Now let me invite you please to take your copies of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2. Philippians chapter 2. If you’re using one of our church Bibles you’ll find that on page 980. Before we read the Word of God together let’s bow our heads and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit as we pray. Let’s pray.
O Lord, send us the Spirit of Christ to take Your holy Word and cause it to penetrate the distortions and lies and temptations and trials of the world that have besieged us in the week that is now gone, have calloused our hearts and often continue to preoccupy our attention. As we bow before You now, we pray that Your Spirit would work by the Word incisively, cutting through the calluses. Would You come and perform as it were heart surgery upon us by the ministry of the Word, drawing sinners to Christ, teaching us to hate worldliness and flee our own rebellion and remaining corruptions as Christians to obedience and dependence on Christ? And more than anything would You display the glories and beauties and excellencies and sufficiency of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray? Amen.
Philippians chapter 2, reading from verse 1 through verse 11. Hear the Word of Almighty God:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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 knees 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 we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.
Emulating the Humility of the Savior
Well this morning we are returning to our expositions in the letter of Paul to the Philippians. We’ve come to verses 5 to 11 of chapter 2. As you may remember, Paul has been calling the Philippian believers to unity and humility as they partner together with him as he puts it in 1:27, “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” And in the first four verses of chapter 2 he’s been pushing us to scrutinize our hearts, our attitudes, especially towards one another in the fellowship of the church to consider whether we are prepared to choose the servant posture. If you’ll remember when we dealt with those verses the image of the orchestra and the choir – not the choir director, the director of the orchestra being asked which was the hardest position in the orchestra to fill and the answer comes back “second violin.” First violin is easy to find; someone who’s prepared to play second violin is the hard spot to find and without second violin there’s no harmony. And Paul’s exhortation to us has been, “Are you prepared to play second violin? To choose the support role? To be the servant of your brothers and sisters for the sake of the greater harmony of the people of God?”
And the exhortations have been searching, challenging. Look at verses 1 to 4. Look at what he calls us to. “Be of the same mind, the same love; in full accord, of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit but in humility consider others better than ourselves, looking not only to own interests but to the interests of others.” Those are convicting words, aren’t they? And it is therefore a mark of the apostle’s extraordinary pastoral wisdom in verses 5 to 11, after having exhorted us so powerfully and plainly and piercingly that he immediately directs our gaze away from ourselves but to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is as though he comes to us and sees our heads going down as his exhortations begin to pierce our consciences and puts his hand under our chins and lifts our eyes and turns our attention to the one from whom the grace we need to begin to live like this proceeds. He points us to Jesus – “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Look at Jesus. And now we’re going to come back, God willing, to this passage next Lord’s Day Morning, verses 5 to 11, and we’ll look at it in a little more detail. Today, however, given that we are preparing to participate in the Lord’s Supper I want us to focus especially on verses 5 to 8 where Paul takes us to the cross, to the humiliations and sufferings of our Savior. Here is the embodiment and paragon and template of all the graces and characteristics Paul is seeking to produce in the lives of the Philippians for which he exhorts us in the opening four verses.
And as we look at these three verses or so, verses 5 to 8, I want you to notice three things about them with me. First of all there’s the pattern that Christ sets us here. Then secondly there’s the promise Christ establishes for us here. And then finally the praise that Christ requires from us here. The pattern, the promise, and the praise.
I. The Pattern that Christ sets
First of all, the pattern that Christ sets. Most of us, at least if you’re like me, you will learn by a combination of principles and examples and instruction and concrete modeling and examples of the kind of thing that we’re being asked to believe or live. We need both the exhortation and the example and that’s what we have here in 1 to4; we have the exhortations. In 5 to 8 we have the example as we look at the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ask Paul what it really means to do nothing from rivalry or conceit but in humility to count others as better than ourselves. What does it look like, Paul, in concrete terms to look not only to our own interest but also to the interests of others? Ask Paul that question, this would be his answer – “Though Jesus was in the form God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but he emptied himself, he made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, being found in human form he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” That’s what it means to be selfless and servant hearted. Christ is the embodiment of the exhortations of verses 1 to 4. He sets the pattern. “The mind we are to have among ourselves,” verse 5, is the mind we see in Christ, the attitude He displays in these verses. If we are to be like Jesus we do need to pay attention to the pattern set by Jesus.
