Eight Motivations for Unity (Philippians 2:5-8)

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Eight Motivations for Unity

The example of Christ for the sake of unity

Philippians 2:5 to 8–part three

Have you seen limbo–the dance invented in Trinidad, where you lower yourself under a bar without touching the ground? The world record is a bar set off the ground at 8.5 inches. It’s common to see experts who are 6-foot tall actually slide under a bar 12 inches off the ground, without using their hands or falling down in anyway.

People do limbo as a fun game for a party, but the reason for bringing it up is simple. I want you to remember the phrase they use when friends try to slip under the bar. What do you shout? What do you say when they try to get under the bar? “How low will you go? How low can you go?” This is what Paul is asking the Philippians in verses 5 to 8, “How low will you go?”

Paul is describing the humility of Christ and how low Christ decided to go for the sake of others. Paul is using Christ’s example to motivate the Philippians to humble themselves to go low for the sake of unity with others. Turn to Philippians 2:5 to 8 and follow along in your outline. Paul is pressing each Christian at the Philippian Bible Church in verses 5 to 8 to make sacrifices in order to get along.

And Paul uses an often sung first century hymn to motivate them to stop bickering–that is powerful. “You sing this song all the time–do you believe it? You sing these words in praise to God–will you live them?” The hymn is made up of eight statements describing Christ’s humiliation–eight behaviors from Christ’s life which move us to get along. The deeply theological truths of this hymn are used here so Christians would be motivated to fight for peace.

Stand and read from your outline a description of the depths of Christ’s humility in verses 5 to 8, and as you do think about those you are not getting along with. Read verses 5 to 8, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” How low will you go?

STEP 1  Christ didn’t press for His RIGHTS  Verse 6b

Read verse 6, Christ “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Christ refused to selfishly cling to His high position as God. Jesus refused to fight for what He deserved from others, as God. Jesus gave up His rights and humbled Himself for us! If He did that for you, then do that for your spouse and friends.

STEP 2  Christ EMPTIED Himself  Verse 7a

Verses 5 to 7, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself.” Christ emptied Himself–not of His nature, nor any of His attributes, nor His deity in any measure. On Earth Christ was still fully the second person of the Trinity and still 100% glorious God.

But Jesus did give up the rights of deity, the privileges of deity, the prerogatives of deity and the blessings of deity. How did He do this? Christ is God in a body, meaning God added 100% humanity to His 100% deity. Christ veiled His glory as God under the cloak of His humanity so He looked just like a normal Jewish Joe.

When Christ emptied Himself, it wasn’t any lessening of deity, but the addition of humanity and the veiling of deity. Christ was and is equal to the Father in essence, but submissive to the Father in function. So how low did Christ go? To empty means Christ literally made Himself nothing. To grow to be a godly man or woman, to be like Christ–make yourself nothing, and make Christ everything.

So when you have the right to be heard, remain silent. You deserve to be given a share, ignore your due. You should be given respect, trust the Lord’s timing. When it’s your turn, let others go first. If you have a freedom, give it up. Only one warning–you don’t ask for humility from others. You offer humility to others.

Like Christ, you empty yourself of what you deserve. Don’t keep arguing with others like the Philippians. Don’t keep fighting for your rights, but be like Christ who sacrificed Himself for others. How low will you go?

STEP 3  Christ embraced the Role of a SLAVE

Read verse 7b, “taking the form of a bond-servant.” This is shocking. Look back at verse 6 when Paul said, “Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” The Greek word “form” means nature. Christ is by nature God. The shock then comes in verse 7 from the same word “form”.

Paul is telling us when 100% God, in the person of Christ took on 100% humanity, becoming the God-man–Christ also took on the very nature of a bond-servant, a slave. Your God, the Creator of the universe, the only Savior from your sins, came to Earth as a slave. Paul isn’t saying Christ merely possessed the external appearance of a slave. Nor is he telling us the Lord disguised Himself as a slave. Rather, verse 7 says Christ adopted the very nature of a slave.

