One. His. (Part 2)
Read – Philippians 2:5-2:11
Key Verse – Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:5 NKJV).
Key Thought – In Christ’s emptying… the kenosis… we have the ultimate example of the singleness of mind Paul was encouraging on the Philippians.
In our previous study we learned of a secondary theme in Philippians – unity.
Paul moves now to describe the ultimate example of the unity… the “single mind” he longs for them (and us) to have, and that example is found in Jesus Christ. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:5 NKJV).
In my early studies for this series, I encountered comments mentioning the fact that Philippians is not in essence a doctrinal book. It contains more encouraging and practical words than doctrinal or theological truths. Yet here is an exception to that, for this passage is one of the most important, if not THE most important, passages to help us understand who Christ was and is, and what Christ did for us.
Charles Ryrie called Philippians 2:5-11 “the high mark of the epistle,” pointing out that “they convey in a few verses Paul’s conception of the uniqueness of the person and work of Christ.”^[Ryrie, Charles, “The Ryrie Study Bible”, p. 1685]
Not only that, but these verses give us a glimpse into what the very earliest church believed about Jesus Christ. This letter was written within a generation of Jesus having lived on earth, and yet even at that early time all these things were known and believed about Him – He existed before time began, was equal with God the Father, was born a man and lived a human life, died on the cross, triumphed over evil and will reign forever. This was the very earliest belief of the church. The earliest known creed of Christianity is contained herein – “Jesus Christ is Lord.” These few verses tell us as clearly as anyplace else in the Bible what the very beginnings of Christianity looked like. I like the way Boice worded it, “Christianity is Christ—this Christ. And these things were believed about him from the beginning.”(James Montgomery Boice, “Philippians: An Expositional Commentary” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 110.)
So, even seen at a high level like that the passage is interesting. But it’s as we dig deeper into the passage that it’s true riches are revealed. There is deep meaning in nearly every word here.
So let’s start digging and see what we can find.
Look first at verse 6.
who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God… (Philippians 2:6 NKJV).
Three vitally important points jump out at me from this verse.
First, notice the word “form”. Jesus was “in the form of God”. It is such an important word, for it tells us who Jesus really was and is… His very essence.
There was a day when Jesus took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi. Having visited Israel several times, I’ve gone to this very place and seen where He took them. It was a pagan place, where sensual sins of every kind were practiced and where idolatry flourished. When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16 NKJV).
I might ask you the same question today. “Who do you believe Jesus is?” Some would say He was a great teacher. Some would point to His wonderful moral example. Some might suggest He was the leader of a worldwide movement, who was martyred for His cause. But here in this verse we see why Peter could say with such assurance that Jesus was and is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
You see, the word translated “form” in our English Bibles is the Greek word MORPHE, which is used 3 times in the N.T., here in vss. 6,7 and in Mark 16:12 of the Lord appearing to the Emmaus Road disciples. It means “nature or character”, “visual form”, “outward appearance”, “form or shape.” The word denotes not only outer form and appearance, but also the essential character of a thing.
Christ being in the form of God means that He was God. “As one commentator said, Christ “possessed inwardly and displayed outwardly the very nature of God” himself.” (Boice) The New International Version translates the word that way – who, being in very nature God….
Ryrie wrote, “Christ is the same nature and essence as God.” (Charles Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible, p. 1685.)
The Jesus of the Bible is God. We must start with that reality or we are not looking at the Jesus of the Bible.
The Apostle John wrote, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:1-4 NKJV).
The writer to the Hebrews wrote, God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high… (Hebrews 1:1-3 NKJV).
Jesus Christ was and is God. He plainly asserted His deity on earth in ways that infuriated the religious leaders of the day, for His claims were not lost on them. Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God (John 5:18 NKJV). The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:33 NKJV).
If we are ever to understand who Jesus is, we have to start with this – he was and is from eternity past, God. Not just a good man, as so many think… not just a wonderful teacher, marvelous example, or even martyr who died for His cause. Jesus is God. This is the first thing we must understand about Him.
