The Lord’s Day
February 3, 2008
Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility,
Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes
Understanding: A Study of Philippians
“The Exaltation of Christ”
Dr. J. Ligon
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Philippians 2. It has been our joy over the last number of weeks working
through this letter to pay very close attention to what some theologians and New
Testament scholars call “the song of Christ” or the “hymn to Christ” recorded
here in Philippians 2:5-11. We have been focusing especially on the section of
that song in which Paul sets out the humility and the humiliation of Jesus
Christ in verses 5-8. Today we’ll be looking at verses 9-11, in which Paul sets
out the exaltation of Christ. But we’re going to read the whole of the passage
so that we can remind ourselves of the whole of Paul’s argument.
Back in Philippians 1:27, Paul had said to us to
conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. He’s working out
what that means in the whole middle part of this letter, including the section
that we’re studying right now. His big point is that Christians ought to live a
life that fits the gospel: that is according to or is appropriate for a person
who has been saved by grace, who embraces Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior
of sinners, as Lord of life and Savior of our souls. And he has said in
Philippians 2:5 to us as Christians — and not simply to us as individual
Christians, but as Christians who live life together congregationally. That is,
Christians who recognize that we cannot go it alone, that we are not lone
rangers, that we need one another, that we are called to the Lord Jesus Christ
in a fellowship of belief in which we mutually love one another and care for one
another and submit to one another, and serve one another’s well being. And so in
Philippians 2:5, the Apostle Paul gives us congregationally this exhortation:
“Have this mind in yourselves…” [Express in your life and ministry together as a
Christian congregation] “…the mind which is yours in Christ Jesus.” [The same
mind that Jesus had.]
And what is that mind? Well, he explains that mind in
verses 5-11. It was a mind of humility and service that led Him to the lowest
depths of degradation, even death on a cross. And the Apostle Paul says, ‘Be
humble like that, brothers and sisters in the Christian congregation. Serve like
that in the Christian congregation. Be willing to give up all that you are and
all that you have for the glory of God, for the exaltation of Christ, and for
the well being of one another in the Christian congregation.’ That’s how we live
life befitting the gospel: a humble, willing, tangible, self-displacing service;
a gospel love to others; a service which is in the interest of others, and in
which the interests of others takes priority over our own interests; and in
which our service is rendered with humility. That’s what we’ve been studying
over and over and over again as we’ve slowly worked through this section on the
humiliation of Jesus Christ.
Well, we come to another part of this passage
today, and this part of the passage in verses 9-11 is about Christ’s exaltation.
Here’s the surprise: Paul’s teaching to us about Jesus’ exaltation is also to
help us in our humble service of one another.
That’s a little bit ironic, isn’t it? It’s not hard
for us to see how Paul’s teaching about Jesus’ humble service would help us in
our humble service, but it is not at first readily apparent that his teaching
about Jesus’ exaltation would help us in our humble service. But it does. And
that’s what we’re going to look at together today.
Now before we read God’s word, let’s look to Him in
prayer and ask for His help and blessing. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this Your word. It
is more necessary than food, for You did not create us to live by bread alone,
but by every word that proceeds from Your mouth. This Your word is profitable.
You mean it to build us up and to equip us for service. Since You have given it
to us to equip us for service, and since the Apostle Paul is exhorting us to
humble service, we pray that by Your Holy Spirit we would not only understand
what Paul is saying to us, but that we would so believe it as to obey it. This
will require the Holy Spirit because we don’t want to die to self, we want to
live for self. But You are calling us in Your word not to live for self, but to
live for Christ and to die to self. So by Your Holy Spirit grant that we would
do this, and thus be hearers and doers of Your truth. We pray in Jesus’ name.
Hear the word of the living God, beginning in
“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
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
What did Paul just say to us? Here’s what he said,
in a nutshell: Even Christ’s exaltation serves the interest of our growing in
humility and service, and has a view to our sanctification. What is Paul
talking about in this whole center section? You see it in verse 5; you see it in
verses 12-13. He’s talking about our sanctification; or, to explain that word in
language that we more frequently use, he’s talking about our growing up to
maturity as Christians. He’s talking about our becoming more like Jesus Christ.
He’s talking about how we ought to live as Christians, but theologians
sum up just with that word sanctification. That’s the technical
Paul’s talking about sanctification in this whole
passage: being more like Christ
That is, Christ’s total life, death, resurrection,
and exaltation provides for us the example of how we are to live, and is the
basis for our being able to live that way.
Now in particular, the Apostle Paul draws our
attention to four things in this passage. We could say more, but certainly
not less. Four things in particular that Paul draws our attention to in this
First, Paul shows us that Jesus’ exaltation brings
to our attention a different kind of exaltation in God’s kingdom. It’s very,
very different than the kind of exaltation that happens out there in the world.