Christ did not merely put on a slave’s garment. Christ actually became a slave in the fullest sense for you. Just as fully as He existed in the form of God, verse 6, Christ now existed in the form of a slave, verse 7. The Greek word for bond-servant/slave describes a person who owned nothing. Everything he had, including his life, belonged to his master. Slavery in the Roman Empire denied a person the right to anything, even his own life. A slave was a piece of property.

When verse 7b says, “taking the form of a bond-servant,” it means Jesus decided to strip Himself of all rights. Jesus owned no land or house. Christ had no gold nor jewels. Christ owned no business, no boat and no horse. He had to borrow a donkey when He rode into Jerusalem for His triumphal entry. Jesus had to borrow a room for the Last Supper. Christ even had to be buried in a borrowed tomb.

Christ entered the stream of human life as a person without advantage, without rights or without privileges. The owner of everything forsook it all! The One who made everything left everything for you. Every one of your precious possessions is on loan to you, because Christ owns it all–He is the wealthiest. So the wealthiest choose to be the poorest for you.

Second Corinthians 8:9, “Though Christ was rich, yet for your sake Christ became poor.” Christ exchanged the rich mode of existence of Heaven for an infinitely poorer mode of existence on Earth. You know Mark Twain’s novel, The Prince and the Pauper? Poor beggar boy, Tom Canty gets accidentally switched for the Prince of Wales. They met, and because they look alike, for fun they exchanged clothing. Then the guards booted out the prince and took Tom into the palace. Tom who had nothing gained everything–but the prince who had everything now had nothing.

This is like Christ, for one important difference. Christ chose to be the prince who now had nothing. And Jesus decided to be a slave for you. In John 13, Jesus reveals He had the heart of a slave by washing the disciples’ feet. In the Upper Room, He laid aside His garments just as He had laid aside His royal splendor. He took a towel and girded Himself, exactly like a slave would.

Many of you sacrifice yourself for your kids, for family and for friends. But the godly man, like a slave, sacrifices himself for people who don’t appreciate it. Why? Because he is a slave of Christ. Verse 7b says, “taking the form of a bond-servant”–becoming a slave. How low will you go?

STEP 4  Christ lived as a MAN

Verse 7c adds, “and being made in the likeness of men.” Jesus Christ is 100% glorious God, but in the incarnation Christ also became 100% sinless man. The next line of this theological poem now draws attention to the genuine human nature of Christ. When Christ was born in Bethlehem as a baby, even when Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, it was God who had added humanity to Himself, becoming the God-man.

Jesus was not pretending to be human–He was fully man. Verse 7 says Jesus was “made in the likeness of men.” Pick this apart. The participle “being made” suggests a beginning or becoming something–describing Jesus becoming God in a bod. Christ always existed in the form of God by nature, fully God. But Christ came into existence (or was born) “in the likeness of men.”

God became a man in the incarnation. Hear the word carne–chili con carne, chili with meat, in carne, God with meat on. “Made in the likeness of men”–men means humankind. And likeness speaks of similarity, or that which is made to be like something else–not merely in appearance, but in reality. Jesus is in reality a true man, but more than man.

Jesus was not a facsimile of a man. No, Christ became like all other human beings, having all the attributes of humanity–a genuine man among men. Like you, Christ was tired, needed food, water and sleep. Christ wept, even suffered pain and sadness. Christ become like all other men, but not exactly. In verse 7 here, Christ is by nature man. But in verse 6, Christ was also by nature God.

This hymn and Paul’s words are used very carefully here. By saying Jesus was like all men, having a true human nature–God through Paul is carefully avoiding a heresy. Paul is avoiding the heresy of Docetism. Docetism is the false teaching asserting Jesus only appeared as a man externally, but He was not truly, fully a man–as if He was a phantom or a vision of a man, but not true humanity. No trace of Docetism here.

The Greek word appearance declares Christ was in reality a man. Luke 2:52 reminds us Jesus “kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” The human nature of Christ possessed all the potential for physical, mental, social and spiritual growth like all other humanity. And as a true man, Christ could suffer in your place. And as true man, Christ can sympathize with any struggle.

So Paul does not deny the true humanity of Jesus, but Paul is careful to suggest Christ is not exactly the same as other people. He is God and man. How low will you go?

