Philippians 2:5-11 (NLT)
“You must have the same attitude (mind) that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. 9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10 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 must have the same attitude (mind) that Christ Jesus had.” Paul is now going to hold up before the eyes of the Philippians the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. What kind of attitude did He exhibit? What characterized His behavior toward others? Guy King has well described the mind of the Lord Jesus as:(1) The selfless mind; (2) The sacrificial mind; (3) The serving mind. The Lord Jesus consistently thought of others.
He had no tears for His own griefs,
But sweat-drops of blood for mine.
— Charles H. Gabriel
When we read that Christ Jesus was in the form of God, we learn that He existed from all eternity as God. It does not mean that He merely resembled God, but that He actually is God in the truest sense of the word.
“He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.” Here it is of utmost importance to distinguish between personal and positional equality with God. As to His Person, Christ always was, is, and will be equal with God. It would be impossible for Him to give that up. But positional equality is different. From all eternity Christ was positionally equal with His Father, enjoying the glories of heaven. But He did not consider this position something that He had to hold on to at all costs. When a world of lost mankind needed to be redeemed, He was willing to relinquish His positional equality with God —the comforts and joys of heaven. He did not consider them something that He had to grasp forever and under all circumstances.
Thus He was willing to come into this world to endure the contradiction of sinners against Himself. God the Father was never spit on or beaten or crucified. In this sense, the Father was greater than the Son—not greater as to His Person, but rather as to His position and the manner in which He lived. Jesus expressed this thought in John 14:28: “If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.” In other words, the disciples should have rejoiced to learn that He was going home to heaven. While on earth, He had been cruelly treated and rejected. He had been in lower circumstances than His Father. In that sense, His Father was greater. But when He went back to heaven, He would be equal with the Father in His circumstances as well as in His Person.
Thus it is not the nature or essence… but the mode of existence that is described in this second clause [“Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.”]; and one mode of existence may be changed for another, though the essential nature is immutable. Let us take St. Paul’s own illustration, 2 Cor. viii. 9, “Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” Here in each case there is a change of the mode of existence, but not of the nature. When a poor man becomes rich, his mode of existence is changed, but not his nature as man. It is so with the Son of God; from the rich and glorious mode of existence which was the fit and adequate manifestation of His divine nature, He for our sakes descended, in respect of His human life, to the infinitely lower and poorer mode of existence which He assumed together with the nature of man.
“He gave up his divine privileges,” v7. The literal translation is: “But He emptied Himself.” The question immediately arises, “Of what did the Lord Jesus empty Himself?”
In answering this question, one must use the greatest care. Human attempts to define this emptying have often ended by stripping Christ of His attributes of Deity. Some say, for instance, that when the Lord Jesus was on earth, He no longer had all-knowledge or all-power. He was no longer in all places at one and the same time. They say He voluntarily laid aside these attributes of Deity when He came into the world as a Man. Some even say He was subject to the limitations of all men, that He became liable to error, and accepted the common opinions and myths of His day!
This we utterly deny. The Lord Jesus did not lay aside any of the attributes of God when He came into the world. He was still omniscient (all-knowing). He was still omnipresent (present in all places at one and the same time) (yet difficult for the mind to comprehend…). He was still omnipotent (all powerful).
What He did was to empty Himself of His positional equality with God and to veil the glory of Deity in a body of human flesh. The glory was all there, though hidden, but it did shine forth on occasions, such as on the Mount of Transfiguration. There was no moment in His life on earth when He did not possess all the attributes of God. As this short poem states;
Aside He threw His most divine array,
And hid His Godhead in a veil of clay,
And in that garb did wondrous love display,
Restoring what He never took away.
As mentioned before, one must use great care in explaining the words “He emptied Himself.” The safest method is to let the succeeding expressions provide the explanation. He emptied Himself by taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. In other words, He emptied Himself by taking upon Himself something He never had before— humanity. He did not lay aside His deity, only His place in heaven, and that only temporarily.
If He had been a mere man, this would not have been an act of emptying. We do not empty ourselves by being born into the world. But for God to become Man—that is the emptying of Himself. In fact, only God could do it.
“He took the humble position of a slave,” v7. The Incarnation and life of the Savior may be summarized by those lovely words of John 13:4: “Jesus…laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” The towel or apron is the badge of service. It was used by slaves. And it was used by the blessed Lord Jesus because He came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
But let us pause to remind ourselves of the train of thought in this passage. There were contentions among the saints at Philippi. Paul exhorts them to have the mind of Christ. The argument, in brief, is that if Christians are willing to take the lowly place, to serve others, and to give their lives in sacrifice, there will be no quarrels. People who are willing to die for others do not generally quarrel with them.
Christ always existed, but came into the world in the likeness of men, meaning “as a real Man.” The humanity of the Lord is as real as His deity. He is true God and true Man. But what a mystery this is! No created mind will ever be able to understand it.
V9, Now there is an abrupt change. The previous verses describe what the Lord Jesus did. He took the path of self-renunciation. He did not seek a name for Himself. He humbled Himself.
But now we turn to a consideration of what God has done. If the Savior humbled Himself, God also has highly exalted Him. If He did not seek a name for Himself, God has given Him the name which is above every name. If He bent His knees in service to others, God has decreed that every knee shall bow to Him.
And what is the lesson in this for the Philippians—and for us? The lesson is that the way up is down. We should not exalt ourselves but be the servants of others, that God may exalt us in due time.
God exalted Christ by raising Him from the dead and opening the heavens to receive Him back to His own right hand. Not only that— God has given Him the name which is above every name.
Scholars are divided as to what this name is. Some say it is the name Jesus, which contains the name of Jehovah. In Isaiah 45:22, 23, it is decreed that every knee will bow to the name of Jehovah (God). Others feel that the name which is above every name is simply a figurative way of saying the highest place in the universe, a position of supremacy and dominion. Both explanations are acceptable.
V10, God was so completely satisfied with the redemptive work of Christ that He determined that every knee should bow to Him—of beings in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. This does not mean that all these beings will be saved. Those who do not willingly bow the knee to Him now will one day be compelled to do so. Those who will not be reconciled in the day of His grace will be subjugated in the day of His judgment.
V11, In matchless grace, the Lord journeyed from glory to Bethlehem, to Gethsemane, and to Calvary. God, in return, will honor Him with universal homage and the universal acknowledgment of His lordship. Those who have denied His claims will one day admit that they have played the fool, that they have greatly erred, and that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Lord of glory.