The Humiliation of Christ
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”—Philippians 2:5-11
The epistle to the Philippians is one with which I am sure we are all very familiar. It is the epistle of Christian experience. It does not deal with the great and high doctrines of our Faith, yet there is a wonderful background of doctrine running all the way through as evidenced particularly in the passage I have just read. But in the epistle to the Philippians the Spirit of God is dealing particularly with Christian experience and this really consists of three things. First of all, the knowledge of Christ. Until one knows Christ he is not a Christian and until one becomes a Christian he cannot have a Christian experience. So it begins with the knowledge of Christ. Second, the enjoyment of Christ. No one has a true Christian experience who is not enjoying fellowship with the Lord Jesus. We realize at once it that be true there are a great many experiences Christians have which should never be termed Christian experience. It is quite possible for Christians to be out of fellowship with their Lord and have very grievous experiences as a result and those experiences should never be designated as Christian experiences. Third, the manifestation of Christ. We only have real Christian experience as Christ is seen in our lives and that comes out very beautifully in this letter to the Philippians.
The epistle naturally divides into four parts, according to the chapters. In Chapter 1 the outstanding theme is Christ as the believer’s life; in Chapter 2, Christ as the believer’s example; in Chapter 3, Christ as the believer’s object; in Chapter 4, Christ as the believer’s strength and his all sufficient supply. This letter is, if I may put it so, one of the most psychological of all the New Testament writings. I am using the term psychological as it is ordinarily used today. Psychology is supposed to be the science of the mind. In the Bible psychology is connected with the soul instead of the mind, but I am using the word as we use it today. We have a great deal about the mind in the letter to the Philippians. Of course when you consider Christian experience you have to take into account the activity of the mind.
In Chapter 1 where we have already said Christ is set forth as the believer’s life, we have linked with that the Gospel mind or evangelistic spirit. We who are saved are saved through the Evangel, that is, the Gospel. We believed God’s good news about His Son. Many believed intellectually many years before they appropriated it for themselves, but when they risked everything for eternity upon His Word they received divine life. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever…and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
Having been saved through the Gospel, a Christian who is living in fellowship with his Lord must of necessity be concerned about getting that Gospel out to others. So the Apostle Paul wrote “Only let your behavior be as it becometh the gospel of Christ…that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Are you evangelistically minded? Are you really concerned about getting the Gospel out to other people?
Real Christians are never satisfied with just going to Heaven themselves—they want to bring as many with them as they can. That is the evangelistic spirit, the Gospel mind.
In Chapter 2 the apostle brings before us the lowly mind or humble spirit. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Pride, vanity, conceit, haughtiness—all that is contrary to the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ should never be found in Christians. Yet we all have to confess how we fail, how much pride we have hidden away, how much vanity, self-seeking—but all these mar and destroy true Christian experience.
Then we turn to Chapter 3 where we have Christ as the believer’s object, and we have the steadfast mind. Every one is called on to pursue without deviation the object before us—of some day becoming like Christ in glory. We say with the apostle, “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” And he adds, “Let us therefore, as many as be mature, be thus minded”—a steadfast mind.
Chapter 4, which shows Christ as our strength and all sufficient supply, stresses the importance of the mind or confident spirit which enables one to say “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
This is a wonderful letter. Four chapters teeming with precious things which, made your own by the power of the spirit, will lead you on to a richer, deeper spiritual life.
But now in the verses I have read we have presented the Lord Jesus Christ as our pattern. See the depths of suffering into which He went and the heights of glory to which the Father has raised Him. I want you to consider these things with me, especially in view of the fact that we are going to observe the Lord’s Supper, remembering again our Saviour who took our place on the cross and who said, “This do in remembrance of me.” We not only remember the work He did. We love to dwell on that, but we also seek to be occupied with the Person who did the work. Had He been any less than He was He would not have been efficient to atone for our sins. He had to be what He was in order to do what He did.
“No angel could our place have taken,
Highest of the high tho’ he;
The loved One on the cross forsaken,
Was one of the God-head Three!”
