Philippians 2:5-11 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
I’m so excited to be here this morning and finally preach to you from Philippians. It was the first book of the Bible Alena and I memorized several years ago. And also the last. Then we memorized this passage with Jephthah in October and November this year. Mark and I had sat down with Pastor Dave for a preaching class back in 2022 and we’ve been moving toward this moment at a snail’s pace due to the nature of life. But what a sweet providence that finally getting to the point of preaching this passage, which primarily concerns the incarnation of God the Son, that it should fall during the season of Advent! Advent is a time of reflecting on and celebrating the coming of Jesus, fully God from times eternal, stepping into our world, condescending as one of us, ultimately to lift us back up with him.
It’s hard enough to drop in out of nowhere and land in the middle of Philippians – I mean, is there any other context in which you would start reading or studying a personal letter or a book from the middle? But to make matters worse, these seven verses are likely poetry rather than prose. In fact, they may not even be written entirely or at all by Paul himself. Many theologians think that this section of Paul’s letter is a hymn, maybe a common hymn of the church, which Paul embellished for his purposes in the letter. We can’t answer these questions with much certainty, but it does appear that the language used in these verses is distinctly different from the rest of the letter. There are words in here that Paul uses rarely or not at all in his other writings.
Poetry is something of a combination of words and pictures. You know the old saying, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’. So Paul is saying a lot in a little space by including this bit of poetry or song here. That being said, a number of sermons could be written to address the various important layers of this text and its implications for us and we won’t be able to view every facet of the truth contained here this morning. For another crack at this passage, I encourage you to check out Pastor Mike’s sermon on these same verses on our website from his summer 2019 Philippians series.
The main theme of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is his address to the church at Philippi who are experiencing some form of suffering for the gospel. The essence of his letter is his call in 1:27 to behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ. He calls them to do so by suffering joyfully because of the worth of Christ and in the hope of future glory with Christ in the age to come.
The structure of my sermon will be as follows. First, we’ll briefly consider the Nature of Paul’s Life as a first-century missionary. Then we’ll zoom in and examine Paul’s reasons for writing this Letter to the Philippian church. And finally we’ll break down chapter 2 verses 5-11, sometimes known as the Christ Hymn in three sections: Paul’s admonishment to Have the Mind of Christ in v. 5, His description of The Humiliation of Christ in the incarnation in vs. 6-8, and finally the Exaltation of Christ in verses 9-11.
It’s my hope for you to see two main things this morning: The first is that being consumed with the worth of Christ results in a joyful response, not only to favorable and comfortable circumstances, but also, and perhaps even more, to the suffering and want caused by being associated with Jesus Christ and partnering in gospel ministry. And the second is that we are being called to think like Christ, who was motivated to endure suffering by setting his hope on the future glory that awaited Him.
The Nature of Paul’s Life
First, the nature of Paul’s life as a first-century missionary. No doubt being a missionary in 2023 is difficult. There are financial challenges, relational conflicts, dangers from both private individuals and governments, and temptations to discouragement and fear. As challenging as it is today, it was much, much more difficult in every way for the Apostle Paul, who pioneered missions to the area of Turkey and other regions around the Mediterranean Sea known then as Asia. The exclusivity of the claims of Christ meant threats from the polytheistic Roman sphere (who saw Paul’s message as dangerously intolerant) as well as the Jewish populations dispersed in these areas (who saw him as a hateful heretic).
As such, to say that Paul suffered a lot at the hands of men would be an understatement. He wrote in his second letter to the church at Corinth about his numerous imprisonments, “countless beatings, and [being] often near death”. “Five times”, he said, “I received at the hands of the Jews the Forty Lashes Less One, Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
So to be a Christian at this time, and especially to proselytize as a missionary, was to be something of an enemy of the State (which feels more and more remarkably similar to our current context does it not? – he who has ears to hear, let him hear).
To the Philippian Church – “Suffer with Joy”
Let’s zoom into Paul’s reason for writing this letter. He wrote this during one of a number of imprisonments for proclaiming the gospel. Roman prisons were unlike the jails and prisons we have here. Prisoners were not provided with basic material needs like food and clothing as they are today. One of these examples is seen in Paul’s final letter to his protege Timothy, where he asks Timothy to bring his cloak so the old man could keep warm in the cold winter.
Paul highlights in this letter in 1:5 and 4:15 the longstanding financial and material partnership of the Philippian church in his missionary work. But now he is writing his letter to thank them for personally caring for him in relation to his imprisonment (4:10,14,18), to assure them that he has received their gift, and commend their delivery-man Epaphroditus for his faithfulness by explaining that he didn’t run off with the money but was waylaid by a deadly illness (2:25-30).
