Lesson Text: Philippians 2:5-11
Background Scripture: Philippians 2
Devotional Reading:James 3:13-17
Philippians 2:1-13 (KJV)
1If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
2Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
13For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
To learn that Christ serves as an example of humble service to others.
To know that the attitude of humility that Jesus displayed is the opposite of the attitude(s) that seem to be prized by modern culture.
To make a plan to work daily on your attitude to become closer to that of Christ's example (attitude).
The Round Table
The legendary King Arthur is perhaps most famous for his round table. Challenging the hierarchical structure of medieval society, King Arthur is said to have built a table that had no “head,” thus symbolizing that all the knights who gathered there had an equal voice.
If the legend is true, it means that Arthur believed that his round table would foster a spirit of camaraderie and mutual support—no one would feel the need to jockey for position. But it’s possible to do so regardless of the shape of a table.
On one occasion, Jesus noticed how the guests at a dinner scrambled to secure seats of honor at the table. Reflecting on this human tendency, Jesus advised them to try a different course: rather than seeking the highest available seat, choose the lowest. It would be shameful if the host were to ask you to move down, but an honor to be asked to move up to a higher position. Further, and more significantly, God himself would bestow greater honor on a humble person (Luke 14:11).
Jesus not only taught humility, he also modeled it. Christ’s willingness to come to suffer and die offers an incomparable illustration of self-sacrificing love. Only love would lead Christ to do what he did. This same motive should inspire us to love one another.
Time: A.D. 60
Place: from Rome
Paul wanted the believers in the Philippian church to radically change their attitude. The apostle did not call for a conference on management. Instead, he called for a fresh look at the suffering Savior. Until His followers took Him seriously, they would not discover genuine and joyful humility.
Paul knew what some church workers today do not know, that there is a difference between unity and uniformity. True spiritual unity comes from within; it is a matter of the heart. Uniformity is the result of pressure from without. This is why Paul opens this section appealing to the highest possible spiritual motives (Phil. 2:1-4). Since the believers at Philippi are "in Christ," this ought to encourage them to work toward unity and love, not division and rivalry. In a gracious way, Paul is saying to the church, "Your disagreements reveal that there is a spiritual problem in your fellowship. It isn't going to be solved by rules or threats; it's going to be solved when your hearts are right with Christ and with each other." Paul wanted them to see that the basic cause was selfishness, and the cause of selfishness is pride. There can be no joy in the life of the Christian who puts himself above others.
The Son’s Example of Humility (Philippians 2:5-8)
1. What did Paul mean by “let this mind be in you” (Philippians 2:5)?
Paul now moves from exhortation (vs. 1-4) to illustration (v. 5): Christians should demonstrate the same attitude that Jesus did. This principle would seem obvious were it not for the fact that so many people in the church do not follow it!
Ideally, a Christian lives by the teaching and example of Jesus, not only in one's personal devotional life, but also (and especially) in the way that one interacts with others. The verse before us provides the rationale for the popular question, “What would Jesus do?” Before speaking or acting, particularly when the unity and mission of the church are at stake, we should pause to consider how Christ's example speaks to the situation.
What Do You Think?
In what situations have you noticed that your mind reflects or doesn't reflect that of Jesus? Why the difference?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
In times of grief or sorrow | In times of financial distress | In times of family conflicts
In times when things are going well | Other
2. Why does Paul refer to Christ as “being in the form of God” (v. 6)?
Paul’s begins with Christ’s eternal position in Heaven, before his birth as the baby Jesus (compare John1:1-2 17:15). Being in the form of Godrefers to Christ’s status before he came to earth. The word being (Greek. hyparcho) is better translated existing. This word is much stronger than the verb to be; it does not simply mean being but existing. Verse 7 (next) will show us how Christ’sform changed as he came to earth. The term form includes the idea of “invisibility” since the next use of form in verse 7 is a contrast with that of a visible human (compare Colossians 1:15).
The acknowledgement of the full deity of the Christ takes us into an area we cannot understand fully: the relationship among the persons of the Godhead. God has revealed himself to us in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and all share equal and complete divinity. Even so, Christianity does not teach that there are three gods, only one. But Paul's purpose is not to explain the mystery of the Trinity, so for us to try to push his explanation any further takes us into the area of speculation. Paul's purpose, rather, is to describe the great sacrifice that Christ made in becoming a human being. A key to understanding this sacrifice is to first establish what Christ's status was before He came as the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
Christ made His sacrifice willingly, not holding on to His high position in glory. Christ had every right to hang on to this equality with God. To do so would not have been wrong since it was something that Christ rightfully possessed all along.