And look at the language Paul uses here. Jesus, he says, is God. His form, verse 6, is the form of God. The contours of His being describe perfectly the contours of omnipotent deity. And this is what He always was. He was in the form God and yet we learn His essential equality with the Father was not something He jealously guards as though afraid that at any moment it might slip like sand through His fingers. Instead, in the security of His perfect equality with the Father in the bonds of the Spirit in the unity of the blessed Trinity, God the Son makes Himself nothing. That’s the language; actually it’s not a great translation. You may know the translation really is, “He emptied Himself.” Dramatic way to speak about utter self-abnegation for the sake of others. It doesn’t mean, of course, that He empties Himself or divests Himself of deity; not at all. It means that He adds humanity to deity in the unity of His person.
We have to try to grasp the enormity of what that means for a moment. It is impossible, really, the union of two natures in Christ’s one person, but we ought to ponder this glorious mystery. Think of it. The infinite, eternal, unchangeable God, with the full array of His divine attributes – His wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth – coequal, coeternal with the Father and with the Spirit, immovable, immutable, unchangeable, impassible, all-knowing, all-seeing, everywhere present God the Son takes into union with His divine nature humanity, human nature. God is the unchanging sovereign. What is a man but a finite and changeable subject? While God is the impassible, undying Lord, what is a man? He grows weary, he weeps, he bleeds, he dies. While God is all His attributes so that He can’t be anything but perfect glory, perfect beauty, perfect power what about a man? A man can be ignored, rejected, despised, without any form or comeliness that we should desire him. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; one who we might esteem stricken and smitten by God from whom men hide their faces, without any of the trappings of power or the insignia of majesty. While God is without body parts or passions, a man can have nails driven into his hands and feet and a spear thrust into his side. While God must always reign from the throne of glory, a man can lie dead in a tomb. And so to deity is added humanity. In all that that means, without for a moment stripping Himself of a single attribute of the Godhead of His divine glory and majesty, nevertheless Christ embraced all the attributes of a man, and not just any man.
Discipleship: A Call to Come and Die
Look at verse 7 – the lowest and the least of men, He takes the form of a servant, a dulos, a slave. A slave! God the Son takes the form of a slave. And God the Lawgiver, verse 8, becomes obedient and submits Himself to the brutality of an unjust magistrate and the lawlessness of wicked men, becomes obedient to death. And what a death – reserved only for slaves and criminals. God enfleshed is crucified. He dies. The One who is the Word, who was with God and who was God, by whom all things were made, without whom nothing was made that has been made, in Him was life and the life was the light of men – and He dies at the hands of His creatures! And all this He chose. He humbled Himself. He chose it! He embraced it. He opted for it…for you. The filth of our sin, the full horror and ugliness of our condemnation, bearing down on Him as the Father poured out His white-hot wrath on His Son instead of us, instead of us. That is, is it not, the supreme demonstration of selfless humility and love. “Greater love has no man than this, than that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends,” He said to His disciples. Nothing reserved, nothing kept back, nothing out of bounds.
And this is the pattern to which we are, all of us, being called to conform our lives. “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ.” And this is what it looks like. Nothing reserved for self, surrendering all for the glory of your Savior and the good of your brothers and sisters. That’s what Paul is calling you to. It is a radical and complete picture of utter self-sacrifice and there can be no moderation or degrees acceptable in it. This is a call to an unbalanced life of absolute, sold out, unreserved surrender to the will and Word of God. Moderate obedience is another word for disobedience. Lukewarm Christianity is not acceptable. Christ will vomit it from His mouth as something despicable. “If anyone would come after me,” He said to His disciples – what? “Take it easy; don’t overdo it. We wouldn’t want you to exert yourself too much.” “If anyone would come after me, let him pick up his cross and follow me.” This is a call to come and die. That’s what it means to be a disciple – the complete possession of your life by Christ for His own ends. The pattern that Christ sets.
