READ : Philippians 2:5-11
In one of the most moving passages in the whole Bible, the apostle Paul tells us what the mind of Christ is, what thought process led to his decision to become a man. It’s an attitude we need to adopt.
The apostle Paul has already set before his friends in the church of Philippi the standard by which Christians should measure their lives. Every follower of Jesus Christ must strive to live a life that is worthy of the gospel. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” writes the apostle in Philippians 1:27.
Paul goes on to develop this idea of the worthy life in the next chapter of his letter. The life that brings honor to Christ and the gospel has an inward aspect, first of all. It involves our attitudes, “the way we think and feel both about ourselves and others. And these attitudes, in turn, will determine our actions; what we do depends first upon how we think. Paul is concerned particularly in the first part of Philippians 2 about the way Christians treat one another. If steadfastness is the way for Christians to live in relation to the world, then harmony is their watchword for relating to one another. And the key to this Christian unity lies in humility. That’s the one idea that runs like a thread all through Philippians 2.
The Christian Mind
Paul opens this chapter by describing the crucial attitude he is looking for in the Philippians. He is talking about what could be called “the Christian mind,” or the Christian way of thinking. It’s a mindset marked supremely by the quality of humility. “[Be] of one mind,” Paul urges the Philippians:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
The Mind of Christ
Now practicing humility isn’t easy. Why should we consider other people as more significant than ourselves? Who wants to put others’ interests ahead of their own? Why should we take second place to anybody? The great business magnate John D. Rockefeller once said he wouldn’t give a fig for anyone who didn’t say, “My place is at the top.” But as Christians we’re taught to say, “My place is at the bottom.” And that seems crazy. It doesn’t make any sense at all unless you love Jesus Christ. Then you have all sorts of reasons for humbling yourself this way. And Paul helpfully spells some of them out. If belonging to Christ carries any weight with you, he says to the Philippians, if Christ has any claim upon your obedience, if you know anything of the gratitude that fills those who are the undeserving recipients of God’s love, if you really have experienced the life that comes from the Spirit of God, if you even just feel something for me personally, “then,” says Paul, “complete my joy . . . by humbling yourselves in serving one another” (vv. 1-2).
But the apostle saves his best argument for last. The most compelling reason why Christians need to demonstrate humility is because this is exactly what Jesus did. This is the mind of Christ himself; his entire life is an illustration of what it means to act out of an attitude of humility that puts the needs and interests of others ahead of one’s own. The career of Jesus Christ traces a great parabola, which begins and ends in the heights of the glory of eternity, with a descent into the humiliation of suffering and death in between. It’s the career of one who consistently humbled himself in order to serve others, and Paul describes it here in Philippians 2, in one of the most majestic passages in all of the Bible.
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” he begins:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11, NIV
These verses in which Paul describes Jesus’ descent from glory into humility and his subsequent exaltation back to glory again are believed by scholars to be one of the earliest Christian hymns. Each stanza of the hymn (vv. 6-7b), and there are three of them, follows a similar pattern: Christ’s existence, Christ’s attitude, and then Christ’s action. The first stanza’s theme is Christ’s life as pre-existent God. All that God was in eternity, Christ also was. He was in very nature God, says Paul, God the Son possessed inwardly and displayed outwardly the very nature of God the Father. The Nicene Creed, Christianity’s most important early statement of faith, expands this phrase from the Philippians’ hymn when it describes Christ as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . of one being with the Father.”
And then we learn something of Christ’s attitude while he was pre-existent God. He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,” that is, he didn’t regard the supreme position and infinite glory that were his by nature and by right as things to be clutched and held onto at all costs. Instead, he freely gave it all up for our sake, not his nature as God but the position and glory that belonged to him.
And this results in a corresponding action. Christ “made himself nothing,” or emptied himself, “taking the very nature of a servant.” He surrendered the glory of heaven to take on the trouble and pain and humiliation of life as a man on earth. He committed himself wholly to another mode of being; the Son became a servant. One who was by nature fully God became by nature fully human. The mystery of Jesus’ divine human identity is not that he was a man on the outside but God on the inside, rather, it was that he was completely God and completely human at the same time.
This brings us to the hymn’s second stanza (vv. 7c-8) which describes Christ’s life as God incarnate. He was “made in human likeness,” the hymn says, and “found in appearance as a man.” The careful wording in those phrases is intended to safeguard the truth that, while Jesus was really and fully human, he was more than that as well. So while he was like us, he was one of us, he wasn’t identical to us. To most people who passed him in the street, Jesus looked like any other man, and in one sense he was. But he was also infinitely more than just any other man.
Now Jesus’ attitude as incarnate God is spelled out. It was exactly the same as it had been when he was pre-existent God in heaven in glory: “he humbled himself.” Deliberately, consciously, voluntarily, willingly, Jesus Christ stripped himself of every honor, descending lower and lower into the valley of humiliation, into the very depths of degradation, and all out of love for lost people. He was obedient to death, even death on a cross. Jesus’ entire earthly life, from its beginning in Bethlehem’s stable to the last breath he drew upon the cross, was dedicated to perfectly obeying his Father’s will in all things.
This is what it means to be God. To be God means to give, not to get. We tend to think that having power and glory and wealth means that you have the ability to get whatever you want for yourself. And so it is, among the mighty here on earth. The world’s rule is R.H.I.P.: “Rank Hath Its Privileges.” But the only privilege Jesus Christ exercised was the privilege of emptying himself of everything, including his very life, on our behalf. Power, for God, means having the strength to make himself weak enough to die, in order to save those whom he loves.
Finally, in the hymn’s last stanza (vv. 9-11), we come to Christ’s life as exalted God. The crucified Christ did not stay in the grave. He was not left in lowly humiliation. God raised him in power and glory to the highest place of all. The Christ Hymn describes God the Father’s action in glorifying his Son Jesus: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place.” God’s response to Christ’s self-giving, self-humbling, self-sacrificing service was to honor him above everything and everyone in the universe.
Because Jesus has been given “the name that is above every name,” every tongue will one day confess that he is Lord. His claim to be one with the Father will be openly vindicated before the whole universe. That is how God responds to Christ’s attitude of humility.
The key point to remember is that if you and I want to end up where Christ is, then our minds should be the same as his.
Jesus’ whole career??””glory punctuated by lowliness, voluntary humiliation followed by exaltation??””illustrates like nothing else the topsy-turvy, upside-down nature of God’s value system, God’s kingdom. There the way up is down. If you want to be exalted to heaven, you must lower yourself on earth. Whoever would be great must become the servant of all. God will humble the proud and lift up the humble.
I know it sounds crazy, but it really isn’t. It is the mind of Christ.