The Lord’s Day Morning
“Song of Christ”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter two, verses five to eleven. This is one of the greatest passages in this great letter of the Philippians. It’s one of the greatest passages in all of the writings of the Apostle Paul; indeed, it’s one of the great passages in all of Scripture. We can hardly do justice to it. In fact, it will take us some weeks to even begin to scratch the surface of the depth and the richness of this passage, but what I want to do with you today is at least give you an overview and an outline of the significance and the flow of argument here in Philippians 2:5-11.
It might help to begin with to outline the passage. In verse 5, we have an exhortation; in verses 6-8, we have a display of Christ’s humiliation; and then, in verses 9-11, we see Christ’s exaltation. So you have exhortation (verse 5); humiliation (verses 6-8); and exaltation in verses 9-11.
It also might help you to remember something of the flow of the argument that’s been going on in this book as the Apostle Paul exhorts these Philippian Christians, and you and me, about how to face the oppositions and persecutions that always come in a fallen world. He tells them that it’s going to be essential that they are steadfast, that they are strong in the grace of Christ. He tells them it’s going to be essential that they are united. In order to be united, they are going to have to be humble and helpful, and so the Apostle Paul has been exhorting them to gospel unity, gospel humility, and gospel helpfulness, especially in Philippians 2:1-4.
Now he gives an example in order to exhort them to gospel humility and unity and helpfulness, in order that they would be able to stand fast against the opposition and live in gospel joy. So the example that the Apostle Paul is displaying before them in this passage is designed to encourage them to love and good deeds. It is designed to encourage them to pursue the life of joy that God intends for them. It’s designed to encourage them to live in humility and unity, and in helpfulness to one another.
Now of course, what it is that the Apostle Paul holds up before them as an example is Jesus. And you’ll already see that in essence the exhortation (in Philippians 2:5) is “Be like Jesus.”
Now, it’s very important that I explain something: “Be like Jesus” is not the gospel. If “Be like Jesus” is the gospel, I’ve got some really bad news for you this morning: You and I are all going to hell. Because nobody can be enough like Jesus to be accepted with God. That is not what Paul is saying. Paul is not saying be like Jesus and you will be saved.
Paul is talking to believers who realize that the reason they need Jesus is because they aren’t like Him. He’s talking to believers who have realized their sinfulness, and they’ve turned in faith to Christ and they’ve said, ‘Lord Christ, forgive me, because I’m not like You. Forgive me because I’ve not lived like God wants me to live.’ Paul is talking to believers who know that “Be like Jesus” is not the gospel. But he is giving this exhortation to be like Jesus to those who are trusting in Christ, not in themselves, in order that they might experience the joy and the unity and the fellowship that God intends believers to experience in the world together, facing all kinds of opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil. And so Paul’s message “Be like Jesus” is not his gospel. This is not a passage where he’s saying if you’ll do these things, you will be saved. No, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” But having believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, you are, as the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:27, to endeavor to live as is appropriate, or fitting, to a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, to a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. And how do you do that? “Be like Jesus.”
Now even that requires the grace of the Holy Spirit. We say that, by the way, in our third membership vow at First Presbyterian Church. We say that we will
“…resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, to endeavor to live as becomes followers of Christ.”
It will take the grace of the Holy Spirit to be like Christ, but the Apostle Paul knows that our experience of the joy and unity that God intends for us in the Christian life congregationally is inseparably tied to our pursuit of Christ-likeness…to our gaining the mind of Christ, and thinking like Christ; to living and acting and choosing like Christ. And so his message to us, “Be like Jesus,” is not the way of justification, it’s the way of sanctification. It’s not the way that we are saved from our sins, else we would all be condemned. But it is the way that we live with Christ, walk with God: by pursuing Christ-likeness.
It’s so important for us to understand that as we come to this passage, because even believers will be very conscious of the way that we fall infinitely short of Christ-likeness, and if our salvation depended on that, we would all be undone. But thanks be to God in Jesus Christ, who gives us the victory through His victory on the cross.
Well, with those as words of introduction, let’s pray and ask for God’s help and blessing as we read His word.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful truth in it. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is the word of God, Philippians 2:5:
“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 made Himself nothing, 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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Apostle Paul is writing to a congregation that he loves, and that has given him much joy, but is manifesting what are fairly common, fairly routine, fairly mundane problems in their relationships to one another. Some of them are prideful. They lack humility in the way they relate to one another. Some of them are divisive, and don’t have a proper concern for the unity that needs to exist in the congregation. Some of them are self-centered, and they don’t understand how it is that Christians ought to devote themselves to mutual helpfulness. And so the Apostle Paul is writing to a congregation with standard, run-of-the-mill, every-congregation-in- the-history-of-the-world kind of problems.
