We're turning in our Bibles to Philippians chapter 2, Philippians chapter 2. Of course, we've had a break from our studies in Philippians due to the Christmas and New Year recess, and of course we were taking up subjects and themes that were applicable to that particular time in the year, but we're beginning again our studies this morning in Philippians chapter 2. We'll read the whole chapter, well not the whole chapter, but the whole of this great hymn, as it were, from verses 1 to 8: "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 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".
Let's read on: "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".
Let me just say at the outset of this message that this passage is holy ground on which we stand, and it is unapproachable in its majesty and the magnitude of the spiritual depths that we have contained within it. There is no rhetoric that any preacher or writer could conjure up that could in any way add or even explain the splendour of the spiritual truths that we have encapsulated within these first 8 verses that we're going to look at this morning, because there is nowhere in the whole of the Scriptures that the extremes of the Saviour's majesty and His humiliation are put together and contrasted and connected in the person of the Lord Jesus and the stoop that He took from heaven to earth. In these 10 or 12 verses or so we have Paul the apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, at the one point having the Lord Jesus on the supernal universal throne of deity as God before the worlds began, and yet at the other point we find Him at the point of total and utter humiliation, nailed to Calvary's cross and bearing the sins of the world. Of course these great steps that our Lord Jesus took were steps that approached always nearer and nearer man's sin and man's awful need.
The strange thing, you would perhaps think as we read this passage of Scripture, is that this great truth of the condescension of our Lord Jesus Christ, coming from heaven to earth, is used not just as an outline of some kind of theological truth and dogma, but it is used as an illustration to the church at Philippi of what they should be like in their relationships toward their brethren and sisters in Christ within the church. Of course, you know that as we've been studying this little epistle, that the greatest overarching theme of all is the theme of joy, the joy that ought to be in the believer's life. We find that one of the chief ways that we can have joy as individuals and as an assembly is through the unity and the bond of peace that we have in the fellowship of our Lord Jesus Christ, but primarily in the fellowship of the local church. There's a great joy in loving one another, and being united together with one another, and indeed putting one another before ourselves.
This great truth of the condescension of our Lord is used as an illustration of how we ought to behave towards one another, that's what the first four verses tell us. Look at verse 1: 'If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others'. If we could sum up those first four verses, and indeed the whole passage, it would be summed up in the last word of verse 4: 'others' - others must come before ourselves.
Now, if you know anything about the little town of Philippi, and indeed about the Greek world in which they lived, you will know that the Greeks were a proud people. Indeed, they had every excuse, if you like, to be proud because they excelled every other civilisation in their age. You look at their philosophers: you've got Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. They have the great comedians, the great tragedians, the poets, the sculptors - Greek architecture was second to none. They excelled in science and astronomy, in mathematics, in medicine. Indeed I'm led to believe that Hippocrates is still the man who is thanked and lauded as paving the way to our modern-day medicine that we have with us today. In government, in law they paved the way to what we know today as democratic rule, democracy, the ruling of the people. A great people who had every reason to be proud in themselves.
Of course we have learnt in recent weeks that this great people in Philippi were taken over by the Romans and the Roman Empire, and they became a little Roman colony. As Paul is writing to them they have known approximately 200 years of Roman rule. The Romans were also very proud people, they were not innovators, but one thing the Romans were was imitators. They loved to imitate other great societies, one of which was the Greek society, and they would build great temples like the Greek temples - only they wouldn't build them out of marble, they would build them out of brick and mortar and then they would put a veneer of marble upon them. Not innovators, but imitators - yet they were still a proud people. Even their great emperors, and the Emperor particularly that was ruling over the Greek region at this time in Philippi, took unto themselves the status of divinity. They said and decreed that they were god, and they therefore would be worshipped as god. Because of that many Christians in this age were put to death, for not bowing the knee to Caesar.
Do you see what Paul is saying here? 'Philippian believers, your conduct as Christians is not to be dictated by the spirit of the age, by what you have known in your life or what your civilisation has known in its culture, but your personal conduct' - verses 1 to 4 - 'has to be modelled on the person of Christ'. You would know that every great creation has an archetype and a pattern, it has an original - a prototype if you like, and once you get that prototype, that model, you can make millions and reproduce thousands upon thousands of copies from that one original. It is the first original machine and model that really counts. If you're familiar at all with the whole of Old Testament history, you will know that right up to this point in the New Testament, that for 4000 years God, the God of heaven, has been trying to show to men their utter inadequacy - all humanity, no matter what kind of character they might be - that they are depraved and that they cannot reach God or please God. You have an Adam, and then you have an Abraham, then a Moses, then a David, and even an Elijah - all of them without exception have failed in the eyes of God, and we have the records of their failure within the Scriptures. The Lord was trying to show man that they were failures, but the epitome of this great lesson was: when God in the fullness of time sent forth His Son, born of a woman, made under the law to redeem them that were under the law, to show - here is the man that humanity and civilisation has been waiting for! Here is the man who is given by God to be humanity's pattern! The man Christ Jesus, the type of true human character by which all others must and ought to be moulded and fashioned.