II. The Promise that Christ establishes
Then secondly notice the promise that He establishes. Look at verse 5 again. “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ.” Paul isn’t simply saying, “Let me tell you what the mind of Christ is like and then let me exhort you to do what it takes as far as you are able, resting on the help of the Holy Spirit to become more like that.” He is saying that but he’s saying much more. He says, “This mind to which you must conform the pattern of your life is yours; it is your birthright. It has been made out to you in Christ. If you are in Christ, this is not only the pattern to which you must aspire but the pattern and template into which God is conforming you by His gracious Spirit and through the means of grace.
As most of you know, I’ve just come back from two weeks of vacation in Scotland. It was a wonderful trip; thank you for your prayers. I’m very glad to be home, however. I’ve missed you. One of the things, though, I was really looking forward to about getting back to Scotland was being understood. Why are you laughing? In case you hadn’t noticed, I have a little bit of an accent and people will sometimes remark on it here. I tell them I’m from Alabama! So you can imagine my distress – I get back to Scotland at last and people tell me I sound like an American! Now here’s my point. Where you live changes you – how you sound, how you act, how you behave. Your country changes you. When you live in a new country you’re a new person; it changes you. Paul is saying if you’re a Christian you are, you now live in a new country. You live in Christ. He is your new environment and it changes you. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come.”
In Christ: The Heart of New Creation
If you’re in Christ it changes you. It changes you so that you become more and more like this. This mind that you are to have, we are to have among ourselves, is ours in Christ, in union with Christ. It’s a promise and we ought to take great comfort from that promise because as I look at myself I see how far short I yet fall from conformity to the pattern set by my Master. And it’s easy to grow weary in well doing, isn’t it? To become discouraged that there remains so much yet of my own native corruption, so much sin still to slay, so little progress that has yet been made? But Paul says, “No, no, this mind is yours in Christ. He is at work in you to will and to do for His good pleasure. You are being transformed from glory to glory into His image by the Lord who is the Spirit.”
It also means, if I can press the point a little further, that the renovation of your life at the deepest level of who you are, only happens in union with Christ. There is no Christianity, there is no godliness, there is no obedience that pleases God outside of Christ. Your religion, your morality, is as damnable as your rebellion if it is not the fruit of union with Christ. Are you in Christ? Is He the new country you have come to dwell within, changing you? Before we are to aspire to be like Him we must first aspire to be in Him. And so let me exhort you to come trusting in Christ. You access union with the Savior by simple faith, trusting His work in your place as your representative and your substitute, dying for you, obeying for you, paying for you. And as you rest on Him and cling to Him you enter into union with Him by the grace of God and everything changes. Are you in Christ?
III. The Praise that Christ requires
The pattern Christ sets, the promise Christ establishes, finally and briefly, the praise Christ requires. Notice how this – really scholars think it was a hymn that Paul may well be quoting here. Isn’t that remarkable? It’s rich theology. It’s a hymn of praise to Christ. Notice how it concludes. “Every tongue confessing Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” These are the twin fruits of union with Christ – consecration of life and the adoration of your lips. They go together. A Christian that does not sing is a contradiction in terms. We have more reason to sing than anyone, don’t we? Look what Christ has done, how you are beloved! I think Paul would ask a Christian that does not sing whether they have lingered long enough yet at Calvary. “How can you not sing?” would be his question. How can you not say with Wesley, “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise! The glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace”? And mere lip service will not do either. He wants your praise. If you are in Christ you must sing, not because you sound good. If you’ve ever stood close to me in a worship service you’ll know that’s not the reason that I sing. We are to sing because Christ died to make us worshipers, but mere lip service will not do. There must also be the consecration of our lives. He wants us to aspire to holiness. Those are the twin evidences that you are a man or a woman in Christ. Will you surrender your life for the honor and glory of the One who surrendered His all for you? And will you devote yourself to being to the praise of the glory of His grace and singing His praise as you take in the wonders of His grace?
Let’s pray together.
Father, thank You for Jesus, for His atoning work that He has purchased for Himself a people from every tribe and language and nation, that He is our new environment, as it were – we have come to live in Him. We pray that You would conform us, therefore, to His likeness and help us to sing with more than lip service but with the adoration of our hearts and the whole-hearted consecration of our lives, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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