There is lots of exaltation of people — appropriate and otherwise — that goes on
in our culture. But, appropriate or otherwise, Paul wants to show us that the
kind of exaltation that Jesus experienced (and especially the reason for Jesus’
exaltation in this passage) shows us that the exaltation that exists in God’s
kingdom is very, very different from the exaltation in the world. We need to
Secondly, Paul shows us here that because of
Jesus’ exaltation, we can be certain that God will reward humble service. We
live in a culture that pushes us to push ourselves forward, or else we won’t get
the recognition that we crave or deserve. And the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘I’m
going to ask you, Christian, to go against the flow and not do that as you live
and minister to and with one another. And when you do that, you’re going to
think, ‘I’m going to miss out on recognition. If I don’t push myself forward
like the culture does, if I don’t build up my resume and flash my credentials
everywhere, and keep saying ‘Hey! Look at me!’ I’m going to miss out.’’ And the
Apostle Paul is saying, ‘Don’t do that, Christian!’ He knows that he can’t just
say don’t do that, he’s got to give you some motivation; and so he says, ‘Let me
tell you this. When you do what Christ did, by the grace of the Holy Spirit at
work in you, though the world says you’re not going to be rewarded, you’re not
going to ever get what you deserve, God is going to reward and exalt you in a
way that the world could not. And Jesus is the proof.’ That’s why Paul’s telling
you what he tells you in verses 9-11.
Third, in this passage we learn that there is
salvation only in Jesus Christ. There is salvation only in Jesus Christ. In
fact, Paul, in the strongest possible way, affirms two things. One, that Jesus
Christ our Lord is in fact fully divine, and that the fullness of deity dwells
in Him in bodily form so that He is deserving of the worship of the living God.
And the Apostle Paul does that in verses 10-11 by quoting a glorious and
unmistakable declaration by God out of the book of Isaiah, which we’ll turn to
later today. But he does that to make clear two things: Jesus is God; and, Jesus
alone in this world has the name which is above every name, and therefore there
is salvation in Him alone and in no other.
But we also learn, fourth, that the only life
worth living not only brings us the only joy worth having and puts Jesus in His
place — the place of exaltation. First. The name above every name. But that, you
see does not take glory from God the Father, it does — what? Paul says at
the end of verse 11 it gives glory to God the Father. We want to look
briefly, if we can, at those four things together today.
I. There is a different kind of
exaltation in God’s kingdom.
First, Paul in this passage shows that there is a
different kind of exaltation in God’s kingdom than the exaltation that we see in
the world around us.
What does Paul say in Philippians 2:9? That “God
highly exalted Him.” Let’s not miss what he says: “Therefore God has
highly exalted Him.” Why? Because Jesus has taken upon himself a humble
servitude that leads Him all the way to death, even the death of the cross, in
which He willingly embraces degradation and dereliction, in which He willingly
embraces humiliation of the deepest and most unique sort. And because of this,
God highly exalts Him. And the Apostle Paul is drawing our attention there to
the fact that there is a different kind of exaltation in God’s kingdom.
We see human beings, appropriately or
inappropriately, exalted all the time around us, and usually it is because they
possess certain qualities that set them apart from other people. They may be
really smart, and so we praise them because they’re smarter than other people.
Or maybe they’re better students, they word hard. It’s not that their brain
cells are more blessed than somebody else’s brain cells, but they study really
hard. And we set them apart, we give them titles and we give them degrees, and
we give them honors for their academic prowess. And so through their efforts and
their native abilities, they are set apart. Or it may be that a person is
handsome or beautiful, and when they walk in the room everybody says, ‘Boy, that
person is more handsome [or more beautiful] than someone else.’ Or it may be
that a person is self-promotingly ambitious. They really work hard at promoting
themselves in the world, and so they are acclaimed, they are esteemed, they are
exalted before others.
The Apostle Paul is saying here to notice how Jesus,
who, in all of those categories, was more worthy than anyone who ever lived, did
not promote himself on that basis. And God did not exalt Him on that basis.
He exalted Him because He embraced humility, and He embraced servitude of
the deepest sort.
So in the kingdom it is not that beauty or wisdom or
knowledge, or influence or ambition or resources…it is not that these things in
and of themselves are bad, but they are not going to be the reason for
exaltation in the kingdom. So a smart person could exalt God in his or her
humility and service, or could exalt self. But what was going to cause that
person to be exalted in the kingdom would not be just the sheer possession of
brain power, intelligence, and good study habits. It would be how those things
were put to work in life: in humble service, or in self service; humble service
of others, or prideful advancement of self. And in this passage the Apostle Paul
is showing us those in the kingdom who serve are exalted; those who are humble
are great; those who are lowly are lifted up to the highest places; so that
Jesus, by His humble servitude, is exalted by God. He’s saying that we do things
in the kingdom totally different from the world around us. We esteem and
evaluate differently in the kingdom.
