Within the heart of one of Scripture’s most beloved books lies one of the most exalted, challenging, and thought-provoking passages in the entirety of God’s Word. Philippians emphasizes the priority of the gospel (1:27). Paul was in chains because of the gospel yet he used his difficult circumstances as an avenue to proclaim the gospel and exhorted the Philippian saints to do the same
(cf. Phil. 1). But the message of the gospel cannot exist without it’s Person and primary emphasis–Jesus the Christ. Thus, in Philippians 2:5-11 we find a Christological context that gives us a glimpse into the Heavenlies, challenges our thinking, and pushes us on to greater heights.
Set in contrast to the attitude of selfishness, Paul exalts Jesus as the model of self-sacrifice. Philippians 2:3-4 instructs, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” If the church is to stand united for the cause of the gospel (Phil. 1:27) then each member must selflessly and sacrificially place his needs at the end of the line. But doing so in an egocentric age is easier said than done. Therefore, we look to Christ. Philippians 2:5 commands “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” The command is constant. We must always have His mind, and His was one of sacrifice.
James wrote, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up” (Jas. 4:10). In other words, the road to exaltation is humiliation. No one understood and displayed such sentiments better than our Lord. Philippians 2:6-11 expounds upon this point in a powerful way.
His Humiliation (6-8)
The context begins by asserting the eternal existence of Christ. Paul described Jesus as, “being in the form of God…” (Phil. 2:6). The word “form” has to do with His eternal nature. It refers to an essential and unchanging nature–an unalterable existence. This existence is one of equality with God and Paul used a present participle (being) to emphasize the fact that Jesus has always possessed this attribute. In short, Jesus is divine. He always has been and He always will be. John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-2; 14). Jesus spoke of the glory He had with the Father before the world came into existence (John 17:5). Though some throughout history have sought to denigrate the deity of Christ, their efforts fail. He remains the God-man, who gave up the splendors of Heaven to partake of flesh and blood (Heb. 2:14-17) and give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). A better understanding of what He gave up produces a greater appreciation of His selflessness.
Though Christ existed from eternity in the form of God, He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” as the King James Version suggests. The phrase comes from a Greek verb which means “to snatch” or “to seize.” But Christ had no reason to seize equality with God because He was, by His very nature, God. The American Standard Version captures the essence of the statement by translating “He counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped.” The idea is that Christ did not regard His status as something to be selfishly hoarded. Instead, He “emptied Himself” (ASV) or, “made Himself of no reputation” (KJV). But of what did Christ empty Himself? Not His deity. As Matthew 1:23 says, “’Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’, which is translated, “God with us’.” Christ emptied Himself in that He left behind the glory of Heaven to take upon Himself the form of a servant. Such was a voluntary and sacrificial act motivated by love (2 Cor. 5:14).
As a servant made in the fashion of man (cf. Rom. 8:3; Heb 2:14) Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” The passage speaks of a deliberate act of self-humiliation. He humbled Himself before God by becoming obedient. To be obedient suggests willingly placing oneself under the control of another. The Son placed Himself under the Father’s Will (Heb. 10:9). He learned obedience by the things which He suffered (Heb. 5:8) and indeed He did suffer. Peter said, “For to this you were called because Christ also suffered for us…” (1 Pet. 2:21). “For Christ has also once suffered for sins” (1 Pet. 2:24) and He was made perfect through His suffering (Heb. 2:10). The cross in the ancient world was the most disgusting and dishonorable symbol one could imagine. Care would be taken to not even pronounce the word in Latin. It was a shameful, degrading, and utterly excruciating way to die. Yet “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth” (Isa. 53:7). So committed to the fulfillment of the Father’s will was Jesus, that in the face of intense agony He still prayed “nevertheless not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). He remains the ideal humble servant.
His Exaltation (9-12)
Philippians 2:9-11 is a perfect illustration of Jesus’ own words: “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). This section elaborates this truth in two major points: God’s action and man’s reaction. As a result of His complete surrender to the will of the Father, God has (1) highly exalted Him and (2) given Him the name which is above every name. The word “exalted” means “to raise someone to the loftiest height.” It is a superlative in the greatest sense. God has exalted Christ to the highest degree, or, super-exalted Him.
The resurrection and ascension are involved in this exaltation. Jehovah promised an exalted King to reign on David’s throne forever (2 Sam. 7). David prophesied of His coming (Ps. 110:1) and the apostle Peter confirmed,
This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.; Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:32-36).
Jesus has been resurrected and raised to sit on David’s throne at the right hand of God. The Hebrews writer affirmed, “Jesus…for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2). Christ arose victorious over death and ascended into Heaven a conquering King (Ps. 24:7-10).
As the exalted King he bears the name which is above every name, the name “Lord and Christ” (v. 11;
cf. Acts 2:36). The bestowal of a name is indicative of rank, dignity, or character. That which Jesus so humbly refused to pursue for Himself, is now bestowed upon Him as a result of His submissive sacrifice. He is “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev. 19:16). He reigns as the divine Sovereign of all the earth. He has all authority (Matt. 28:18). He is head of the church, His body (Col. 1:18). Ephesians 1:21-23 identifies the greatest expression of the power of God seen in
Which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Because He is the exalted Lord and Christ, all created beings must answer to Him. “…Every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). Paul uses the language of Isaiah 45:23 in reference to Christ in this passage. To bow the knee indicates a recognition and submission to authority. Confession implies speaking forth the truth of Christs’ Lordship. All creatures should bow themselves before the exalted Christ and confess His Lordship of their lives (Rom. 10:9-10). Unfortunately, not all will in this life, but of a certainty they will in the next. Eventually the Lordship of Christ will be acknowledged by all when He comes in judgment and all stand before Him. To those who love and serve Him, His coming will be received with joy, as the return of a benevolent and glorious King. But to those who reject Him and His rule over their lives, His return will be one of terror.
Peter wrote, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). It is impossible to follow in His footsteps without also developing His mind. To have the mind of Christ is to have a mind of humble, sacrificial service. It is to devote oneself to the glory of God and not one’s own. My priority must be God’s will, not mine. In Luke 14:7-11 Jesus taught the parable of the ambitious wedding guest. He instructed, whenever you are invited to a wedding feast do not sit down in the best place first, lest someone more honorable arrive and you be forced shamefully down. Instead, wait for the one who invited you say “Friend, go up higher.” This lesson is this, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Exaltation is preceded by humiliation.