(We apologize for the poor audio quality of the video in the first half of this service.)
Christ Our Pattern | Philippians 2:5-11
Brian Hedges | June 7, 2020
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Philippians 2, and we’re going to be reading in a moment verses 5-11.
When I was growing up, my mom was a seamstress. She was actually a very crafty person, was always making clothes or making quilts or all kinds of things. One of the things I remember as a child is how often she was using patterns to sew by, to make things by.
As I’ve thought, almost any creative person uses a pattern of some kind. A carpenter or a builder who’s building a building uses a blueprint, a seamstress uses a pattern, a sculptor uses a model. What is true creatively is also true for life. We learn best in life when we have a model, when we have a pattern.
This morning I want us to consider that Christ is our pattern, and in fact, in Philippians 2, as Paul is exhorting the church to live in peace and in unity with one another, he takes them to Christ as the great model, the great pattern of humility and servanthood. We’re looking at a passage this morning that is one of the precious jewels of the New Testament. It is one of the greatest passages in Scripture on the person and the work of Jesus Christ. But let’s not forget that the setting of this jewel is the context of harmony and unity and peace in the local church. So Paul is giving us deep theology, but he is giving us this deep theology with a very practical purpose and with a very practical, sharp edge. That is, for the application in our own lives, that we would imitate Christ.
So let’s look at the passage, Philippians 2:5-11. I’ll read it, and then we’ll break this down into three points. This is what Paul says.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This is God’s word.
There are three things I want us to see in this passage, and really the passage breaks down into these three basic thoughts. You have the mindset of Jesus (vv. 5-7a), the humility of Jesus (vv. 7b-8), and the exaltation of Jesus (vv. 9-11). Throughout, Paul is giving us this theology in order to show us how Christ is our pattern for humble servanthood in the church. So let’s look at each of these three things.
1. The Mindset of Jesus (vv. 5-7a)
First of all, the mindset of Jesus, and you have both a command and then the example. First, look at the command in verse 5. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”
This word “mind,” “have this mind,” is the verb phroneo (φρονεω) that we have encountered several times in this letter already. It’s a word that carries the idea of having a mentality, having an attitude or a mindset, a disposition. It’s a frame of mind, it’s a way of thinking. We might call it the gospel mindset or the gospel way of thinking. Paul is urging the Philippian church to embrace this mindset.
It could be read, “Have this mind in you, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” or it could read, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” So it either means that we are to have this internal mindset, the focus being on what is internally true of us, or that we are to have this mindset in the community among the members of the community. At the end of the day, both are really true. We can only have the mindset in the community if we have it internally in ourselves. I think the NIV puts it well: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” So we are to embrace a certain way of thinking.
You might think of this as the family code for the Christian church. Anyone else have a family code? You have a way of doing things in your family. Every once in awhile, when one of our children will misbehave or say something that they shouldn’t say, we’ll stop them, we’ll correct them, and say, “No, we don’t like that in our family. We don’t treat one another that way in our family.” We’re essentially showing them that there is a way of doing things in the Hedges household; it’s a family code. This is part of our DNA as a family unit.
That is true in the family of Christ, in the church of Christ, that there is this basic ethic, this basic way of living, there is a DNA, there’s a family code; and it is the mindset of Jesus Christ, it’s the mentality of Christ. That’s the command.
Then verses 6-7 give us an example or an illustration of the command, an illustration of this mindset. It shows us that Christ is the pattern. Again, look at the text again. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
What an amazing passage! This is a passage that is showing us how Jesus embodies this basic mindset. But in so doing, it gives us one of maybe the four most important passages in the New Testament affirming the deity of Christ; in fact, the pre-incarnate deity of Christ, that Jesus Christ, before he ever became incarnate—in fact, before the world began—he existed in the form of God. The language here carries the idea of being in very nature God himself. He shares the nature of the divine being. He was in the form of God.
It’s similar to the language that you get in Hebrews 1:3, where the Son is said to be “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Or you might think of John 1:1, that great prologue to the Gospel of John, where John tells us that “[i]n the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” Well, here Jesus is said to be the one who is in the very form of God. He was equal with God, and yet (notice this), he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.
Scholars tell us that the language here carries the idea of exploitation, that Jesus didn’t consider his equality with God something to exploit or to take advantage of, but instead he was born in the likeness of men.