The Apostle Peter says he was a witness of the suffering of Christ and a partaker of the glory to follow. We were not permitted to stand by the cross and see what our Saviour underwent but we may in faith through the aid of the Holy Spirit stand by that cross and contemplate Him hanging there and dwell upon His suffering and sorrow, and it is good for our own souls that we do this. It was for our guilt that He was there upon that tree. Oh surely in view of Calvary we might well banish every hateful proud thought, everything like vanity or self-conceit! Surely these should have no place at His table!
Let us look at this passage. “Let this mind”—that was the lowly mind, the humble mind—so it is distinctly called the mind of Christ. In the earlier part of the chapter the apostle besought the Philippians to be of one mind. How is it possible for people to be of one mind? Take a great throng like this. They represent so many different nationalities; if you go back far enough possibly even different races, different heredity; environment and cultural opportunities have been so different. How is it possible then for people who have had all these varied connections in the past and present to be of one mind. Of course we will never look at everything the same way. We don’t look at political problems or national problems the same way, much less all our spiritual problems. Nevertheless if we all show forth the mind of Christ—all manifest that lowliness and grace seen in Him, we shall be of one mind. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,”—That mind that led Him to come to Earth for our redemption, to leave Heaven’s glory,—“Who subsisting in the form of God.” you couldn’t find any stronger term. No angel subsisted in the form of God. No created being subsisted in the form of God. But Jesus, from all eternity, subsisted in the form of God, He was one with God the Father. He thought it not robbery to be equal with God. It was robbery on the part of our first parents when they heeded the tempter who told them, “Ye shall be as gods.” They reached out to become as gods, and it was robbery—it was theft. But He thought it not robbery to be equal with God. When He said, “I and my Father are one” He was not vaingloriously aspiring to a place that did not belong to Him. He was declaring a self-evident truth. It might be translated differently. “He counted not equality with God a thing to be retained.” He was always one with God but stooped to become a servant. He might have said, There is no occasion for me to leave the place I have had with my Father from eternity, no occasion to go down and take the burden of guilty man’s sin—but no, that wouldn’t be Jesus! He counted not equality with God a thing to be retained. He said, I will give it all up—the glory I had with the Father before the world was and I will go down to the lost world to settle the sin question for guilty men. “He made himself of no reputation.” How truly these words were fulfilled in the place He took on Earth. Men treated Him with contumely. They said He was a devil and a Samaritan. There was nothing you could say of another that conveyed greater contempt. He took the lowest place. “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” I was reading a book some time ago in which the writer used an expression I personally did not like, yet I realize how naturally one might use it if one did not know the full glory of Christ. It was, “Jesus, that marvelous tramp, who has given the world such high ethical standards.” Jesus a tramp. That is what He seemed like to the men of His day. He had no home—He was glad to receive a drink of water at the hand of a Samaritan woman.
A Homeless Stranger amongst us came
To this land of death and mourning;
He walked in a path of sorrow and shame,
Through insult, and hate, and scorning.
A Man of sorrows, of toil and tears,
An outcast Man and a lonely;
But He looked on me, and through endless years
Him must I love—Him only.
Then from this sad and sorrowful land,
From this land of tears He departed;
But the light of His eyes and the touch of His hand
Had left me broken-hearted.
And I clave to Him as He turned His face
From the land that was mine no longer—
The land I had loved in the ancient days,
Ere I knew the love that was stronger.
And I would abide where He abode,
And follow His steps for ever;
His people my people, His God my God,
In the land beyond the river.
And where He died would I also die,
Far dearer a grave beside Him
Than a kingly place amongst living men,
The place which they denied Him.
Then afar and afar did I follow Him on,
To the land where He was going—
To the depths of glory beyond the sun,
Where the golden fields were glowing—
The golden harvest of endless joy,
The joy He had sown in weeping;
How can I tell the blest employ,
The songs of that glorious reaping!
The recompense sweet, the full reward,
Which the Lord His God has given;
At rest beneath the wings of the Lord,
At home in the courts of heaven.
