Those who serve God must do so with humility. There is absolutely no room for selfish ambition in His kingdom. Although that means certain persecution in this hostile world, it guarantees glory in the age to come. And there is no greater example of such humble service than the Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Philippian Christians to emphasize the need to live a life of humble service to Christ regardless of the circumstances. He wanted them to know they had been saved to do the Lord’s will and not their own.
However, Jesus did not simply command Christians to do this – He modeled it. While Paul was certainly a model of committed Christian service (1:12-26), his call for believers to serve the Lord with humble unity was always supported by the example of Christ. As the perfect Son of God, Jesus Himself is the epitome of a humble servant intent on doing the Father’s will at all cost.
As Paul points out in 2:5-11, Jesus came into the world, not only to redeem us, but also to demonstrate a life set apart to God. He came, not looking to glorify Himself, but to glorify the Father as all human being should. Therefore, the Father has glorified the Son. Paul emphasizes the need to view our service to God as Jesus did. That is, we must have a selfless mentality, a servant’s humility, and a saint’s expectancy.
An Example of Humility (2:5-11)
A Selfless Mentality (vv. 5-6)
Having called believers to stand together in the faith as we face inevitable persecution (1:27-30), Paul also stresses that such unity is only possible if approached with humility (2:1-4). And true humility begins with a selfless mentality toward the work of God.
That is why Paul says in verse five: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” While Paul often referenced our Lord with His title, “Christ,” he sometimes highlighted it by placing it first as he does here. It signifies Jesus’ position as God’s “chosen” or “anointed” One. That is, He is the foreordained Lord and Savior spoken of in the Old Testament Scriptures, and sent by God to fulfill His will concerning His kingdom.
That is important to note, since the apostle is about to identify Jesus as God incarnate. God the Son was clothed in humanity, and He would demonstrate perfect obedience to the Father in heaven. As a Man, Jesus Christ had the mindset of an obedient servant who possessed no other ambition than to do the Father’s will. Therefore, Paul admonishes us to adopt our Lord’s selfless mentality.
While the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ was also completely human in His incarnation. But when He assumed humanity, He in no way divested Himself of His Deity. As a Man, He submitted His own will to the will of the Father just as all God’s children must do. He knew that it was necessary to fulfill God’s purpose and plan for humanity in His kingdom. And, unlike Adam who fell by transgression, Jesus Christ was obedient in all things in order for His righteousness to be imputed to the believer (Rom. 5:12-21).
In verse six, Paul explains the conscious choice of our Lord to set aside His privileges as God and assume His role as the Son of Man. He says that, Jesus, “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” The word, “robbery,” would be better translated as “grasped” or “held onto.” In this case, it speaks of Jesus’ perspective of His exalted position as the Son of God.
In other words, even though He was God, Jesus did not see the glory He shared with the Father as something that He could not set aside for an appointed time in order to do the Father’s will. He knew that to enter human history as the anointed One would mean suffering and death. However, He was willing to leave His throne to accomplish our redemption and restore the kingdom on earth.
Paul uses two words here to highlight the Divine nature of our Lord. First, the word, “being,” refers to the essence of Christ’s nature which is unchanging. Secondly, Paul chose the word, “form,” from two possible Gr. terms to emphasize Christ’s unchanging character. Before teaching further on the Lord’s humility as a Man, the apostle undeniably confirms that Jesus was, in His very essence, God. But as Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord had a selfless mentality.
A Servant’s Humility (vv. 7-8)
Therefore, Paul goes on to say that Jesus “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (v. 7). This was a purposeful choice on the part of Christ made in eternity past. He decided to set aside His glory, which He rightly deserves, to become God’s chosen “bondservant” or “devoted slave.” The emphasis is on completely divesting oneself of personal ambition and seeking only the will of one’s master.
Note that Paul again employs the term, “form.” Only, this time, he uses it to emphasize the very essence of Jesus’ ministry as the perfect Man. Christ would not come to earth in glory but in humility — “in the likeness of men” — as a slave. He fully understood that He came not to do His own will but the will of God the Father who sent Him. And He knew this would mean the complete sacrifice of His human life for God’s purpose.