I think D.A. Carson’s explanation, in his little book Basics for Believers, is very helpful. Carson shows that the Greek can be taken here either as a concessive (“Although he was in the form of God he did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped”), or it can be taken as causal, so that it would read like this, that “because he was in the form of God he did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Carson opts for that interpretation, that it’s actually a causal relationship, that it’s actually because Jesus in his very nature is God that he did not exploit that privilege.
Carson says, “The eternal Son did not think of his status as God as something that gave him the opportunity to get and get and get. Instead, his very status as God meant he had nothing to prove, nothing to achieve, and precisely because he is one with God, one with this kind of God, he made himself nothing and gave and gave and gave.”
This is the heart of God. This is the character of Jesus. This is the mindset that we are to have.
Notice how it is that he did not exploit this privilege. In verse 7, he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,” or some translations say he “emptied himself.” But the language here is really idiomatic for he gave up his rights, he made himself nothing. It doesn’t mean that Jesus emptied himself of deity, it doesn’t mean that he ceased to be God, it doesn’t mean that he somehow gave up his divine attributes. It rather means that he gave up his rights as God. It means that he laid aside the privilege that belonged to him as deity.
Again, Carson, I think, is helpful. “He abandoned his rights; he became a nobody.” This is how Jesus embodied the mindset of humility.
Bryan Chappell tells a wonderful story about a village, a tribe in Africa where they were dependent on water that would be drawn from a well. These kinds of wells are not what you would think of as a well; it’s not that you would just have a bucket that would go 20 or 30 feet deep and you could draw the water out. This would be a 100-foot deep, very narrow shaft, where a man would have to climb down to the bottom of the well with a water skin, and then carry the water back up.
One of the tribesmen went down into the well but fell, broke his leg, and was lying at the bottom of the well, and there was no one in the tribe who was strong enough to bring the man up, except for the chief. So they brought the chief of the tribe, who was arrayed in his royal robes and this majestic headdress, and all of the marks of his royalty, all of the insignia that belonged to that. He was the only person strong enough, though, to bring this man up from the depths of the well.
So what he did was stripped away the robes, he stripped away the headdress, he stripped away all of the outwards markings of his royalty, his strength, his kingship; and then he went down to the bottom of the well and he carried the man up. In other words, the strong chief became a servant, and he did what no other man could do, but in his very act of service the chief was demonstrating his royalty, he was demonstrating his strength, the very things that made him such a good king.
That is a wonderful illustration of what Jesus has done for us. Listen, brothers and sisters; it was because this is the nature of Jesus as God, it was because of his divine nature, that he assumed the role of a servant, that he laid aside his honor and glory, that he climbed down into the pit of human misery, and that he rescued us by taking the weight of human sin onto himself. In doing that, Jesus displayed the very heart of God.
This is not an exception to how God is; this is how God is. I read this morning to our worship team, before we began, this wonderful text, Isaiah 64:4. “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” A God who works for those who wait for him.
This is the big difference between the Christian God and the god in every other religion. In Christianity, we don’t work for God; God is the one who works for us. God is the one who serves his people. Do you remember what Jesus said? He said, “I have come not to be served but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” This is the heart of God. This is the mentality that Jesus, as the divine Son of God, had. It was a humble mentality, where he works on behalf of his people. John Ortberg has said that “when Jesus came in the form of a servant, he was not disguising who God is, he was revealing who God is.”
One time Martin Luther was being pressed by one of his fellow Reformed theologians, “Luther, you’re giving too much attention to the humanity of Christ, to the flesh of Christ! Lift your eyes to his divinity!” Now, Luther believed in the deity of Christ; he would have defended that to the end of his life. But when pressed to sort of soft-pedal the humanity of Christ, Luther said, “I know no God except him who became man, and I want no other.”
Luther was right. This is our God. This is Jesus, who embodies this humility, this mindset, this mentality. He embodies that humility in his incarnation. This is the heart of God, and this is the heart that Paul says you and I are to imitate Jesus as our pattern.
2. The Humility of Jesus (v. 7b-8)
That leads us right into the second point, the humility of Jesus. If verses 5-7 give us the command and the initial example of the mindset of Jesus, verse 7b (the second half of verse 7) and verse 8 really begin to show us the depths of the humility of Jesus. Again, pick up in verse 7. Christ “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
There are two aspects to Christ’s humility here, or to his humiliation, to use the older theological word, the humiliation of Christ, the descent of Christ.
