In his book on humility, John Dickson tells the story of Sir Edmund Hillary. In 1953, Hillary conquered Mount Everest, but years later…
On one of his trips back to the Himalayas, Hillary was spotted by a group of tourist climbers. Of course, they beg Hillary for a photo. After accepting, they put Hillary in the middle, hand him an ice pick (so he would look the part), and they set up for the photograph. But as that happens, another climber passes the group… and not recognising the man at the centre, strides up to Hillary saying, “Excuse me, that’s not how you hold an ice pick. Let me show you.” Everyone stands around in amazed silence as Hillary thanks the man, lets him adjust the pick, and happily goes on with the photograph.
Now, how would have you reacted if you were a member of that tourist group? How would have you reacted?
In awe of Hillary? Appalled, maybe, at this over-confident climber? Probably both?
I mean can see myself yelling out “You know who you’re talking to right!?”
You see, there’s something about arrogance that we just don’t like… We’re repelled by pride, aren’t we? But at the same time, when we see humility-our mouths drop. Humility is attractive.
And that’s why I think Philippians 2:4-11 should “wow” us. Whether you’re a follower of Jesus (or you’re not yet following Jesus), these rich and well-known verses show us the beauty of Christ. And I think Paul is attempting to “wow” the Philippians (and us!) into humility. Paul attempts to “attract” us to humility-to “wow” us by detailing the life, death, and exultation of Christ.
And if you’ve been following along in this series, you’ll know why living humble lives is so crucial for the Philippians, and even for you and I.
You see, God’s churches in Philippi are facing opposition to the gospel; their chief gospel partner [Paul] is in prison; and some of their best ministry workers have been sick and unable to return home. Things are complicated! And the quickest path to division; to distance; to coldness is a small dose of pride mixed with selfishness. The Philippians are like any church community which could fracture because it’s people want everything to orbit around them! So, what’s going to bring God’s people together? What’s going to immunise them against division? Well, it’s this Christ-modelled Spirit-enabled humility.
And, believe it or not, this is the answer for us as well. At some point or another, our relationships (here) are most likely going to be affected by the disease of pride and arrogance!
One act of selfishness could break a friendship. One arrogant comment could wound your growth group for an entire year. One tyrant husband or wife could fracture the family’s joy and happiness. One self-absorbed leader could create a bottle-neck to healthy gospel ministry.
But Philippians 2 reminds us that “togetherness” comes through humility. Fractured relationships are avoided and healed through thinking the way Christ thinks.
And Paul is set on making our jaws drop at the humble mind of Christ in his life, death, and resurrection so that we might embody humility, here and now. So if you have your Bibles, please keep them open this morning as we get to be “wowed” by three things
in Philippians 2:5-11.
1. IN AWE OF THE COMMAND
The first thing we’re meant to be “wowed” by is Paul’s command in verse 5. Take a look at verse 5:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
For Paul, the sure-fire way to preventing and curing disunity is to think the way Christ thinks; it’s to have Christ’s mind in us. Now that should make us pause for a minute! We’re being called to let our glorious saviour’s mind… tick and tock in us.
Throughout the letter, Paul uses the word for “mind” a fair bit. In 1:7, Paul uses it to describe his feelings for the Philippians. In 2:2, he uses it to call the church to the same thinking. In 3:19, he uses it to remind the church to turn their hope and desires away from earthly things. And in 4:2, Paul uses it to call for unity between two women who are working for the gospel. Throughout the book, the mind is code for our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, resolution, focus, and our commitment.
So here, in v5, Paul demands that the mind of Christ, the mind of our Saviour and our God, should infiltrate and dominate the entire community of the church. Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus! That’s massive!
