When Paul said, "Have this mind in you which is also in Christ Jesus," he was saying, "The only way you are going to be able to have the kind of accord and love and unity that it will take for you to stand and be one in the gospel is to think like Jesus." It is interesting that the church at Philippi started out with two very different people. If you remember from Acts 16, there is Lydia, a godly woman, a seller of purple, someone who was the kind of person who would take time out from her business to go out to the river to the place of prayer and to meet with people there. The other person who becomes a Christian in that chapter is a very rough and rugged Philippian jailor who apparently knew nothing of God before and was not accustomed to honoring God in his life.
The Philippian church was the kind of congregation which could start out with two people so different from each other and then become a center of great joy and of fellowship and of service to the Lord. How does that happen? Paul's answer is, "It takes people who have the mind of Christ, who think like Jesus, whose attitudes imitate the kind of attitude that Jesus showed when he offered himself up for us all.
If I determine I am going to think like Jesus, that is one thing. But how do I learn how Jesus thought? If I want to have the mind of Jesus, how do I read his mind? The way we think and what is really in our minds usually are the last things we ever will make known to somebody else. Have you ever noticed that? To let somebody see how you think is opening yourself up. So how am I supposed to come to the Lord of lords and the King of kings and to find out what his mind is?
The answer Philippians 2 gives us is by looking at what he did, by looking at how he acted, by looking at what he gave. There is here in Philippians 2:5-11 a confession that all Christians hold in common, and then a call which every Christian needs to hear. We will approach our study this morning in that way from this great passage - a confession and a call.
Let's start with the confession that is in this passage. It really covers all of the great doctrines of the New Testament about who Jesus was, what his work meant, and what he has done for us all. Every word of this great passage deserves to be thought over and meditated upon by all of us. Each one is uniquely important.
One way, though, for us to study this passage which goes beyond what we can take in is for us to follow the movement that takes place here. When you look at the movement, we notice that this great passage has two parts. One of them focuses on what Jesus has done, and the other focuses in on what the Father has done. The first one will say that Jesus has come from heaven to earth to the underworld, and the other one says that God has raised him up, given him a name above every name, and that every knee anywhere bows to him in worship and reverence and praise. So there is a way down and a way up in this passage, and both of them are crucial to how Christians think.
Look first of all at what this tells us about Jesus. We start with him in heaven. Verse 6 says that he was one who was existing, or being, in the form of God. That is, Jesus had the full status of deity. He had the complete likeness of the Father. He existed in the very same form or level as the Father did. As to his rank, there was none greater than he is. He always has been, is now, and always will be God, divine, deity. Paul said in Col. 2:9 that the fullness of deity dwells in him bodily. And the New Testament several times says that Jesus is the image of God. That is, he is divine in and of himself. Jesus, then, existed in a position and in a rank and in a status of which none was higher. He had every privilege. He could have taken that position and used it entirely for himself. He was in a situation where he could have watched out for his own interest, used the power that he possessed for his own advantage, sought his own convenience, and enjoyed his own privileges.
Notice, though, that Paul says that in heaven he did not count equality with God as something to be grasped. That is, as something to clutch or hold on to for himself. How different this is from the approach of mankind. The devil's first approach of temptation to the human race was, "God is only trying to keep you from becoming as God. If you would just give in to your temptation and do what you want, then you would find a way to grasp equality with God for yourself." How different, though, is our Lord here who does not consider the position that he already had? He didn't need to get hold of it for himself, but he doesn't even consider it to be something that he has to guard, that he has to protect, that he has to grasp, or to clench for himself.
And then Paul says, "He emptied himself." He made himself no reputation. He was someone who made himself nothing. In heaven Jesus reached the willing, willful decision: "I will not be one who merely protects and keeps what is mine. I will empty myself." That tells you a world about how our Lord thinks.
The second stage of this line of thought brings us now to earth. And now the apostle Paul says, "that he took the form of a servant being born in the likeliness of men." When he empties himself, it doesn't mean that he gives up his deity. It means that he, instead, is willing to forego his position of glory. In John 17, in the great prayer of Jesus, I think we have the best commentary on what it meant for Jesus to make himself nothing. This passage says in verse 5, "And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed."
