Twice in Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, he exhorted them to be of “one mind,” to promote unity (1:27, 2:2). Here, in 2:5, he identifies exactly what that “mind” is. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” What that meant was to adopt the “attitude” of Christ; a selfless mind, a sacrificial mind, a serving mind (Believer’s Phil. 2:5). In verses six through eight, he elaborates on what having the mind of Christ entails, namely, humility. In verses nine through eleven, he shows God’s exaltation of Christ.
Humiliation — What Christ has done (2:6-8)
Paul begins with Christ’s pre-incarnate state; “in the form of God” (2:6). Jesus Christ was truly God in the realest sense of the word. Paul specifically chose the Greek word that emphasized the “essential, un-changing character of something – what it is in and of itself” (MacArthur, 1715). Before Bethlehem, He enjoyed all the glories heaven. But He “did not consider it robbery” (v. 6). Christ “did not consider this position something that He had to hold onto at all costs” (Believer’s Php 2:6). Even though He had all of the glory and honor of heaven, Christ Jesus gave those up.
In giving up those rights and privileges that Christ had, He “made Himself of no reputation” (2:7). He “gave up His place” (2:7 NCV). Literally, He “emptied Himself” (2:7 NASB). This is known as kenosis. This was a self-renunciation, not an emptying of deity nor an exchange of deity for humanity (MacArthur, 1716).
Of what, then, did Christ “empty” Himself? First of all, it is of utmost importance to re-emphasize that Christ did not empty Himself of His deity. “What he did was to empty Himself of His positional equality with God and to veil the glory of Deity in a body of human flesh…there was no moment in His life on earth when He did not posses all the attributes of God…He did not lay aside his deity, only His place in heaven” (Believer‘s Php 2:7). He did, however, set aside His privileges in several areas: heavenly glory (John 17:5), independent authority (Matt. 26:39), divine prerogatives (Matt. 24:36), heavenly riches (2 Cor. 8:9), and a favorable relationship with God (2 Cor. 5:21) (MacArthur, 1716).
One could not only ask, “of what did He empty Himself,” but also, “how did He empty Himself?” The next phrase in verse seven tells us.
He (Christ) took “the form of a bondservant, and [He came] in the likeness of men” (2:7). If Christ had been a mere man as Jehovah’s Witness and Muslims claim, or a “god” as the LDS claim then His “coming in the likeness of men,” would have not been an emptying at all. This passage is evidence that the deity of Christ was an established doctrine of the early church, and not a later fabrication as some claim. Philippians was written in the early 60s A.D., well within a generation of those who where eyewitnesses of Christ’s ministry and who heard His claims for Himself, much to early for legendary embellishment. This doctrine could have been easily refuted, had it not been true.
It is important to understand that the word translated “bondservant” meant “slave” (Greek, 711). Christ became a servant, a slave. Not only was Christ a slave to God, He was a servant to mankind as well. Throughout the gospels, we see Christ serving others and not being served. Christ made that part of His mission. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Paul may have had this teaching in mind as he referred to the example of Christ in humility, for Christ Himself said that His service was to be an example for others to follow (Matt 20:27).
Christ demonstrated this beautifully in John chapter thirteen. “[He] took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” After that, He said, “if I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also aught to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you and example, that you should do as I have done to you” (vs. 4b-5, 14-15). Washing the feet of someone was the lowest duty that a slave could perform. They had to kneel down and wipe the grime and filth off of someone’s feet who had been walking in sandals through out the dusty roads of Palestine. Such humility for one who was under no obligation to do such a thing!
If Christ, the Lord of Glory, was willing to humble Himself to perform the task of the lowest sort, who then are we, that we should not humble ourselves before one another in service and love. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).
Paul goes on to say that Christ came, “in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7b). Christ did not merely appear as a man as the Gnostics claim, but He was truly man. He was human in every sense of the word. He became for us, what some have called, the “second Adam.” Coming in the likeness of man, He is able to undo what the first Adam had done (Rom 5:18). Not only that, but by becoming man, Christ is able to “help” those of us who face trials and temptations (Heb. 2:17-18).
