The Example of Selflessness (Philippians 2:5-8) Part 1

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The Example of Selflessness

The motivating model of Christ for the sake of unity

Philippians 2:5 to 8–part one

Have you ever noticed how people pull together during a crisis? Total strangers link together during a time of desperation. Consider California wildfires–they make their way through thousands of acres, finally reaching a residential area. Then what happens? Immediately people pull together. They pay no attention to who makes what salary, what car a person drives, or their differing race or religion–they’ll perform acts of heroism while they regard one another as more important than their own possessions or safety. People often come together in times of desperation.

Friends, we’re always in a place of desperation and danger. Life is fleeting, and Hell is forever. We need to come together in the crisis of eternity. We’re on mission here and can only point to our triune God and His Gospel if we are one like He is one.

Open your Bibles to Philippians 2. We are getting back into this book in a deep way and have come to one of the most profound passages in the New Testament–a passage describing how Christ denied self, gave up His rights, became nothing, obediently died a criminal’s death for others. So Paul argues, if Christ would do all that for you, can you not do that for others to remain unified?

Before chapter 2 commands unity, in chapter 1 Paul was modeling unity indirectly and as he wraps up chapter 1, Paul calls the Philippian Christians to function as one as they focused on their purpose. Next in chapter 2, Paul makes a personal plea—Paul, their father in the faith, Paul who is under house arrest for his work for Christ, Paul who the Philippians love, Paul who they’d do anything for, Paul who they realize will never be happy with them until they become unified commands them to pull together.

And he does so using a song they probably sang. Scholars agree Philippians 2:5 to 11 is a New Testament hymn explaining many distinctive doctrines of the Christian faith. What you have in these verses is the preexistence of Christ, His deity, His equality with God the Father, Christ’s incarnation and true humanity, His voluntary death on the cross, His glorious exaltation by God the Father, and His ultimate triumph over evil.

This passage also explores many of the depths of the Trinity. Philippians 2:5 to 11 contains the equality of the persons of the Godhead, the co-equality of God the Son and God the Father. Also present is the humble submission of the Son to the Father in the work of the cross, along with the exaltation of the Son by the Father.

Adding to the powerful description of Christ here is the stark reality that the letter of Philippians was written about thirty years after the death of Christ in Jerusalem. Get this–these solid statements about the person of Christ and the triune God were made openly, without controversy or in defense of any heretical attack.

Paul was not trying to make a case against false teachers who were denying these truths. Paul’s tone actually suggests just the opposite–these doctrines were the settled, common certainties of the whole Christian community. Understand, this passage affirms the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the Trinity were fully embraced by the apostles before the completion of the canon–no controversy.

And these verses are placed here for practical reasons. These verses are directed at Christians who were tempted to be unloving, divisive, selfish, and arrogant. The congregation in Philippi was in danger of disintegration because of a competitive spirit creeping in among them. So in verses 1 to 4 Paul urges them to practice humble, self-sacrificing, self-denying, and self-giving service–simply put, to demonstrate consideration for others.

Look at verse 4, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Radical–put your SELF magazine down. Paul says, “Don’t just be interested in your own affairs.” Well, that’s all I am interested in– I’m just interested in what’s happening to Chris Mueller. Paul says, “No, demonstrate consideration for others.”

Verse 4, “Do not merely look out.” The Greek word for look (circle that word), each of you should look–the Greek word is scopas, from which we get the word scope, like a scope on a rifle. Paul says, “Don’t merely telescope in on your own affairs, pay attention to the needs of other people.” When we don’t scope in on others, that’s why we have struggles in our marriage, that’s why we have difficulties with our kids, that’s why we have problems with people at work or school. We don’t pay attention to their needs, which is how you pay consideration.

Here is the question–can you name the five greatest interests of your husband or the five greatest needs of your wife or the five greatest interests of your kids? Or the five greatest interests of your parents or friends or elders? Could you name them? Right now, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 without even thinking–you could if you were being considerate. If you were paying attention, you’d know what’s interesting to them. In verse 1 to 4, God calls you to demonstrate consideration.