There isn’t a congregation that hasn’t faced these kinds of problems before. They are standard problems in Christian experience, and in the local congregation. We ourselves could give many examples of this. We wouldn’t have to go past the last week to give examples of this in the life of our own congregation, would we? Because these are standing problems. We are sinners – and you put a bunch of sinners together and you ask them to live with one another, and they’re going to hurt one another’s feelings. Some are going to be self-centered, some are not going to be sufficiently concerned about unity, some are going to be prideful; and, thus, they are going to lack a proper humility which is necessary for unity in the congregation. These are standing, typical, run-of-the-mill, mundane problems.
And what does the Apostle Paul do? He gives you the most intense, the most dense, the most profound exposition of the person and work of Christ found anywhere in all his writings, and he drops it right on top of you. And he says now let’s tackle your common everyday problems with a lack of unity and a lack of humility, and a lack of helpfulness, with this massive theology…with this massive truth. That’s what the Apostle Paul is doing in Philippians 2:5-11. We’ll only be able to outline it today, there’s so much here, but let’s look at the three parts of what the Apostle Paul does: Verse 5, he gives an exhortation; verses 6-8, he points us to Christ’s humiliation; and then, in verses 9-10, he shows us Christ’s exaltation.
First of all, the exhortation in verse 5. What is the exhortation? Well, the exhortation boils down to this: Embrace the outlook – or the mindset, or the attitude – of Christ. What is the outlook or the mindset or the attitude of Christ? Paul tells you in spades. It’s humility. The mindset of Christ, the outlook of Christ, the attitude of Christ is humility.
II. Christ’s humiliation.
How do we see that? In verses 6-8, he says you see it in six ways. You see the humility of Christ in six ways.
First of all, he says, you see the humility of Christ in realizing who He is. He is divine, so you understand the reality of Christ’s humility only when you understand His supreme divine status. Look at what he says in verse 6: “Christ Jesus was in the form of God”…in the very image of God. He was the exact representation of God. He is pointing to the divinity of Christ, and he’s saying you will not understand Jesus’ humility until you understand who He was as He humbled himself.
You know there are lots of people that think of Jesus as a poor man, an outsider, a wise prophet speaking against the power structures of His day… and that’s all they think about Jesus Christ. And they esteem Him. They do view Him as a humble man speaking truth to power. But the Apostle Paul is saying if that’s all you think Jesus is, you’ll never understand how humble He was. Because you have to understand that He’s God in the flesh before you can understand how humble He is. So he starts by saying, ‘How do you see Jesus’ humility? By realizing that the man I’m about to talk about in the next five steps is God.’
The second thing that he says (in verses 6-8) is that we see Jesus’ humility manifest [and here comes a fancy word] in His abnegation. His abnegation…that is, His refusal to stand on His own right and demand to be treated as He deserves, His refusal to cling to His own prerogatives, His refusal to come into this world and to demand that the world treat Him as He properly deserves.
You know, if Jesus had come into the world and had done that, He could have come into the world and all He would have had to have said was, “I Am,” and the whole world would have fallen down on its face. [You say, “Ligon, you have a very active imagination.” Oh? No, I don’t!] Do you remember what happened on the night that Jesus was betrayed? And in the garden, the soldiers were coming to find Him, and in the dark of night they didn’t know which was the disciples and which was Jesus, and so the soldiers started crying out, “Where is Jesus of Nazareth? Are you Him?” And you remember what Jesus said? “I am.” And you remember what happened? The entire troop of soldiers fell to their faces. Why? Because their Maker had spoken to them. Now, Jesus could have done that to the whole world, but Jesus committed an act of abnegation: He refused to cling to His own prerogatives. He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, we’re told in verse 6, and this is a display of His humility.
But there’s a third thing that we see here, and you see it in verse 7. It is not only that He refused to claim His rightful prerogatives; it is that He abased himself. We see not only His supreme divine status, not only His abnegation, but His self-abasement, His self-emptying. We read in verse 7, “He made himself nothing.” Some of you remember the old King James, that “He made himself of no reputation”…that He emptied himself…that He abased himself. And so in His self-abasement we see His humility. Though He has the status of divinity, He not only refuses to stand on His rights and prerogatives, but He abases himself and He empties himself.
