The Grace and Glory of Christ, Philippians 2. 4-11
John Mitchell, Cardiff
Many portions of Scripture could be quoted to show how God uses adverse circumstances as a background for His blessing. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians is an excellent example of this for the apostle is a prisoner in Rome when, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he gives what must rank as one of the most delightful passages in the Bible regarding the Person and work of Christ.
It is well to bear in mind that the passage is not primarily written so that men might be brought to Christ but rather to promote a spirit of humility and Christ-likeness among the saints. Living in a society which is permeated with self-interest and the like, we should ask ourselves what force the last word of verse 4 has in our lives: "others". The greatest example of consideration of others is then cited by the apostle—Christ Himself.
Verse 5 speaks of Him as Christ Jesus, the One who is now exalted, but who was once humbled. His attitude, although He was essentially God, was not one of selfish pride, but on the contrary He willingly took upon Himself the form of a bondservant. The word "form" used in verses 6-7 conveys not outward appearance (as with "fashion" in verse 8) but rather reality along with appearance, so that He who actually subsisted in the essential form of God became in reality a bondservant—from the highest glory to the lowest humiliation.
Verse 7 goes on to speak of His becoming in the likeness of men; being truly a man (sin apart) and yet more than man—in fact, the Man who is God.
The passage continues in its encouragement to humility by stating in verse 8 that it was when He was in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself.
It is evident that He humbled Himself in coming from above; cf. Psa. 113. 6, but our verse 8 says that "as a man" He humbled Himself. Involved in this, surely, was His awful experience in Gethsemane when in the fullest sense He became obedient unto death. The apostle goes on to express the extent of that unique obedience—the death of the cross: not only death, not only the cross, but "the death of the cross", with all the shame involved in that. We must remember that Paul is writing to Philippians, many of whom may have enjoyed the privilege of Roman citizenship (note the play on words in 3. 20 r.v.) and as such they could never know the awful experience of death by crucifixion. What force the words "the death of the cross" would have to them, and any pride in the hearts of the saints would quickly disappear in contemplation of the grace of Christ in providing for their salvation.
Then from verse 9 we have, in consequence of the humiliation of Christ, His high exaltation and His being given the Name which is above every name; see Eph. 1.21. In the Name of Jesus every knee and every tongue shall give testimony to the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ (the once-humbled One who is now exalted) to the glory of God the Father. In verses 10-11 we see the complete fulfilment of Isaiah 45. 23, and we would do well to bear in mind that this verse is also quoted in Romans 14. 11 where we are told that Christians will ultimately stand to give an account before God concerning their attitude to fellow-believers.
Philippians 2 continues with examples of Christians who illustrate for us the mind of Christ. Paul himself, Timothy and Epaphroditus each show that the self-emptying which accompanies true humility can only lead to the unity of the saints, to which the earlier verses of the chapter refer. How different are Satan's and man's intentions!
It is evident that true greatness cannot be divorced from humility, and it is only in the measure in which others find a place in our thinking that we show any understanding of the mind of Christ. The salvation of the local assembly depends on this, v. 12.