First of all, you see the humility of the incarnation. He “took the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form…” It’s interesting that Paul here uses language to describe the true humanity of Christ that is every bit as strong as the language he just used to describe the true deity of Christ. So we are right to affirm with the old creeds that he is very God and very man, truly God and truly man. Jesus has all of the attributes of deity, he is fully God, but he also has all of the characteristics of a genuine human being, except that he is without sin.
How is it that Jesus, being truly God, became truly man? I love the way St. Augustine put it. He said, “Christ emptied himself, not by losing what he was, but by taking to him what he was not.” In other words, we could think of it this way. The incarnation was not a subtraction, where Jesus quit being God and became a man. The incarnation was an addition, where the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, took to himself a human nature. He assumed a human nature.
Just reflect for a moment on the beauty of this and the mystery of this, the mystery of the incarnation, that he who is characterized by eternal glory accepted the obscurity of becoming a human being. He stooped from majesty to meekness. He went from power to weakness, from invincible might to suffering and pain. He who was life and light himself descended into darkness and into death. He did that without ceasing to be God for even one millisecond, so that in a very real sense there was a moment in time where the Son of god, the eternal Son of God, was at one and the same time upholding the universe by the word of his power, even as he was just a pinprick of an embryo conceived in the womb of his mother, Mary. What an amazing thing.
Spurgeon put it eloquently, as Spurgeon was always wont to do. “He was the Creator, and we see him here on earth as a creature. The Creator who made heaven and earth, without whom was not anything made that was made, and yet he lieth in the virgin’s womb, he is born, and he is cradled where the horned oxen feed. The Creator is also a creature, the Son of God is the son of man; strange combination. Could condescension go further than for the infinite to be joined to the infant, and the omnipotent to the feebleness of a newborn babe?”
The incarnation of Christ, the humility of the incarnation, should strike our hearts with wonder, and it should cause us to want to humble ourselves as well.
Secondly, we see the humility of the crucifixion. You see this in verse 8. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
You see the sequence here? He became a servant, he humbled himself, he became obedience, obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. It’s as if Paul just shows how Jesus takes one step down, then another step down, then another step down, then another step down. He is climbing to the bottom rung of the ladder! It’s the descent of Christ.
I think especially the emphasis here on “death, even death on a cross,” for those original Philippian readers, citizens of the colony of Rome—because they were Roman citizens, they couldn’t have been crucified. This was a death that they could not have experienced. Even Paul himself could not have been crucified, because he was a Roman citizen. Crucifixion was reserved for slaves. Crucifixion was reserved for criminals. Crucifixion was reserved for the scum of the earth. Only the worst sorts of criminals could be crucified on a cross, and yet Jesus descended all the way there, so that he was treated like the scum of the earth, he was treated like a criminal, as he was nailed to that cruel tree, becoming disfigured before the eyes of his disciples, before the eyes of the world, and as they said, “Behold the man,” what were they seeing? They were seeing a man who was being disfigured beyond all semblance. People could barely recognize that he was a man.
There’s a wonderful story in one of Max Lucado’s books about a man who went into a burning house to try to rescue his parents. He was unable to do so; they perished in the flames, but he himself was burned and disfigured almost beyond recognition.
He came out of the experience so disillusioned and so embittered that he refused all plastic surgery and refused to allow anyone to come and visit him, even his wife. No one could appeal to him, he was so embittered by this experience. His wife loved him very much, and she was desperate to try to break through and reestablish connection with her husband and be a comfort to him and help him regain his life. So she went to the plastic surgeon with a request that was shocking to the surgeon. She went to him, and he said, “Well, your husband won’t see me. He won’t allow me to do surgery.”
She said, “I’m not coming for you to do surgery on him. I want you to do surgery on me. Would you please disfigure my face so that I can relate to him?”
The surgeon was shocked. Of course he wouldn’t do anything like that. But he was so moved by the gesture and by the love that he went to the hospital, to the man’s room. He knocked on the door; the man did not want to see him, but he said through the door, “Listen, I’m the plastic surgeon, and I want you to know, I can restore your face.” No response. Then he told the man what his wife was willing to do, and slowly the man began to warm up to the idea, and the doorknob turned, and he opened the door, and he let the man in.