You know how in every organization there is somebody,
a man or a woman or a team of men and women, who quietly work behind the scenes
and they make things go. And every year when the big hoopla event for that
organization is held, for a few brief moments someone draws attention to the
work that they’ve quietly been doing all year long. And they embarrassedly sort
of step forward and acknowledge themselves and then scuddle back quickly out of
the view of everything. There’s somebody up front getting all the credit, but
for a few moments that person is pointed to that has been working really hard
for the sake of everyone. And the Apostle Paul is saying that in the kingdom
that person who is great–not necessarily the person out front who’s getting the
credit… In fact, if the person out front is thinking in the categories of the
kingdom, that person out front is quickly giving credit everywhere else. In the
kingdom, those who serve are exalted. Those who are humble are great. Those who
are lowly are lifted up to high places.
We were reading from Psalm 132 this morning, and in
that Psalm, God talks about the temple as His — what is the language that He
uses? It’s His footstool. You know, it’s the earthly place in the Old Testament
where God manifests His presence. But the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 66:2, tells
us that God, because He made the heavens and the earth, cannot be contained in a
temple; and that, ultimately speaking, the temple in terms of a building is not
And then God says, ‘You want to know where My
footstool is?’ And He tells you in Isaiah 66:2. You know where it is? “My
footstool,” He says…the place where I manifest My presence, the place
where I draw near and inhabit is what? The place where the humble dwell.
That’s My footstool. That’s My temple. That’s the person to whom I draw near.
That’s the house in which I dwell. It’s a humble house.
It’s not a surprise then, is it, that when Mary is
approached by the angel Gabriel and told that she will be the earthly mother of
the Son of God incarnate… [Can you imagine that task, ladies? I mean, it’s hard
enough raising boys. Can you imagine being the earthly mother of God’s unique,
His only begotten Son?] And not only does she respond…you remember how she
responds? “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” Behold the servant of the Lord.
Lord, if that’s what You want me to do, I’m here, Your humble servant, to do it.
But what else does she say? Luke 1:52. She says,
‘Isn’t that just like God?’ To do what? ‘To humble the proud, and to exalt the
lowly. Isn’t that just like God?’ And that’s what the Apostle Paul is saying.
When you look at Jesus’ exaltation, you are looking precisely at the economy of
God’s kingdom. It is those who in humble service have loved and cared for one
another in the body who will be exalted. And why does Paul share that with us?
To encourage us to this kind of selfless, self-giving, gospel-empowered,
grace-enabled love and care and service of one another.
II. God has given Jesus a
Secondly, notice that the Apostle Paul tells us
here that God has bestowed on Jesus a name. He has rewarded Jesus in His
humble service with a name.
Now I don’t have time to do justice to this theme,
but let me just make a few things quickly clear. Jesus has always been the
Son of God. Jesus did not become the Son of God for the first time in the
resurrection or in the ascension. Jesus has always been Lord. He has
always been the second person of the Trinity. There was never a time when He
wasn’t Lord, and then He became Lord. That’s not what the Apostle Paul is
saying here. He’s not saying that Jesus one time wasn’t Lord, and now He’s Lord.
Jesus has always been Lord, even as He has always been the Word of the Father.
It’s just that now in flesh He has appeared, and in His flesh He rendered such a
service that God publicly owned and acknowledged Him and pronounced Him to be
Lord. And Paul is telling us here God does this precisely because of what Jesus
has done in His humble service.
Now, that’s a mind-blowing thought! But it’s repeated
elsewhere in the New Testament. Remember when Jesus says those mind-blowing
words in John 10:17 — “The Father loves Me because…” [Now that ought to get your
attention! Jesus is getting ready to tell you “The Father loves Me because…”
What? “I lay down My life.”
Now is Jesus saying that’s the only reason that the
Father loves Him? No. That the Father hadn’t loved Him before He laid down His
life? No. But what is he saying? He’s saying that the Father takes a
peculiar delight in the fact that I, the Son, have willingly said I will lay
down My life as a ransom for many.
Or, in Hebrews 5:7, where we’re told that Jesus in
His life cried out to God with cries and tears on our behalf, at the end of the
verse what does it say? “He was heard because of His piety.” In other words,
God heard Jesus’ cries and sighs and tears for you because of His godliness.
Now let me ask you this. Was Jesus not godly before
He got here? Of course He was! But what the author of Hebrews is saying
is that God took delight in this willing, vicarious obedience which Jesus
accomplished for His people in all His life and ministry. He took note of it,
and He blessed and He rewarded it.
