5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [NASB ‘77]
After telling the Philippians to humble themselves and think of others as more important than themselves, Paul gives the ultimate example of humility in the story of Jesus. He makes it clear that no one has ever humbled himself more than Jesus did by coming to earth as a man and dying for the world’s sin on the cross. Paul’s admonition to look out for the interests of others in verse 4 finds its purest form in Christ’s sacrifice. Nothing compares to what Christ did for those He loved and for the glory of the Father. Thus in using Christ’s story as an example of humility, Paul pens a worship hymn to our Savior.
Paul adds another admonition to back up what he’s just told them about humility, love and unity. The consummate example of how he wants them to live is Christ. If they want to perfectly fulfill the command to be humble and think of others, they need to adopt the attitude of Jesus.
What did Christ do to model the attitude of humility the Philippians should have? He set aside the glory of being God and, in the role of a bond-servant, became a man (note that Paul makes it clear that Jesus pre-existed his Bethlehem birth). He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself and became human.
We really need to stop here and let these words sink in. This is the single greatest act of humility not only in world history, but in all eternity. Jesus decided NOT to hold on to the glory of being a member of the TRIUNE GODHEAD. This is so beyond our comprehension and so beyond anything we could ever do, that it’s laughable to use it as a comparison to anything in life. What did Jesus give up? He gave up His equal spot in the glory of the Trinity. Paul says this example should help us to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit (vs 3). Empty conceit is a little easier to understand when compared to leaving the glory and authority of heaven, isn’t it?
Christ’s example doesn’t stop with leaving glory. He actually took humility a step further. He didn’t just become a man, he died as a man. And he didn’t just die as a man, he died one of the most humiliating and painful deaths a man can die – a death the Law said was reserved only for those who were cursed (Gal 3:13). He humbled Himself as Lord to become man and humbled Himself as a man to die on the cross. He went down and then went down again.
Notice who does the acting in verses 6-8. It’s all Jesus. No one forces Him to do anything. HE doesn’t regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. HE empties Himself. HE takes the form of a bond-servant and is made in the likeness of men. HE humbles Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. He’s the ultimate example of humility because He does everything voluntarily in submission to the Father.
That’s why Jesus is also the ultimate example of obedience. He was obedient to the point of death. He laid down His life in obedience to the Father. Thus we must lay down our lives – our self-interest, our pride, our me-first approach – in obedience to the Father. Humility isn’t just an act of love, it’s an act of obedience.
What Jesus did – out of humility and in obedience – was to say ‘no’ to everything advantageous to Himself. That’s the example for us. He perfectly exemplified Paul’s admonition to not merely look out for our own personal interests. Actually, to say that He exemplified it is to put it mildly. Jesus gave up what only He can give up. What He did is staggering. With that in mind, how can we look at Christ and then balk at Paul’s command to think of others more highly than ourselves and to look out for others’ interests along with our own?
This brings up another facet to Paul’s words in these verses. The ONLY way to fulfill Paul’s commands in verses 2-4 is to keep our mind full of Christ and the gospel. If we look at ourselves and our lives, we’ll find it impossible to think of others as Paul tells us to.
The actor changes in verse 9. No longer is Jesus doing the acting – it’s now God the Father. What did God do as a result of Jesus’ acts of humility? God highly exalted Him. God bestowed on Him the name which is above every name. This exaltation of Christ is such that someday the mention of His name will cause every being in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth (EVERY creature that has lived at any time in any form in any place) to bow the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Jesus is God).
Jesus humbled Himself but is now exalted. And just as no one ever humbled himself as Jesus did, no one will be exalted as Jesus is and will be. Jesus emptied Himself and humbled Himself below all. God now exalts Him above all.
From these verses we see that Jesus is central to everything. He is central to everyone in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth. There is nowhere He isn’t supreme. That’s why we worship Him and praise Him and glorify Him. He died, He rose, He is now above all things. He’s the reason we live and are free. He’s the reason we stand justified before God. It is HIS righteousness that clothes us in God’s presence. It is HIS Spirit that indwells us and allows us to please Him. HE will come again in glory and rule over all things. There is no way to praise Him too much or make Him the object of too much worship.