It is so easy to get all wrapped up in our little world and to be so preoccupied with me, we become insensitive. We come home and we’re tired, and many of us have been beaten emotionally and verbally. So we bury ourselves in the TV or computer, Xbox or iPhone–we get lost in “I” world. We want to forget there are other people there who need our love. Yes, students, parents need your love too.

But all we do is pay attention to ourselves–”I’m tired. I need a day off, I’m gonna’ veg all day, or play golf or watch the game, catch up on Oprah,” rather than realize my wife hasn’t had a moment away from the kids for a week. But I end up doing my own thing–not considering others. The Bible says, if you want to lower conflict and you want to increase unity, demonstrate consideration.

It is exactly what God told husbands to do in 1 Peter 3:7, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” The Bible says, to develop unity in the home and to develop unity in the Church, show consideration.

Husbands, the next time you come home and your wife says, “Why didn’t you call and tell me you were going to be late for dinner?” You say, “Honey, I’m sorry, I was only thinking of myself.” Then after she wakes up from passing out, say to her, “Next time, I’ll try to be more considerate.” When I only see my needs, when I only want to talk about my feelings, or about how tired I feel, or how pressured I feel–when I’m insensitive to the needs of others . . . verse 4, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

So now in verses 5 to 8 Paul will motivate believers as to why we should live considerately to others. Why? Because of how Christ lived and died for others. Stand and 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.” Jesus Christ is the ultimate motivating model for unity.

#5  The motivating MODEL for Unity  Verses 5 to 11

Look at verse 5, “Have this attitude [main verb, Paul says, “I command you to continually think this in yourselves—think this in you”] which was also in Christ Jesus [the way Jesus would think].” Paul is reinforcing his instruction in verses 1 to 4 by pointing to Christ as the Church’s model for behavior. Jesus’ humility and self-abnegation is a powerful example for every believer.

Greek scholar, A.T. Robertson told me verse 5 “is very awkward in the Greek,” meaning this–Paul is not simply saying, think like Jesus, but “Philippi, develop this mindset in your fellowship, which is the only consistent mindset for those who are in Christ. Don’t just do what Jesus did, but Paul is saying, do what Jesus wishes you to do.”

Paul is not warning you to live the way Jesus lived, but to live how Christ would live if He were physically here today. Paul says, have the mindset of Christ if He drove a car, if He had a house in suburbia, if He played your sport, if He worked at your job, went to your school, or had four kids. Think the way Christ would think if He were living your life.

In English, verse 5 sounds so optional–but it’s far from it. When Paul says, “Let this mind be in you,” the Greek text gives you no option–it’s commanded. And this way of thinking is to be yours 24/7, present tense. This mindset is not merely for Sunday, but Monday-Saturday. Expectations are very high, Christian. Paul expects you to develop this mindset all the time.

What kind of attitude? What’s the mindset? Verse 5 forms the link between verses 1 to 4 and verses 6 to 11. Verse 5 here is a transition from Paul’s exhortation to his illustration. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” The attitude Paul desires the Philippians to adopt in verses 1 to 4 is the attitude demonstrated by Christ in verses 6 to 8.

We can’t do what Christ did for us, right? But we can demonstrate the same heart in all our behavior which drove Christ to do what He did. He became a man and went to the cross—not for Himself, but for you. Notice the demonstrative—THIS attitude. This points back to verses 1 to 4. Then Christ Jesus points ahead to verses 6 to 8–develop the same mindset seen in Christ.

Paul is motivating the Philippians, and these verses must motivate you to live like your Lord. Never before has there ever been such a staggering demonstration of self-effacing humility. Nothing exhibits verses 1 to 4 better than when Christ, in sheer grace, descended from Heaven to be born in a fallen world—verses 5 to 8. Are you getting it?

Jesus didn’t come to Earth for Himself. Christ wasn’t born to fill His own need. The incarnation was all about God’s will and the redemption of God’s chosen—you. Christ was thinking about you—the interests of others. So Christ’s motivating example first commands us to . . .