And especially, fourthly, we see that He does that in His own voluntary servitude. Look at verse 7: “He took the form of a servant.” Now the word servant there doesn’t quite do justice to what the Apostle Paul is saying. Paul is saying that Jesus became a bondslave. Now, as you know, in Israel most slaves or servants served not for life, but for a period of time. Seven years, maybe. And at the end of the seven years, when the Jubilee came, what happened? Those servants were freed, if they were Hebrews. But a bondslave was a servant who had come to his master and said, ‘Master, I want to serve you forever. I always want to be attached to your house.’ And do you know what provision was made for that in Israel? The bondslave would be taken to the doorpost of the house, and his ear would be nailed to the doorpost to signify his desire to be attached to that household permanently, serving them.
This is what Paul is saying that Jesus has done. He has willingly taken up servitude for you. It is as if Paul is saying that Jesus is saying, ‘Heavenly Father, I want to be her bondslave. I want to be his bondslave. I want to be the permanent servant of Your people.’ And so His humility is seen in that He is divine, and yet He has not stood on His rights. He has emptied himself, and He has taken upon himself the role of a slave for the well-being of His people.
But fifthly, we see His humility in His condescension in becoming man—in His incarnation. Notice the language of verses 7-8: “Being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form….” Jesus has become man. Now, being born a person is not an act of condescension by you and me. We’re not lesser beings than our parents because we were born of our parents. There’s nothing condescending about you and me being born a person, but for the living God to be made manifest in humanity, to take upon himself the fullness of humanity and to live in our flesh and blood – that is an act of condescension! And the Apostle Paul is reminding you that Jesus did that for you.
By the way, that means that when Jesus took upon himself humanity, He committed himself to manifesting himself in that humanity forever, so that you will see God in the flesh with your own eyes in the new heavens and the new earth. You will behold Him in glory, forever God and man. And so when He took upon himself flesh, it was an enormous act of condescension on His part.
But then, sixthly (and you’ll see this in verse 8), He endures ultimate humiliation and shame: “He humbled himself by become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” And so the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘How do you see the humility of Christ? You see it in His abnegation. You see it in His self-abasement. You see it in His servitude. You see it in His condescension. You see it in His humiliation, culminating in His embrace of the ultimate shame.’
We really need to take this in, friends. There are so many of us who live so much of our lives trying to make sure that we stay safe, trying to protect ourselves from shame and humiliation, trying to make sure that even those that are closest to us don’t see who we really are and what we’re really like, lest we be put to shame. And here is the heavenly Father pouring out His wrath on His Son in such a way that His Son bears ultimate shame and humiliation. You understand that what this means is that the heavenly Father treats His Son as if His Son has rebelled against Him, turned His back on Him, rejected His rule, and acted like you and I have acted all of our lives towards God…even though He is the only Son who has never ever acted that way towards the heavenly Father. And He bears the humiliation that we ought to have borne in our place. And this, the Apostle Paul says, displays for us the humility of Christ. The Apostle Paul says, ‘Christian, look at your Savior. See what He has done for your redemption. Now, as you live the Christian life towards one another, be like Him.’
That’s the humiliation that he points to, but it’s so important for you to understand that when Paul gives the exhortation of verse 5, he is giving that exhortation to you to be like Christ not simply individually, but congregationally. When Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” he is saying that you should collectively, congregationally, think like (have the attitude of) Jesus Christ—since we have the mind of Christ in union with Christ.
Now why do I say that Paul is delivering this exhortation to you congregationally? Or collectively, or corporately? Well, I say that because (notice again his words), “Have this mind among yourselves….” This is not an individual command. There are lots of commands that can be fulfilled by individuals in the Bible without respect to how other people respond to those commands. When we go to the Ten Commandments and you are told, “Honor your father and mother,” you as a Christian can honor your father and mother even if your neighbor (who is a Christian) doesn’t honor his father and mother. But this command you can’t obey unless I obey, and I can’t obey it unless you obey it; and you can’t obey it unless you obey it. It is a collective, congregational, corporate command: “Have this mind in yourselves.” This exhortation can only be fulfilled congregationally; and that means that our sanctification, brothers and sisters, at this point is inextricably tied together. Our expression of this reality is utterly dependent upon every discreet part of the body, every person in the family, every member of the congregation striving to have the mind of Christ. And if even one of us refuses to aspire to the mind of Christ, we cannot manifest this reality that the Apostle Paul wants to be displayed in the congregation.
It’s a stunning thing, isn’t it?
Remember when you were a kid in school, and the teacher said, “OK, if you will obey the class rules this morning, we will break early and we will have a long recess after lunch. But if even one of you talks when you’re not supposed to talk, breaks the class rules, then all of you will not be able to go out for extra recess.” And you’re being good! You’re not throwing spit-balls, and you’re not dipping Susie’s hair into the inkwell, and you’re carefully doing your work. Little Johnny on the back row is being really bad. And so when the time comes, the teacher says, “Johnny broke the class rules, and so nobody gets to go to recess.”