Paul’s primary concern in the letter, however, is not at all for his own suffering, but for the manner in which the church was responding to their suffering as partners in the gospel. In chapter 1 he addresses their mental or heart response, which includes discouragement that he is locked up in prison (1:12-18), their fear that he may die there (1:19-26), their fear of their own opponents (1:28), and their anxiety and discontent (4:6,11). Then he addresses their relational response, including divisions (1:27; 2:2; 4:2), rivalry, pride, and selfishness (2:3-4). He also addresses temptation to gospel compromise when he warns them against the Judiazers who would force them to mix the gospel and the mosaic law (3:1-11).
It’s clear from Paul’s writing that the church at Philippi was struggling to respond with faith to the trials, temptations, and threats they faced. They seemed to be caught off guard by suffering. Paul wants them to see that their current circumstances give no warrant for this kind of response. He does so by reframing his own suffering and theirs in the light of two truths. The first is the inestimable worth of Christ and the second is the certain hope of future glorification that awaits them on the day of Christ (1:6; 2:10,11,16; 3:11,21). Both of these are grounded in the absolute sovereignty, or control, of God over circumstances.
First, Paul’s eagerness for Christ to get glory far outweighs any desire he has for comfort and safety. He wants the church to understand that his imprisonment is no hindrance whatsoever to God’s plan, but rather an opportunity. Paul recognizes the sovereign hand of God over his own circumstances when he says in 1:16, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel”. Then he helps the church to see that it’s no different for them when he says in 1:29-30, “For it has been granted to you [also] that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have”.
Why does he talk this way? Does he get some kind of twisted pleasure from suffering? No, rather it is abundantly clear throughout Philippians that he is so enthralled with Christ that he is selfless. He’s eager to be poured out in whatever way will most bring glory to Christ. This is why he can say about his own suffering, “So what? Only that in every way, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice”. Or, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21). Or, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice” (2:17). He is eager to die if it brings him more of Christ (1:23; 3:10-11). In fact, Paul is so selflessly enamored with the glory of Christ that he says in Romans (9:3) that he could wish himself cut off from Christ permanently in order that the full measure of Christ’s Bride from among the Jews be brought in.
What about you? How do you see your circumstances? “Oh what a beautiful morning, O what a beautiful day, I’ve got a beautiful feeling, everything’s going my way”? Perhaps, but likely not. Often things don’t go our way, right? And how about Grace church? Missionaries in hostile, secret locations. Losing an elder a year for four years. Hostile culture all around us trying to box us in…
Seems pretty dismal. Paul says it’s not. What opportunities to magnify Christ are you missing with your church, your wife, your kids, your job, because you’ve had different expectations, or different priorities? Is “Christ magnified” the chief desire of your heart? Does it lead you to sacrifice and suffer without counting the cost? Is that being manifested in tangible ways? Or instead are you a grumpy murmurer? Paul’s reframing of his and the Philippians’ circumstances is not a subjective motivational speech, but the truest, most objective understanding of reality. God truly is sovereign over suffering and Christ truly is better than life. If you’re struggling to relate to Christ and your circumstances in that way, maybe you need to camp out in Philippians for a while.
The Hope of Glory (The Christ Hymn) – 2:5-11
Now let’s dig into our passage for this morning, 2:5-11 – The Christ Hymn. I’ve said that Paul is writing his letter to reframe their understanding, or fix their perspective on suffering in two ways. The first is his absolute preoccupation with the worth of Christ. The second way in which Paul reframes things for the Philippians is at the heart of our passage today. Namely, the certain hope of future glorification that awaits them on the day of Christ.
Have The Mind of Christ (v. 5)
By the time we reach chapter 2 verse 5, Paul has just finished introducing them to his imperative to live as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ by putting off fear, division, discord and selfish pride, and putting on faith, joy, unity, and humility. Now in verse 5 he tells them how – by sharing the goal and the hope that motivated Christ in his incarnation. He calls this Christ-like perspective having the “mind” of Christ.
Having considered what the commentators had to say in light of the several questions I mentioned at the beginning and that it does appear even in English to be uncommonly poetic language for Paul, I’m fairly convinced this is a poem, a hymn, or a song. And, as I also said earlier, I think he used it here because this word-picture paints a thousand words to get his point across both efficiently and powerfully. I think he used it to make his primary appeal in the letter because he knew they were already singing it regularly and, therefore, they would have a hard time objecting to what he was trying to say. So I think he used a common hymn of the early church as a particularly impactful literary tool.
I want to draw out for you briefly from these verses, what Christ did, and why he did it, by looking at his Humiliation in vs 6-8 and his Exaltation in vs 9-11, in order to reveal Paul’s primary point in the hymn: showing what godly suffering looks like and in order that they might imitate the hope that Christ had.