3. How does Paul describe the humility of Christ (vs. 7, 8)?
The Greek translated "made himselfnothing" carries the idea of “to empty” as part of the description of Christ’s transition to human form. What, exactly, did Christ empty himself of in being made in the likeness of men? He obviously did not “empty” himself to the point of having absolutely nothing whatsoever with regard to his divine nature; Christ never stopped being divine. Rather, the idea seems to be that he gave up certain privileges attached to his divinity.
Having previously borne the invisible nature of God, Christ chose to take on the visible, physical "form of a servant" by becoming human. Paul stresses this stark contrast by repeating the word "form" from verse 6 (compare John 1:14).
In this selfless act, Jesus did not choose to be an earthly monarch, a wealthy merchant, a powerful military leader, an idolized athlete or entertainer, or even a renowned philosopher. Jesus became a servant. Once Jesus became fully human through His incarnation, Jesus became a servant. Once Jesus became fully human through His incarnation, people who knew Him could see that He possessed the full nature of a human being-except that He was without sin. He hungered as any human would. He felt the discomfort of hot and cold weather as any person would. He became tired after a long walk in the same way His fellow travelers became exhausted.
In verse 7, Paul described three steps in Jesus’ mission. He “made himself of no reputation”; He took “the form of a servant”; and He “was made in the likeness of men.” From birth to death, Jesus lived in humility. He was born in a stable. His parents were refugees in Egypt. Jesus grew up in obedience to His parents. He worked at a humble trade, that is, as a carpenter. Jesus cried with those who grieved. He washed the feet of His disciples. Paul summarized the Messiah’s self-emptying this way: “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Because of Jesus’ sinlessness, however, He could choose whether to die. All individuals are subject to physical death unless the Father decrees differently. But the Son could conceivably have rejected this final conclusion to His earthly life. Jesus, however, chose to die—not to just leave this life peacefully like Enoch, but to perish on the cross in anguish and humiliation so that we might live in renewed and eternal communion with the Father (Phil. 2:8). (Cook)
Paul himself seems amazed that Christ became a human willingly, purely for the sake of others, and with no benefit to himself (compare Romans 8:3; Hebrews 2:14-18).
Sleeping By The Parasha
Victor Herman (died 1985) spent many years as a prisoner in Russia’s gulags. His autobiography, Coming Out of the Ice, tells the story. For a time he was kept with 15 other prisoners in a cell 5½ by 10 feet. Herman says he was nearly insane after only 24 hours in the cell, surviving only because of a fellow prisoner known as “the Elder.” That man was recognized as the leader, a man who looked out for the other prisoners. The Elder slept closest to the Parasha—the latrine—where the stench was the worst. He was also closest to the door, where he was the first to be beaten by the sadistic guards.
At the once-daily feeding time, the Elder counted the 16 bowls of soup, seeing that every man was fed, not letting anyone eat until all were served. At night, the men filled every bit of space on the cold stone floor. One could not turn without disturbing others, so twice a night the Elder called out for the men to turn.
Herman said that that cell would remain a model of Christian service to him for a long time. The cell reminded him that every situation in life, no matter how plain or grim, pointed to the need for a servant leader. But the cell told him also that the person who sits closest to the Parasha, the person most exposed to the blows of the system, could claim authority to lead and serve. That’s something of what it meant for Jesus to “empty himself” for our sakes. —C. R. B.
What Do You Think?
What needs to happen in your life for you to walk the path of Christian humility?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Proverbs 16:19; Luke 22:26; John 13:5; 1 Peter 5:5; Other
The Son’s Exaltation (Philippians 2:9-11)
4. Describe Paul's explanation of God's exaltation of Christ (v. 9)?
Paul could not end his extended illustration with the Jesus on the cross. The place of honor that Jesus willingly forsook was given back to Him with the added glory of His triumph over sin and death (v. 9). The opening word “Wherefore” is significant. We don't use wherefore in modern English, but it has the sense of “by which” or “on which account.” It was on account of Christ's humbling, obedience, and death that God exalted Him.
