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Philippians 2:1-11: Having the Mindset of Christ Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 July 2008

The month of July marks the beginning of my fourth year as the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church.  Over the past three years I have often thought to myself: ‘What is it that I should want for the people here?  What is my desire for them as their pastor?’  Paul gives me an answer to this question in our text this morning.  Look at verses 1-2 again.  He begins by pointing the Philippians to the fact that they have received great blessings as believers.  The sense of the text is that since they have been encouraged in Christ, and comforted by His love, and participated in the Spirit, and been given ample amounts of affection and sympathy, they should complete my joy by being of the same mind.  What does Paul mean by ‘complete my joy’?  I mean, I thought that we had already said that Paul’s joy did not depend upon circumstances, so what does he mean by asking the Philippians to complete his joy by being like-minded?  Is Paul’s joy based on circumstances or not?  In one sense, we have to say that they it is not based on circumstances.  Whatever happens to Paul, whatever difficulties he faces, his joy is secure because of his relationship with Christ.  Yet, his relationship with Christ involves the Churches.  They are his brothers and sisters in Christ.  They are his family.  Thus, part of his joy is wrapped up in their faithfully following after Christ and living lives that are worthy of the gospel.  He wants them to complete my joy by being unified.  Thus, even though his joy is firmly rooted in his relationship with Christ, that does not mean that it is unaffected by others and their walk with Christ.  This is the heart that I want to have as your pastor.  I want my joy to be solid and secure in Christ, but I want it to be completed by your being unified around the gospel.

It is this idea of unity that will dominate the rest of our passage this morning.  The basic message that Paul is giving them is that they need to be unified through humility.  He builds this exhortation on the example of Christ.  As we mentioned last week, Paul always builds his practical exhortations on doctrinal foundations.  Philippians 2:1-11 is one of the most obvious examples of this.  Many, many pages have been written concerning these verses, particularly verses 5-11.  Some think that Paul is quoting from a hymn that either he wrote or someone else wrote, while others are not so sure.  Some see Adam-Christ connections or Suffering Servant-Christ connections, while others disagree.  Unfortunately, some spend so much time debating these issues that they miss the glorious truths that are obvious in this passage.  Paul’s doctrine of Christ, or Christology, is astounding and beautifully described.  The exhortations that he builds upon this doctrine, which are found in 1:27-30, 2:1-4, and 2:12-18, are pointed and desperately needed by the Philippians and all others who claim to be followers of Christ.  In order for us to catch a glimpse of his argument, I want to begin by looking at the theology in verses 5-11 and then coming back to the commands in verses 1-4.

Theology: The person and work of Christ (v. 5-11).

We cannot overstate what is being said about Christ in these verses.  They teach us so much about the Savior that we follow.  I want to first consider what it says about His person and then look at what it says about his work. 

Although this may be an oversimplification, Paul teaches us here that Jesus was God who became man.  Look at verses 5-7.  After stating that we should have the mindset of Christ in verse 5, he begins to tell us about this mindset.  He begins by telling us that Jesus was in the form of God.  Some have argued that this means that Christ was not actually God, but only in the ‘form’ of God.  Yet, that interpretation does not fit the context of this verse (not to mention the rest of the New Testament teaching concerning Christ).  Rather, we need to see the contrast that Paul is making.  He later says that Christ took the form of a servant by being born as a human.  Paul is using the term ‘form’ to refer to Christ’s mode of existence.  Carson states: “This ‘mode of existence’ of God embraces both essence and function: he enjoyed real equality with God, and he became a real servant.” 1  Thus, Paul is making a contrast between the fact that Christ was truly God and He truly became man.  He writes: (Christ) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.  The verse could be translated: ‘he did not count equality with God a thing to be exploited or taken advantage of.’  In other words, Christ possessed equality with God, but He was not willing to take advantage of that fact.  Rather, He made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  At the incarnation, Christ became a servant, a nothing, a nobody, so as to serve us with His life and death.