The Apostle Paul is saying, “Have this mind among yourselves.” You can’t fulfill this command unless you do it all together. If even one of you fails to strive to have the mind of Christ, the reality that the Apostle Paul wants you to experience cannot be experienced as it is intended by God in the congregation. “Have this mind in yourselves….” And then he points you to Christ.
III. Christ’s exaltation.
And then he says, well, what are the consequences of that? If we do this, what happens? And that’s what you find in verses 9-11.What are the consequences? The exaltation.
There’s the exhortation: You, congregation, have this mind among yourselves. What’s that mind? Humility. What’s that mind of humility look like? Christ, in His humiliation. What happens if we live like this? Exaltation! Glory! Joy! You remember the Apostle Paul was all about joy. He wants us to experience the joy that God has intended for us, even in this fallen world, together in the congregation. He says ‘You go the way of humility, and I’ll show you real joy.’ And should that surprise us? Should that surprise us?
I think the parallel passage to this passage is Hebrews 12:2. Really, you have to look at the whole context there at the end of Hebrews 11, and running several verses into Hebrews 12. But Hebrews 12 catches it, that the Lord Jesus Christ “endured the cross, despising the shame, for…. [what?] …for the joy set before Him”! And the Apostle Paul’s laying it down in front of you. He’s saying, ‘You want to know joy in this life? Go down. You want to know joy in this life? Go the way of humility. You want to know joy in this life? Embrace the humiliation of Christ. You want to know joy in this life? Be the servant of all. You want to know joy in this life? Go the way of the cross, because the way down is the way up; and the way to glory is the way of the cross. And what will it lead to? Joy! Glory! Exaltation!
And the Apostle Paul in verses 9-11 is just saying, ‘Let me show you what this looks like,’ and he tells you five things. (See why I’m…it’s just an overview, there’s so much here! It’s just an overview.)
He tells you first of all that there is going to be hyper-exaltation of Jesus Christ. He is going to be “highly exalted.” God is going to proclaim Him as above and before and over all. You remember the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:10 tells you that the whole purpose of God’s grand work of redemption is that the whole of everything would be brought under the headship of Jesus Christ; and here the Apostle Paul is picturing for you the day when that comes, when He is exalted above everything. He is hyper-exalted.
Secondly, you see the final coronation of Christ pointed to. Look again at verse 9:
“…And bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.”
Now there are two really amazing things going on here. One is we see here the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram. You remember in Genesis 12:2, whereas the people who tried to build the tower of Babel wanted to do – what? – “make a name for themselves”, in contrast to them and their sin, God says to Abram – what? – “I will give you a great name. I will make your name great.” And what the Apostle Paul is saying here is that Jesus himself has fulfilled all of the obligations of the covenant of grace that God has made with Abraham, and God has given Him not only a great name, but the greatest name, so that He has fulfilled the purposes of God in the covenant of grace promised to Abram eons ago.
But there’s another really interesting thing going on with that, as well, because every good Hebrew listening to this knew – what? Who alone has the name which is above every name? God! When the Apostle Paul announces that Jesus has the name which is above every name, what is that but a testimony to the sheer divinity of Christ and His equality with the heavenly Father?
Thirdly, again in verse 10, you see global adoration. So, not only hyper-exaltation and final coronation, but global adoration from sea to shining sea, “from earth’s wide bound to ocean’s farthest coast, stream through gates of pearl the countless host,” so that “at the name of Jesus Christ, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth.” That’s the Apostle Paul’s way of saying there are no knees left that aren’t bowing to Jesus!
Now again, there’s something glorious going on there. One is it’s a fulfillment of Psalm 110:1. You know how Derek is always telling us that, while we may have our favorite Psalms, but in the early church the favorite Psalms seem to be Psalm 110, Psalm 118, and Psalm 2. Why? Because they’re all about the exaltation of Christ. And Paul seems to be pointing us to Psalm 110:1 here.
But again, we also see what’s happening. When people bow the knee, what are they doing? They are worshiping. What does every Hebrew know? You only worship God. You only bow the knee to God. So if all the knees are bowing to Jesus, He must be [right!] God! Remember when John, in the book of Revelation, comes upon that angel, and he is so over-awed by this supernal being, this angel, that he falls on his face before him and he starts to worship? And the angel says, ‘Uh-uh-uh! John, don’t do that! Don’t do that! I’m just an angel. Only worship God.’ Here Paul’s saying every knee is going to bow; every knee is going to confess…everyone is going to worship Jesus, because He’s God!
