Philippians 2:5-11 (v6)
When Augustine was asked to list the central principles of the Christian life, he replied, ‘First, humility; second, humility; third, humility.’ This is the theme Paul is pursuing in this passage. His great concern at this juncture is that the Philippians should stand ‘firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel’ (1:27). But that requires a genuine unity among Christians, which according to Paul, depends on humility.
These verses constitute one of the great New Testament passages on the person and work of Christ. In a piece of magnificent exposition Paul expounds the humility and the exaltation of the Son of God.
As noted last week, this passage’s poetic grandeur has raised the question of its origin, and we concluded that Paul is here, most likely, quoting a hymn sung by the church. But even more importantly by far are the statements these verses make about the identity of Christ.
In particular, we noted why Paul uses them. He explains in v5, that we are to ‘develop this mind-set in our fellowship, which is the only consistent mind-set for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ That is, Paul is urging us to live out our fellowship with our humble Savior in practical ways in our lives. To be humble-minded is to be our truest selves in him.
Paul is simply pointing us to the basic framework for Christian living. Sinclair Ferguson notes that ‘over and over again in his letters [Paul] employs a basic formula which he fleshes out in many different ways: we are in Christ; we are, therefore, to become more and more like Christ.’
‘The greatness of our Lord’s self-humbling is measured by how low he was prepared to stoop from the great heights which were his natural and rightful environment.’ He was in the form of God (v6), or ‘in very nature God’. It is clear from the next line that Paul meant this in the sense that Christ possessed equality with God. The Son did not ‘grasp’or jealously guard his rights as Son of God. Instead, he was willing to come to our fallen, helpless world on our behalf. He was under no obligation to do so.
Yet Jesus made himself nothing (v7), or ‘emptied himself’. Paul does not mean that he evacuated himself of the power of deity. He explains that his words mean that Jesus took the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Lord of glory, though he was, ‘he emptied himself, not by subtraction of his divine attributes, but by the assumption of human nature. He was Immanuel, God truly with us, fully God and yet truly man,’ writes Ferguson.
Then there took place a second stage in this amazing humbling: as the servant of God he became obedient to his Father, even to the extent of dying on a cross in naked shame as a condemned criminal (more on this in the coming weeks of Advent). That any good man should be willing to humble himself in this way for the blessing of others is breathtaking; that the Offended One, the Lord of glory should willingly enter into such humiliation should bring awed adoration to our hearts.
Sinclair Ferguson concludes:
“So a twofold contrast lies hidden in Paul’s description of Jesus’ self-humbling. The contrast between who he is by nature and the identity he has taken on by grace; the contrast between what the Last Adam became and what the First Adam had been. No wonder such theology produced poetry! We will see that these verses illustrate a great principle of Pauline theology: union with Christ should lead to the imitation of Christ.”
Please join us during this second week of Advent as we look at ‘The Plan for Christmas’ from Philippians 2:5-11 (v6). Will you do two things during this Advent season? Will you pray daily for our church and the ministry of God’s Word through our church? And, secondly, will you invite someone to come along with you to hear and sense the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ? We are praying for you and your family.