1  Pursue THINKING the way Christ thinks  Verses 5 to 6

Verse 5, “Have this attitude [think this way] in yourselves [in you], which was also in Christ Jesus.” Do you live with someone who has attitudes? They wake up in a bad mood and coffee barely helps. I want to shake the bad attitude out of them because, this isn’t all about you, your circumstances or your feelings! The key is knowing this first . . .

First  The BATTLE is how you think  “Have this attitude

Paul doesn’t say, “do this”–he says, “think this” . . . not “walk this way,” but “think this way.” Attitude is think. Friends, your mind matters–what you think about is key. What you focus on makes a huge difference. Admit it–you think too much about yourself . . . how you feel, how you look, what do others think about you. Admit it. Never forget–the battle is for the mind, how you think. Your spiritual health is based upon your thoughts.

James tells us temptation starts with the emotions, next to the mind, which leads to the will. Temptation must be stopped in the mind or it’ll lead to sinful behavior. If we don’t work on having our thoughts conform to Christ’s in selfless humility, we will never be unified. This is so important, Paul will later say to the Philippians, check your thoughts by Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

In verse 5 Paul commands the Philippians to continually think the way Christ would think if Christ were living your life. Christ’s incredible willingness to humble Himself, give up His rights, forsake His privileges, deny what He deserves is to change our mindset, the way we think about others. Unity in the Church can only come from an attitude of humility.

Second  Your thoughts are not SECRET or irrelevant  “in you

Verse 5, “Have this attitude in yourselves”–in yourselves is in you. What you think about defines you. As a man, when you look at a woman, what you think about informs you what kind of person you are. As a believer, what you think about as you deal with people will demonstrate your maturity. Proverbs clearly says, what you think about is who you is.

Proverbs 23:7a, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” Your thoughts are who you really are. And your thinking is never a secret. God says in Psalm 139:4, “Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all.” God knows every thought, God knows who you really are, which should cause us to rejoice because He loves us anyway. And should cause us to weep, because of our sinful thoughts. And should cause us to wrestle with our thinking. Paul voices–the battle for unity must start in the mind.

And Paul takes it a step further by using the plural, “in yourselves.” Paul is directing His comments to the entire church family, not merely the individual Christian. The entire church (each one of us) must pursue a mindset of humble self-giving, focus on others–like Christ.

Third  LIVE the way Christ thinks

Verse 5, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Think and live the way Christ would—which was also in Christ Jesus. Christ had a mindset of selfless humility. Christ’s thinking was geared toward others, not Himself. Christ had amazing position and privileges, yet gave them up so you and I could be forgiven. Christ modeled humility in becoming a man, and Christ modeled humility in going to the cross. Christ modeled humility during His entire ministry.

Remember when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet? The gross task of washing dirty feet was reserved for the lowest servants. Jesus had just been acknowledged as the King of Israel at His triumphal entry a few days earlier (in John 12). The Lord was well aware “the Father had given all things into His hands” (John 13).

Yet in humility, Jesus “got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” At the same moment, completely insensitive to Christ and His coming suffering, the disciples were arguing over who’d be the greatest in the Kingdom.

Afterward the Lord asked, “’Do you know what I have done to you?’ You call me Lord, and you are right to do so. But I washed your feet as an example for you to follow. If I [LORD] did this for you, then YOU [servants] must express this kind of humility to each other.” Paul is telling the Philippians to have the same mentality–to deny yourself, your wants, and think about others first.

Verse 5, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” How do you live the way Christ thinks? How is that worked out? Three ways found in verse 6. How is Christ thinking? The second half to point number one is verse 6—think the way Jesus thinks by not fighting for what you deserve.

Bible warning–every single word in this verse is a matter of fierce debate by those who wish to undermine Christ. Remember, Paul is not having a technical, theological discussion here, but using the incarnation, when Jesus became a man, as a practical lesson for unity. Christ was humble–therefore we should be humble.

Except read verse 6 as a scream–what does Paul say? Nowhere in this massive universe and never before in history has there ever been such a demonstration of self-effacing humility as when God Himself, in sheer grace, descended as a man to this errant planet. Read verse 6, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Christ did not fight for what He deserved. If you’re continually thinking like Christ, then you’ll . . .


