The Exalted Reason for Humble Living

On the evening of October 19, 1856, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the twenty-two year old pastor of the New Park Street Chapel in London, prayed with his young wife, Suzanna, left her and their new-born twins, to go the Surrey Gardens Music Hall to preach to a crowd of more than 10,000 that would gather. Hooligans, not younger than Spurgeon himself, sought to disrupt the meetings through a well-planned disturbance: They cried “Fire!” from several different places as the Music Hall neared the completion of its capacity crowd. The ruse got out of hand and resulted in the deaths of seven people and the hospitalization of almost thirty others. The young Spurgeon, already the object of the most ridiculous, insulting, caricatured, snide, and malicious opposition, was devastated. Mentally and emotionally he descended into a period of deep depression and distraction. He and Suzanna went to the home of Mr. Winsor, one of his deacons. During a walk in the garden, Spurgeon brightened and exclaimed to his wife, “Dearest, how foolish I have been! Why! What does it matter what becomes of me, if the Lord shall but be glorified?” And he repeated with eagerness and intense emphasis Philippians 2:9-11. . . . “If Christ be exalted,” he said, let him do as he pleases with me; my one prayer shall be, that I may die to self and live wholly for him and for his honour.”

On the first day that Spurgeon returned to his Pulpit at New Park Street after the catastrophe at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall in 1856, He spoke, “The text I have selected is one that has comforted me, and, in a great measure, enabled me to come here today—the reflection upon I had such a power of comfort on my depressed spirit. It is this: Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given him a Name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. I shall not attempt to preach on this text; I shall only make a few remarks that have occurred to my own mind;” Clearly, Christ’s exaltation at the culmination of an assigned labor of such infinite humiliation encouraged Spurgeon and served as a model to him personally in the execution of the work to which Christ had called him.

I. A Christian’s union with Christ gives infinite latitude and depth in Exhortation

A. Paul’s “therefore,” refers to the observations he made in 1:27-30 concerning his imprisonment.

  1. A worthy manner of life in the gospel involves a unity in the cause of the gospel:
  • Standing firm [stekete] in one Spirit or spirit; Paul refers either to the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit or to the union of heart and attitude shared by the members of the church at Philippi.
  • Striving together like athletes for the faith of the gospel [its content – if the content is not truly set forth, the subjective manifestation is not possible];
  • Not frightened in anything by your opponents (cf. Psalm 27).
  1. A worthy manner of life in the gospel involves sharing the same conflict (1:30). Grace is as operative in our suffering as in our believing. As God grants faith through hearing the gospel, so he confirms faith by granting opportunitites to suffer for it.

B. A summation of areas to which legitimate appeal may be made (2:1): The “if” is a conditional word that assumes the truth of the conditions– “Since.”

  1. “Comfort” or “consolation” could be a legitimate translation for Christ did send the Holy Spirit as a helper in al kinds of situations (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). In light of the coming words, however, Paul probably means “exhortation.” “If your being in Christ gives grounds for exhortation;” “May I exhort you on the basis of your absolute dependence on Christ?” Why of course I may. In what other way would I have any claim to the right of exhortation?
  2. Does infinite love provide a sufficient basis for consolation and exhortation? How could it not? What transcends unblemished, omnipotent love as an assuasive for every sorrow and a guarantee of the most abundant and lasting joy?
  3. Is it legitimate to appeal for unity on the basis of our participation in the Spirit? Certainly you see that it is. What could give a greater common cause than the common gift of the Spirit’s plunging us into the infinite graces of Christ and parsing out specific gifts that we might be equal participants in forming the body of Christ.
  4. Have not your altered affections given you a deep level of desire and the most exalted sense of tenderness toward one another and an unquenchable yearning for their well-being? Without doubt, and I may urge you to fan into hot flame this affection you have for one another that arises from the new birth. 1:7 shows that Paul feels this way toward them.

C. A distillation of Paul’s purpose for members of Christ’s body, the church [2:2-4]

  1. Fill full his joy as an apostle [2] cf. 1:25,26 – His joy does not come from personal accomplishments or recognition, but from conformity of his children to Christ [cf. 3 John 4] “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”
  2. Traits which Paul says reflect the purpose of his ministry
  • Unity of ideas [thinking the same thing, thinking the one thing] What is the “one thing?” He builds on this in chapter 3 13-15. Paul does “one thing,” and he exhorts them to think this way.
  • Unity in feeling [these are reciprocal, cannot be divided, mutually dependent]
  1. In opposition to this, do that.
  • Do Not: be jealous [envious of the attention or accomplishments of another] or vainglorious [calling attention to your worthiness and giftedness;
  • Do be sincerely humble minded [spiritual virtue for Paul but “weak-souled” in other literature] and account the gifts and contributions of others as superior
  • Do Not: Look only to your personal interests. So deeply embedded is this sinful propensity of self-glorification and self-protection that almost unconsciously in the most spiritual of situations, the tendency can arise to think first of self.
  • Do: Each should look to the interests of others. This calls for a conscious effort with the understanding that the Spirit sanctifies our lives in the context of or efforts to mortify the indwelling remaining sins of the flesh (Romans 8:12, 13; Galatians 5:25, 26).


II. Your call to service will never outstrip Christ’s call to humiliation (2:5).

A. Paul makes a direct appeal to consider Christ as our immediate example in purpose to serve (5) – “Among yourselves;” This is a corporate goal.