STEP 5  Christ APPEARED like a man

Verse 8 continues, “Being found in appearance as a man.” How was Christ different than regular men? In the New Testament we know . . .

First  Christ was SINLESS

Though tempted beyond what any man has ever experienced, Christ never did sin because He could not sin, being both God and man. Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” And Christ is different than a regular man, because . . .

Second  Christ is GOD

Christ is total man and total God. In verses 6 and 7, Paul used the word form to describe Christ in nature is God and in nature is a slave. But here “appearance” in verse 8 means external shape–not actuality, but outward, changeable appearance. Paul is telling us what Christ appeared to be when people looked at Him. They saw the appearance of a man and nothing more.

They saw a regular rabbi–He appeared ordinary. They saw nothing to distinguish Christ physically. There was no aura, no glow, and no halo indicating His unique divine status as fully God and a member of the Trinity. There was only poverty, frailty, unpopularity, and rejection. The human eye could not see the deity beneath the veil of humanity. People could see only the veil of human nature. They saw human normalcy.

Here’s the God who created over 1 hundred billion galaxies–the all-powerful, sovereign God now appearing as a man to all. Eternal God took a body and lived among us. Christ assumed human nature and lived as an infant, child, boy, youth, and man, fully human and fully divine. The Philippians were fighting with each other, so Paul reminds them Christ did not pursue any honor as a man. God lived as a normal guy. He appeared like an average rabbi. Christ took His place among the common people of the land. How low will you go? Why did He do this?

STEP 6  Christ chose to HUMBLE Himself

Look at Philippians 2:8, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself.” In verse 6, Christ is equal to God and is God. And now in verse 8, Paul also displays Christ’s role of submissiveness and obedience to His Father in function. Look at the entire passage for a moment.

Verse 5  Paul commands the Philippians to think about Christ

Verse 6  #1 the pre-incarnate Christ CONSIDERED

even though He was God, Christ didn’t insist on His rights as God

Verses 7 to 8  But Christ . . .  #2 EMPTIED HIMSELF by doing three things

three participles explain Christ emptying himself

  • taking the form of a bond-servant, and
  • being made in the likeness of men
  • being found in appearance as a man

Verse 8 gives us . . .


And do not miss the main emphasis in verse 8. Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a criminal. How low did Christ go? Kenneth Wuest translates “humbled Himself” with this phrase, “He stooped very low.” I like his expanded translation: “When you’re arguing for what you want with your spouse or friends, you are not stooping low.”

If you want to be like Christ, you’ll choose to stoop low. To swim against the current of pride, you must decide to be humble–not wait for a feeling, but make a choice. Puritan pastor John Flavel has said, “They that know God will be humble, and they that know themselves, cannot be proud.” Do you know God and do you know yourself?

Paul did. That is why Paul said some harsh things about himself. As Paul looks at himself in AD 59, then AD 63, then AD 64 his self-awareness and self-descriptions get worse. As the years pass, Paul bows lower and lower–look. “I am the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9 in AD 59). “I am the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8 in AD 63). “I am the foremost of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15 in AD 64). They that know themselves (as sinners) cannot be proud. They that know God (as sinless) will be humble. Sound theology will exalt God higher than before and sound theology will lower yourself lower than before.

Sir Winston Churchill understood humility. He was once asked, “Doesn’t it thrill you to know, every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing?” He replied, “It’s quite flattering, but whenever I feel that way, I always remember if, instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.” God elevates the humble, and God lowers the proud. James 4:6b, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Proverbs 29:23, “A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.” So what did D.L. Moody say? “Be humble or you’ll stumble.”

Andrew Murray defined humility in this way, “Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is for me to have no trouble; never to be fretting or irritated or sore or disappointed. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord where I can go in and shut the door and kneel to my Father in secret and be at peace as in a deep sea of calmness when all around is trouble. It is the fruit of the Lord Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on Calvary’s cross, manifested in those of His own, who are definitely subject to the Holy Spirit.”

Verse 8, Christ “humbled Himself.” The verb humbled means to make small or little, then came to mean to assign to a lower place. In your relationships, are you willing to take the lower place? How low will you go? And don’t miss this in verse 8–Christ chose humility. Jesus Christ pursued living low. How did He do it?