By implication, God also will exalt the Philippians if they put the needs of others before their own (vs. 3, 4, above). It is important to stress that Paul is not promising material honors to the Philippians, nor necessarily even something that will happen in this life. We may or may not end up with material blessings or positions of earthly prestige by humbling ourselves. Jesus was not honored that way, nor was Paul. But we, like Paul, certainly will receive spiritual blessings in the form of joy and peace in the face of trials. Imitating Christ always yields blessings (Mark 10:28-30).
The cross—the ultimate symbol of weakness and humiliation in the Roman world—became the means by which Christ achieved the most exalted position imaginable, and given a name that is “above every name” ...The name Jesus!
5. What does the name Jesus signify (vs. 10, 11)?
The name of highest significance is the name of Jesus, Saviour, as it sets forth the great saving work which best illustrates the character of God. Not randomly, but righteously, God has surrounded this name with the highest dignity and with lordship too. All should bow to Him (v. 10). His exaltation included sovereign authority over all creatures in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.
Absolutely everyone should bow and should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The word should as used twice here conveys the idea of results that are expected. Everyone should acknowledge Jesus as Lord in the here and now, but God has given us free will to not do so. We are free to rebel against Him, and many foolishly choose that path.
But a time is coming when the should becomes shall, when the expected becomes mandatory. This is clear in Paul's use of Isaiah 45:23 in Romans 14:11: “every knee shall bow… and every tongue shall confess.”—Some with joyful faith, others with hopeless regret and anguish.The surrounding verses make clear that Paul is talking about Judgment Day in that context. Philippians 2:6-11 affirms that this universal acknowledgment of Jesus’ lordship will ultimately come to pass.
6. How can following Christ’s example of humility and obedience bring glory to God (vs. 12, 13)?
Following Paul’s description of the supreme humility and obedience of Jesus’ servanthood, the apostle charged his friends in Philippi to be as obedient as Jesus was. When Paul labored among them, they obeyed his instructions. Moreover, they had followed the apostle’s teachings after he had left. Now Paul told them to maintain their diligence in submitting themselves to God’s Word. This was not so that they might earn their salvation but that they would express their salvation in such a way that the spiritual health of their Christian community would grow in unity. The apostle characterized how he expected them to act by adding the phrase “with fear and trembling” (v. 12). He was not saying they should comply strictly out of fear of what God would do to them if they weren’t obedient, but that they should strive to be Christlike while having reverence for the Lord. It is God who gives us the desire and power necessary to do His will (v. 13). (Cook)
Our great comfort in the Christian life is that God continually works His good and perfect will in us. We always live in tension between laboring for God and His kingdom as faithfully and diligently as we can, and allowing God to inspire and train us to do what He desires. We are not alone in the spiritual battle. After all, the Lord is present in our lives to build our confidence and give us the hope we need to fulfill His purposes for us and for His church. This is why we must be completely dependent upon God, especially if we are to be faithful to Paul’s charge. Paul set a high standard for Christian humility, love, and unity. And the apostle knew that the Lord works in us, His spiritual children, to reach that standard successfully. This, of course, is the great goal of all that we do—to glorify God!
POINTS TO PONDER
1.Self-denial or thinking about others first is a critical part of having proper priorities in place to produce God's work (Philippians 2:1-3).
2.The test of the submissive mind is not just how much we are willing to take in terms of suffering, but how much we are willing to give in terms of sacrifice (Philippians 2: 4-6).
3.Jesus pleased not himself; he sought not the high places of the world; he did not choose a life of ease, comfort, pleasure. He lived for others; he went about doing good; he cared for the temporal needs of the sick and poor. He cared for the souls of all (Philippians 2:7-8).
4."Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time" (1 Peter 5:6). (See Luke 14:11; Philippians 2:9-11).
“Love Does Not Measure”
Mother Teresa (1910–1997) was the founder of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, and winner of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize for her selfless work for the poor. Her doctrinal beliefs are open to question on several points, but none can doubt her spirit of self-sacrifice. That spirit is reflected in some of her quotes:
I wouldn't touch a leper for a thousand [British] pounds; yet I willingly cure him for the love of God.
I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.
Intense love does not measure, it just gives.
Christ did not love on the basis of a measure of convenience or inconvenience for himself. Rather, He acted in terms of our need. To imitate Him, we must actively love others without regard for our own selfish desires. We must do this not only in the big decisions of life but also in everyday moments.
Lord, we struggle to put others before ourselves. It's very hard to resist selfish urges. Help us understand what it means to love one another the way Christ loved us. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGH TO REMEMBER
The measureless love of Christ is the model for all we do.