Well, it’s a picture, again, of the love of Jesus. Jesus looked down on us, at disfigured humanity, a humanity that had been marred by sin and by suffering, by our rebellion against God; people who were made in the image of God, but for whom that image had been marred and disfigured. And what did Jesus do? He stooped down to our weakness, in his humility and in his servanthood; he went to the very depths. He went to death, even death on a cross, so that he could be disfigured by our sin, becoming sin for us, all to redeem us and to win our hearts back to God.
Remember the context here. Paul is saying, “Jesus did this, and this is your pattern. If you have privilege, if you have power, if you have influence, if you have rights, don’t exploit the rights, don’t claim the rights, don’t seize the rights; instead, make yourself a servant to others and take the place of humility and of servanthood.”
I love the way Wesley put it, Charles Wesley, in one of those great hymns. This hymn just grabbed me when I was I think about 19 or 20 years old. The words just kind of hit me with force. What did it mean to have the kind of heart that would be like Jesus? Here are some of the words from the song.
“Oh, for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free,
A heart that always feels thy blood,
So freely spilled for me!
“A heart resigned, submissive, meek,
My great Redeemer’s throne,
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone.
“A humble, lowly, contrite heart,
Believing, true, and clean,
Which neither death nor life can part
From him that dwells within.
“A heart in every thought renewed
And filled with love divine,
Perfect and right and pure and good;
A copy, Lord, of thine.”
Christ is our pattern. He’s our pattern. Paul tells us, “Have this mindset, the same mindset that Jesus did, the mindset that is characterized by servanthood and by humility.” Imitate the humility of Jesus Christ.
3. The Exaltation of Jesus (v. 9-11)
We’ve seen the mindset of Christ, we’ve seen the humility of Christ, the humility of Jesus; and now, thirdly, the exaltation of Jesus Christ. You see it in verses 9-11. “Therefore,” because Jesus has humbled himself, “Therefore God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Over and over again in Jesus’ teaching ministry Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” What Paul is showing us in this passage is that Jesus’s life was the transcript of his own teaching. Jesus said, “If you humble yourself, you will be exalted,” and then Jesus humbled himself, and God exalted him.
It’s significant here the change of verbs. In verses 6-8, Jesus is the subject of the verbs. Jesus is the subject. He’s the one doing the action. Jesus is the one who empties himself, makes himself nothing. Jesus is the one who humbles himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. But Jesus is not the one who exalts himself; God exalts him! New subject to the verb. God is the one who exalts him and who bestows on him the name that is above every name. He who humbles himself will be exalted. Jesus humbled himself, and Jesus was exalted by God the Father.
Once again, the words that Paul uses here are so significant for understanding who Jesus really is. Paul is quoting almost directly from Isaiah 45. In fact, we used this passage in our call to worship this morning, Isaiah 45, where he says, “Before me every knee will bow, and by my every tongue will swear. They will swear of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’”
The burden of that whole chapter, Isaiah 45, is simply this, that Yahweh alone can save. Yahweh alone is the God who saves. It’s to him alone that every knee will bow and that every tongue will swear allegiance. Paul takes that language, and when he talks about the exaltation of Jesus—Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the incarnate one, Jesus the crucified one, Jesus the one who died on the cross—he says that God has exalted him and has given him the name that is above every name. What is that name? It’s the name “Lord.” It’s the name Yahweh! He’s showing that Jesus himself is God exalted in the flesh.
God the Father exalts the Son and gives him this name that is above every name, the name “Lord,” and he does so with a twofold purpose. Look at verse 10. “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…” Then verse 11, “...and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” God the Father exalts Jesus Christ the Son, giving him the name that is above every name, so that every being in all creation will submit to Jesus. Submission. “Every knee will bow.” That’s what “every knee will bow” means. It means submission.
Notice how extensive this is, the universal scope. “...every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…” Do you know what that means? It means every angelic being in heaven, it means every human being on earth, and it means every demonic being under the earth. It means all intelligent beings in all creation will bow the knee to Jesus, the Lord; to Jesus, the humble servant, whom God the Father has exalted.