Jesus, then, was willing to give up his glory and to bring himself under the limitation of being a human being like us. He was born in the likeness of men. He took the form of a servant in so doing, and was willing to live in human form, in the appearance of a man. In Galatians 4:4, God sent forth his Son to be borne of a woman, and that is to become like us. In Hebrews 2 he was made like us in every way, Hebrews 2:14f emphasizes. So, on earth Jesus became like all the rest of us, subject to temptation and suffering and difficulty.
He assumed not the place of highest power and privilege for himself, but instead lived in the form of a servant. The picture of himself that he stamped upon the conscience of his disciples that last night was of a servant with a towel around him washing their feet. That tells you so much about how Jesus thought.
And then the third movement here in this first part of this passage brings us beneath the earth, to the underworld, to the realm even of death. The Bible says that he humbled himself. Humility was thought of as an awful quality by the Roman world. Humility was thought of as a disgrace, not an honor. It was thought of in terms of humiliation and not of willingly serving. Jesus humbled himself.
And the Bible says he humbled himself by becoming obedient. The obedience of Jesus is an amazing thing. He learned obedience by the things that he suffered, Hebrews 5:8 said. Whatever we all lost unconditionally through the disobedience of Adam, we have gained through the obedience of this one man, Jesus, Romans 5:19 says. Humility is expressed by obedience. What kind of attitude is it which would suggest that we need not obey the Lord ourselves? The attitude of Jesus is seen in that he became obedient even to death - the death of the cross.
Now there are two things that I might observe with you here. First, literally the passage does not say he become obedient to the point of death, as some versions read. It says he became obedient to death. All of the rest of us are people who have no choice about death. It comes and claims us. It is appointed unto us all once to die. But Jesus was someone who could become obedient to death. The Bible teaches in Hebrews 2:14-15 that he, by the suffering of death, has set us free from being in bondage to death all of our lives. He actually submitted himself to death, and even to the death of the cross.
And that is the other thing that should be noticed here. The cross was such a dishonorable, disgraceful, instrument of suffering that Cicero said that no Roman should even think about it. On the other hand, to the Jewish mind, the cross of a curse. You were cursed if you hanged on a tree. You were cut off from the covenant people of God, according to Galatians 3:11-13. Either view showed the extreme ugliness and humiliation involved in the cross, but Jesus was obedient even unto that.
So here were are from the highest of heights to the lowest you can get. Heaven, equality with God to earth in the likeness of man, to beneath all of that in the suffering of death. When Jesus offered himself on the cross, he proclaimed "It is finished." And as if to say "Amen" to that, God himself, the Father, acted. And the rest of this passage shows the three stages in that process.
It says, beginning in verse 9, "therefore, God highly exalted him." He didn't just exalt him. He exalted him to the highest place. I believe this statement has to do with the resurrection and then the ascension of Jesus, and then his being seated at God's right hand. In Acts 2 that point is emphasized. Jesus is being raised up and seated in the place of the highest possible honor. What he was willing to let go of and what he was willing to not guard and keep from himself, he received anyway with the blessing of the Father. God exalted the one who had humbled himself.
May I emphasize to all of us that that's the way Jesus taught it would be. In Matthew 23, for example, in verses 11 and 12 our Lord addressed our own attitudes when he said, "The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." In James 4:6, James said that God gives grace to the humble. And he said, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you" (v. 10)." In I Peter 5:5, 6, Peter taught, "Likewise, you who are younger be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, unto the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time, he may exalt you." The challenge to faith in Christ is really a challenge to whether we think that by humbling ourselves we end up exalted or whether we think that by getting what we want, we end up exalted. Which do I believe? There is no question here how Jesus thought.
