Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians: Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians (24): The Emptying of Christ

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on January 6, 2008

Philippians 2:7

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The Lord’s Day

January 6, 2008

Philippians 2:7

“The Emptying of Christ”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Philippians 2, as we continue our study…as we pick up our study in this
great letter: Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility,

Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes
today, looking at the subject of the emptying of Christ.

As you’re turning to Philippians
2, I do want to remind you that in the next Lord’s Day we will have the
privilege of communing together around the Lord’s Table, and it would be
appropriate for us to be preparing our hearts even today, looking forward to
that means of grace in which God shows us His love for us and the provision of
our salvation in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Now it’s been over a month and a half since we’ve
been in this book, and if you will indulge me, I want to remind you of where we
were when we left off. We were actually in Philippians 2:6 the last time we were
in this book. Our focus today is going to be on verse 7, but it would probably
help us to go all the way back to Philippians 1:27 for just a moment to remind
ourselves that in that verse we come to the first major exhortation of this
letter — an exhortation that launches us into the theme that covers the whole
center section of the letter of the Philippians; and that theme is holiness:
living a holy life as disciples of Jesus Christ. That first exhortation that we
encounter in Philippians 1:27, 28 is simply this: to live a life that fits the
gospel. It is in fact the theme of the entire middle section of this letter, the
call to holy conduct, to distinctive Christian living. And that theme, announced
in Philippians 1:27, carries on all the way to Philippians 2:18, and it provides
the logic for why the passage that we’re studying now is where it is.

Have you ever wondered why, in the middle of this
exhortation to live a holy life, that the Apostle Paul pauses in Philippians
2:5-11 to tell you about the humiliation of Christ and the exaltation of Christ?
Well, there’s a reason, and you see the reason not only in the exhortation of
Philippians 1:27, 28, but in the exhortation of Philippians 2:5.

The Apostle Paul is calling us to holy conduct, and
he’s calling us to holy conduct congregationally. It’s very important for us to
understand that though Paul’s exhortation to us here is individually applicable,
it cannot be fulfilled individually. It can only be fulfilled congregationally.
The Apostle Paul isn’t just calling on you, Christian, individually to pursue
holiness in conduct; he is asking you to pursue Christ-likeness
congregationally, to live together in Christ-like humility and service in
preference of others. And so the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:5 specifically
exhorts us to have the mind of Christ.

Now any believer in his own right mind would
immediately say to the Apostle Paul, “What do you mean, Paul? What does it mean
for me to have the mind of Christ? What does it mean to have the attitude of
Christ as I live with my fellow believers?” And the Apostle Paul is waiting for
you when you ask him that question, and he says, ‘I’m glad you asked me that
question. Let me explain.’ And Philippians 2:6-11 is his illustration to explain
what he means when he asks you to have the mind of Christ.

Now you will remember (if you’ve allowed yourself to
peek back to Philippians 1:27, 28) that the apostle’s exhortation to us to live
a life that fits the gospel comes in a context where the Apostle Paul very
plainly acknowledges that this life is filled with all kinds of trouble, trials,
and opposition. And it comes in a context in which the Apostle Paul is saying to
you as a Christian individually and congregationally that his desire for you is
not simply to grit your teeth and bear it, but to actually live a life in the
midst of those trials, tribulations and oppositions… a life that is
characterized by gospel joy.

Now how is it that Paul says that you are going to be
able to do that? How is it that you are going to be able to experience and
express the God-intended gospel joy in the congregation of believers? It’s only
going to happen when you live together in humility, he says. And if you’re going
to live together in humility, you are going to have to imitate — you are going
to have to emulate — the Lord Jesus Christ, who himself is the paragon,
is the ultimate example of gospel humility. And so he points us to that
humiliation that displays Jesus’ humility in Philippians 2:5-11.
You’ll remember that we said that this Christ-hymn is divided into
three parts.
There is the exhortation in verse 5 — what’s that
exhortation? It’s the exhortation that congregationally we would embrace the
attitude, the outlook, the mind of Christ. Then comes his description of Jesus’
humiliation in verses 6-8. What was Jesus’ mind? What was His attitude?
It is seen in the humiliation that He willingly embraced. His humility was
manifest in His self-abasement, in His servitude, in His condescension, in His
humiliation: culminating in the embrace of ultimate shame.

And then in verses 9-11, the Apostle Paul shows
you Christ’s exaltation.
What was the consequence of His humiliation?
Joy…glory and joy, as Christ was highly exalted by the heavenly Father and given
the name which is above every name. And so the Apostle Paul is pointing you to
this example of Jesus in Philippians 2:5-11 in order to show you what it means
to have this mind which is in Christ Jesus.