Second, notice that He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God (vs. 6). That phrase did not consider it robbery is important, even if in our King James Bible it might seem a bit hard to understand. Other translations help. The ESV translates vs. 6 – who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.The NLT translates it, though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
In other words, He was willing to give it up! He was willing to lay it aside!
One man said, “If anyone ever had the right to insist on his rights, it was the Lord Jesus. But his concern for others (those whom the Father had given him) was such that he refused to insist on his rights.” (Roger Ellsworth, “Opening up Philippians”, Opening Up Commentary (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2004), 37.)
There is one more vitally important thing to notice in vs. 6 and it’s that little 3-word phrase, equal with God.
What an amazing statement that is!
It requires no further explanation for all know what it means. To be equal with something is to be exactly the same as that something. “Jesus was equal with God” means that Jesus was exactly the same as God, which means that Jesus was God. Get it clear in your mind – Jesus is God’s equal. Cults and liberal theologians will try to water this down. But it cannot be watered down. What God is, Jesus is. Equal with God.
Now notice verses 7-8.
… but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man… (Philippians 2:7-8a NKJV).
Here we see the use of the word “form” again, and it tells us that Jesus, who had been, from eternity past, in very essence God, took upon Himself the very essence of a servant.
The previous verse taught that He was always God, but now in vs. 7 we learn that He became man. One commentator clarified, “The divine nature is without beginning. The human nature dates from the moment of his birth in Bethlehem.” (Boice)
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law… (Galatians 4:4 NKJV).
Who is Jesus? He was from eternity past, God. And He became man in the incarnation. He was as much God as God is, and He was as much man as any of us are.
He “made Himself of no reputation”. This is the phrase that gives us the theological name for this entire passage. Your study Bible may mention the fact that these verses inPhilippians describe the “kenosis” of Jesus, for that phrase “made Himself of no reputation” is a translation of the Greek word EKENOSE, from a root word KENOO. It means “to empty, render void, to empty oneself, to divest oneself of position.”
When Jesus, God Himself, became man, He emptied Himself.
Now this does not mean Jesus was any less God once He became man. It means that while He was on this earth, He voluntarily and temporarily chose not to make use of some aspects of His deity.
I think there might be a good illustration of this in the hymnal.
They bound the hands of Jesus in the garden where he pray
They led him through the street in shame
They spat upon the Saviour so pure and free from sin
They said crucify him he’s to blame
He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set him free
He could have called ten thousand angels but he died alone for you and me. (Overholt, Ray, “He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels”)
He could have, but chose not to… He could have, but voluntarily chose not to use that prerogative of His deity. That’s the kenosis, the emptying of Himself Paul referred to in vs. 7. He was still in every sense God, and could have called upon any tool in God’s tool chest. But while on earth, He chose to leave some of those tools in the box.
One man said, “He willingly left the riches of heaven to take on human poverty.” For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 NKJV)
“He took on unglorified human flesh which was subject to weakness, pain, temptation, and limitation. He voluntarily chose not to use his prerogatives of deity, such as his omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, to make his way easier. He wearied, travelled from one point to another, and grew in wisdom and knowledge. Thus, though he did not surrender his divine attributes, he willingly submitted to not exercising certain attributes of deity so that he could identify with man. As Walvoord writes, ‘The act of kenosis… may… be properly understood to mean that Christ surrendered no attribute of Deity, but that He did voluntarily restrict their independent use in keeping with His purpose of living among men and their limitations.'” (Thiessen, Henry Clarence, “Lectures in Systematic Theology”, p. 216.)
Do you see it? These short verses tell us so plainly who Jesus was and is. He was God, in every way that God is. And He became man in every way that man is. He was at the same time 100% God and 100% man. The God-man. Any other view of Jesus Christ is incorrect. Any other view of who He was and is is deficient.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NKJV)
For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; (Colossians 2:9 NKJV)
Now, a few words about the second half of verse 8.
He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8 NKJV).
It would have been an act of stupendous humility if the Lord Jesus had done nothing more than take to himself our humanity. But he did much, much more. In that humanity, he died. Dying itself would have been astonishing humility, but there is even more: his death was like no other. It was ‘the death of the cross.’