You know, our literature sometimes does a wonderful job of showing the principle of how the humble are exalted. It’s maybe my favorite scene—it’s certainly one of my favorite scenes—from The Return of the King. Do you remember the end of The Return of the King, third in The Lord of the Rings trilogy? These weak little hobbits, the halflings, have made the journey into Mordor, Sam and Frodo, and they’ve destroyed the Ring of power, and finally Aragorn is crowned king, and there’s this great celebration in the city of Gondor.
The hobbits are there, standing before Aragorn the king, and they drop to their knees, and Aragorn says, “No, my friend. You bow to no one.” They’re the most humble, weak people in all of Middle Earth, but they’re exalted.
It’s a picture of the pattern of the gospel, where the humble are exalted, supremely Jesus Christ, the humble one. Brothers and sisters, there will come a day where every single person who has ever existed, who has ever lived, will bend their knees before the crucified Messiah, the Lord of the world, and they will say, “You are Lord.” It is our great privilege, those who God, by his saving grace, brings to faith now, it is our great privilege to bend the knee now and say, “Christ is Lord.” If we don’t do it now, there will come a day when we will.
“...every knee will bow [there’s the submission] and every tongue confess…” There’s the confession. “...every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” And then the great ultimate purpose of this all is “to the glory of God the Father.”
We have to remember the original context again. Paul is writing to a church that’s in a Roman colony, and in a colony of Rome the watchword of Roman people was “Caesar is lord.” Kaiser, kyrios. Paul is reminding them that Caesar is not lord; Jesus Christ is Lord.
In a day when everybody wants to assert their rights, everyone wants to exalt themselves, and where you have political parties on opposite extremes seeking their agendas, and you have candidates and presidents and kings and rulers and senators, we need the reminder, there’s only one Lord, and his name is Jesus Christ. He is the humble servant.
So we’ve seen here the mindset of Christ, the humility of Christ, and the exaltation of Christ. We see this pattern that Jesus gives us, that whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Let’s end with a couple of notes of application.
What should this mean for us? It should mean, supremely, that we ourselves become humble people, that we humble ourselves. St. Augustine once wrote a letter to a student, and he was writing to him about the way of holding onto the truth, and he said, “There are three things you need to do to prepare yourself. The first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility.”
Augustine is right. The only way in which we can authentically hold the truth of the gospel is in humility. We cannot authentically confess that Jesus Christ, the crucified one, is Lord unless we ourselves seek to imitate him in his servanthood.
Think about this in three dimensions. Think of it in your view of yourself. Do you think of yourself more highly than you ought to think? Are you characterized by selfish ambition and vainglory? As Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or vainglory,” in verse 3, or by the opposite, humility and making yourself nothing, embodied by Jesus? The direct opposite of selfish ambition and vainglory. What’s your view of yourself?
Think about, secondly, your disposition towards others. Humility means putting others first. It means, “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” It means to take the place of the servant.
Think about this in relation to your family. Do you serve the members of your family, or do you always seek to have your own rights honored? Do you seek to be the one that gets dibs, you know, the one that’s always getting first place? This is really practical for kids, isn’t it? Sibling rivalry—anybody have sibling rivalry in your homes? Well, listen; this is the way to beat sibling rivalry. Be the kid, be the brother, be the sister who takes the place of the servant, and serve your siblings. Put them first rather than yourself. Listen, humility is the measure of greatness.
Think about this in relation to the church. Are you the first to volunteer, the first to jump in and be willing to help, not in order to get recognition but in order to meet the needs of others? Think of it also in relation to the society in which we live. The disposition of a servant means at least this: it means a quickness to listen, it means a willingness to serve, it means a slowness to assert our own rights.
Think of your view of yourself, think of your disposition towards others; then thirdly, your love for Christ. How could we not love the one who loved us like this? If we adore such humble love, the love of the crucified one, how can we not imitate that love? Let’s pray together.
Lord, in the words of that great Puritan prayer, “Lord high and holy, meek and lowly, let us learn by paradox that the way down is the way down is the way up; that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess everything, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive. Let us find your light in our darkness, your joy in our sorrow, your grace in our sin, your riches in our poverty, your glory in our valley, your life in our death.”
You are the one who humbles those who exalt themselves, and you are the one who exalts those who humble themselves. Father, we humble ourselves before you this morning, and we exalt Jesus. May we do that now in our worship, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.