The Humble Obedience of Jesus

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Philippians 2:5-11

INTRODUCTION: We have been learning what it means to be partners in the gospel, and today we come to the very heart of the book of Philippians. The verses before us display the very heart of God as revealed to us in the gospel. Some people believe this may even be an early hymn that the church sang together, but either way it is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture, full of deep teaching about Jesus our Lord, but also filled with rich application for us as followers of Jesus. (Read Philippians 2:5-11 and pray)

What does it mean to humble yourself? The Bible says “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord,” (James 4:10) and “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11) But what does it mean to truly humble yourself? In this passage from Philippians Jesus shows us what true humility is and how far true humility will go.

As we saw from last week, Paul had just encouraged the Philippians to practice true Christian fellowship that is shaped by the gospel of Christ. Now he brings the message home by showing how much Christ did for us, how far Christ went for us in the gospel. He says that our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus who demonstrated such humble obedience in the gospel.

Today’s passage traces the incredible journey of our Lord Jesus from the glories of heaven to the horrors of the cross and then back to glory again. It is the most amazing display of humble obedience ever witnessed in heaven or earth. And God calls us to model our lives after it.

I. Have the same attitude as Jesus (5)

So let’s begin with verse 5 which simply says: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) This brings us back to Paul’s words from chapter one: “For to me to live is Christ.” (Philippians 1:21) There is so much wrapped up in that brief little statement, but here in verse 5 we see that it means not only to live for Christ now and to live with Christ later, but we are also to live like Christ, we are to be Christ-like. That is the good work that God began in you and is carrying on to completion. We are called to be like Jesus. And we are especially called to be like Jesus in his humble obedience as displayed in the gospel.

That phrase “your attitude should be the same” means “to think or direct your mind” in a certain direction. God is directing you to allow the mind of Christ as revealed in the gospel to form and shape you in your relationships with each other.

II. The humble obedience of Jesus (6-8)

Verses 6-8 trace the descent of our Lord Jesus in his humble obedience to the Father.

   A. He started at the highest place (“equality with God”)

First of all, we see that Jesus started at the highest place. Look at verse 6: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…” (Philippians 2:6) This verse speaks of Jesus’ pre-existence as God. Long before Jesus was born at Bethlehem, long before he created the world, from all of eternity Jesus shared eternal glory with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus has always existed as God; he is in very nature God; he is equal to God. You can’t start any higher than that.

And yet, and this is the amazing part, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. That word “grasped” means “to seize something for yourself.” Jesus was God but he did not use his position for his own selfish advantage. This corresponds to Philippians 2:3 from last week where we read: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” (Philippians 2:3) Once again, Jesus is setting the supreme example here where he did not even use his position as God for selfish purposes but rather to serve.

   B. He traveled to the lowest place (“made himself nothing”)

Jesus started at the highest place. And then he traveled to the lowest place. Verse 7 says, “He made himself nothing.” The phrase literally means that he emptied himself. He poured himself out in love for you and for me in humble obedience to the Father. He started at the highest place – he was equal to God with all the rights and privileges as God. But he made himself nothing. He gave up those rights and privileges in coming to earth as our Savior.

Last week we spoke about those who act out of vain conceit or “empty glory.” Here we see Jesus the Son of God emptying himself, laying aside his glory, giving up his rights and privileges as God.

Jesus started at the highest place. He traveled to the lowest place. And in verses 7 and 8 we can trace the four downward steps Jesus took in his journey of humble obedience to the Father.

     1) He became a servant

First of all, he became a servant. “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:7a) The first step downward for Jesus was taking the nature of a servant.

The word servant can also be translated “slave.” And what is a slave? A slave is someone who has no rights. One of the early Greek writers wrote that that whoever is permitted to do whatever he wishes is a free man and whoever is not is a slave. Jesus took the attitude of a servant or a slave, and he said to the Father: “Not my will but yours.”

We just saw in verse 6 that Jesus is in very nature God. Now we see that he took the nature of a servant. This doesn’t mean that he stopped being God. He just added servant to his resume. In taking the nature of a servant, Jesus did not cease being God, but rather gave up his rights as God in order to become a servant.

In the words of D.A. Carson Jesus became a nobody. He made himself nothing. He willingly gave up all his rights and took the very nature of a servant. Jesus demonstrated this in a powerful way at the Last Supper when he removed his outer clothing, got on his knees and washed his disciples’ feet. Paul says your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus. Rather than clinging to your own privileges and rights, you should humbly serve each other in love.

The first step downward for Jesus was becoming a servant, submitting himself to the Father’s will and willingly giving himself in humble service to others.

     2) He became human

Secondly, he became a human being. Back to verse 7: “But made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:7) Here we have the incarnation. Jesus humbled himself by becoming a human being. In Genesis 1 man was created in the likeness of God. Here we find God being made in the likeness of man.

Verse 8 says he was “found in appearance as a man.” (Philippians 2:8a) The invisible God became visible. He took on flesh in full view of all. He became a man. Jesus did not cease being God when he became human, but rather his glory was veiled in human flesh. He laid aside his glory as God in order to become human. He was truly God and truly man.

     3) He became obedient to death

Jesus became a servant. He became a human being. And thirdly he became obedient to death. Verse 8: “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death.” (Philippians 2:8) That word “humbled” is the same word we saw last week in verse 3: “In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) To humble yourself means to make yourself low. This verse shows us how low Jesus was willing to go. He became obedient unto death.