STEP 7  Christ was OBEDIENT

Philippians 2:8b, “by becoming obedient.” Why have we gone so slow? Verses 5 to 8 make some very dramatic statements. Christ is fully God in nature. Christ is fully man in nature. Christ in His ministry on earth appeared to be a man, yet Christ was the God-man, the second person of the Trinity, fully God, but also obedient to the Father’s will in all things.

In the next line of this hymn, Paul describes humility as the resolute obedience of Christ. In verse 6 Paul described the decision of the preexistent Christ to not press for His rights as God. Now in verse 8 Paul describes the decision of the incarnate Jesus to obey His Father completely. While the Christians in Philippi were battling for personal honor to get their due and be acknowledged, Jesus was demonstrating humility by self-surrender, self-renunciation, and self-sacrifice.

Christ demonstrated His humility, not by false piety nor speaking softly, but in obedience to His heavenly Father. But Christ literally acted upon Himself to be continually obedient. The Greek has nothing to do with feelings, circumstances, or impressing others. Christ was obedient and all genuine Christians are obedient. If you’re saved, you’ll obey whether you are 8 or 80.

The New Testament is pointed in John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Christ obeyed His Father. The example here is to humble oneself through obedience to your heavenly Father, regardless of how it looks to others or feels to you.

Have you been there? Have you obeyed the Father by following His Word, yet it was difficult and no one understood? That, my friends, was a genuine action of humility. All genuine Christians obey the Word of God. Christ demonstrated humility through His obedience. How low will you go?

STEP 8  Christ’s obedience had no LIMITS

Philippians 2:8 ends with how far Christ obeyed–see it? To the point of death, even death on a cross. We can only marvel at the Trinitarian relationship here. All three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, are one essence. Each person is fully and equally God. Yet the Son in His incarnation submits to the Father.

How deep is the Father’s love, a love where the Father requires His Son to be tortured and die for you? And how deep is the Son’s love, where the Son willingly suffers and dies a criminal’s death in obedience to the Father? There are no limits–this is the lowest. It’s this action of willing obedience to the point of death which helps us to understand the true nature of love.

Husbands die to self by sacrificially loving their wives, and wives die to self by submitting to their husbands. The love demonstrated in verse 8 could never be love except for costly obedience. Costly obedience is the evidence of Jesus’ love for the Father. This is also the true standard for the word love.

Obedience to the Word of God is not love unless it’s obedience. Students, you don’t love your parents unless you obey them. Husbands, you don’t love your wives unless you serve them. Christian, you don’t love Christ unless you follow His Word. How far does obedience go? How low?

First  Christ was obedient to the point of accepting DEATH

How could Christ be obedient to the point of death? Hebrews 9:14 tells us the answer–through the Holy Spirit. “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God.” The Holy Spirit made it possible. The Spirit who worked within Christ all through His life empowered Him to obey the Father and die for you and me.

How can you be at peace with a difficult spouse, a wayward child or a harsh employer? Through the Holy Spirit–depending on the Spirit by the Word of God to love through you. Here again, can you handle it? Think! Paul’s hymn exposes another theological issue. What is the nature of Christ’s human nature? Do you see it? How could Christ, who is God, die?

Paul implies Christ’s human nature was mortal–that Christ, through the vehicle of a human nature, was able to die. Paul also suggests here that Christ had an unfallen human nature. There is absolutely no indication death was inevitable for Christ. All men die, whether they want to or not, because death is the wages of sin. You are going to die.

But get this–death was not inevitable for Christ in His humanity. His human nature was like Adam’s before the Fall, in the sense that His nature was un-fallen, sinless and perfect. So Christ didn’t have to die, it was not inevitable at all. No, Christ chose to die for His own. Adam became disobedient unto death.

Christ, however, obeyed unto death, pointing to Christ’s death being vicarious (meaning for others), for Christ did not need to die for Himself. He obeyed for you. He loved you. He died for you. His humility led to an obedience to the point of death and even beyond that.

Second  Christ was obedient, accepting the death of a CRIMINAL

The concluding line of this hymn is “even death on a cross.” This is the lowest rung on Christ’s ladder of humanity. The conjunction δέ (even) has an intensive force, emphasizing the severity of Christ’s death. It was not a common death–it was a cross death. For the members of this Roman church in Philippi, this is striking.