B. The eternal, intrinsic, “natural” glory of Christ is in his eternal generation from the Father. [6] Jesus is called “the brightness of his glory, the express image of his person” (Hebrews 1:3).

  1. The “Form” means the very nature plus the display of the traits of that nature.; “being equal” is both; As eternally generated by the Father he shared the divine nature as the infinitely perfect display of the glory of the triune God. The equality with God in eternal attributes could not, by their very nature, be suspended. The manifestation of their glory could be hidden.
  • Jesus shared the Father’s love of his attributes, all of them manifestations of perfect goodness and holiness.
  • Jesus maintained his perfect and eternal knowledge of his attributes, [I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word” (John 8:57). “No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11).]
  • Jesus lived according to his perfect desire for an extension of the display of these perfections both in their immediate operations and in their potential relations. Jesus would be the manifestation not only of the righteousness of God but of the mercy of God. Jesus would be the display not only of the certain justice and judgment of God but of the patience and lovingkindness of God.
  • Jesus manifested his perfect wisdom in the manner of the display of his attributes (John 14:6-11).
  • Jesus demonstrated His perfect faithfulness to execute this display in the manner designed by infinite wisdom in the eternal covenant. [“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:28-30).]
  1. Jesus emptied himself: The hiding the external display of divine glory was hidden by Jesus’ manifestation of the external display of true humanity.

C. The incarnation was a purposeful and voluntary assumption of infinite humiliation—“Made himself of no reputation;” “made himself nothing.” From infinite glory to a condition of circumscribed appearance, parts, emotions, and actions is by its very nature an infinite humiliation. Maintaining the condition of a morally responsible being existing in immutable holiness, he took on the moral responsibility of attaining a perfected righteousness. He also assumed the form of a servant-Mk. 10:45; John 13:1ff; he took both the appearance and the position of a servant. He served others both in temporal matters and in the eternal matter of procuring their forgiveness. The confinements of body and environment of man were his as well as true manhood. Though the full operations of his deity always were present, and impossible for them not to be so, and at times were exhibited, else none could have drawn the conclusion that he was the Son of God, in the mysterious unity of his person and the unconfused presence of his two natures, he was able to isolate this “form of a servant” so emphatically that he could honestly say, “the Father is greater than I,” and, “Of that day and hour knows no one, not even the Son of Man,” and “Let this cup pass from me,” and he would of necessity hide himself so as not to be taken by those who sought him to kill him (John 8:59).


III. Your Personal interests in this world and the assumed advantages and rewards of conformity to it will never outstrip the Eternal Exaltation in Christ

A. “Dio” wherefore – ATR “Because of which act of voluntary and supreme humility” cf. John 10:14-18; The exaltation of Jesus subsequent to his death and burial were specifically the result of that which he accomplished in his humanity as the Christ, the “anointed One.” He gained something that had not been established prior to the completion of his humiliation.

B. God the Father exalts him and gives him a name [cf. Heb. 1:4 ; Acts 2:32, 33; Isaiah 52:13; 53:12] In what sense does the Father now reward him with that which is his by eternal relationship, sharing one essence and generated as Son?

  1. Why is it important to recognize he has a name? Being given a name denotes the specification of a single human individuality [cf. 1 Peter 1:20, 21; Lk 1:31, 35; Matthew 1:21] Before his birth he had given him a name as the child that was to be born to Mary and that was to fulfill the Davidic covenant – “an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure” one in which God will cause to prosper his salvation and desire (2 Samuel 23:5).
  2. What is the meaning of the Name? –
  • “He will save his people from their sins;” Je,shua “Jehovah is salvation”
  • Name stands for the authority, the character, the accomplishments, the ordered purpose of the person in whose name something is done.

C. What is the significance of the Confession “Lord Jesus Christ?”

  1. It points specifically to the promises and exalted claims of Isaiah 45:20-25. “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath” (Isaiah 45:23).
  2. This is a confession that the humiliated man is also eternal God.
  3. It is a confession that his decrees are infallible and immutable.
  4. It is a confession that in him alone are righteousness and salvation. “Surely in the Lord I have righteousness and strength” (Isaiah 45:24).
  5. It is a confession that his promise and his nature determine what he shall do. “Look to me, and be saved all you ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other. I have sworn by myself; The word has gone out of my mouth in righteousness” (Isaiah 45:22, 23).

D. Attributing to Jesus all these things does not detract from the glory of the Father but confirms it (11).


IV. How Should we then Live? (12-15).

A. We can now live with the realization that our lives, in Christ, are ordered by the perfect wisdom of God. As Christ was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” so we may obey every injunction given us in the inspired word; “as you have always obeyed . . .now much more.”

B. With the joyful acceptance of the cross as our model for true Christian discipleship. Salvation came through the cross of humiliation and in that model we “work out,” bring into visible execution a mind of submission and humility central to salvation.

C. With the realization that trials here are light and momentary afflictions that are working an eternal glory that has true, substantial, and undiminished weight. God, through his word, in accord with the example of Christ, and by the inward operations of the Holy Spirit “works in us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.”

D. We live with the realization that we rejoice in tribulations for the end result of these is hope, that final conformity to Christ. When reviled, he did not revile, so we aim at doing all things “without complaining and disputing.” So as he lived in the midst of a rebellious, perverse, hateful, and hypocritical people, so we should shine in this world—a wicked and perverse generation—as those who have been made the children of God by this work of unvarnished humility.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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