You see, Christ’s mindset is to work its way onto the board of elders, into our staff team, into our Sunday gatherings, into each one of us. It’s meant to infiltrate our marriages and families; mum and dad, your meant to walk home with it and remember it when you walk in the door; kids, you’re meant to take it to your soccer games; or to use it when your surrounded by your pesky siblings; teenagers to your schools; young adults to your casual jobs. Every relationship-work, study, play, siblings, in-laws, grandparents, friends, colleagues-every relationship, is meant to be guided by the mind of Christ-and especially
amongst the church.
You see, Christ’s mind is meant to dwell in, guide, and shape every part of our existence as the body of Christ.
2. THE MIND OF CHRIST: CHRIST’S LOW-GOING (V6-8)
But, that begs the question-how does Christ think? What sort of “mind” is meant to be in us?
Illustration: One of my favourite tv documentaries of 2020 was The Last Dance. It’s a compelling portrait of one of basketball’s greatest teams The Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan. And what I loved about the series is that it takes us into the mind of Jordan-it shows us his thoughts, his attitudes, his focus, drive, and determination. And at the end of it, you can’t help but wish that you had that sort of mindset…
Well, that’s kinda what Paul’s doing here. Using what was most likely some sort of hymn or song, Paul gives the Philippians (and us as well!) a glimpse into the mind of Christ.
And that brings up the second thing we’re meant to be “wowed” by-Christ’s self-lowering.
2.1. Jesus as God in Eternity Past (v6)
Notice where Paul’s song begins… Take a look at verse 6:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
Paul’s song begins with Jesus’ attitude as he dwelled with the Father in heaven. To put it simply, God the Son didn’t think to be selfish. Although Jesus was in very nature God-arrayed with all the glory and majesty of being God-he did not think of his status, or his glory, or his divine equality as something to use for himself. It was right for Jesus to be arrayed with glory, but Jesus didn’t use what was rightfully his. He did not think to be selfish.
2.2. Jesus as the God-Man in the incarnation
And notice where Paul’s song goes… God the Son didn’t think to be selfish, rather
he thought to be selfless. Take a look at verse 7:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
In his decent from heaven, the Son of God “emptied himself” or “made himself nothing”. Here, Paul’s point is not that Jesus emptied himself of his divine essence-no He was and is always God the Son. Rather, Jesus empties himself of his divine privilege and becomes a servant, literally a slave.
These verses can be hard to picture… And no illustration really does it justice, but it’s kind of like the TV show Undercover Boss.
Each episode features a high-ranking executive or the owner of a corporation going undercover as an entry-level employee in his or her own company. The executives alter their appearance, they hide their glory by take on the form of a regular employee: they’re not in suit and tie-no, they’re in (I don’t know) a Macca’s uniform.
Jesus Christ was and is always God the Son. But he empties himself of his divine privilege and glory and becomes a servant. He is selfless.
And we see that throughout the gospel accounts don’t we? Famously, in John 13, hours before his death, Jesus serves his disciples by washing their feet. And in his account John goes into great detail, recording every move that Jesus’ makes:
4 … so Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. (John 13:4-5; 12)
It’s a beautiful picture of redirected power, of selflessness, isn’t it? The one seated on the throne leaves his place; the king becomes the slave; the one who is rich becomes poor; the one surrounded by inapproachable light becomes encircled by dirty feet; the one who was high goes low.
2.3. Jesus’ death (v8)
But notice, the song says that Christ goes even lower… Take a look at verse 8:
8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…
Here, the mind of Christ is set on obeying his Heavenly Father to the point of death. His mind was set on submitting to the Father’s interests, not his own. And notice that this obedience is not forced, coerced, or involuntary! No, he humiliates “himself”. This part of the song echoes Jesus’ own words in the gospels:
18 “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18)
42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
The Son goes low, he willingly puts his life at risk, in obedience to his Father.
2.4. Jesus’ death on the cross (v8)
And Christ’s low-going reaches its culmination in the song, as Paul includes… three words “even” “death” “cross”. Look at the end of verse 8:
8c-even death on a cross!