We can see this on the banks of the Jordan, when at the baptism of our Lord Jesus the heavens opened and the voice of God is heard to say: 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'. God's eye had scoured the whole of history from creation right to the very end of time, and there wasn't one other, and neither will there be another that He could say that of - 'In whom is all My delight'. Because of that Paul is telling these Philippians that this is the one to whom all the lives and conversations of believers ought to be conformed to. This is the Christian's pattern, this is the divine pattern, for this Christ Jesus is the image of the eternal God. He is the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn of many brethren - if you like, He is the model that we are to model ourselves on, He is the pattern for our lives.
Paul was a good example, many of the apostles were good examples, but all of them were only lights that reflected and received illumination from the Son of God, and shed that light abroad to the benefit of others. Let us never forget that although we esteem an apostle, we only esteem them so far as they follow and exemplify the pattern of Jesus Christ - it is Christ who we follow! We are Christ's ones. Let us not forget that, as we have this great truth of the condescension of our Lord, it is all caught within this exhortation for us to be like Him in His humiliation and His suffering, and as an illustration of what we ought to be in our Christian conduct.
The great Dr. A.B. Simpson gave seven points, there are seven steps here of the condescension of our Lord, but he mirrored those seven steps in the seven points of our humiliation that ought to come from God's divine pattern, and I want to give you those headings today. The first is this: conscious dignity. Second: voluntary surrender. Third: complete surrender. Fourth: surrender of the will. Fifth: His earthly position. Sixth: obedient to death. Seventh: His final sacrifice. Under those headings let us look this morning at the great stoop that our Saviour took. The first thing that we find in verse 5 is this: 'Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God'. While this is a picture of the humiliation of our Lord Jesus, you have to see that it begins at the great height that our Lord Jesus stooped from, the height of His glory, and His splendour, and His majesty. We see from this that He was conscious of His dignity before He took that great stoop.
He was in the form of God, the Authorised Version says, another version says 'in very nature He was God'. The sense of this description is that He gave in eternity past, if I can say that, an outward manifestation of an inner reality of the fact that He was God - but He manifests that in the great glory and majesty, the effulgence of His being. His essential form was never altered, and even when He came in human flesh it was not altered, neither will it ever be altered. He is, was, and ever shall be existent God, pre-existent, present, and ever-existent - God, world without end. That of course agrees with the rest of Scripture, and I hope you concur with that. The Bible testifies that He is the image of the invisible God. Hebrews says that He is the effulgence of God's glory, He is the very image of His substance. John 1 verse 1: 'In the beginning was the Word', Christ, 'the Word was with God, and the Word was God' - and there was not anything made that was made without the Word, for He is God!
But what I want you to see in the light of your pilgrimage down here on earth: it was because of Christ's consciousness of His own dignity that He was enabled to take the stoop that He took. What do I mean? I mean that those of lofty, holy character are able to condescend. While others are filled with a raging passion for their own vainglory in trying to keep and grasp hold of their own dignity, who seek earthly honour, who are always trying to hold on to the little reputation that they have - one of true rank, one who is conscious of dignity is indifferent to outward appearances, because He knew that His dignity could not be questioned. Do you see it? It didn't matter what people thought of Him, it didn't even matter what people saw of Him - there was nothing in Him that we should desire Him - He knew who He was! He knew where He had come from!
What a lesson there is for us in our Christian conduct to realise that before we can imitate God's Son in His humility, we need to realise the high and the holy dignified calling that we have as sons of God, born again unto good works. When we realise who we are in Christ and what we have in Christ, it will not be hard to stoop to even the lowest depths of self-abasement and self-sacrifice. He was conscious of His own dignity.
The second thing is this: it was a voluntary surrender. It says in verse 6, the second half: 'He thought it not robbery to be equal with God'. It could be translated like this: 'He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, or something to be jealously retained'. The word 'grasped' could have two meanings - it either means something that is seized, something that is grabbed hold forcibly upon, even something that is stolen, that can be another meaning; or it could mean a prize or an award that one is striving toward. Something that you're taking or something that you're moving toward. Whatever the meaning is it can be applied to our Lord Jesus, because the remarkable thing about His condescension to earth was that He did not cling on to His rights and to His privileges as God. He didn't hold on to them, He didn't jealously grasp them or retain them. Or the other meaning: He didn't strive toward them as a possession to use, or to be seen to use.
