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The Extreme Humility of Christ
The example of Christ for the sake of unity
Philippians 2:5 to 8–part two
I wish Jack were here today—he’s my favorite Greek. For if any people had a legitimate claim to national pride, it would be the Greeks. We laughed at My Big Fat Greek Wedding, when the dad related every word back to Greek–but the truth is, our culture was influenced more by ancient Greece than any other. You are more Greek than you know.
You’ve been impacted by ancient Greece. The Greeks themselves considered themselves a people set apart from all other peoples. They thought of themselves as a better race of people, a superior culture and a greater group of city-states above any people or any nation. Honestly at the time, they really were better than everyone else. But as a result, the Greeks were very proud and they hated the idea of humility.
Consider some of their amazing achievements–compared to the rest of the people of the world, the Greeks really were superior. For hundreds of years, the Greek peoples enjoyed the benefits of great Greek philosophers. The thinking of the intellectual world even today is molded by the philosophies of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. No other men of their day, and arguably through time, have touched the heights of their philosophical thought. Apart from divine revelation contained in the book in your lap, humanistically these men were the great thinkers.
Add to philosophy the incredible literary world of the Greek playwrights and poets who lifted literature to unsurpassed heights, so most who followed used the Greeks as their model. In art, their sculptors had portrayed the likeness of human forms with the most amazing beauty and grace. There is even debate today as to whether any sculptor has ever surpassed the ancient Greeks in their ability to portray in marble the beauty which God created.
In architecture, the Greeks were unmatched by any culture to this day. In science, astronomy and mathematics they laid the foundation for today. In medicine, doctors today begin their practices by affirming the Hippocratic Oath, which comes directly from the Greek physician Hippocrates, whose writings and practice paved the way for modern medicine. In law and government, the Greeks forged a system of democracy which our forefathers used to design the original democracy of the United States.
The Greeks took great pride in their superior achievements in all these realms, because no people on Earth have ever come close to matching them. By the time Paul wrote to the Philippians, their Greek city Philippi had been under Roman rule for over 200 years. The Romans, by comparison, were mindless barbarians. The Romans were not innovators, but imitators. They did not invent or build up a culture of their own–they conquered people then absorbed their literature, culture and architecture like the BORG from Star Trek.
They were not the originators, merely the copiers. The Romans didn’t shape great columns out of marble like Greeks. They saw the great columns of marble in Greece–came home, and with brick made columns and covered them with a thin veneer of special plaster to make them look like they were solid marble. Then they prided themselves thinking they were greater than the Greeks.
So now in Philippians chapter 2, when the Apostle writes to these Greeks in verse 5, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,” his readers, the Philippian Greeks, were not backward hillbilly types–they are not barbarian, ignorant nor without culture. Phillipi was named after Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, the father of the worldwide Greek Empire.
Paul is writing to people who have risen to the heights of human achievement. A people who had much to be proud of, but who nonetheless need the mind of Christ. To have the mind of Christ, a believer must cultivate humility, which creates unity. In order to teach these proud Philippians what it is to have the mind of Christ, to react the way Christ would act if Christ were living now–to think, then behave the way Christ would behave. The apostle describes Christ’s humiliation, the actions which demonstrate His humility.
Paul’s singular goal is to use the example of Christ to motivate the Philippians to live in harmony, not conflict. They were naturally a proud people, but pride breeds disunity. So after personally appealing to the Philippians to get along in verses 1 to 4, Paul now uses the astonishing humiliation of Christ in verses 5 to 8, where Christ becomes a man, then a servant who is obedient, even to die the death of a criminal.
Paul describes all of that to say, “If Christ would go that low for you, will you not go low for Him as you deal with others? If Christ would give up His rights as God, can you not give up your rights to get along with brothers? If Christ would be that sacrificial, can you not sacrifice yourself to cooperate with sisters?”
Look what Christ did in Philippians 2:6, “Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” By using the Greek word “form”, Paul is speaking about Christ’s inner nature and essential attributes. His true character is God. Jesus Christ is one in nature, one in attributes and one in character with God the Father. Jesus Christ is your Creator, and for many Redeemer. Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth.”
If these Greeks in Philippi should begin to think of themselves as superior, thinking they have no need to humble themselves to get along with each other, then Paul says they need to deeply think about how much greater Christ is. Christ is exalted God, the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe. If anyone had the right to consider Himself as first, it was Christ. If anyone was in a position to claim His rights it was Christ. If anyone was worthy of pride, it was Christ.
But instead of pride our great God chose humbleness. Eternal God chose humiliation to accomplish our salvation. In the remaining verses, Paul makes eight statements describing Christ’s humiliation. Eight steps of humbleness God the Son was willing to make so His children could be forgiven and rescued eternally. Eight divine rights Christ gave up for others is now our example. Eight ways His life should motivate us to get along with others. We were overwhelmed by one last week–be amazed by one this week, then we’ll wrap up the remaining six next week.
