Jesus made Himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant – but without losing His divine origins as part of the Trinity

THURSDAY, MARCH 22
Philippians 2:5-11

Paul challenges Christians reading the letter with the standard of humility and obedience shown by Christ

These verses contain a lot of Christology in a few words – however, the main thrust is the unity and selflessness which is the result of humility of heart.

5  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

This verse is the key to what follows in this poetic passage.

Literally “keep thinking this [attitude] among you, which [attitude] was also in Christ Jesus.”

“With one another” or among you. The meaning is more than an exhortation to everyone to be personally virtuous – or ‘nice’. It means “be Christlike in your church fellowship” – continuing to explain what this looks like. The community of salvation created by the Holy Spirit of Jesus, God incarnate, must confront the pride and strife that is always trying to enter in. As believers, we may not be able to replicate the exact ministry that Jesus exercised, but as followers of His Way, we are called to represent His values of sacrificial love and humility which the Cross demonstrated so unmistakably.

6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage…

“Being in very nature God” – Christ as the second member of the Trinity was, literally, “in the same form as God”, meaning that He shared the image and the glory of God.

He did not regard his existing in a manner of “equality with God a thing to be grasped (NASB, ESV, RSV etc)” or held onto (harpagmos).

Following Lightfoot, an established view is that before becoming incarnate as man, the Son possessed equality with the Father; He resolved not to cling to it.

Another view on this passage is that He had no need to (actively) grasp to attain divine equality because He already possessed it as the eternal Son of God.

7  …rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

“Made Himself nothing” – literally “emptied Himself” (ESV, NASB) “stripped Himself” (Amplified), “gave up His divine privileges” (NLT).

This is best understood as the pre-incarnate Christ letting go of His glory and the omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of God that make Him so distinctly ‘other’. This limitation was necessary for Him to share our human limitations, albeit more perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit than we can achieve. He gave up the particular privileges of His heavenly existence to be born as man, but did not in any way renounce His deity or identification as part of the Trinity. Having the “form of God”, v.6, could not be given up but “the nature of a servant” could be taken up.

“Likeness” stresses similarity but also allows for differences. Paul is saying that although Christ became a genuine man, in some respects He was not like any other man.

8  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Verses 6, 7 and 8 are all part of the same sentence and should be understood together – and in the context of Scripture passages that reveal Jesus as using his divine powers and displaying his glory upon occasions such as miracles and the Transfiguration, but always under the direction of the Father and the Spirit

For further study see Luke 4:14; John 5:19, 8:28, 14:10

9  Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name…

The Father’s response to His Son’s extraordinary obedience and humility is to name Him Lord of lords. This underlines a biblical principle which is widely emphasised. The whole passage is about the prerequisite of being in humble submission to God, for His partnership and glory to be realised.

For further study, see Matthew 18:4, 23:12; Luke 14:11, 18:14; Also 2 Corinthians 11:7; Phil. 4:12.

10  …that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There is a connection here to what Daniel saw in the Spirit, Daniel 7:13–14.

This poetic teaching, or perhaps praise song of the Early Church, concludes with a universal acknowledgment of Jesus’ lordship by those living and departed saints, and also the onlooking satanic host and lost humanity in hell in the words of Isaiah 45:23 (cf. Romans 14:11; Rev 5:13).

Application

This teaching is about the power of obedience and humility offered to God for Him to transform. We see Jesus as the supreme example; He who stooped so low is now lifted up, He who made Himself of no rank is promoted to the glorious rank of equality with God. It was a dignity which was His by right but He renounced His entitlement. “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place.”

We are so ingrained with the sense of merit and self-sufficiency, this comes as a difficult lesson. But as the contemporary saying goes, “Less is more”. Less of our egos and opinions so that God can use us without us stealing the glory.

As long as we are human, that will remain a challenge.

For reflection, or as a discussion starter

What area of ego or closely-guarded opinion do you need to let go, like Jesus let go of His divine status? How will you work on it?

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