The first reason He didn't do that was because He was sure of it. He didn't need to prove to Himself who He was, He didn't need to prove to others who He was, He knew who He was! His claim to be God, as He did on many occasions, didn't detract from the glory of God, but the main point that Paul is making here is: He did not hold on to His rights and honours, but He willingly, voluntarily, gave them up and yielded them! Her majesty Queen Elizabeth, our Queen, is in the form of a Queen when she is seated on her throne and she is robed in the ermine and the scarlet and the gold, she has her crown on her head and her sceptre in her hand, with her officers and her subjects before her. She is in the form, the manifestation, she is in essence the Queen, but she manifests herself as such in the glory that she effulges. We go to the book of Job and we find that there is God over all the universe, and it says that the sons of God and even the devil come and parade themselves answerable to God, and that is the picture of the majesty and the glory of God - the whole world is answerable to the sovereign God!
He is the Creator, and His creation come and bring obescience to Him. Isaiah 6, he says: 'In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple' - and the seraphim and the cherubim came and worshipped Him. That is the position of the rights of God, the prerogative of God, to be sitting on His throne and to have His creatures not only come before Him answerable, but come before and serve Him and worship Him. Of course you know, I hope, that in John 12 John says that when Isaiah spoke of the one high and lifted up he was speaking of the Lord Jesus in all of His glory, in all of the effulgence of His majesty and greatness, in all of His rights as deity, and His prerogatives as God from all eternity. Of course we know in Revelation 4 and 5 that there's a day coming when all of redeemed humanity will be round His throne again, and they will sing: 'Glory and honour and blessing and power be unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb' - who will be on the throne once again for ever, and ever, and ever!
My friend, for a space of 33 years on earth He voluntarily laid aside that glory, that majesty. He didn't lay aside His deity, it could not be laid aside, but He voluntarily laid aside the manifestation of who He was. Our Majesty could step down from that throne and take off her crown, and take off her garments, put down her sceptre, walk out of the palace, go into a workhouse, take upon herself the garb of a servant, do a servant's work - but she still has the rights of her royalty and sovereignty. That was not Christ: He who had the rights voluntarily laid the rights aside. I think that is awesome. What a lesson it is for us, when we see ourselves made in the image of the first Adam; Adam who in the garden aspired to be as God, and fell - yet here we have a picture of one who didn't grasp at His godly rights that were His, and exalted Himself, and exalted and redeemed Adam's fallen race! Isn't that wonderful? He stooped down so low to lift up us sinful humanity.
He was conscious of His dignity, it was a voluntary surrender, it was also a complete surrender - for Christ did not give up something, the Bible says He gave up all. Verse 7: 'But made himself of no reputation', it could be translated 'He emptied Himself'. Theologians call this the 'kenosis' (sp?) theory - in other words, the word 'kenosis' is derived of the Greek word 'to empty' or 'to divest', which is the word here 'made of no reputation'. He emptied Himself, the word is 'emptied'! It does not mean that He emptied Himself of His character or His nature, just like you can't empty yourself of who you are. What it does mean, and I'm going to give you five ways very quickly that He did empty Himself. First, He emptied Himself of the divine glory, it was hidden in Him. Don't say it wasn't there, it was there, but it was hidden in His flesh. He forsook the worship of heaven, He submitted Himself - think of it - the misunderstanding, the denials, the unbelief, the false accusations and every form of persecution by the hands of sinful men - in that sense He emptied Himself.
He emptied Himself of the independent divine authority. In John 10 He said: 'I and the Father are one'. He made no secret about His equality with God as a person in the Godhead, yet equally throughout the whole of the Gospels - Matthew to John, and especially John - He declares His utter and absolute dependence upon God. He voluntarily gave up His independent divine authority, so that He could rely on God by faith. What an emptying! Thirdly, He emptied Himself of the voluntary exercise of some of His divine attributes. He did not cease to be God, He could not cease to be God - don't believe that lie of the devil! He did not stop being omniscient, or omnipresent, or omnipotent, or immutable - but rather, this is the key to it all, He chose not to exercise the full limit of those attributes during His earthly life, He chose not to use them! He hadn't got them taken off Him, but He exercised them selectively and partially - so much so that He could look at Nathaniel and say: 'When you were under the sycamore tree I saw you', but yet in Matthew 24 He can say that no man knows the day or the hour of the second coming of the Lord, not even the Son of Man - now you work that one out! - only for the fact that He withheld the knowledge from Himself.