Don’t fight for what you deserve, because Christ released more rights than you will ever have. Lack of unity results when we press for what we deserve, or acknowledgement we think should come our way. A classic failure on my part, on sabbatical I’m getting up at 5:20 each morning to run, pray and witness the sunrise. I get back to our apartment, Jean gets up and says, “How was your walk?” What do I bite back? “I wasn’t walking, I was running.” (Acknowledge my effort, esteem me, I need kudos.)

Anyone do anything similar? Yet what did Jesus do? Verse 6, “Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Jesus Christ gave up His rights as God. Jesus existed before He was born. In verse 6, Paul describes the preexistence of Christ in Heaven as he exalts Christ in His pre-incarnate or pre-human state.

Get this–you did not exist before you were conceived and I did not exist before I was conceived and born, but Jesus existed forever before He was conceived and born. Why does Paul refer to Christ’s existence in eternity past? Paul wanted his readers to know the humble, self-denying behavior of Christ on Earth merely displayed what He had always been like.

Look at verse 6, Christ “existed in the form of God.” This sounds funny in English, as if Christ was pretending to be God or something. The word existed is the continuance of a previous state or existence. Jesus Christ always was and always will be–He’s eternal. In verse 6, Paul adds the phrase “the form of God.”

Form refers to the outward manifestation of an inner reality. The idea is, before the incarnation, from all eternity past, Jesus pre-existed in the divine form of God, equal with God the Father in every way. Form comes from morphe, but is misleading in English. Μορφή refers to the specific character or nature of something. It speaks of the essential nature of someone. Form here is the outward manifestation of an inward reality.

Jesus said of Himself in John 8:58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” A number of translations capture what Paul is saying. Phillips translates, “He, who had always been God by nature.” Weymouth says, “From the beginning He had the nature of God.” By His very nature and innate being, Jesus Christ is, always has been, and will always forever be, fully divine. Form means nature–Christ pre-existed in the very nature of God.

Verse 6 exalts the Trinity as Paul highlights the incarnation of God the Son, pointing out the unique role of God the Son in displaying God to His creation. Christ’s role is to show us who God is. As Paul exalts the eternality, deity and equality of God the Son, Philippians 2:5 to 8 ultimately is affirming the oneness of God, the full deity of each person of the Trinity, and the amazing position Christ holds as the second person of the Trinity.

Paul exalts these truths in order to impact the reader with the choice Christ makes next. If a billionaire gave up his right to live wealthy–no servants, no fancy car, no special treatment, or food or clothes or housing or any trappings of wealth, but lives like a lower middle class teamster because he wants to assist millions out of starvation, he has done more than you will ever do for the starving–right?

Paul says if Christ was willing to give up His rights to Heaven, then He’s given up far more than you’ll ever give up, correct? Paul uses this to motivate the Philippians to give up their rights in order to preserve unity in their midst. God says this to you to motivate you to give up your rights and humble yourself–to maintain unity.

Second Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” Choose to act upon yourself to release your rights–Christ decided to give up His rights even though He eternally exists as God.


Verse 6, “Christ did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Christ determined not to seize His rights, fight for His position, or cling to what He deserves. Even though Christ continually has all the privileges of God, He determined not to grasp at them. Paul speaks to the Philippians and to you this morning. Choose this at work, at school–the verb regard, “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” is in the middle voice, meaning you act upon yourself. You choose to demonstrate you do not deserve the rights of your position, age, influence or title–elder, doctor, CPA.

Before Christ was born as a man, adding humanity to His eternal deity, Christ made a pre-incarnate choice. He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. Phillips’ paraphrase reads, Jesus Christ “did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal.”

Now the phrase “equality with God” is grammatically connected to the phrase “in the form of God.” But to get the connection, you need to understand the phrase “equality with God”–it’s not precise in English. A better translation is, “Christ did not regard the manner of equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Paul is describing the manner of Christ’s existence in eternity past.

