Pursuing Downward Mobility: A Christmas Message

Philippians 2:1-11  SCC  12/19/10



The greatest sin is the sin of pride; and the greatest Christian virtue is the virtue of humility. Through pride Satan sinned and plunged himself and a third of the angels into demonic works.  Through pride Adam and Eve disobeyed God, wanting to be like God, and plunged the human race into sin.  Countless others in the human drama have refused to obey the       LORD, and sought to usurp God's position, to compete with God, expecting God to serve their interests.  Human pride has always been the source of sin, the cause of dissension, disagreement and wars, and the reason for the lack of understanding,

tolerance, forgiveness, and service prevalent today. But through an act of humility God redeemed us and restored us as His new        creation.  That act of humility is the subject of the message today. To be a Christian, furthermore, is to be like Christ.  But there are some aspects of this that we resist.  One is humility.  The human spirit resists this.  We fight it with all we have.  Yet, Christmas is another opportunity for us to capture the necessity of humility and Jesus shows us the way.




A basis for unity 1

There are four conditional clauses in verse 1.  Paul is not raising doubts about the existence of these virtues; he is assuming they exist and so form the basis of the appeal.


1. Encouragement in Christ. Paul is saying that if since we received this work of the Spirit that exhorts

us, then unity should follow.

2. Consolation of love. This is essentially saying that since we all share in God's love, then that love in us should produce unity.  No one earned his or her share; and knowing the love of God encourages us to unite.

3. Fellowship of the Spirit.  The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells us all and Paul is saying here that the same Spirit in all of us produces the fellowship.

4. Compassion.  This is that tender compassion of a mother to a child, or a brother to a brother, the feeling for someone that you have as if that person came from the same womb.  Paul says that if there are any tender mercies or compassions--and there is in the Church--then unity should follow.


The idea is that we are in Christ and therefore subject to His exhortations; we received the love of God and it encourages us; we have the Holy Spirit and He inspires fellowship; and we have received mercy and thereby live by it.  Therefore, we should find humility natural.


An appeal for humility-based unity 2-4

First "Make my joy full, that you may be of the same mind."  But it is not just a unity in the flesh.  No, Paul will say in verse 5, "Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus."  So we are to be of one mind, but that one mind is the mind of Christ. If we are in Christ, then we should be like Him, and if we are trying to be like Him, we should have unity.

Second "having the same love."  We share the love of God, and so we are to cultivate that same kind of love in our lives. 

Third "being of one accord."  This is literally of one spirit.  The Holy Spirit unites us in harmony and fellowship. 

Fourth "of one mind," i.e., "one purpose."  The purpose should correspond to the tender mercies and compassion listed above.

The point is to demonstrate the unity that they have in the Lord. So how do we achieve this? There is a negative and a positive perspective to keep in mind in vss 3-4.


Negatively: do nothing through "selfish ambition" or "empty glory."  That is the way of pride.  Galatians 5:20 says that these are of the flesh.  If you do anything in a self-serving manner, primarily to receive praise and attention from others, Jesus said that that is all the reward that you get.  But such selfish attitudes, besides not having the approval of the Lord in the world to come, will probably destroy the unity.  Proud acts do that.


Positively: “But in lowliness of mind, each counting the other better than himself."  That is humility.  Look around you.  Do you think that you are better than all the people that you see?  Now be careful here; do not mix talents with quality.  Paul is not talking about spiritual gifts and talents.  He is talking about the quality of the person.  Do you think that you are more valuable to God than those around you?  That is pride.  You have to learn to recognize the value of each person to God. Pride fixes its eyes on the flaws and imperfections of others, but humility looks at their Excellencies, their potential, and their value to God. We are all recipients of grace.  Therefore, we dare not think that we are better than others. Here it says, "not looking each of you to his own things, but also to the things of others."  Pride is self-centered and selfish.  Humility is self-basing and giving.  Divisions and factions come with pride.  Unity comes with humility.




There are two lessons to be learned about humility in the sample that he gave us.


1. Humility is characterized by self-sacrificing love (5-8).

"Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus."  Your attitude and your purpose should be the same as His, and His was self sacrificial service. In vs 6-7 the point is driven home.


A. "He emptied Himself." In order to understand how He emptied Himself, we must look at the two clauses that precede and explain it.


(1) The first clarification of "He emptied Himself" is "who, existing in the form of God."  The term "form" here refers to the inner essence.  Jesus was of the same essence of God the Father--He was divine. 

(2) The second clarification of "He emptied Himself" is the expression "He did not consider being equal with God something to cling to."  In other words, when Jesus "emptied" Himself He was willing to relinquish His rights.


