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New Testament Study - Philippians 2:1-11

We continue here our study in Paul's Epistle to the Philippians.

Unity through Humility

1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Paul continues a subject that he touched on at the end of chapter one, that of unity. Paul said that if the Philippians conducted themselves "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ", he would know that they "stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel" (1:27). Paul brings up the subject of unity in three different passages in this letter (in the passage above, as well as in 1:27 and 4:2), which suggests that, while the Philippians are commended for their faith and giving, there was a lack of unity and a certain amount of strife within the Philippian church. Paul wanted to head this off in the young church, and so he exhorts them to unity. Unity for the Philippian church would be crucial to withstanding the persecution that they were and would be experiencing.

Paul says: "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." Paul first appeals to the Philippians based on what God has done for them, as he gives four impetuses for them to strive for unity. First, "if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ..." Christ has graciously chosen to be "united" with us, why can't we be united with our brothers? We have received great benefits from being "united with Christ". Paul reminds us of the "encouragement" we have received by knowing that God is on our side: "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). Second, "if any comfort from His love..." Who of us has not experienced the peace and comfort of the love of Christ, knowing of His love for us through His great sacrifice? Third, "if any fellowship with Spirit..." Those who serve the Lord know the fellowship of the Spirit, have experienced the work of the Spirit in their lives. We have felt the partnership of the Spirit, standing alongside us as we serve. We have been filled with the Spirit and have been given gifts, knowledge and wisdom from the Spirit of God. Fourth, "if any tenderness and compassion..." When we give or are the recipients of "tenderness and compassion", it is the love of God. As John tells us: "Anyone who does what is good is from God" (III John 1:11). So, these great blessings of God should be great incentives for us to be unified within the church.

Certainly, we have all experienced these (and many more) blessings of God many, many times in our lives as Christians. Since we have, we are to reciprocate by "being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." It would be difficult to construct a better definition of unity than Paul has given here, expressing three aspects of unity. We are to be "like-minded", thinking the things of Christ. As Paul says later in Philippians: "[W]hatever 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" (Phil. 4:8). We are also to have "the same love", love one another, even love our enemies, with the love of Christ. We are to be "one in spirit and purpose". Our purpose should be solely to do the will of God, in obedience to Him. Our spirit and attitude should reflect this purpose. With such an attitude, unity will result.

Granted, given that the church is so diverse in cultures, nationalities, social status, education and environment, unity is difficult. But we do have lots of common ground: a common Savior, a common Spirit, a common Father, His common Word.

The unity of the Philippian church concerned Paul very much. In fact, their unity would "make [Paul's] joy complete". Paul was more concerned with the unity of the Philippian church than his own personal safety. About himself he said: "To live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). It was not his distressing situation in the hands of the Romans that was keeping him from complete joy, but it was the strife and disunity in the Philippian church that was keeping him from "complete joy". Paul had little concern for himself as long as the body of Christ was healthy.

Next, Paul speaks of the greatest hindrances to unity, which are selfishness and the lack of humility. He exhorts: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." For the most part, dissension is caused, not by legitimate differences of opinion, but by selfishness. It is hard for us to shake off our worldly attitude of "looking out for number one." But Paul tells us that we are to "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit." In other words, absolutely "nothing" we do when dealing with others is to be done selfishly. We are always to "in humility consider others better than [our]selves." We all have this "I'm-better-than-you" attitude, and so (in our own eyes) we believe that we ourselves deserve the best. In order for the church to be unified, we must get rid of this attitude, and instead, "look to the interests of others."

Humility is the key to unity. If we could just objectively look at ourselves and realize what wretches we are, realize how much we really need Christ, and realize what a privilege it is to be able to serve the God of the universe, unity in the church would progress a long way. We have an example of the humility that leads to unity, and Paul vividly describes this example in the next section. As always, the remedy for error is to look to the example of Christ.

Our Example for Humility

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God

something to be grasped,

7but made Himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8And being found in appearance as a man,

He humbled himself

and became obedient to death

--even death on a cross!

9Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place

and gave Him the name

that is above every name,

10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11and every tongue confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

This passage is quite possibly my favorite passage in the Bible, because of its literary merit, its theological content, and its applicational value. In other words, this passage has everything. Many, in their remembrance of this passage, start with verse 6, but verse 5 is very important to the meaning of the passage: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." This clearly expresses the main purpose of this passage: to show Christ as an example of the humble attitude that we should have. As we will see, the attitude of humility that we should have is one of total submission to the will of God.

In verses 6 to 11, Paul's account of Christ's example describes seven steps from majesty to humility, then seven steps from humility to exaltation as a result of His humility. We see Christ dual nature, as God and man, king and servant, from the highest high to the lowest low for our sakes.

To begin, Paul establishes that Christ was "in very nature God." We must understand this fact, and not water it down. Christ was not just a man. His essence, His "nature" is God. He was God, is God, and forever will be God.

Having established this, Paul gives us the seven steps to Christ's humility. First, He "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped." Christ's first step in humility was to make the decision to be humble. He decided, because of His love for us, to step down from His exalted position to save us. He, in love, felt that humbling Himself for our sakes was worth more than clinging to "equality with God". This is in great contrast to Satan who, in rebellion against God, said: "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High" (Isa. 14:13-14). Christ, unlike Satan, had every right to cling to His deity, "being in very nature God." However, He chose not to. He did not let His deity get in the way of submitting to the Father's plan for Him to come to earth.