Crucifixion was considered a barbaric and cruel form of execution to Romans. A cross death was exclusively reserved for rebellious foreigners, violent criminals and un-submissive slaves. It was a death on which the Mosaic Law had uttered a curse (Deuteronomy 21:23). Paul knew a cross death was so degrading to Romans, it would not be imposed on any Roman citizen.

And wake up–you and I have completely lost sight of the vileness of crucifixion. How do I know? We wear crosses as jewelry and decorate churches with crosses. A cross was a horror! The Prince of glory did not die on a shiny piece of gold. Giant nails were driven through arms and legs into a wooden cross as flesh was torn and blood spattered.

Christ’s crucifixion took place after an evening of hideous torture and completed on Jerusalem’s execution hill–the place of the skull. Christ’s death on a cross was on the basement floor of the humiliation building. You can’t travel any lower. Christ chose to humble Himself to this lowest level. Christ decided to humble Himself for you. So if God Himself would do this for you, then will you choose to humble yourself to maintain one heart with each other?

But you say, “Chris, this seems unfair–why should we take the road of the lowly in order to maintain unity?” Because of verses 9 to 11. God honors the humble. God honors those who follow the example of Christ. Really? Come back next week and find out how. To pursue Christ’s example of humility, you should . . .

A  Give yourself to PRAISE

Humility is cultivated from a heart of praise–the higher you lift God up in praise, the lower you see yourself. A healthy spiritual heart is one who bows down in humility by lifting up your heart and voice in praise. When you focus on God, you don’t focus on yourself. When you confess your sins, you agree with God–you are responsible for your sin, and God is not.

When you give thanks to God, you’re acknowledging God’s control and affirming your dependence upon Him. When you ask your Father for items in prayer, you affirm God’s provisional ability and admitting your daily need. The more you genuinely praise God, the more you will grow in humility.

B  Make a habit of DEPENDING on the Holy Spirit

Verses 1 to 8 tell you to stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about others. Move from ingrown eyeballs to outward sight. Move from wearing the bib to wearing the apron. Can you do it? Answer–no! It’s impossible to live like Christ on your own. Friends, it’s human nature to be selfish, to think only of me. We do it from the beginning.

What’s the first word a baby learns? Me, mine–a baby lets you know when its needs are not being met. “I need to be changed . . . I need to be fed . . . I need to be burped.” Life revolves around self for a baby. And the fallen nature of people doesn’t change as they grow older–some hide it better than others, but we all have a nature to do what we want to do.

So I can’t live unselfishly with my wife or kids or friends or the people I work with–I can’t do it in my own strength. These verses teach us to have the attitude Christ had. But that requires Christ to be in me before He can show through me. You can’t live humbly at all as a non-Christian. You must repent of your sin and put your faith in Christ alone. And you can’t live humbly in your own strength as a Christian. You must depend moment-by-moment upon the Holy Spirit according to the Word of God.

Is your workplace in conflict right now? Is there tension found in your home right now? Are there problems between you and others at school? Jesus Christ must live in you and be sought first if you’re to have any hope. Really? Yes! Read Ephesians 4:3, “Being diligent to preserve the unity of the [who?] Spirit in the bond of peace.” You need the Spirit of Christ in your life. Unity is the fruit of the Spirit. It is the Spirit who enables unity in our families, friends and marriage.

Do you get it? For you to get along with other people, you need to grow to be more like Jesus Christ. But to grow more like Christ, Christ must first transform you and indwell you. It’s not a matter of imitation, it’s a matter of inhabitation. Christ must live through me, for me to live like Christ. Some of you are never going to get along with your spouse or parents or family until you turn to Christ in repentant faith. Do you have Christ? And are you depending upon the Holy Spirit in obedience to His Word?

C  Fight for UNITY in relationships

Ephesians 4:3, “Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Work to the point of exhaustion to preserve unity! Why bother? Because if Christ would humble Himself like He did and go that low in verses 5 to 8, then you can humble yourself before others in order to get along with others. Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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