 8, he humbled himself. In each case the reflexive expression points to personal decision and action whereby the humiliation of our Lord was voluntary and self-imposed. While we must tread with humility in any matter to do with heaven and touching on the Holy Trinity, we have in this passage, a phrase which appears to bring us right within the actual decision which the eternal Lord Jesus faced and made. We read that He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [6]. Equality with God refers to the Son’s co-possession with the Father of the eternal, divine glory. The Son did not need to grasp this because He fully possessed equality. The Son chose self-emptying, self-humbling, deliberately setting Himself on the path of self-denial. The great change which we noted above was brought about in two stages. The parallel expressions made himself nothing (emptied Himself) … humbled himself describe the central action in the two divisions of the poem. By the end of verse 7 Paul has traced the course of the Lord Jesus to the point of His birth in the likeness of men; he then takes this as a starting-point (found in human form [8]) and follows the great downward course to the very point of death on the cross.

  1. The eternal God becomes incarnate. When Paul says that Christ Jesus was in the form of God, that is, in full possession of the divine nature, he underlines the fact by using, not the simple verb ‘to be’, but a stronger verb which in its characteristic usage has the force ‘to be really and truly’, ‘to be characteristically’, even ‘to be by nature’. Thus Jesus was really and truly, in His own personal and essential nature, God. But, being so, He made himself nothing (emptied himself). The very notion of ‘emptying’ inevitably suggests deprivation or lessening, the loss of something that was possessed before. When Jesus emptied himself, did He diminish Himself, and if so, in what way? Here is a thought which must obviously be handled with great care. It is helpful to note, in the first place, the fact that the verb ‘to empty’ in every other New Testament instance means ‘to deprive something of its proper place and use’. Calvin wrote: “Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time … he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.” Secondly, we ought to notice that in asking the perfectly natural question, ‘Of what did Christ Jesus empty himself?’, we are, in fact, departing from the direct line of thought in this passage. For the verb ‘emptied’ is at once followed by an explanatory clause, taking the form of a servant. Our eye, in other words, is removed from the realm of mystery (the relation between the new incarnate life and the eternal divine life) and focused on the realm of historical factuality, the reality of the eternal God becoming truly man. It is not ‘Of what did he empty himself?’ but ‘Into what did he empty himself’? Christ Jesus brought the whole of His divine nature, undiminished, into a new and – had it not been revealed to us in Scripture – unimaginable state. Concerning the state to which the Lord Jesus consigned Himself, Paul makes three points. First, the intention of the great change was obedient service; He took the form of a servant. Secondly, the sphere in which the service would be discharged was that of a true humanity; he was born in the likeness of men. Thirdly, His true humanity left room for that other reality which He brought with Him. It was a true humanity: Paul uses again the word form; but this time of the servant-state. The Son became the reality of a bondservant. None of this reality is taken away by the careful phrase in the likeness of men. His likeness to men was real, but it did not express His whole self. Throughout all this there is the same revelation of the mind of Christ. His are the eternal glories, both by nature and by right, but they are not a platform for self-display, nor a launching-pad for self-advancement; they are all for self-denial.
  2. The incarnate God becomes a curse. By the end of verse 7 a true incarnation has taken place, and at this point Paul picks up the narrative. Christ Jesus was found in human form [8], that is to say, those meeting Him felt themselves to be in the presence of a man. The word for form in verse 8 is different from the use of the word in verse 6. A more exact translation of the Greek word in verse 8 would be ‘appearance’ (NIV, NASB). He seems the same as other men but in fact is vastly different. The pre-existing and the incarnate Son of God were one and the same person. In his human form Jesus chose to take upon Himself that one thing which, without His consent, had no power against him: death. He was distinct from all others because of His divine nature. In particular, He possessed immortality, proper to God alone. But He subjected His immortality to death and thus humbled Himself; nothing has now been held back; all has been given up: becoming obedient to the point of death. Paul tells us that this was done as an act of obedience to God. Death was the mode, not the master, in His obedience; the obedience was yielded to His Father: this was the cup that the Father has given me [John 18:11]. Furthermore, the obedience which He rendered to God also achieved a purpose for man: it was death on a cross, which indicated God’s curse on mankind. Our Lord’s cry of dereliction [Matt. 27:45-46] shows how truly He entered into the place of rejection and with what horror He was enfolded in so doing: He who was in the form of God came down to earth, down to the cross, down to the curse – and He did it for us. Finally, this Godward-manward act was undertaken by the will and consent of the Lord Jesus Himself: he humbled himself. This was the mind of Christ. He looked at Himself, at His Father and at us, and for obedience’ sake and for sinners’ sake, He held nothing back.