Paul describes the humiliation of Christ so the Philippians and you might live verse 5, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Look at the eight steps in verses 6 to 8, “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.” Last week we saw the amazing . . .
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 existed prior to His incarnation. Christ did not regard His equality with God as a treasure to be clutched or retained at all costs. He willingly chose not to exercise His advantage as God. Christ, being God, brought Him certain intrinsic rights. He had the right to exercise His own will, the right to be independent in all His actions. And He also had the right to give up His independence. So that’s what He did–He did not regard the independence which came from being equal with the Father a right to be claimed or to be sought.
Jesus never minimized His deity, yet He never used His power or authority for personal advantage. Christ refused to selfishly cling to His favored position as the divine Son of God, nor view it as a prized possession to be used for Himself. Christ gave up His rights–He humbled Himself for others. So the next time you’re tempted to say, “I’m the man–you do what I say,” stop. Wait, die to self, then graciously ask How can we best honor Christ and His Word right now? And what is even more remarkable is the Bible says . . .
STEP 2 Christ EMPTIED Himself Verse 7a
Verses 5 to 7a, “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 had all the rights of eternal God, subject to no one but Himself, yet Christ gave up His rights.
Christ emptying Himself is not giving up His nature, nor His attributes, nor His deity. He did not forfeit His eternal relationship with the Father, nor did He stop being the second person of the Trinity. Nor did Christ give up His glory which belongs to Him as God. But Jesus did gave up the rights of deity, the privileges of deity, the prerogatives of deity and the blessings of deity.
When Christ walked among us at His first coming and you passed Him on the street, you’d not think, “There He is, God the Son!” You might think, “There’s that Galilean rabbi.” Why? Because there was no halo around His head, no radiance around His face. As He walked, He left footprints. He sweat when it was hot. He got tired, He ate. Jesus spoke in a normal voice. Plus, Christ even paid taxes to Rome. Yet Jesus is, the entire time He ministered on Earth, God in the flesh, the God/man–God in a bod. God added full humanity to His full deity and walked among us.
What did the greatest being who’s ever existed do? He literally made Himself nothing. To empty Himself here is to make Himself nothing. Jesus Christ expected nothing, yet gave everything. Christ emptied Himself in order to focus on others. Are you sick of self–selfishness, selfies, self-help books, constantly thinking about yourself? The key is to remind yourself daily that you are nothing. And to start every day focused on Christ and others, you have to work at it in your mind–think “others”. Also, think about the person who drives you crazy and make yourself nothing.
Stand on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Peter, James and John saw Christ with the veil of His humanity pulled back for a moment–they were blown away. When Christ emptied Himself, it was not any lessening of deity, but the addition of humanity and veiling of deity. So here Christ is, equal to the Father in essence but submissive to the Father in role.
Did you notice the strong contrast in verse 7? Alla—“but emptied Himself” is to say His life is not about Him. And my life as a Christian is not about me. Like Christ, empty yourself of what you think you deserve. Emptied means to empty completely–it’s translated in the New Testament “nullified” in Romans 4:14, and “made void” in 1 Corinthians 1:17. Jesus Christ emptied Himself completely of every vestige of advantage and privilege (nullified), refusing to assert any divine right on His own behalf (made void). He who created and owned everything forsook everything.
You probably figured out this phrase, “emptied Himself,” has caused a great deal of theological discussion. There are journals, books, articles, debates and error over its meaning. Theologians and exegetes ask, “Of what did Christ empty Himself? How far did this self-renunciation go?” Some dead Germans and deceased Englishmen believe in kenotic theology, (kenotic comes from the Greek term kenosis, which is the term translated emptied here). Well these errant Englishmen believe Christ voluntarily gave up some of His attributes, like omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence–is that what Philippians 2 teaches?
Look at it–the text does not say Christ “emptied Himself of some powers” nor “emptied Himself of divine attributes.” The text does describe what Jesus did in this “emptying.” Just read your Bible, friends–verse 7 says, “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” Christ didn’t empty Himself by giving up his attributes, but rather Christ emptied Himself by “taking the form of a servant”–that is, by coming to live as a man and “being found in human form, Christ humbled himself to be obedient to the point of death.”
The immediate context of Philippians is clear. The context interprets the meaning of emptying as equivalent to humbling himself and taking on a lowly status and position. Instead of translating the phrase, “He emptied himself,” the NIV translates it, “but made himself nothing.” The emptying includes a change of role and status, not essential attributes or nature. Plus in the broad context of Philippians, Paul is attempting to persuade believers to be humble and put the interests of others first. So Paul motivates them by holding up the example of Christ to do just that.