Now there’s a sense in which the whole story of
the modern Western world can be summed up in the opposite of the exhortation
that the Apostle Paul gives here
. For many hundreds of years, you could
characterize our culture and the culture that lies under it and has gone before
it as a quest for self-importance and equality. We want to be important, and we
want to be as important as the next guy, and we want to be thought of as equal
with everyone else (even if we’re not). We want to be thought highly of, we want
to be satisfied, we want to go for the gusto and grab all that we can get in
this life, and we want our fair share. It’s about standing on our rights. It’s
about getting what we deserve. It’s about getting ahead. It’s about up, up, up,
up in whatever area of life it is — money, power, influence, social respect.
That’s the theme of modern Western culture.

And the Apostle Paul is saying to us here in
Philippians 2:5-11 that our salvation was accomplished by a man who refused to
hang on to the equality that He rightly had with God, and that our salvation
consists in His voluntarily laying aside His equality, and that has huge
implications for our lives. We want to be loved, and we want to be understood,
and we want to be comforted, and we want to be thought highly of, and we want to
be esteemed. And the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘Christian, if you’re going to
follow Jesus — if you’re going to be like Jesus, and that’s what I’m exhorting
you to be, to be like Christ, to have the mind in you which was in Christ Jesus
— if you’re going to follow Jesus and you’re going to adopt His mind, then your
first order of business is not to be being loved and understood and comforted,
and being esteemed; it’s going to be loving others and understanding others, and
comforting others, and respecting others and esteeming others.

The Apostle Paul is saying ‘I know what it is that
you want in your heart of hearts. God knows what you want in your heart of
hearts. But you’re not going to experience what God wants you to have until you
give up the quest of “you first” and you start thinking about God’s glory, the
example of Christ, and the needs of others, and you start being concerned more
about loving and understanding and comforting and respecting others than being
loved and understood and being comforted and esteemed.’

This is radical stuff that the Apostle Paul is
saying. This is not stuff that you find in the books that are the
best-sellers on the airport book stalls.
These are not the messages that
you’re hearing preached by the most popular TV and radio preachers today. This
is not the kind of message we want to hear. We want to hear that it’s all about
us, and it’s happiness now and our way, and quick! And the Apostle Paul is
saying something very different here. He’s saying that instead of following in
this inexorable progress of up, up, up, he’s inviting us to join Jesus Christ in
going down, down, down. And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Yes, I know you don’t
want to be offended, and you don’t want to be mistreated, and you don’t want to
be isolated. But I want you to understand that the Lord Jesus Christ embraced
all of these things for you. He took on your offense willingly; He bore your
mistreatment willingly; He was isolated from everything that He held dear,
willingly, for you. Won’t you join Him? For His glory? For the well-being of
others? And for your everlasting gospel joy?’

Now what the Apostle Paul has to say to us in this
passage is radical in the extreme. We’re going to continue looking at that
message together today.
Now I want to encourage you that our goal (having
given that relatively long introduction) is fairly simple this morning. I want
to draw your attention to two things, so let’s look to God’s word in Philippians
2:5-7, and before we read them, let’s pray.

Our heavenly Father, we need Your help as we come
to hear Your word this morning, not because these words are so hard to
understand that we need to have some sort of an advanced degree to comprehend
them. They’re not hard to understand. They’re crystal clear, but they are
really, really hard to believe and embrace and to live. It’s easy to say these
things, Lord, and it’s easy to comprehend these things, but they cut against the
grain of everything that the world is telling us in our own tendency to serve
self first and to promote our own well-being, and to protect ourselves before we
care for others. So by Your Spirit, we need Your help to understand and believe
and embrace and live these words. And we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This is the word of God:

“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.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

This morning I want to look with you at two
things, two little-big things: Jesus’ self- emptying, and yours.
passage tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ emptied himself, and I want us to
look and understand what it means and what it doesn’t mean…that He emptied
himself. And then I want us to look and understand what Paul means by saying
that we too ought to empty ourselves…and understand what that doesn’t mean and
what it means, because the Apostle Paul is saying something quite extraordinary
here. He’s saying Jesus’ self-emptying is our pattern for life.