Of course, Jesus was not the only man who died on a cross. Many did. But no other death on a cross compared to his: there he became the sin-bearer for his people, standing in their place and receiving the wrath of God instead of them. The death of Christ was nothing less than Christ experiencing hell for his people so they would never have to experience that hell themselves.
Who can measure the gap between the throne and the cross? And who can plumb the depths of the love behind the cross, the love of God for sinners. (Ellsworth)
’Tis mystery all! The immortal dies!
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine
’Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more. (Wesley, Charles, “And Can It Be?”)
Finally, verses 9-10.
Simply put, because of what Christ was willing to do and did, God has exalted Him above all others.
He will reign forever.
Every knee will bow to Him. Angels… demons… men… women… great… small… leaders… slaves… ALL will bow to Jesus.
This truth was prophesied in Isaiah 45:23 – I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath. It was mentioned again in Romans 14:11 – For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God. And it was driven home here in Philippians.
“No intelligent being—whether angels and saints in heaven; people living on the earth; or Satan, demons, and the unsaved in hell—in all of God’s universe will escape. All will bow either willingly or they will be made to do so.”^[Bible Knowledge Commentary]
Pastor Phil Ross used to use the phrase “so what” a lot. He would talk about a passage of Scripture, and then say, “So what?” In other words, he was asking, does this have any relevance to you and to me?
Does it? This is an admittedly amazing passage of Scripture describing Jesus and His work, but does it apply in any practical way to me? To you?
Let me suggest a few applications, in no particular order:
If Jesus is God, then everything about Him is on a whole different plane.
There is no COEXISTing with other religions. There is no equivalence between Jesus and Buddha, or Mohammed, or any other religious figure. He stands infinitely above them all and is the One and only One with whom we have to do. Jesus said… “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6 NKJV). Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12 NKJV).
My friend, if you are trusting in anything but Jesus, you are deceived. There is nothing but Jesus… there is no one but Jesus. You need to cast aside every doubt and turn your eyes upon Jesus. He alone can save you.
If Jesus became man, then I’m reminded that He was and is willing to do anything for me… and for you.
Dwell on these few verses for a while… meditate on them… and see the depths of His love for you. It is beyond astonishing that anybody would love me that much.
I would love to tell you what I think of Jesus,
Since I found in Him a friend so strong and true;
I would tell you how He changed my life completely,
He did something that no other friend could do.
All my life was full of sin when Jesus found me,
All my heart was full of misery and woe;
Jesus placed His strong and loving arms about me,
And He led me in the way I ought to go.
No one ever cared for me like Jesus,
There’s no other friend so kind as He;
No one else could take the sin and darkness from me,
O how much He cared for me.
If Jesus has indeed been given THE NAME above all other names, and before whom all will bow, then I will bow to Him. And so will you.
You can bow now or later, but you will bow. You can bow in adoration and love or you can bow when an angel kicks your knees out from under you and forces you to the ground, but either way you will bow.
You will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. You can do it now in amazement and worship, and by doing so secure for yourself eternal life and forgiveness. Or you can do it when it’s too late… when the offer of salvation is no longer available… when you have waited too long and lost the opportunity… and are forced to say it in horror that it is true… was always true… and you blew it and missed out on it all. Either way you will say it.
Why not say it today… right now? Why not confess before you leave this place that Jesus Christ is Lord?
Jesus’ attitude… His mind… His SINGLE MINDEDNESS demonstrated in these verses is the example we must follow in living amongst one another. We are to emulate this mind of Christ. This is actually Paul’s entire point here. Everything Paul wrote here was to give us the example of how we should live and think – like Jesus did! This is the example to follow if we want to live out the hard instructions in vss. 3-4. Let Jesus’ example fuel our living without selfish ambition and without conceit. Let Jesus’ example show us just how far we are to go in esteeming others better than ourselves. Let His care of you and I above His own interests, remind us of the extent to which we are to do the same for one another.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:5 NKJV).