Have you ever been obedient unto death? Trick question. If you had, you wouldn’t be here. We give in to sin far too easily. But Jesus was obedient unto death.

This doesn’t mean Jesus was just obedient up until the time he died, but that his death was actually part of his obedience. He was obedient even to God’s command to die, to willingly give up his life for others.

     4) He suffered the humiliation of the cross

Jesus became a servant. He became a human being. He became obedient to death. And finally he suffered the humiliation of the cross. Back to verse 8: “He humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)

Dying on the cross was the most humiliating and painful death of all. The cross in Jesus’ day was not a decoration or a piece of jewelry. People shuddered at the thought of the cross. The word itself was avoided in polite conversation. The Romans hated those who died on the cross. The Jews considered them cursed. Cicero called the cross “a most cruel and disgusting punishment.” To die on the cross was the most shameful, cruel, despised death of all. But for Jesus it was even worse, because it was on the cross that Jesus suffered the wrath of the Father and paid the full penalty for our sins. This was the final downward step for Jesus, the lowest rung on the ladder. Jesus was obedient to death – even death on a cross.

Notice the cross was Jesus’ destination all along. All the other steps down the ladder were simply necessary steps to get him there. The cross was the heart of Jesus’ mission, and it is the heart of the gospel. Apart from Jesus’ death for us on the cross, there would be no salvation. Apart from Jesus’ death for us on the cross, there would be no hope of eternal life. Jesus had traveled from the highest place to the lowest place. There was no place lower the Son of God could go than death on a cross.

III. God’s glorious exaltation of Jesus (9-11)

Fortunately the gospel does not end there. The gospel is the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. God did not leave Jesus in the grave but raised him from the dead and exalted him to the highest place. Look at verses 9-11: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

   A. God exalted him to the highest place

Let’s take a look at this section phrase by phrase. First of all, verse 9: “God exalted him to the highest place.” (Philippians 2:9a) Notice the change of subject here. God exalted him to the highest place. Jesus humbled himself, but God exalted him. The journey down was all the things that Jesus did. But the journey back up is all the things that God the Father did. Jesus humbled himself; God exalted him.

It is always this way with humility and exaltation. You’ve got a choice. You can do the humbling, and let God do the exalting. Or you can do the exalting, and let God do the humbling. Jesus humbled himself, and he let God do the exalting.

Notice that God exalted him to the highest place. This is the same word used in Psalm 97:9 which says, “For you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.” (Psalm 97:9) Jesus humbled himself to the lowest place, and God exalted him to the highest place. There is no one and no thing higher than Jesus Christ. God exalted him to the highest place, and he is above all things.

   B. God gave him the name that is above every name

Secondly, “God gave him the name that is above every name.” (Philippians 2:9b) Although we often think of “Jesus” as being the name above all names, it’s likely that the name meant here is actually the name “Lord.” Jesus was named “Jesus” at his birth. But at his exaltation he was given the name “Lord”, or as the apostle Peter put it in Acts 2:36: “God has made this Jesus … both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36)

In Isaiah 42 God says, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another.” (Isaiah 42:8) God, who refused to share his name or glory with any other, exalts Jesus to the highest place and makes him Lord of all, that “all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” (John 5:23)

   C. At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord

Thirdly, we learn that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Paul is quoting Isaiah 45:23 here where God says, “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.” (Isaiah 45:23)

Notice Paul says every knee will bow “in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2:10) This means that all personal beings everywhere – angels, demons, humans, living and dead, will one day submit to Christ, bowing before his sovereignty and confessing him as Lord.

The word “confess” here simply means “to acknowledge something openly.” It doesn’t mean that everyone will be saved at the end of time, but rather that everyone will acknowledge Jesus as Lord. As D.A. Carson writes: “There will not be universal salvation; there will be universal confession as to who he is. That means that either we repent and confess him by faith as Lord now, or we will confess him in shame and terror on the last day. But confess him we will.”

In short, you can bow before Jesus now, or you can bow later. But one day everyone will bow before him and confess him as Lord.

   D. This all brings glory to God the Father

Finally, this all brings glory to God the Father. Everything changes with Jesus. God who is Lord takes on the name Father in relation to Jesus, while Jesus the Son shares the name Lord with the Father. Everyone will acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.

CONCLUSION: So, what shall we say in conclusion to all this? Let me leave you with three application points.

1) There is no task too small to do for Jesus. When you choose the path of humble obedience as Jesus did, no task is beneath you when you do it out of love for Jesus and your neighbor. We are called to serve each other in love.

2) There is no obedience too difficult that God requires. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. With Jesus as our example there is no obedience too difficult that God requires. And along with the command God will give you the strength to obey.

3) There is no reward so sweet as that which God gives. Jesus showed the ultimate obedience, and he received the ultimate reward. You can’t outgive God. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Jesus is the supreme example of humble obedience because he started from the very highest place, and he journeyed to the very lowest place. No one traveled further than Jesus on this road to humility, because no one ever started as high or went as low as Jesus did.

God calls you to have the same attitude as Jesus. God calls you to step out of your comfort zone, let go of your rights, and humbly serve each other out of obedience to God. There is no task too small to do for Jesus. There is no obedience too difficult that God requires. There is no reward so sweet as that which God gives.

© Ray Fowler

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