Oh, He emptied Himself of His eternal riches. You know that verse that we often hear quoted, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9: 'He became poor that we, through His poverty, might be made rich'? That's got nothing to do with the fact that He lived in the wildernesses of Judea, that He had no pillow to put His head on, it is speaking of the magnitude of the riches that He had in heaven, and the fact that He had the adoration of heaven, and He gave all that up - that's what it's speaking about! The great thing that He gave up and the poverty that He came to - why? Because the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Also He emptied Himself temporarily of His unique, intimate, face-to-face relationship with the Father. For all eternity they had related to one another in the Godhead, the triune unity, one in substance, three persons, having that perfect love with one other - yet when He came to the earth there was not that face-to-face bond that there always had been in fellowship and communion, He prayed like a man prayed. But all of it is epitomised and climaxed when we get to Calvary, and there He is crying: 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?'. What an emptying! It was that horrible prospect, I believe, that caused Him to sweat great drops of blood in the garden, deeply grieved to the point of death.
Can you see how He voluntarily gave up the manifestation of His glory - just as Moses veiled his face when he came down from the mount, Christ veiled His glory in His flesh! Imagine this: the Word made flesh, dwelt among us. You know the tabernacle, that in the tabernacle was the Ark of God, and upon the Ark of God there was the presence of God resting on the mercy seat, and there was the Shekinah glory in that tent - right in the holiest place of all. Christ had that glory in Him, but He veiled it in human flesh so that when we would see Him there was nothing that we should desire Him - and in fact, I say it very reverently, if He was in this room physically you wouldn't be able to spot Him! Yet it says in heaven there will be no sun there, why? Because the effulgence of the light of His glory is so great that it will be the sun. That is what He laid aside, yet when we go with Peter, James and John to the Mount of Transfiguration, what happened? In the same way that He voluntarily laid aside the manifestation of that glory, He then laid aside that voluntarily laying aside, and allowed the glory to effulge and burst out of His being so that they saw Him in all His glory - and what did God say again? 'This is My beloved Son in whom is all My delight'.
Everything that Jesus did, this is remarkable to me, was not so much done in the forth-putting of His own uncreated, divine power - but He chose rather to be utterly dependent on His Father. If that is not emptying, what is? John says that He did nothing of Himself, but what He saw the Father doing; He spoke no words of His own, but those that He heard the Father speaking; He committed no works of His own, but those which were of the Father who had sent Him. He chose that His human life should be one of faith, and here's the big question: why? Why? For love of you. Does that not astound you? For love of you. He didn't come as a King, in the vestitutes of a King, in the palace of a King - why? Because He wanted to live a truly human life, He wanted to walk our walk, He wanted to weep our tears, He wanted to receive the plenitude of God's power via the vessel of prayer and faith, because He one day would be our Great High Priest and we would have to come to Him in all of our trials, in all of our problems.
As one writer said: 'He forwent the use of His attributes that lay all around Him like tools within the reach of the skilled mechanic'. Don't you think they weren't there, don't you think that He couldn't have used them. He said Himself: 'Thinkest thou not that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels' - but here's the crux of this passage: He didn't ask for them! Not once! Why? So that you could come to Him in your weakness, in humility, and derive strength from one who was tempted in all points like you are, sin apart.
What's the second reason? We haven't got through the seven points, but I'll leave you with this: the second reason is that you should realise that you are a son or daughter of God, and voluntarily and completely you should surrender yourself to the will of God. Next week we will see that the God of heaven became flesh and surrendered Himself to the will of others. Let's read verses 4 and 5 as we close, verse 3: 'Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus' - what an illustration!
Let us all bow our heads. Maybe there is someone here this morning that is not converted, and you have never realised what the Lord Jesus did for you that you might be saved. I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your heart to realise what He gave up, what He came to and put on, that you might be saved. All that is required is that you reach out by faith and accept Him as your Saviour, and accept the gift of forgiveness that He procured at Calvary for you, and go home today knowing Christ as your Saviour. Believers among us: does it not thrill your heart to be reminded what He did for us, but does it not exhort us to behave in this fashion towards our brethren, towards all around us? It will be those who realise their dignity as sons and daughters of God who will be able to make that stoop. I pray to God that we will all have this mind.
Our Father, we are astounded, and no words of man - and we say it reverently - no words of Scripture could ever grasp the magnitude, the spiritual gasp of horror, at the God of heaven stripping Himself of the rights and the manifestations of His glory, and coming to earth in poverty to be the Saviour of humanity. Lord, we thank Thee, and we pray that that mind of humility and of surrender will be found in us as we relate toward our God and one another, for Christ's sake we pray. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eleventh tape in his Philippians series, titled "The Majesty And Humility Of Christ Part 1" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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