These verses should cause us to look with awe at our Savior. And they should make us erupt in praise with thanksgiving that they describe the One who loves us and wants to walk with us. He is exalted above all things and yet wants to commune with each of us personally. He is not just the exalted Savior. He is the exalted PERSONAL Savior. He is above all things and yet WITH us. That we worship the One who walks with us explains why we have a relationship instead of a religion.
It is interesting to consider Paul’s statement in verse 11. That EVERY tongue will confess Jesus as Lord and that EVERY knee will bow to Him must mean that many will confess and bow grudgingly (see Is 45:23-24). There will come a day when regardless of what anyone thinks or wants to do, they will confess Jesus and bow to Him. What’s interesting is that everyone will make what is essentially a saving confession. In many cases, however, it won’t save. So it comes down to this – the difference between believers and the damned is the timing of this confession. Those who make it before Christ returns will spend eternity with Him basking in His love. Those who make it only after He returns will spend eternity without Him suffering in His wrath.
Notice the end result of Christ’s exaltation. The knees that bow to Christ and the tongues that confess Him do so to the glory of God the Father. EVERYTHING in history and creation comes back to this. Redemption itself was to the glory of God (Jn 17:1-5). God acts always for His own glory. And Paul makes that apparent here. When tongues confess and knees bow they glorify God. The last thing Jesus will do is to bring all things into subjection to God the Father (I Cor 15:25-28).
Don’t forget the topic sentence of this section of the text. Paul tells us all this about Christ to support his opening statement in verse 5. We need to have the attitude of Christ in order to fulfill Paul’s commands regarding humility and unity. The example is overwhelming, isn’t it? It’s using a sledgehammer to drive a nail. We’re called to think of others and the example we’re given is the One who left glory to die for the sins of the world. Can we do anything to compare? Will we ever have to give up so much? Will we ever be asked to do anything as costly? What the amazing example of Christ does is to render moot any objection we raise to Paul’s admonitions. We may find Paul’s words audacious – think of others more highly than ourselves? – until we look at the example of Christ; at which point we bow our heads and acknowledge our selfishness. There is no way to truly look at Christ and justify any actions that aren’t humble and obedient.
But if we have the mind of Christ and follow His example, does any part of verses 9-11 apply to us? We certainly won’t have a name above every name and every knee won’t bow down to us (logic dictates that only One can have verses 9-11 true of Him). However, God does exalt those who humble themselves before Him.
In I Peter 5:5-7, Peter says the following: You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Notice the principle. If we humble ourselves toward each other and before God, He will exalt us at the proper time. What does that mean? It likely is a reference to the eternal glory we will share with Jesus. So the example of Christ is more than just His humility – it also shows how God exalts those who humble themselves. When we follow Paul’s words and Christ’s example, God will exalt us at the proper time. This life isn’t about us and it’s not all about now – it’s about Christ and looking to the future glory we’ll someday share.
There is one last thought that can’t be overlooked. Beyond learning from Jesus’ example, we should ultimately read this section of Philippians as a worshipful hymn to our Savior. Meditating on these verses is what it means to preach the gospel to ourselves so that we see ourselves and the world as we should. There are no higher thoughts than these. Jesus submissively decided that equality with God wasn’t a thing to be grasped and became one of us and died in our place. Because of this God exalted Him and someday EVERY knee and tongue will acknowledge Him as Lord (regardless of what they do or think or say now). Christ is worthy to be Lord over all. Christ is everything and nothing matters apart from Him. It is Christ now and forever. He is the cornerstone and the basis of all we are and ever will be. We must live in these verses and feed on the truths in them every day.
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.
Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.
Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, enthroned in worlds above,
Crown Him the King to Whom is given the wondrous name of Love.
Crown Him with many crowns, as thrones before Him fall;
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all.