THURSDAY, MARCH 22
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.
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).
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?
Readings this week, leading up to Palm Sunday, March 25
MONDAY, MARCH 19
A picture of a true disciple’s false accusation, punishment – and assurance of the Lord’s vindication
Context and application note: This is called the third Servant Song of Isaiah, following Isaiah 42:1-9 (first) and 49:4, 7 (second). The first hearers might have seen Isaiah as the servant, or a purified Israel as the servant; with the advantage of hindsight it seems clear to us that this looks forward to Christ. John Wesley in his Notes said of the phrase “given me” that “this and the following passages may be in some sort understood of the prophet Isaiah, but they are far more evidently and eminently verified in Christ, and indeed seem to be meant directly of Him.”
4 The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
“Well-instructed tongue” – the tongue of one being taught, or a disciple’s tongue
“Word that sustains” – the Hebrew translated “sustains” is a rare word, probably the equivalent of our sense of a timely word or a word in season, and emphasising the Servant’s prophetic role in hearing and speaking. As with any understanding of being a disciple, hearing from the Lord and responding to Him comes before speaking.
5 The Sovereign Lord has opened My ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.
“Opened my ears” – a sign of obedience. As we would say, the servant is “open” to hearing about the test of obedience that the Lord is presenting. Israel has been rebellious; by contrast the Servant is attentive – and resolute about what follows.
6 I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting.
“Who beat me” – beatings were for fools, or criminals Proverbs 10:13, 19:29, 26:3, Matt 27:26, John 19:1.
“Pulled out my beard” – a way of showing contempt, 2 Samuel 10:4-5, Neh. 13:25.
“Mocking and spitting” – associated with the insult and disgrace of hatred, Job 30:10, Deut 25:9, Job 17:6, Mt 27:30.
7 Because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
“Set my face like flint” – as Luke 9:51, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (NIV), ” steadfastly and determinedly set His face…” (Amplified).
8 He who vindicates Me is near. Who then will bring charges against Me? Let us face each other! Who is My accuser? Let him confront Me!
This is the language of a courtroom, where the devil performs his role as accuser and the Sovereign Lord gives judgment. The sanctity of the heavenly legal process, which of course is completely fair, must be upheld.
Whatever the nature of the Servant’s call (v.5) and its cost in suffering (v.6) and resoluteness (v.7), these must fulfil the legal requirements. In v.8 “near” is a parallel word to gōʾēl, the Redeemer or Next-of-Kin of Ruth 2:20, 3:12. See also Lev. 21:2–3, 25:25, Num. 27:11.
“He who vindicates” – As this is fulfilled in the Messiah, it is also good news in the lives of those whose lives are hidden in Him. As Christ was sinless, He is able to nullify the charges brought against His own who have put their trust in Him, Romans 8:31-34.
9 It is the Sovereign Lord who helps Me. Who will condemn Me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.
“Condemn” means proven guilty. The Servant is confident of a favourable judgment. The vindication, in Jesus’ trials, did not spare Him the unjust punishment, even though the charges did not stick (see further study references). In the same way we experience injustice at the hands of men, but the verdict of heaven is a resounding ‘not guilty’ and freedom from any shame. There is also destruction for those involved in the wrongful action.
Jesus challenged His enemies: “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”, John 8:46.
“The moths” – what John Wesley called ‘the secret curse’ of destruction of false accusers, reiterated in Isaiah 51:8.
For further study, see Matthew 27:3–4, 19, 24; Mark 15:3; Luke 23:4, 10, 14–15, 41; John 8:46; John 19:6 and the ultimate vindication, 1 Timothy 3:16.
This is a picture of utter devotion and obedience in the face of harsh treatment and false accusation. There is a courtroom scene where accusations are made, defence made and the Lord’s judgment will be pronounced after the legalities are thrashed out.
Earlier readers would have seen this as applying to Isaiah himself – Israel had a poor record of heeding God’s messages and honouring God’s messengers.
How does this sit with us? Life is frequently unfair and a particular difficulty Christians have is being singled out for harsh treatment, often at the hands of religious people. Bad things do happen to people who are by no means bad or deserving of it. The extreme case was the mock trial and then execution of Jesus. This passage reminds us that eventually false accusers self-destruct and vindication by the Lord is assured – but people of malicious intent still have free will to cause a lot of hurt through their slander.
It took faith for the first disciples to hold on to God’s greater plan and it took them time to see God’s purpose in it all, even though they had been taught and reminded by Jesus Himself. It takes faith for us to hold on to God’s goodness and promises when everything appears to be under the devil’s domination, knowing that “because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced – who will condemn me?” Faith that is not stretched and tested is not mature faith.
For reflection, or as a discussion starter
When everything is going wrong and spiritual oppression is causing confusion, does God speak and how do we best position ourselves to hear Him?