Christ’s humiliation consisted of much more that being a servant for we read in Matthew that He came, “to give His life a ransom for many” (20:28). In Christ’s humility, He faced death. Paul says that He “became obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8). Literally, He obeyed until the very end, if it could be called that. Even though Christ could have called twelve legions of angels to protect Him, He submitted to the will of the Father, saying, “not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Not only is it important to recognize the duration of Christ’s obedience, but also the extent; “the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).
Crucifixion was the most brutal and humiliating way for someone to be executed. To begin with, the condemned was beaten unmercifully by Roman soldiers, until their muscles, sinews and bowels were open to exposure. After that, nails would be driven into the feet and wrists causing intense pain as they tore trough the nerves in the wrists. A new word had to be invented for this type of pain. The Latin phrase “ex crucis” literally means “out of the cross.” It is where we get our word “excruciating.” Eventually, the condemned would die by asphyxiation. (Strobel, 195-198)
But that is not all. Most artists depictions of the crucifixion show Christ with a loin cloth wrapped around His waist. This is done for the sake of modesty. In reality, the condemned was stripped naked before watching eyes, exposing their shame. As if that were not enough, those that stood around Him, mocked and sneered at Him (Luke 23:35-36). He was not allowed to die a natural death in bed. His was not to be an accidental death. The most shameful form of execution was reserved for Heaven’s Best (Believer’s Phil. 2:8). That is humility in it’s greatest form. Now let us see what God has done in response to this.
Glorification — What God has done (2:9-11)
“God,” Paul says, “has highly exalted Him (Christ)” (2:9). Whereas Christ has humbled Himself, God has not only exalted Him, but “highly exalted Him (literally “exalted to the highest)” (Strong #5251, Greek, 711). This is what Christ prayed for (John 17:5). And His prayer was answered. Not only that, but when Christ did not seek a name for Himself, “made Himself of no reputation,” God has “given Him THE name which is above every name” (2:9 emphasis mine). Scholars are divided on what this name is, but the results are indisputable. (Believers. Phil. 2:9)
“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” (2:10) He at one time bowed His knees to others (John 13:5). But on “that day” ALL will bow their knees to Him. “Of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth” (2:10). Angels, men demons, both the quick and the dead, will one day bow before Jesus Christ. “Those who do not willingly bow the knee to Him now will one day be compelled to do so.” (Believers. Phil. 2:10 emphasis original) “And that every tongue confess (lit. acknowledge, agree. MacArthur, 1717) that Jesus Christ is Lord” (2:11). I once heard a preacher say, “There are two kinds of people: those that confess Jesus as Lord willingly now, and those who will be forced to unwillingly then: those who now say to Christ, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom Christ will one day say, ‘Thy will be done.”
The result of this; “to the glory of God the Father” (2:11). As Christ receives honor, so does the Father (John 5:23). Christ’s emptying, humiliation, obedience, death and exaltation all bring glory to God. Just as Christ did, so should we bring glory to God by seeking to declare His name, by our humility, or obedience, and possibly through our death (cf. Phil. 1:20, James 4:10).
May we follow Christ’s example and “let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of [us] look out not only for [our] own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). If we all had the “mind of Christ,” what unity our churches would demonstrate!
1. MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers. 2005.
2. MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. Believer’s Bible Commentary :Old and New testaments Nashville: Thomas Nelson (1997, c1995).
3. Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1998.
4. Strong, James. The NEW STRONG’S GUIDE to BIBLE WORDS. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers 1996.
5. New American Standard Bible Text Edition. Anaheim, California: Foundation Publications, Inc. 1997.
6. The Holy Bible, New Century Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers 2005.
7. Holy Bible, New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers 1982.
8. Word Study Greek New Testament Carol Stream, Illinois. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1999.
* Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are from Holy Bible, New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers 1982.