So when Jesus emptied Himself, He willingly set aside the use of some of His attributes for the purpose of the incarnation.  He did not cease being deity.  He simply surrendered His right to manifest His power and His glory.  He could have done so frequently; He could have called legions of angels to destroy the world; be He chose not to, He chose to die.  When Jesus emptied Himself, He divested Himself of self-interest.  He thought first of others--of us.  And His thoughts led to self-sacrificing service. Not so with pride.  Pride clings to its rights and is unwilling to give them up.  Pride enjoys the ostentatious show, having others see the greatness. 


With those two clarifications in mind Paul declares that Jesus emptied Himself.  The meaning in practical terms is: "taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of man."  Do you see the contrast?  On the one hand He existed in the form of God, but on the other hand He took the form of a servant.  On the one hand He did not think equality with God something to cling to, but on the other hand He was made in the likeness of men.  The contrast is the kenosis, the emptying.


There is a subtle difference in the word “form” used for the "before" and the "after."  The "form" of God refers to the inner essence. The "appearance" or "form" of men refers to the outer form.  He was similar to men, but not exactly like them.  He did not share their inner essence which was sinful.  But from all appearances He was made in the likeness of men, and that in itself

was a tremendous emptying for someone who was in the form of God.


B. "He humbled Himself" (v. 8).  This verb picks up where the other left off-‘being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself’, i.e., He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.


It was one thing for the divine Lord to leave glory and take to Himself mortal flesh--that was emptying; but it was quite another thing for Him to suffer and die on the cross--that was humbling.  It was humbling because it was submissive obedience.  And it came to the fore in His suffering in the garden where He submitted to the Father perfectly and in His prayer said, "nevertheless Your will be done."  The death of Christ was such a major victory because it was obedience to the Father.  Disobedience to God is what the Bible means by pride; but obedience is humility because it is submission to the will of God.  That will called for Jesus to die for our sins, a death He willingly accepted. In much the same spirit Jesus in the garden submitted to the will of God and accomplished salvation for us.  It was His great triumph, His self-abasing, His heroic act—accepting death.  It was for this cause that He came into the world.  Through His submission, through His obedience, He accomplished the will of God.


2.   Humility is rewarded by divine exaltation 9-11


Paul, having portrayed the great humility of Jesus, now shows the outcome of it all--exaltation.  It is in complete harmony with the words of Jesus Himself that God resists the proud but exalts the humble.  So he declares that God exalted Him and gave Him a glorious name and endless homage.  In short, he is demonstrating that the way to glory is through humility. It was with Jesus; it is with us.


The statement "God exalted Him" is antithetically parallel to "He humbled Himself."  And the statement "God gave Him a name" is the contrast to "He emptied Himself."  He may have emptied Himself of His rightful use of deity for the sake of service, but God gave Him a name that ultimately will bring all creation to its knees to acknowledge His right to deity; "Every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."


The exaltation is recorded in Hebrews 1; there the Father exalts the Son above the angels.  The humiliation is over.  The emptying is replaced by the restoration to the fullness of glory.  But now, through the great humiliation of Jesus, the glory will be greater.


So the glory of God is realized in the exaltation of Jesus, but that exaltation in glory came because of His humble obedience to death on the cross.  And this was His prayer in John 17, that now that His hour had come, the Father should glorify the Son. The way to glory was through the cross, and so in a real sense the cross would become the glory.



Our pride often hinders the harmonization. We expect others to see our point of view and come around to our position.  How in the world can we have unity with that attitude? We will all be judged by the same standard—the life of Jesus Christ.


1. Unity comes from two causes.  The first, and primary cause, is divine.  Jesus prayed in His intercessory prayer that we might be one (Jn. 17).  Paul declares that it is His Holy Spirit that unites us in the faith.  If we have received the grace of God, if we have the Holy Spirit, if we are open to biblical exhortation, then unity should follow, because all those virtues are humbling. None of us achieved it through superior knowledge or righteousness.  We all had to swallow our pride and in deep humility confess our sin and receive the grace of God.  The work of grace, then, unites us in one body.  There is no room for pride.


2. The second cause is our response to saving grace, humility, the point of the passage.  The pattern is the humility of Jesus Christ.  We are to have the same mind, that is, the same attention to and action toward humility.  How can we foster humility? Paul says that we should not consider our rights and privileges worth clinging to, but that we should be willing to relinquish them in an effort to serve others, even if it means tremendous sacrifice.  Do you want to be like Christ?  Do you want humility?  Then you will have to be willing to sacrifice your rights and privileges in love for others.


It takes Christian maturity to do this.  Only those who have grown in the Lord and are secure in Him will fully appreciate humility.  Parents generally understand it.  What parent, in playing a game with a child, will go off and sulk if he does not get his way, if he does not win an argument?  That would be childish.  But that is what we are faced with in the Church! We must confess that our efforts towards humility are feeble, because our spiritual growth is slow and sporadic.  Our successes are few and far between.  But if we truly apprehend the reality of our position in Christ, and if we become more and more like Him in our spiritual walk, humility will be manifested in our love and service for others.