In his book, The Cross of Christ
, John Stott speaks about the place of the cross in Roman culture. In short, death upon a cross was the greatest mark of shame. It was so shameful that Roman citizens (who supposedly created and perfected crucifixion) were actually exempt from it. And on this point, Stott quotes a Roman writer named Cicero, who lived 43 years before Christ. Cicero writes:
To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is-what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.
Cicero’s point is that death on a cross is disgusting-it’s a disgrace; it’s an embarrassment; it’s something you turn your face from… it is the epitome of shame. It’s no wonder that the disciples fled; it’s no wonder they deserted him, it’s no wonder they lost all hope-because God’s servant…
2b had no form or majesty that we should look at him and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we favoured him not. (Isaiah 53:2-3)
This is the low-going of Christ-“even death on a cross”. Cicero thought it was unthinkable for a Roman citizen to die upon a cross… how much more the one who was “in very nature God”? I mean, how can we utter “God” and “emptied himself” in the same sentence? Or “God” and “slave”? Or “God” and “death”? Or “God” and “cross”?
Surely, we can’t!? Surely, we’re not allowed to!? But we can! We can…
This is our salvation-this is humility: it is voluntary, power-redirecting, status foregoing, resource giving, life draining, shame bearing service for the other. This was and is the mind of Christ!
2.4. Application: What’s humility look like for us?
So how might that look like in us? What’s humility look like for us?
Well, Christ-given and empowered humility will come in different shapes and sizes-it will look different, in different people, in different moments. But it will give off the same sort of impression. It will give of the impression that: “your interests are more important than mine”; “you’re more valuable than me”; “I’m in this for you”. Christ-given humility sounds like: “I might be wrong”; “there might be a better way to do this” “I disagree with you, but I’m still willing to listen”; “Let’s do it your way”. Christ-given humility looks like using any bit of your power; your energy; your resources to serve others. It looks like the kind of person who has no regard, no care, and no fuss about their status and glory.
And on the flip side of all that-Christ-given humility will mean taking arrogance seriously. Those with the mind of Christ don’t tolerate pride-in themselves or in others or in their community. You see, pride makes us look ugly. Pride restricts us. Pride makes us lonely. Pride separates us from others and from God. And so having the mind of Christ means killing off pride by turning to Christ so that we might be brought closer together.
Christ-given humility will appear in multiple shapes and sizes-big acts and small acts-and it will have no time for arrogance… Could you imagine that? Can you imagine if this infiltrated our relationships? We’d really stand out, wouldn’t we? We’d really come toward each other, wouldn’t we? We’d really feel and see a sense of togetherness! Instead of living for power, influence, and status-we’d be a community of people who redirected those things for the good of others! It’d be so good! But gosh, it’d be a lot of effort, wouldn’t it!? It would!
3. THE SON’S EXULTATION (V9-11)
So at this point, it might be helpful to remind you of the obvious… that whilst Christ-given humility is beautiful-it’s also really really hard!
For me, all it takes-is an unproductive day at the office, someone to cut me off on the drive home, or just a few late nights-to want to plonk myself on the couch and yell “No!” every time I’m asked to do something. That’s not to mention my own natural hunger for power; my own desire to have things my way; my own self-absorbed heart and will! I don’t know what it is, but I’m always surprised that the world doesn’t orbit around me!
You see, humility is hard, isn’t it? Going low for other people does not come naturally to us! It requires suffering, dying to self, and actually thinking about other people. It requires God’s Spirit to transform us. It’s hard! But that’s why it’s so good that Paul’s song, here, doesn’t end at verse 8!
You see, from verses 9-11, the focus of Paul’s song shifts. It moves from God the Son’s willing decent to the cross; to God the Father’s gracious exultation of the Son. The song shifts its focus-from humiliation to exultation. And that brings us to the third (and final!) thing we’re meant to be “wowed” by: the Son’s exultation.
3.1. The Father’s work (v9a)
Look at the beginning of verse 9.