Why is Paul telling you that here in Philippians
2:9-11? Because he wants you to understand that you will not give a cup of water
in Jesus’ name to anyone in this world (especially to fellow
believers…especially to fellow believers in your own congregation) that He will
not reward. I think somebody once said that somewhere…. And Paul’s just driving
that point home. Jesus himself said that: You can’t give a cup of cold water in
My name that the Father won’t reward.
So when you think because you’re going the way of
Jesus Christ and you’re not pushing yourself forward and you’re not drawing
attention to yourself that you’re missing out on exaltation, God is saying, ‘Oh,
no! Oh, no! Nobody — nobody who in humble service ministers to the body
of My dear Son will not be rewarded. Look at My Son. I have given Him the name
which is above every name. Don’t think that I won’t reward you who have loved
and served Him.’
III. There is salvation only in
Third, the Apostle Paul tells us here that there
is salvation only in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God. There is no name in heaven
which is above His name, and He is the only one in whom there is salvation.
Listen to how he puts it:
“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….”
Now the Apostle Paul is drawing on a famous
passage from Isaiah when he says that about Jesus. Turn in your Bibles to
Isaiah 45:21-23. You’ve heard Derek preach about this passage before. This is
the passage from Isaiah 40-48 which has been called “Isaiah versus the gods,” in
which he shows the difference between the true God — the God of Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob; the one true God — and the false gods, the idols, the Baals, and all
the false gods of the world. And in this passage God is contrasting himself
to the false gods. And in verse 21, middle of the way through, he says,
“There is no other God besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides Me.”
Is God’s point clear? Yes. “I am the only true God.”
Now listen to what He says:
“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the
For I am
God, and there is no other.”
Is that clear? You want to be saved, you turn to Me.
Now listen to what He says:
By myself I have sworn;
“From My mouth has gone out in
a word that shall not return…”
[Here it is!]
“To Me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall give
Hmmm. Heard that somewhere before? Paul says that
that is true of Jesus. And in saying that that is true of Jesus, he’s
telling you two things:
One, Jesus is the very Son of God. In Him all
the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form. He is the Lord God of Israel.
And, he’s telling you that there is salvation only
in Jesus’ name. That is so important for us to understand, because
Christianity isn’t offering a seven-step program of how to get humble apart from
Jesus Christ. You can’t get humble apart from Jesus Christ. You can’t even begin
the road down the path towards humility apart from the gospel of our Lord Jesus
Christ. And so it’s so important for us to understand today: it’s good to want
to be humble, but there’s not a person in this room who can be humble apart from
the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Until you have humbled yourself before the
Lord, acknowledged your need, and then said, ‘I am not good enough. I must rest
and trust in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation,’ you’re not ready to start the
journey towards humility. And so the Apostle Paul is reminding us of that gospel
But notice that last little phrase.
IV. The only life worth living
not only brings us the only joy worth having and puts Jesus in His place — the
place of exaltation… First… The name above every name. And that does not take
glory from God the Father, but it gives glory to God the Father
There’s a fourth thing I want you to see here.
You might think that Jesus’ having the name which is above every name…you might
be thinking that Jesus’ having the name “Lord” (which is God’s Old Testament
name)…you might think that somehow that would take glory away from God the
Father. But the Apostle Paul says, ‘Oh, no. Not at all.’ Jesus’ having the name
which is above every name, Jesus’ having all the nations turning to Him for
salvation, Jesus’ having every knee bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord
actually does what? The Apostle Paul says at the end of verse 11 it gives glory
to God the Father.
It’s really mind blowing, isn’t it? Worshiping Christ
gives glory to God the Father. Now how does that relate to humility? Well, in
the end, the Apostle Paul says, Christ is going to be exalted above everything
else, and all glory is going to go to God. So let me ask you this question:
How much exaltation, how much glory is going to be left over for those who don’t
love and trust in God through Jesus Christ? Nothing. Nothing. So, if you want
exaltation, if you want reward, if you want blessing in the age to come, the age
that will not pass away, in the new heavens and the new earth, where is it going
to be found? Only in a personal faith relationship with God through faith in
Jesus Christ, because there’s going to be no glory left when all the glory is
given to God except the glory that He freely gives to His children in His Son.
For His children, there will be more and more to
spare, such that they will give the glory back to Him, they will pass their
crowns before Him. For those who are not His children, for those who have not
trusted in Him, there will not be one ounce of glory.
It’s the economy of the kingdom, you see. This world
says ‘Push yourself forward, because the first shall be first.’ And Paul
says, ‘Now let me tell you about the economy of the kingdom, where the first
shall be last and the last shall be first; and those who exalt themselves will
be abased, but those who are abased will be exalted. And those who are rich will
be made poor, but those who are poor will be made rich because the Lord Jesus,
although He was rich, became poor, that we might in Him become rich.
Lord God, grant that we would respond in belief to
Your word, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let’s take out our hymnals and turn to No. 295, and
give all the glory to God through Jesus.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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