And then, fourthly, in verses 10-11, there’s universal confession that every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that has Psalm 2:6-8 in its background. You remember when God says to His Son in Psalm 2, ‘Watch while I make Your enemies Your footstool,’ and then He sends this word of warning out to all the enemies…and what does He say? ‘Kiss the feet of My Son, lest His anger come upon you. Kiss, acknowledge, do homage to Him. Kiss His feet. Confess Him, because I am exalting Him above everyone.’
And again, in verses 10-11, the Apostle Paul says there will be an absolutely universal confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.
And then in verse 11, we finally see a fifth thing: Paternal glorification. Hyper-exaltation, final coronation, global adoration, universal confession, and Paternal glorification.
Will Jesus being crowned Lord of all take one iota of God the Father’s glory away? No! Because all that He does will be for the glory of His heavenly Father, and His enthronement, His exaltation, His being given the name which is above every name will only glorify His Father. Why? Because all the way back in the garden, Satan had said to Adam and Eve, ‘Your God is not worth living for. He is not the most glorious being in the universe.’ And he had repeated that lie to Job, and to all of God’s people in all of time. And now as Jesus Christ stands before a multitude that no man can number, from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, of all the people which He has redeemed according to the plan of His heavenly Father, He turns to His Father, and He says, ‘Father, I have displayed Your glory to the nations, so that the glory of Your mercy has been manifest in redemption to a countless multitude from every land, and they have acknowledged that You are worth living for, and that You’re more glorious than anything in the world.’
In other words, Jesus Christ has fulfilled the answer to the first question of The Shorter Catechism: He has glorified God, and enjoyed Him forever like no one else ever has, in His work of redemption. The Apostle Paul says, ‘Christian, that’s what happens when you choose the way of the cross, the way of humility, the way of humiliation, the way down. It’s going to be, in the end, the way up.’
I think you can see, just in outline, there is so much glorious practical stuff for us in the Christian life out of that passage.
I want to leave you with two thoughts. One is this passage reminds us why truth is for life. Isn’t it interesting? The Apostle Paul, when he wants to exhort you to be unified, to be humble, to be mutually helpful, he doesn’t tell you a bunch of cute stories. He tells you truth about Jesus! When he wants Christians to live in humility and unity and mutual helpfulness, he doesn’t call for a pep rally! He tells you truth about Jesus! And there are so many churches today that think that Christianity is a pep rally…and Paul is saying the gathering of the church is for God to speak truth into your lives. Why? So that you can have joy!
But not only that; it’s not just that truth is for life. Notice this: it’s that the biggest truth is for the simplest important practical thing in the Christian life.
The Apostle Paul wants these Christians to get along. He wants them to be humble, he wants them to be united, he wants them to be selfless, he wants them to be helpful. So what kind of truth would you give somebody like that? I mean, good grief! That’s the kind of stuff that you’re working on with, like, your kindergarten age kids. So what kind of truth would be appropriate for that? The Apostle Paul: ‘Let’s see…I think I’ll talk with them about the pre-existence of Christ, the incarnation of the Son, the humiliation of the cross, the exaltation of Christ to the right hand. Yeah. Those are simple practical truths to talk with them about, about this important mundane thing that they’re supposed to do in their common everyday Christian life.’
You see what the Apostle Paul is doing. He is showing you the applicability of the profoundest truths of the Bible…here, let me make up a word…the mundanest things that you’re called to in the Christian life. Why? Because he knows that sin is big, and so what does it need? It needs something bigger dropped on top of it! And so what does he do? He says, ‘You’ve got this little problem, pride? Selfishness? Division? Unhelpfulness? Lack of mutual living towards one another? Let me see. I think I’ll drop Mt. Everest on top of that!’ And he drops the Mt. Everest of the doctrine of the person and work of Christ right smack-dab on the top of your and my sin. Thank God. I need all the help I can get. He doesn’t give me a little doctrinal fly swatter…you know, “four tips on how to be a good friend”… “five principles on how to be a better parent”…he drops the doctrine of Christ right smack-dab on top of my sin. Why? Because I need all the help I can get in fighting pride and self-centeredness, and division.
And so the Apostle Paul is not only teaching you that truth is for life, and that doctrine is for practice, he’s teaching you that the most profound truth in all the Scripture is the most practical thing that you could possibly consider, so that every truth of Scripture is designed for your everlasting good and for God’s glory.
Now. Over the next few weeks we’ll unpack this great passage together. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. Give us the mind of Christ, we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let me ask you to take your hymnals out and turn with me to No. 644. This is virtually a theme hymn for Philippians 2:5-11 – May the Mind of Christ, My Savior – 644. Let’s sing it to God’s praise.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirits. Amen.
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