Now I want to say at the very outset, if you are here
today and you are not resting on the grace of God offered to you in the gospel
in Jesus Christ, if you are not trusting in Christ alone for your salvation,
these words are impossible for you to embrace, and if you embrace these words as
your way of trying to be right with God, your destination is certain: hell.
Because no one could live up to this in such a way as to save themselves and to
present themselves worthy and acceptable before God. In fact, when believers who
are resting and trusting on the grace alone for salvation as He is offered in
the gospel hear these words, we shudder at the awesome challenge that the
Apostle Paul is giving us here. He’s pointing us to Jesus Christ. He’s pointing
us to His matchless person and work, and he’s saying ‘You see what Jesus did for
you in saving you? Well, by it He has not only saved you, He has given you a
pattern of life which He expects you to follow as His disciples.’ And these
words overwhelm us! So don’t think that Paul is telling you the way to be saved,
because if this is the way you get saved, nobody’s saved! If this is the way you
get to heaven, God’s going to be there by himself. It’s not what Paul is talking

Paul is talking to people who have been changed by
the Holy Spirit, who have been transformed by the grace of God, who realize that
their good is not good enough and only Jesus Christ can save them from their
sins. And now Paul is telling them how God intends for them to live, and he’s
saying that Jesus’ pattern of self-emptying is our pattern for life as

I. Jesus’ self-emptying.

So let’s look at those two things: Jesus’
self-emptying, and ours.

First, Jesus’ self-emptying. And what I want you to see
here is what Jesus’ self-emptying did not entail, and what it did entail; w
Jesus’ self-emptying doesn’t mean, and what it means; what Jesus’ self-emptying
did not involve, and what it involved.

Many people have come to this passage and they
have decided that what Paul is saying is that Jesus somehow emptied himself of
His deity.
He somehow set aside essential attributes of His person. Very
often this view is held by those who want to get rid of the deity of Christ so
that they don’t have to believe what He teaches about the Bible. And you can
say, well, Jesus set aside His deity, so He didn’t understand everything, and
therefore some of the things that He said were wrong, and that means that some
of the opinions that He held about the Bible were wrong, and we can come to our
own conclusions — conclusions different from and contradictory to His. But
whatever their motivations, you understand that this misses the point. It
obviously misses the point of what the Apostle Paul is saying here, first of all
because he has just said that Jesus exists in the very form of God, that all
that is essential to deity (verse 6) is in Christ. It’s like the other passage
in which the New Testament Scripture tells you that all the fullness of deity
dwells in Him in bodily form. It’s what Paul is affirming in Ephesians 2:6, so
he’s clearly not saying when he says that Jesus emptied himself, when he says
that Jesus made himself nothing, that He divested himself of His divinity, that
He evacuated himself of deity — that He ceased to be the divine person that He

And the second way you can see this — and look at it
very closely. Look at verse 7. He says this: “He made himself nothing, taking….”
Did you catch that? Isn’t that a strange thing to say? “He made himself nothing,
taking….” Jesus’ self-emptying, Jesus’ making himself nothing, Jesus’ emptying
of himself, Jesus’ making himself “of no reputation” as the King James Version
so beautifully put it, is not a matter of subtracting something from His person,
but taking onto himself servanthood. Did you hear it? “He made himself nothing,
taking….” This was not a subtraction of His person; it was subtraction by

The church fathers used to say of Jesus, speaking of
His divinity and His humanity all in one person, that “He became what He was
not, without ceasing to be what He was.” That is, that He took on himself our
humanity without ceasing to be the fully divine person that He had always been,
so that in His person humanity and divinity perfectly and wholly dwelled
together in His one divine person. And that point that’s made about the person
of Christ can be applied to this passage, as well. The Apostle Paul is saying
that the emptying that Jesus did was not an evacuating of the attributes of His
person, it was the taking on of this servitude, this role, this form, this
practice, this attitude, this posture of a servant. He emptied himself, taking….
There was an addition to what He was, by which He manifest true humility.

Now that has very important ramifications for
understanding what it means for us to follow Jesus’ pattern, and so let me
hasten on to that very point. If Jesus’ self-emptying did not entail His setting
aside the essential attributes of His person, but consisted in His taking on
this servitude, this form of a servant, for our sake and for our salvation, what
does our self-emptying entail and what does it not entail?