In Heaven, Jesus enjoyed all the prerogatives of deity, but didn’t insist on them in His incarnation. Together, the two expressions, “form of God” and “equality with God” are among the strongest expressions of Christ’s deity in the New Testament, pointing to Christ being fully God. “Form of God” or nature of God, then “equality with God” also help us get a picture of subordination in the Godhead.

Although the Father and Son are one in essence (both of them existing in the form or nature of God), they are distinct in their persons (each fulfilling unique functions distinctive to their own person). It is the character of this intra-Trinitarian relationship which makes redemption possible. According to the Father’s predetermined plan, He sends the Son into the world as a man. While here, the Son doesn’t try to abdicate His role by grasping for functional equality with the Father. As God, Christ is able to be a pleasing sacrifice to the Father for the sins of His chosen. And as man, Christ is able to be embraced as our substitute, taking our punishment.

Now the Greek word for equality, isos, is in a plural form (isa, or equalities), suggesting Paul may have been referring to every aspect of Jesus’ deity. The term isa refers to exact equivalence. An isosceles triangle has two equal sides. Isomers are chemicals which differ in certain properties but are identical in atomic weight.

In becoming a man, Jesus did not in any way forfeit or diminish His absolute equality with God in any aspect. During His earthly ministry, Jesus never denied or minimized His deity. Christ was unambiguous in acknowledging His oneness with the Father, His authority over all flesh, power to give eternal life, and His divine “glory which He had with the Father before the world was.”

Yet He never used His power or authority for personal advantage, because the prerogatives of His divinity were not a thing to be grasped. Christ willingly suffered the worst possible humiliation, rather than demand the honor, privilege, and glory which were rightly His. To think the way Christ would think is to choose to act upon yourself to release your rights and to never grasp for advantage.


Verse 6, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Grasped is to seize what I deserve–the Greek word is hopoxlogomina, a rare word only used here in the New Testament. Instead of grasp, it is better to translate this Greek word “to regard as something to be taken advantage of.”

Christ did not regard His deity, His nature as God, as something to give Him an advantage over everyone and everything. Get this–even as the sovereign Creator of the universe, Christ did not view His nature as God and equality with God as a matter of getting, but as a matter of giving. Christ did not regard His divine prerogatives as something to use for His own advantage. Christ saw God-likeness essentially as giving Himself. Being equal with God did not mean taking everything for Himself, but just the opposite–giving everything away.

That is good news for sinners seeking forgiveness. That is incredible news for the guilty in our midst–why? Because the pre-existent Son regarded the exalted position He held, equality with God, not as excusing Him from the task of redemptive suffering and death, but actually as uniquely qualifying Him for that sacrifice. Jesus voluntarily gave up all His advantages for you. Verse 6, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

1  Give your LIFE to Christ

If today you’re done making a mess of your own life, then submit to Christ, His work on the cross and suffering for your sins. Turn from your sins, living life your way, and follow Christ. If Christ humbled Himself for you, you can humble yourself for Christ.

2  Give up your RIGHTS

Jesus was the master in all relationships. He is our model. To know how to get along with your spouse, parents or friends–people hard to get along with, look at Christ. Here’s what Christ did–He never demanded His rights. Get this–the person who yields his rights to God gets God as the defender of his rights.

Who do you want defending you–yourself or God? Who will do a better job–who has more options to deal with your opposition? Christ didn’t defend His rights–He willingly gave them up.

3  Give yourself AWAY

The happiest Christians are the servants. In your home, at work, at school, on your team, with your friends–are you a giver or a taker? Christ-likeness is seen in giving over getting. To be like Christ, you give money, time, service and gifts. And you give yourself away by focusing on others’ needs. Do you live to be served or do you serve others?

4  Give yourself to ONENESS

Christ submitted to the Father, but is one with the Father. Unity is found in differing functions, but oneness in Christ. Are you pursuing living one with your spouse, one with the Church, pursuing Christ and His Word together in the Spirit?

5  Give your thinking to Christ and others, not YOU

Thinking–your mind is where the battle lies. Are you thinking about Christ and others? Are you working at thinking about Christ and others instead of you? Put your me-phone down and start thinking how to serve others.

About Chris Mueller

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

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