The correct answer to “what Christ emptied himself of” is to view Christ emptying Himself of equality with God in the sense of emptying Himself of the prerogatives of deity, not deity itself–then adding 100% humanity to His 100% deity. Christ was never anything and never will be anything other than fully and eternally God, as Paul was careful to state in verse 6. The Phillips version paraphrases, “He stripped Himself of all privilege.”
The thought is not that Christ emptied Himself of something. Paul did not say Christ discarded His divine essence or substance. The truth being conveyed is a poetic one. Christ “poured Himself out”–that is He put Himself totally at the disposal of people. Christ became poor so He might make many rich. He emptied Himself by laying aside the independent exercise of His divine attributes in order to serve others.
As James Montgomery Boice translates the phrase, “Christ made himself nothing.” Do you really want to be like Christ? Then make yourself nothing and make Christ everything. What does “make Himself nothing” mean? Christ gave up five major divine rights. Instead of what came naturally to Him as God, Jesus Christ emptied Himself of His privileges.
Think about this for a moment. If you don’t think about it, then you won’t be impacted by it. My mentor, John Macarthur, spells out exactly what Christ emptied Himself of. Clearly described in Scripture, consider five actions of Christ when He emptied Himself for you and for me. Paul says think . . .
First He temporarily stripped Himself of His divine GLORY
Shortly before His arrest, Jesus lifted “up His eyes to heaven” and implored, in John 17:5, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” The Son of God sacrificed the worship of the saints and angels in Heaven, then came to earth and submitted Himself to denials, unbelief, misunderstanding, false accusations and every sort of abuse from sinful men.
Your Savior willingly gave up all the glorious brilliance of Heaven to suffer an agonizing death on a cross. He did not forfeit His divine glory, but he veiled it by adding humanity.
Second Jesus emptied Himself of independent divine authority
Within the Trinity, there is perfect oneness and agreement. Jesus unmistakably affirmed His full equality with the Father when He said, “I and the Father are one.” Yet He just as clearly stated during His incarnation, “I can do nothing on My own initiative.” Even on the night of His betrayal and arrest,
Jesus agonized three times–“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” Yet He followed each request with the submissive, “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” He did not have to, but Christ chose to temporarily surrender the independent use of His divine authority.
Third Jesus emptied Himself of the VOLUNTARY EXERCISE of some of His divine attributes
Christ had all the engines, but He didn’t turn them all on. He didn’t exercise His attributes fully. You didn’t see all His character in the incarnation. Christ never lessened being God in any manner. Christ did not stop being omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent or immutable at all. But Christ willingly chose not to exercise the full expression of those attributes during His earthly life and ministry.
Yet Christ did exercise some of those selectively. Jesus never met Nathanael, but Christ knew omnisciently exactly who he was. Through Christ’s omnipresence, Christ even knew where Nathanael was even before He saw him. Yet Jesus confessed He did not know the exact time of His own return–the Father alone knew (Matthew 24:36). Your Creator willingly gave up the voluntary exercise of some of His attributes. He did it to rescue you—for you.
Fourth Jesus emptied Himself of His eternal RICHES
Second Corinthians 8:9 says, “For your sake He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich.” Christ did not give up earthly riches–He gave up Heaven’s riches. We can only imagine what that was like. All the privileges of glory, divinity and deity were not sought, but given up for the sake of His redeemed children. And finally . . .
Fifth Christ emptied Himself temporarily of His intimate and face-to-face RELATIONSHIP with His heavenly Father
To fulfill the divine plan of redemption, the Father “made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, so we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Christ bearing our sin was the Father’s will, which Jesus fulfilled on the cross. Yet even the brief separation from His Father caused by His sin-bearing caused Christ, in Matthew 27:46, to cry “out with a loud voice, saying ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?’ ”
Somehow the Father and the Son, who are one for eternity, were separated in some manner. It was, I believe, the most agonizing moment in all of history. And Christ did that for you. Now back to Philippians 2:7. Christ emptied Himself for you. Paul is implying, will you not empty yourself of what you deserve, your rights, your privileges, what is due you, what someone owes you? Empty yourself–so you might be one in unity.
You obviously cannot empty yourself to the degree the Lord emptied Himself, because He started so high and Christians start so low. Christ was and is eternal God and we are sinners who deserve His eternal wrath. We believers have infinitely less to empty ourselves of. Even what we have is given to us by God’s grace. But all genuine Christians are obligated to follow their Lord’s example by emptying themselves of everything that would hinder their obedience and service to Christ.