Not only was he highly exalted, but our text tell us that God then gave him or bestowed on him the name that is above every name. Apparently, in this passage that name is the "Lord Jesus Christ." The idea that he is Lord, Lord Jesus Christ, takes in the thought that he is the owner, that he is the master, that he is the authority, that he is the ruler over everything. Remember that Matthew tells us that as Jesus was to ascend into heaven, he said all power has been given to me in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). All authority. Remember that in Acts 2 Peter and the others announced that this same Jesus whom you crucified has been made both Lord and Christ. At the end of I Peter 3, Peter has the idea that the Jesus who suffered for us once (v. 18), then was buried (he faced whatever death had to offer), and then that God raised Him up and seated Him at his right hand where he rules over every power and every authority and every dominion there is. The New Testament doctrine is that Jesus as Lord rules as head over the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:21-23).
The name that is above every name came to Jesus by the Father's gift. It was bestowed on Him, not accomplished for himself, not taken and seized of his own will. It was bestowed on Him as one who had humbled himself and became obedient even to the death of the cross.
And then the third and the highest part of this process is that now at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. Notice that these are knees of those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. Sometimes it is translated as if these are things. I believe it implies instead that every created being, whether it is in heaven as an angel, on earth as a man, or under the earth as a demon, that at the name of Jesus every knee bows and confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord. It's not merely to gratify Jesus or to make him look great. That is not his attitude, but instead to give glory to the Father, which is why Jesus endured the cross to start with.
Now within that text there are the great doctrines of the preexistence of Jesus and the incarnation of Jesus (him taking human flesh) and the humiliation of Jesus as he died on the cross, and the exaltation of Jesus. But it is all a confession of what we believe about how Jesus thought. In heaven as God he chose to empty himself. On earth as man he became like us. In death as an offering he faced the worst. God raised him up, gave him the name above every name, and now every knee should bow before him.
But this passage is not here merely for us to look at, but instead it is issuing a call to all of us. There are at least three things that all of us should hear, calling us, from this passage.
The first has to do with whether we are willing to humble ourselves and to not act in our own best interest. If Jesus was willing to empty himself and not seize what is his own in heaven, then maybe I should be willing to forego my own self-interest in behalf of others. If Jesus is willing to become a servant, then maybe I should become a servant. If Jesus is willing to be obedient even to death, then maybe I should learn humility by obeying the Lord myself.
In verse 3 of Philippians 2, Paul says, "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." A little bit later in this same chapter as he speaks of Timothy, he says, "I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. They all seek their own interests, not those of Christ" (v. 20,21). Later in Philippians at the end of chapter 3, those who are people who make a god of their own interests are said to be enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18). The reason they are enemies is they show exactly the opposite attitude from what the Lord had shown.
The second call from this passage is to the effect that all of us should lay hold on the benefits of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. If what he did there for us was so necessary that he would leave heaven and come here and endure even death, and if it meant so much that God in response to it raised him up and gave him the high name, then it must be crucially important. I ought to ask myself, "Have I laid hold on the benefits of the cross?" Paul is going to say over in chapter 3, "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes through law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." That becomes his highest goal - to lay hold on what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
And then third this passage calls on all of us to be confessing the name of Jesus now. If every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father, and if finally every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father, then surely I now should be confessing that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. If I believe him, I ought to say so. If I believe in him, I ought to acknowledge it. If I will confess him, he will confess me before the Father who is in heaven. I ought to confess him and to be buried into him in baptism so that God can raise me up to walk in newness of life. And then, as Paul wrote to Timothy, I ought to go on confessing him by being faithful to him in my everyday life.
I will join every created thing in the spirit world in confessing what they confess - that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. In my words, in my attitude, in my actions, I want to be concerned with confessing Jesus.
Here is the confession, here is the call. Now let's you and I make the decision together to think like Jesus in response to this passage which tells us so much about how he thinks.
Maybe today you are needing to confess him and to be buried with him in baptism. Maybe you are needing to confess him as a Christian and maybe confess that you haven't been thinking like he has, and then have your brothers and sisters pray with you about that. If we can help you in some way, won't you let it be known while we stand and sing together.