Thus wrote one of the great German pietists in the 17th century. This wonderful Jesus, this Homeless Stranger, made himself of no reputation. But here another rendering might be suggested. He emptied himself or divested himself. That is, He who was God from eternity threw aside His glory, the insignia of His rank, and came to this world and became poorer than the poorest in order that we might share His riches. There are those who have misunderstood this and said that He emptied himself of His true deity, of His omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience, and therefore when He was here on Earth He was just a man like other men and so limited that when He spoke of the Old Testament as the Word of God He was just expressing the opinion of the people of His day. He didn’t know any better; he didn’t know it was not inspired by God. So they tell us, but the Scripture tells us though He humbled himself, divested himself, He did not cease to be for one moment true God and He could say “The words I speak are not mine but the Father’s that sent me.” Wherever He referred to Scripture it was the Father putting His seal upon the Old Testament. His voice was the voice of God.
As a king might lay aside his gorgeous robes and stoop down to take the place and clothing of a workman, so our Lord Jesus laid His glory by and came in the world to die for us. He emptied himself and took upon himself the form of a servant. The world came into existence at His command; it was He who created the universe—but now He chose to become a servant. The word for servant here is really slave or bondman. He came into this world and surrendered His will for He said, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” He became in the likeness of man, He was a real man, a true man, with all a man’s sensitive nature and with all a man’s interest in things about him, and then having been found in fashion as a man—as though that were not enough—and it was not enough for if He would save sinners the incarnation alone would not do, He gave His life on Calvary to redeem sinners. I say it reverently, the Son of God could not save men by His incarnation. His birth at Bethlehem,—God made manifest in the flesh, was not enough. He must go deeper yet! Calvary must follow Bethlehem. So “being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” I wish I could read that in the spirit the apostle wrote it. I wish it were possible to put in my voice the pathos and tenderness which I know were welling in his heart. Let me try to read it, changing the translation slightly. “Who, being in the form of God, thought equality with God not something to be grasped, but divested Himself and took upon Himself the form of a bondman and became in the likeness of man: and having been found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, such a death, that of the cross.” The most degrading form of death to which man could be subjected in that day was crucifixion. Yet He chose that. He went to the cross in order that there He might settle the sin question and redeem our guilty souls. Is it any wonder this same apostle said, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” There upon that cross He was delivered to death for our offenses, and when He had put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, they laid His precious body in the tomb, and three days later He was raised again for our justification. And so we read, “God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth and those in the infernal regions, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Oh, how God delighted to raise up His Son and give Him the highest place as man in the universe when His work was finished! You see, He always belonged on the Throne of God as the Eternal Son but now since He has gone back to Heaven as man there is someone there who was not seen before. There is a man on the Throne of God—the man Christ Jesus! We like to speak of Him as the Man in the Glory. He sits exalted there, our great high priest and intercessor. Some day He is coming back. One can understand the joy of Bunyan’s Pilgrim who, when travelling so far with his burdens on his back, came to the cross and there just beyond it the empty tomb. At the sight of that empty cross his burden fell from his back and tumbled into the tomb. He fairly danced with joy as he cried,
“Blessed cross, blessed sepulcher;
Blessed rather be,
The man who there was put to shame for me.”
For me! Can your heart say that? For me! You say, I know He died for sinners, but has He saved you? I was reading only this morning how a gentleman went into the home of a very poor old lady and he saw something on the wall that attracted his attention.
He said, “What is that on the wall?”
“I just don’t know what it be but it is a paper my uncle sent me and I just don’t like to throw it away and I just keep it there in remembrance.”
He exclaimed, “Don’t you see what it is!”
“No, I just don’t understand it.”
“Well, it’s a bank check. Look! There is the name of the bank on which it is drawn and ‘Pay to Jennie Johnson the sum of $500.00’ and there is your uncle’s name at the bottom of it.”
“What,” she says, “Did he intend me to have that money and I have been living in poverty all these years!” And it wasn’t too late to cash in. How many people are like that. They believe the Word of God’s promises—in a certain sense. They know Jesus died to put away sin. But they have never trusted Him for themselves.
Won’t you do it now?