The truly humble believer is aware of his rights and privileges as a child of God, but refuses to cling to them when it may harm the Church, cause disunity in relationships, or keep someone from seeing Christ clearly. As a result, genuine Christians will do radical things in marriage, church, with friends. You have the right to be heard, but you remain silent. You deserve to be given a share, but you ignore your right. You should be receiving honor and respect, but you wait for the Lord to bring it about in His time. You should be getting your turn, but you let it go. You have Christian freedom, but you deny yourself that freedom in order to minister more freely.
Like Christ, you empty yourself of what you deserve. The Philippians were arguing with each other, fighting with one another for their rights. Yet their Savior gave up His rights, privileges and submitted Himself to the Father who is His equal. God the Son gave up His right to be adored, worshiped and served in order to redeem His children, even though His children were fighting with each other.
At no point did Christ become less than God. Christ eternally remains the second person of the Trinity. Yet in His incarnation, Christ the Son took upon Himself full and total humanity. So in order to impact this divided Philippian church, Paul next says Christ lowered Himself even further. We have just looked at two steps expressing the humility of Christ. Next week we will study the remaining six motivations for unity–eight total. But today, how does Christ emptying Himself challenge you?
A We are a proud people in a proud culture–we must work at HUMILITY
You’ve just witnessed the humility of Christ in a way few believers understand. Christ emptied Himself by taking on human nature, choosing to be born a baby who grew to manhood, deliberately living the life of a servant, then intentionally dying the death of a criminal. Christ emptied Himself by becoming a man for you and me. If glorious God would temporarily give up the glories of Heaven to become a man, who’d serve then die for you and me, can’t we die to our wants to live in peace with others? Can’t we express a similar humility? What does God say to each of you?
Peter commands the entire congregation to wear humility like you wear clothes. First Peter 5:5, “And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” To wear humility is to have humility be seen on you at all times. To wear humility is to realize you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do. To wear humility is to not trust your own judgment, but evaluate it always by Scripture and godly counsel.
To wear humility is to realize you could be wrong about others. To wear humility is to choose to love and serve others. To wear humility is to live each moment in dependent obedience to God’s Word and God’s Spirit. To wear humility is to live contrary to our proud culture. For the Philippian Greeks, humility would be difficult. For you and me, it’s the same. But we’re to work at humility, clothe ourselves with humility, because Christ was humble and modeled humility for us.
B We are a selfish people in a selfish culture–we must work at SERVICE
Philippians 2:6, Christ is God, yet He never asserted His rights as sovereign God, nor did He demand worship as Creator or Redeemer–but Christ used His glorious position to serve others. Christ should be served, but He came to serve. For those in positions of authority, wealth, or influence, for those extra pretty and amazingly handsome like Jean and me (well, at least Jean)–remember the words of Christ in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
And in the midst of His condemnation of the spiritual leaders of Israel, Jesus gives this universal truth. Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you shall be your servant.” The moment you were born again, you were given a heart to serve, a Holy Spirit-empowered giftedness to serve and a people to serve, the body of Christ. Regular faithful service is the normal expectation for every believer. When it is not present, something is wrong. Serving can be inconvenient, tiring, costly, difficult–but it is what you were made to do and is the best thing for your heart before God and your walk with Christ.
C We are a materialistic people in a materialistic culture–we must work at GIVING
Christ owns everything, yet gave everything to many. Christ owned nothing personally, but gave abundantly to many. Christ emptied Himself in order to give to His children. Those with a new heart from Christ will give like Christ. You can’t escape this truth–what you regularly offer Christ is an indicator of your spiritual condition. What you regularly give from your income exposes your heart and indicates your spiritual maturity.
Matthew 6:2, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Your treasure and your heart are linked. What your heart treasures will be where you give your finances. If shopping and owning things is your delight, that is where your money will go. If security and inheritance is what you value, that is where your paycheck will be spent. If status is your secret joy, then it will be electronics, cars, homes and clothes which drain your income.
Finances continues to be one the devil’s favorite tools to hinder the work of God, causing people to move when they don’t want to–to not serve because they have to work too much. To not go overseas because they have too much debt—and more. I am begging you men to get your finances in order now. Work at giving—why? Because Christ gave everything.
D We are a sinful people in a condemned state–we must turn from sin and DEPEND on Christ
Have you turned from sin to Christ in repentance and do you rely on Christ personally by faith? Are you truly born again? When you have a new heart, you will serve, give, and obey the Word progressively. You’ll love truth, fellowship and give your life in worship increasingly. Do you truly know Christ? Cry out for salvation today. Let’s pray.
We are a fight-for-our-rights people in a fight-for-our-rights culture–we need to work at not demanding our due. We are a cynical, void-of-true-heroes culture–we need to work at being hopeful and helpful. We are a sinful people in a sinful culture–we need to deny ourselves and depend on the only Savior Jesus Christ.