My theology professor in seminary, Dr. Bruce Ware, used this illustration to help explain this passage.  As with all illustrations, it has its limitations, but it helps.  Imagine you were shopping for a new car.  In fact, you wanted to buy a Hummer.  You liked it because it was rough and rugged and could get you out of any mud-hole in the world.  So, you went to the Hummer dealership to look at them.  When you got there, you went into the showroom and setting in the middle of floor was a dirty, covered in mud, dripping filth all over the floor, Hummer.  It was so dirty you couldn’t even tell what color it was.  Yet, the salesman told you that it was a brand new Hummer, the top of the line.  This is not what you expected.  You expected a shiny new Hummer.  Even though you liked Hummer’s because of their ability to drive through the mud, you still wanted it to be shiny.  Yet, consider this question: does the mud and the dirt make the vehicle any less a Hummer?  No, it is still a Hummer.  Does it make it any less valuable?  No, it is still a nice vehicle.  Rather, the mud simply displays for us what the Hummer does so well: drive through the mud.  When Christ took on flesh, he did not in any way become less than God.  No, He emptied Himself by taking on the dirt and filth of humanity.  He was still very much God covered in flesh.  And by doing so, He taught us the great truth that God loves and serves others, that God was willing to humble Himself and become a man to save a people for Himself, which leads us to considering the work of Christ.

Paul teaches us here that the work of Christ was to humble himself to the point of death.  Look at verse 8.  Christ not only emptied Himself by taking on flesh, but He obeyed the Father to the point of death, even death on a cross.  He became God in the flesh and died on a cross.  Nobody took His life, no He freely gave it in obedience to the Father’s plan.  Unfortunately, the climax of the contrast is lost on us because referring to a cross is normal to us.  Yet, the cross was humiliating and shocking.  It was the worst type of punishment, reserved for rebels.  Thus, Paul is hitting us with an amazing thought: the One who was in the form of God, took on the form of a servant and died upon a cross.  God dying on a cross.  What a scandal, what a shocking statement.  Yet, this is the work of Christ.  This is what He came and did.  This is how He humbled Himself.  And how did the Father respond?  Look at verses 9-11.  Because of Christ’s coming in the flesh, because of His obedience, His death on a cross, His utter humility, God the Father has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.  What is that name?  Kurious, Lord.  The Old Testament teaches that God will not give His name to any other (see Isaiah 42, 45).  It tells us that He alone is God.  Thus, when Paul tells us that the name of Lord has been given to Christ, what is he saying?  He is saying that Jesus is God, God the Son.  He is saying that all honor and all glory will be given to Him on the last Day, for every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

In light of such glorious doctrine and Christology, what practical exhortation does Paul give us?

Practice: Humble yourself and count others as more important (v. 1-4).

Let’s go back and look at how Paul commands us to live?  Look at verses 1-4.  If we are going to live lives that are worthy of the gospel, then in light of what Christ has done for us, we must humble ourselves.  I mean, if God the Son can take on the form of a servant and serve us, then how wan we not humbles ourselves and serve one another?  As Paul states in verse 1, God has lavished His love upon us through Christ, He has given us the Spirit, and poured upon us affection and sympathy.  He has loved us by sending His Son to die on a cross for us.  Christ left glory, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, or exploited, took on flesh and died the most humiliating death possible.  In light of such weighty theology and truth, how could we not give our lives to serving others?  Augustine was asked to list the central principles of the Christian life and he stated it this way: “First, humility; second, humility; third, humility.” 2  As Carson states: "If Christ willingly gave and gave and gave, then we should wholeheartedly give and give and give." 3  Brothers and sisters, do not miss the implication here: the Person and work of Christ will change us.  If we cannot count others as more important than ourselves, then we have not really grasped the weight of God dying on a cross for us.  As the old hymn says: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” 4  Such love demands it.

As we close our service this morning by coming to the table, I just want to remind us of the importance of considering the cross each week as we come together.  If we are going to live lives that are worthy of the gospel of Christ, then we must understand the weight and glory of the cross.  We must again and again be humbled by the fact that Christ emptied Himself by taking on flesh and obeying even to the point of death on a cross.  We need to be reminded of this constantly because we are always fighting the ugly sin of pride.  We think to highly of ourselves.  We think that we are too good to serve others.  We wonder why others don’t want to serve us more and give us what we think we deserve.  Yet, the cross liberates us from being chained to our pride.  It reminds us that One who is of infinite value became nothing to serve us.  Paul calls us in this passage to have that same mindset.  He calls us to willingly give and give and give because Christ gave and gave and gave.  May we be a Church of servants.  May we be a Church that lays down their lives for each other and for the lost and hurting world that needs to hear the good news of a Savior.  May we be a Church that has the mindset of Christ, a Church that has so radically been changed by the Person and work of Jesus, that we cannot help but be servants to all to the glory of God the Father.  Amen.

1 D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), p. 44.
2 Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Philippians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), p. 42.)
3 Carson, 60.
4 Isaac Watts, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (public domain).

~ William Marshall ~

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