9 Therefore God exalted him…
What’s the Father’s response to the mind of Christ? What’s the Father’s response to the humility of the Son? Well, it’s exultation. It’s the bestowing of honour, of glory, of victory.
You see, Jesus Christ did not lose out when he humbled himself. His status foregoing, power redirecting, resource giving ended not in loss but in gain-not in shame but in honour! Costly? Yes! Difficult? Yes! Fruitless? Never.
During our staff meeting this week, we looked at this passage. And Hamish helpfully reminded us that:
“… you cannot lose with humility”.
And we see that so clearly in Christ, don’t we? Christ does not lose when he denies himself-no, he gains. He gives, he gives, he gives-and then he gains.
3.2. The Heights of Exultation (v9-11)
And notice how much Christ gains… Look at verses 9-11:
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The song tells us that Christ gains. He is literally “graced” by the Father with a seat higher than any other and with a name above every other. In these verses, the song seems to be echoing the words of Isaiah 45. In Isaiah 45, the LORD declares that he is “God” alone:
22 “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. 23 By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.” (Isaiah 45:22-23)
Here Isaiah 45 helps us understand the exultation of Christ in Philippians 2. Jesus Christ has been exulted and now “bears the name of… LORD, Yahweh”.
The Son is exalted as “God” “Yahweh” “Lord Jesus Christ”. In other words, there is no higher honour; there is no higher place; there is no greater gift-the Son is installed as the cosmic King!
Over the past month, Queen Elizabeth has had a lot of media attention because she tested positive to COVID19. So, naturally, the Queen isn’t taking any visitors at the moment. But, say if you were to visit her-there is a certain etiquette for you to follow. Here’s just a taste:
“When writing to the Queen… you should close with the phrase, “I have the honour to be, Madam, Your Majesty’s humble and obedient servant.””
“When meeting the Queen… men should make a neck bow from the head only, while women make a small curtsey.”
“When speaking to the Queen… you should call her “Your Majesty”, and “Ma’am” on subsequent mentions”
“When dinning with the Queen… if she is standing, you should too; you can sit once she is seated. You are also supposed to stop eating when the Queen does.”.
You see, there is a sort of “royal etiquette” that the Queen deserves. And that’s even more the case, for the Lord Jesus Christ, isn’t it?
In the exultation of Christ, God the Father prescribes a royal etiquette for everyone of us. It means that we change our posture… we bend our knee. It means that we change our language… we address him primarily as “Lord Jesus Christ”. We stoop in awe, in fear, and in trembling. And as we give glory to the Son, we give glory to the Father.
This is how much the Son graciously gains from the Father! This is the pay off for his low-going. He gains a royal place; a royal name; and a royal etiquette to which we subjects must obey. It’s a reminder that Christ did not lose with humility…
And so it’s an encouragement to us, that we won’t either. For all your low-going and selfless service-you won’t lose out! Sure, whilst we aren’t exalted in the same way as the Son, whilst we aren’t exalted to the throne or given the same name… the New Testament is clear that we will be exalted in and through Christ:
As Paul declares “… if we suffer with him, we will be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17)
Or as our Lord declares “… all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 11:14)
The point is that we will not lose if we live with the mind of Christ… So if you need reenergising or re-enticing to the mind of Christ-here it is. Be wowed by Christ’s exultation.
Hillary’s humility was beautiful. Christ’s humility-even more so. We should be “wowed” by the fact that we get to share in our saviour’s mind. We should be “wowed” by the self-lowering of Christ. And we should be thrusted into humility because of His glorious exultation. Because it’s Christ’s Spirit-given humility which will bring us together. It will heal the disease of division. It will bolster us against pride. It will rejoin the fractures which afflict our closest relationships. It will turn us outward. It will turn us to each other. The plague of division, pride, and disunity will be overcome. John Calvin was right when he comments:
“[The] diseases [Paul] brings forward [have] one remedy-humility“.