II. Our self-emptying.

It’s important for us to address this
question, because many Christians, many fine Christians, get the heebie-jeebies
when they start hearing the Apostle Paul make this kind of exhortation to
servanthood. They immediately start thinking, “This will make me a doormat! I’ll
be a doormat! People will walk all over me…Type-A personalities all over the
world will come to me like a magnet, and I’ll be flat on the floor if I do this.
This just won’t work. It’s not practical.” And, on the other hand, there are
timorous persons out there who are around and in relationships with people who
are self-destructive, who want to do what they want to do, no matter whether
it’s destroying them and other people around them. And they think, “Does this
mean that if I’m going to be a servant that I’ve got to let them do that?” And
they get scared. And they say, “This will be bad for you; if you follow this
exhortation from the Apostle Paul, there is disaster waiting!” No, no! Because
our self-emptying does not mean that we become doormats or enablers. No, it
means that, confident in who you are in Christ and joyfully delighted in the
knowledge of what God has made you for, and motivated by the life of your
Savior, you refuse to live merely for the purpose of self-protection and
self-advancement, and you serve others for God’s glory, for Christ’s sake,
according to Christ’s example, looking out for their best interests, knowing
that there is glory and reward to come. And that is very different than being
ruled by the wishes and whims and wills of either dominant Type-A personalities,
or by those who are self-destructive.

You see, your motivation is entirely different. In
your relationship with everyone, your goal is not self-advancement and
self-protection, because in light of what Paul says in Philippians 2:9-11, you
don’t need to protect yourself or advance yourself. Your advancement has already
been planned from eternity past by your loving heavenly Father, and you will be
exalted in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And when every knee bows and every
tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, you will be united to Him, and
everything that is His will be yours, as it is now in Christ Jesus. So your
actions in relation to other people are not designed to protect yourself or to
advance yourself; they’re designed to glorify God and to look out for the best
interests of others. You’ve just been freed from either being subservient to the
whims of dominant Type-A personalities, or to the wishes and desires of
self-destructive people. It’s strength manifest in weakness, but it’s not
weakness. It’s strength that says in some cases to that dominant personality,
“No.” Not because you’re looking out for No. 1 (because the world’s telling you
that you need to look out for No. 1), but because you know that you’re not No.
1, but that No. 1 has so provided for you that you can have a strong, serving
strength in the way you relate to other people. And you can give them what they
need, not what they want.

It’s the same thing with the self-destructive person.
You can say to that person who wants you to allow him or her to continue in ways
that are destroying him or her, and you and others as well, and you can say
“no.” Not because you’re serving yourself, but because you know who you are in
Christ, and because you get your marching orders not by being accepted by the
world around you, but because you are accepted in Christ Jesus, and you have
deliberately chosen to go the way of His humiliation, so that in every choice
you are making, you are making that choice for God’s glory and the well-being of
others, rather than in your own self-advancement. And in a sense, you’re still
looking out for No. 1; it’s just that No. 1’s identity has changed. You
recognize that you’re not No. 1; you recognize that God is No. 1. And so you’re
looking out for No. 1, but No. 1 is not you. You’re looking out for God’s glory,
because God is already looking out for you, and it allows you to manifest a
tender power, a serving strength towards others.

And the Apostle Paul is saying to us that if we are
going to manifest the mind of Christ, then in our life in this community,
whether it’s in our work, in our lives together in our families, in our life
together as a congregation, we are going to manifest this kind of strength in
weakness, this kind of humble exercise of strength and power, for the well-being
of others, in the imitation of Christ.

Now the implications and applications of that are
radical and manifold, and that’s why we’re taking our time working through this
passage together, because there is so much to learn. And we’re going to come
back to this next week, and in the following verse to see this fleshed out in
our daily lives. But I want to challenge you in the days and hours to come to
reflect on how God would have you empty yourself.

Let’s pray.

Our heavenly Father, as we hear this exhortation
from the Apostle Paul, we quickly acknowledge that in our own strength it is
impossible for us to obey this command; not because this command is too hard to
understand, but because this command cuts against the deepest instincts of our
sinful flesh. And so we quickly acknowledge that we need the grace of Your Holy
Spirit if we’re going to live this way. For this congregation, O God, I pray
that in the year to come that we would as individuals in work, in families, and
in the congregation, love and serve one another with a self-emptying humility in
such a way that the world sees Your grace and power and glorifies Christ; in
such a way that those who don’t believe in Christ come to believe in Him; in
such a way that those who do believe in Christ are built up in grace, and we are
conformed to Him whose mind we are to have. We pray this prayer in humble
dependence upon Your Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Let’s continue to pray, and let’s pray using No. 644.
We’ll sing the first and the fourth stanzas as a prayer to God.

[Congregation sings:

“May the mind of Christ my
Savior live in me from day to day,

By His love and power
controlling all I do and say.

“May the love of Jesus fill me
as the waters fill the sea;

Him exalting, self abasing, this
is victory.”]

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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