Verse seven is the heavenly perspective of Jesus’ humble servitude, but Paul continues in verse eight with the earthly perspective: “And being found in appearance as a man, [Jesus] humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” We could ask: “What was the reality of Jesus’ choice? What do we see of this in human history?” The answer is that Jesus, in fact, set aside His glory (“humbled Himself”) and became God incarnate (Gal. 4:4-5). He looked like us and experienced life in this world just as we do, yet without sin (Jn. 8:46; Heb. 4:15).
And in everything, He was obedient to God’s will. His obedience was impeccable and steadfast even to “the point of death,” which, for Him, was “the death of the cross.” By God’s providential working in the life of Christ, the natural consequence of His unflinching obedience was His crucifixion at the hands of sinful men.
Only, as God’s sinless Son, His death was determined by the Father to make atonement for the believer’s sins. Jesus said in John 6:38-40: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
There was no greater aspiration – no more satisfying endeavor – for Christ than to do what the Father wanted Him to do. In fact, Jesus even said that doing God’s will was His “food” as it were (Jn. 4:34). That is, it brought Him exponentially more satisfaction than any earthly pleasure. The Father’s will is exactly what He did (Jn. 8:29; 17:4). He humbled Himself as the Father’s slave, and the Father sent Him to the cross. However, it was not without the promise of restoring His glory.
A Saint’s Expectancy (vv. 9-11)
Jesus was a saint. We may not often think of Him as such, but He was “set apart as holy” as a Man for the purpose of God. And while He humbled Himself even to the point of death on the cross, He fully realized that death was not the end. He knew that glory awaited Him. Likewise, the believer can expect to experience the glory of God’s kingdom even though we are persecuted for serving God in this world – even though that persecution might mean dying as a result of obeying God’s will.
While Christians are certainly not equal in glory with Christ by any stretch of the imagination, we nonetheless share in the glory of His kingdom (1 Cor. 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:4-6). His exaltation is the guarantee of our glory in heaven with Him. He has made the way into the kingdom of heaven for us and promises that we have a place with Him (Jn. 14:1-4) where we will serve God eternally. Paul points out three things about Jesus’ exaltation and glory which reassure us of this.
First, because Jesus was obedient in all things, “God” the Father, “also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (v. 9). He already had been exalted in His Deity and would again be exalted as such (Jn. 17:5), so Paul is not talking about that. This refers to Jesus in His humanity (Jn. 5:22; Rom. 1:4; 14:9; 1 Cor. 15:24-25). He is the greatest of all human beings because He was and is the only perfect Man.
While God redeems sinners and makes them perfect in His sight, Christ had no need of redemption. He is the One whose death redeems us! His perfect obedience as a Man made Him fit to fulfill the role of the sinless sacrifice offered up for our transgressions. His given name, Jesus, means, “The Lord is my salvation,” but He Himself is the Savior of sinners. After His resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand in heaven, the title, Lord, has become His exalted “name.” It connects His Deity with His perfect humanity.
Secondly, because of the exalted “name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth” (v. 10). That is to say, there is no created being greater than Christ either in this world or in eternity. Both human beings and angelic beings, wherever they exist, are all subject to Him (Heb. 1:1-14; Rev. 4-5) as the idea of bowing the knee suggests. And they will literally do so. So Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:4; 19:16).
Third, “…every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (v. 11). Here Paul uses, “Lord,” as the exalted title of Christ. He is the Lord Jesus Christ because He not only was God’s anointed Redeemer, but He has accomplished that redemption through humble obedience to God. And, ultimately, His obedience brings “glory” to “God the Father.” That is the purpose of His exaltation. God exalted Christ to show the riches of His grace toward us.
As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-7, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (cf. Eph. 3:10-11).
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the prime example of humble service to God. His selfless mentality toward doing God’s will enabled Him to humble Himself and serve the Father even to the point of death. And His exaltation as the faithful Son of God ensures that all who trust in Him can expect to share in His heavenly glory.
Do you serve God with humility? Are you following the Lord Jesus Christ in selfless devotion to the Father’s will? Does doing His will and the assurance of sharing in His glory satisfy you?
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