This is one of the most magnificent texts in the Bible and countless sermons have been preached from it. It has been most popular, perhaps, as an apologetics piece to argue the case for the divinity of the Saviour, and it certainly does make that case compellingly.
Philip.2: 6 speaks of his life in eternities past, telling us Jesus was and is “in very nature God,”the NIV capturing particularly well the meaning of the text.
Philip.2: 7 refers to his birth, how he emptied himself and became a man. He didn't stop being God but emptied himself of his glory, made himself of no reputation.
Philip.2: 8 speaks of his being humbled even to the extent of dying a shameful death
Philip.2:99 tells us of his resurrection
Philip.2:10-11 tells us of his exalted position in eternities to come
The case for his deity is well made here, where he is described as being “in very nature God”; as being given “the name that is above all names.” Name here meaning not simply a title but a reputation, an indication of his person and character, and that name is the name of God. And we are told that at his name “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” This refers back to what God says of himself in Isaiah 45:22-24.
But this text is not arguing a case, it is affirming a truth already accepted by Christians:
Jesus Christ is Lord!
Paul writes in his letter to believers in Colossae, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your heart to God.” (Col.3:16)
This passage in Philippians 2 is probably a hymn, or part of a hymn, and dates back to within thirty years of Jesus' execution. This is what the earliest Christians believed. It was possibly used as a creed to teach new Christians some foundational facts of the Christian faith and may have been used at baptism and communion services. If you are a new Christian, a young Christian, you would benefit from reading and thinking about these eleven verses, in your devotions, and in your prayers.
In our NIV it helpfully comes in six stanzas of three verses each indicating its creedal form, its hymnal nature. These New Testament letters would have been read aloud in the congregation and this text may well have been repeated by a congregation as a confession. So Paul is appealing to what Christians already know and understand to be true and urging us to live it out with Christ as our model.
The key verse for our understanding is verse 5 - “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” or “Think the same way that Christ Jesus did.”
Thinking is imperative to the Christian life. Paul reminds us in his letter to Rome that the Christian life is a life transformed by the renewing of your mind (Ro.12:2) where he goes on to write about discernment. In a world that lays such store by feelings this is a clarion call to be intelligent about our faith. Later on in Philippians he writes:
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philip.4:8)
Another way of putting it is, be like Christ even in your very thought life! Paul is making clear that theology (thinking) and Christian living (doing) belong together. James urges us, “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)
What does that 'doing' look like?
In Colossians 3 there is a passage headed in the NIV, Rules for Holy Living. In the ESV it is headed, Put On the New Self. This passage begins with these wonderful words:
“Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col.3:1-4)
It begins with being united with Christ, raised with him. It is in our being united with Christ that our hearts and minds are set on things above. It is in this way that we know the encouragement of his fellowship, the comfort of his love, the fellowship of his Spirit that Paul writes about to the Philippians. If we are united with Christ, Paul is saying, we will think the way Christ thinks, and this will lead to our practising our faith by being one in spirit and purpose (Philip.2:2)
This is not a call to be some bland, homogeneous crowd, not a blind uniformity. It means being united even as we hold different views. Differences that exist because of our imperfect understanding shouldn't rob us of our unity in Christ.
This unity is achieved, Paul tells us, by considering others better than ourselves, looking to the interests of others. Paul is writing against any party spirit in the church, urging us to achieve unity by means of humility with Jesus as our great example.
The Old Adam and The New
There is a parallel here with Adam, the man who sought to be like God. Jesus is God yet didn't grasp his glory but humbled himself, making himself nothing, a servant. Paul explains in his letter to the Romans that man is sinful because he is “in Adam,” that is, has inherited sin and death from Adam, his head. But in Christ we have new life and he becomes our head (Ro.5:12-20)
Christ’s sacrifice was complete as he obeyed even to the point of dying on a cross. We are so used to hearing the story that its original impact can escape us but this was a truly horrible death. It was a death of unimaginable shame to the Jews. In Galatians Paul writes, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'” (Gal.3:13; Deut.21:23)
To a Roman the cross was such an offence it was not even mentioned in polite company. The Roman philosopher Cicero wrote, “Far be the very name of the cross, not only from the body, but even from the thought, the eyes, the ears of Roman citizens.”
“Therefore,” Paul goes on to write, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name...” (Philip.2:9) In consequence of his great sacrifice, God exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave him the name above all names. That is not to say Jesus wasn't God before. In his prayer before Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn.17:5)
Just as Jesus was restored to his true glory, so we, through faith in him, will be restored to our true nature. But the journey to that point is the journey demonstrated by Christ, a life of humility, sacrifice, and service to the glory of God.
It is the example of Christ that defines, not just our journey in this life, but the very society, the economy of heaven. Living like this is to become as natural to us as sinning was before our redemption. With such a future won for us at such a cost
What are you willing to let go of for the glory of God?
Are you willing to be a servant?
Are you willing to humble yourself?
Are you prepared to sacrifice self?
Those who “are raised with Christ” live this way. Those who live this way, when he appears, will appear with him in glory.