Responses, divine and human [9-11].  Before the eyes of chosen witnesses the Father gave visible demonstration of His estimation of Jesus: that He is Lord of all, heaven, earth and hell alike, that His deity is unquestionable, for He is worshipped in heaven where none can be worshipped but God only, and that He has now emerged from incognito into His full and acknowledged possession of the divine name and Lordship. The name Lord was accorded to Jesus, not in the sense of conferring what was not His before, but of calling attention to what he was and is now known to be. The historical, physical event of the ascension is a moral and spiritual comment on Jesus. Why did God exalt the risen Christ in the ascension? According to our passage it was a response, something linked to what went before it by a therefore [9]. To what was God responding? The ascension is the divine response not to this or that aspect of the career of Jesus, but to the sort of person Jesus is, the way He looks at things, the values He cherishes, the principles He observes – His mind. He was not grasping in relation to His glory [6], defensive in relation to His deity, protective of His unique human experience: he made himself nothing [7] and humbled himself [8]. From the brightness of the glory to the dust of death and the place of the curse, from the glory of a true humanity down to the lowliest identification with our common clay, by His own self-humbling decision, Jesus showed both obedience and love to the uttermost. And the Father loves to see it so, for it is a principle with God that he who humbles himself shall be exalted. To what end is all this leading? Plainly, it is leading to the universal banishment of all that is ‘incognito’ about the Kingship of Jesus. On that day, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. How do we keep the succinctness of this poem in touch with the rest of Scripture at this point? By sadly recording that a confession made for the first time in response to the visible manifestation of His glory will not be a saving confession, but a grudging acknowledgment wrested by overmastering divine power from lips still as unbelieving as they were through their whole earthly experience. All will submit, all will confess, but not all will be saved. These, then, are the facts which surround and open up the ascension of our Lord Jesus. So what, we may ask, does the ascension say to us? First, and most clearly of all, the ascension proclaims the present reality of a reigning Lord. According to the passage before us, there is a proper response to such a reigning Lord, for on the day when He is manifested in all His glory there will be something about that glory which will provoke, unbidden by anything save the glory itself, the bending of the knee in submission and the loosing of the tongue in confession [10-11]. It is by our homage gladly rendered and our spoken declaration of His name and nature that we, in our present situation, give evidence to all that He reigns and that we are His people. Secondly, the ascension, as Paul has presented it here, speaks to us of the limits set to evangelistic opportunity. When the Master returns it is the day of accounting, not of continuing opportunity; it is the day when the door is shut; the day when eternal destinies are apportioned. Not then but now is the appointed time, now is the day of salvation. All that stands between our present unsaved friends and that dread day are our tongues telling about Jesus. The third truth of the ascension emerges here: there is a way of life which bears the hallmark of divine approval. It is to follow the example of Jesus who, out of obedience to God and love for sinners, said ‘No’ to everything that might have been advantageous to self. He never ceased to look upward to the Father, seeking His approval, and outwards to others, seeking their eternal welfare. He held nothing back if, by yielding it up, He might more fully obey God and save the lost. We return, then, to the point from which this great passage started: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus [5]. The mighty description of the mind of Christ [6-8] is given both in order that we might know the life which matches our new nature and also in order that we might set ourselves to copy Him.”  [Motyer, pp. 101-124].

 Questions for Discussion:

  1. Paul connects 2:1-4 with 1:27-30 by the use of So (therefore) in 2:1. What is Paul teaching us through this connection?
  1. What are the four results of being united to Christ [1]? What are the four goals for unity in the church [2]? What does Paul mean by same mind and one mind; by same love; and by full accord in verse 2?
  1. Why is humility so necessary for Christian living [3-4]? What steps can we take to grow in humility? Note that the focus of the proud is on self; while the focus of the humble person is on God and others.
  1. Describe the mind of Christ in 2:5-8. What does Paul tell us concerning Jesus Christ in these verses? What was important to Jesus? What principles did He cherish? What objectives? On what footing were His choices made? How did He show His humility? What do we learn from Christ concerning how we should show humility in our lives?
  1. How does God respond in 2:9-11 to what Christ did in 2:5-8? How will every person respond to this Jesus at the last day? Is this response a saving response? Why or why not?
  1. What does the ascension say to us? What three things does Motyer suggest that we should learn from the ascension? Pray that you can incorporate these three things into the way you live your life now.


Let’s Study Philippians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

The Letter to the Philippians, G. Walter Hansen, Eerdmans.

The Message of Philippians, J. A. Motyer, Inter Varsity.

Philippians, Moises Silva, Baker.

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