Second, Christ "made Himself nothing", nothing, that is, in comparison to the "everything" that He was. He emptied Himself, in effect, and (when He came to earth as a man) chose to be confined to a human body. Christ gave up all to become man and obey the Father. Christ's majesty, in general, was concealed here on earth, and shown only in a few instances (e.g., on the Mount of Transfiguration).

Third, He took "the very nature of a servant". Christ could have "wowed" the world with His power, but He chose to humbly be a servant, and to live a servant's life. Christ's life on earth was spent ministering to everyone He met. His life exemplifies a "minister's" life of service.

Fourth, He was "made in human likeness". In order to best relate to man and communicate to man, Christ became a man. None of us can understand what it felt like for Christ, the Son of God, to dwell in a human body.

Fifth, "being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself." Even in man's terms, Christ lived a humble life. Christ began His life most humbly, born in a stable (hardly the birth of a king). He lived most humbly, as a carpenter and then a wandering teacher. As He Himself said: "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20).

Sixth, He "became obedient to death". Christ's obedience was complete: even to death. His humility was absolute, showing no compromise. His love for us was unsurpassed, for "greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

Seventh, "even death on a cross". Even His death was the most humble. In humility, He died the lowest form of death, affirmed as such (prophetically) in the Old Testament, for "anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse" (Deut. 21:23). Crucifixion was considered by the Romans the most degrading death. Paul's audience (the Philippians), being Roman citizens, would never under any circumstances be sentenced to crucifixion, because Rome did not allow its citizens such a degrading death (Roman citizens were usually beheaded when sentenced to death). But Christ, to show the depths of His humility, was crucified.

As mentioned, these seven steps to humility are an example of the attitude that we should have. Christ had every right remain exalted, "being in very nature God." We should remember this every time we say, "Well, I've got a right to do such and such." There are many things that we "have a right to do"--even things that are technically "legal" according to God's law--yet, that God (and through Him, our conscience) would not have us do. Rather than say "I've got a right", humble yourself as Christ did. Give up your "right" for the sake of humility and obedience.

Paul next gives us seven steps by which God brought Christ from humility back to exaltation. First, "therefore God exalted Him". Paul says "therefore" to tie Christ's exaltation to His humility. He was exalted precisely because He humbled Himself.

Second, Christ was exalted "to the highest place". Christ is above all. He is not merely exalted as a king, but as the King of Kings; not merely as a lord, but as the Lord of Lords.

Third, God "gave Him the name that is above every name". Christ's name is above Buddha, above Confucius, above Mohammed, etc. There is absolutely no one whose name is higher. The power of the name of Jesus can be seen even in our day to day lives. One can carry on a comfortable conversation with secular people concerning Buddha, or Confucius, or Mohammed, but try mentioning the name of Jesus, and see how uncomfortable people get (in general). They immediately try to change the subject. They are tongue-tied. You can easily ask them: "What do you think of Buddha?", but try asking them "What do you think of Christ?" and they get nervous.[Footnote #4] Why? Because Christ's name is above every other name. The name of Jesus is powerful not only because of the character of Christ, but also because the meaning of the name "Jesus" expresses His mission: Jesus means "the Lord saves".

Fourth, "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow". All will eventually bow in homage to Christ. Many do here on earth. All will see Christ's glory after their lives on earth, and will bow in awe. It is God's will that we worship Christ, thus "every knee should bow". Many people pray to Christ, far too few worship Him.

Fifth, "every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth". Worship of Christ will be, not just international, but truly universal, in all aspects of the physical and spiritual realm. Angels "in heaven" do worship Him (cf. Heb. 1:6; I Pet. 3:22; Rev. 5:11-12). Many of us here "on earth" worship Him. And those "under the earth" (presumably Satan's followers) will, in fear not reverence, eventually bend their knee to Him.

Sixth, "and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord". All will acknowledge who Christ is. All will eventually realize who Christ is. It is best to acknowledge that "Jesus Christ is Lord" here on earth, for "if you confess with your mouth, `Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).

Seventh, (and very importantly) "to the glory of God the Father". Christ's humility and His exaltation would have been worthless if they were not "to the glory of God the Father". The highest place of exaltation that we could ever attain would be to do all that we do in the service and glory of God.

Just as this passage shows Christ as our example of humility, so also it shows that our humility will bring exaltation. As James tells us: "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up" (James 4:10). Humility, though seen as undesirable by the world, leads to glory. To live humbly is opposite to the world's belief in survival of the fittest. The true survivors in mankind are not those who are the strongest, but those who, through humility, please God.

Father, we praise You for the example of humility that You have given us through Your Son. By Your Spirit, help us to follow His example and glorify You through humility. Also, give us the spirit of unity, that we may stand with our brothers in Your service. In the name of Jesus, the name above all other names, we pray these things, Amen.

(We will continue our study of Philippians in the next issue.)


4. The power of Christ's name is abhorred by Satan. This is why Satan incites people to curse in Christ's name. No one curses in the name of any other religious leader except Christ. In fact (sadly), many more people curse in Christ's name, than worship in His name. Frequently, I have seen people who know very little about Christ curse in His name. And those who curse His name are very loathe to speak of Him in any other context.

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