Christ became obedient. 2:5-11
In this passage we continue with Paul's exhortation to the Philippian church, 1:27-2:18. This exhortation follows on from Paul's reflection on his personal sufferings, 1:12-26. In 2:5-11 Paul encourages the Philippians to follow the example of Christ's self-humiliation, to adopt an attitude of humility shaped by the example of Christ. It is this humility of servant-hood which will reinforce unity within the fellowship and thus produce steadfastness in the face of external pressures.
v5. Paul has exhorted his readers to live in a way that considers, not their own interests, but the "interests of others", v4. He now explains how self-renunciation is empowered; we must "contemplate" Christ's example of humility.
v6. Paul goes on to tell us that Christ was in the form of God and existed in a manner equal to God: he possesses a divine nature; he is a divine being. Divinity was his by right and he did not need to grasp onto it as if he might lose it.
v7. Yet, Christ willingly made himself nothing; he emptied himself. We usually follow Lightfoot who said "he divested himself.... of the glories, the prerogatives of deity." Paul actually doesn't say this, rather, he says that Christ emptied himself by taking on the role of a servant; Christ took on the limited and unattractive role of subjection. In this form he took upon himself "human likeness", he took on our fallen, weak human nature. This then is the emptying of Christ - making "himself nothing". He became a humble servant and as such he stands as a perfect model for those who would similarly serve their God.
v8. Not only did the divine Christ empty himself, in that he took upon himself the role of a servant, but he also subjected himself to humiliation. Christ submitted himself to the will of God and so faced the reproach of his fellows, a reproach that ended in shameful death.
v9. As a consequence of his humiliation, Christ was exalted by God. The verdict of humanity, led by the powers of darkness, is set aside by God. As for the name Jesus is given, it is the name of God, Yahweh, "Lord", a name which depicts Christ's power, authority, dignity and divinity.
v10. Those who bow before the exalted Christ are the totality of rational beings. There are three groups: i] Spiritual beings - angels; ii] Humans; iii] Deceased persons.
v11. Every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, even the powers of darkness will confess his lordship.
Imitating Christ's humility
In the gospel of Luke, chapter 6 verse 45, Jesus tells us that the heart, the inner self, drives our behavior. If the images within us are selfish, then we will behave in a selfish way. If, on the other hand, we are able to shape unselfish images in our mind, contemplate Christ's self-denial, then our behavior will begin to move in a caring direction. This is most likely the point made by the apostle in second Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 14.
The compelling character of Christ's love, when resident in our being, shapes us to love as Christ loved. This is a function of the indwelling Spirit of Christ whose work of renewal in our lives is progressed as a gift of grace appropriated through faith.
So then, the practical outworking of this attitude, this mind, this way of thinking, this contemplation, is something like this. A believer, regenerate, possessing the Spirit of Christ and infused with Christ's character of love, affirms "the good" (here humility) and cooperates with Christ's renewing power as it activates right behavior.
The separate elements of this "attitude" are:
i] A knowledge of the good (in this case, a humility imaged in the person of Christ who "made himself nothing")
ii] A belief that the good is ours as a gift of grace. Christ's perfect humility is ours because of our identification with Christ in his death and resurrection.
This "attitude" then finds expression in our behavior as we cooperate with the Spirit of Christ in his work of imaging Christ-likeness in our lives.
Jerusalem bound, that is our destination - to climb Calvary with our Lord, to die to self. The beauty is that Christ has already done this for us. He has died, and in his death we die. As the faithful servant he was humble before God and humbled before mankind. In Jesus we are that servant. This then is our status before God.
In response, we should strive to be that humble servant day by day. So, day by day let us focus on the cross and the empty tomb - on the broken Christ, and our risen Lord. Let us image in our mind his humility and his exaltation. As we feed on that image, rest on it, we will slowly but surely change from within; we will take on-board the "attitude" of Christ, the "mind" of Christ. It is this thinking which impels us to service, moves us to serve our God and to face the humiliation and sacrifice that this service so often brings. In the midst of this struggle we will see the glory of our exalted Lord and know that in him we will one day possess his glory.
1. As a believer, what is the "attitude" that we must develop?
2. Discuss what Paul might mean by saying that Jesus had the "nature" of God and was "equal" with God.
3. In what sense did Jesus make himself nothing?
4. Humility and humiliated. How do these terms relate to Jesus?
5. God has affirmed the person of Jesus by giving him a Name. What is it? What does it imply?
6. How can we develop the same attitude that Christ possesses?
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