The First Advent – Christ’s Humiliation (vs. 6-8)
First, his humiliation. Paul writes in verses 6-8 that “though he was in the form of God, [Christ] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [or asserted], but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”. Paul is talking here about Christ in the flesh, the incarnate Son of God considering, as a human, what attitude should he take toward God. And as a man, he did not consider grasping for God-likeness the appropriate thing to do.
But can you think of anyone who did grasp at being equal with God?
Isn’t that just what Adam did in the Garden back in the Beginning? What deceitful promise did Satan, that ancient serpent, make? “You will be like God”. This seed of sinful desire lodged in the heart of Adam so that he ate of the forbidden tree. He sought equality with God, no longer to be a humble servant, dependent on his Master. Whereas Adam was a humble and dependent creature that proudly sought to usurp God’s throne, Paul says here that Jesus, literally God himself, in considering, ‘What’s the most humiliating way to make myself nothing?’ became like Adam. Like us. (What irony!)
But we need to understand who Adam was in order to understand what Christ was accomplishing in these verses. In Psalm 8 (vs 3-6), David humbly marveled at the place which God gave Adam among the rest of his creatures in Creation. He says,
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than God and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet”
David wonders that God should have given man this special place of honor over his creation as his steward, or vice-regent, to have dominion, ruling like a king over everything as God’s representative. But we know how the rest of the story goes – it wasn’t good enough for Adam. Grasping for the scepter, he fell, and brought himself under God’s curse. Because he did that, God cursed Adam, bringing confusion, pain, frustration, futility, and death on him and on all the creation.
Paul makes it explicit elsewhere, namely Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 that Adam was more than just the first man of many humans. He had a unique position, as we saw in Psalm 8. Paul says Adam was a ‘type’ of Christ. What he means is, we look at Adam’s position in order to understand Christ’s position. Adam was, and still is, the representative of all people born after him. So Paul can say, “In Adam, all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22). This is still true. The reason all people everywhere are experiencing the effects of God’s curse on Adam is that we are his offspring and he is our father. If you are not in Christ, you are still in Adam and under God’s curse.
Before you get too excited about how unfair that all sounds, listen to the rest of 1 Corinthians 15:22, “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive”. If you’re hoping in Christ as your representative, Paul says you are acknowledging that he functions in the same way for you as Adam once did. This is why he can actually refer to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:45 as the “Last Adam”.
So what does this have to do with the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2? Verses 6-8 show that Christ is ‘the new and better Adam come to save the hell-bound man’ by doing what Adam failed to do. As a man, he humbled himself under God, considered himself a servant, and was obedient to the point of a humiliating slave’s death on a cross. Christ, as the last Adam, took Adam’s place for all who would hope in him.
But not only are we freed from Adam’s curse through Christ’s representation. We’re also brought to an exalted place Adam never dreamed of. In the book of Hebrews, David’s song from Psalm 8 about the wonderful position God gave man, which Adam frustrated, gets redeemed and fulfilled in Christ. He says,
“We are speaking of the world to come. It has been testified somewhere,
What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.
Now in putting everything in subjection under to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” (Hebrews 2:5-10)
So Christ redeems the position originally given to Adam and applies it to his offspring. “We do not presently see everything in subjection” though, do we? We are suffering here! The world is uniting against Christ and his Church! We suffer from opponents, circumstances, and our own sin. What is going on? Notice what he said in Hebrews 2:5 – “We are speaking of the world to come”. The exaltation of Christ is where the second half of the Christ Hymn directs us in verses 9 to 11.
The Second Advent – Christ’s Exaltation (vs. 9-11)
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
What was Christ’s mindset in the incarnation? He was a humble servant, obedient to a certain death. But what motivated him? The second half of the hymn shows that Christ was driven by the hope of future exaltation that would lead to God the Father getting glory. The assurance of a glorious victory over his enemies is what fueled Christ. Hebrews 12:2 puts it this way, “For the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God”. And Hebrews 10:13 says he’s been “waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet”.
What a marvelous plot twist that Christ’s obedient service, taking the form of a humble creature through suffering and death, is the pathway through which he was declared as God before all creation. The last two verses of the Christ Hymn, verses 10 and 11, are a direct quote from Isaiah 45:23, which says, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance”. Paul, or whoever wrote the Christ Hymn, takes Isaiah’s direct quote about the Lord God and appropriates it to Christ! Christ knew that his suffering would lead to his exaltation and to inestimable glory. His certain hope was on the magnification of the worth of Christ himself, and future glory, achieved through his suffering and death.
Why does the Hymn land here, with Christ being exalted to the glory of God the Father? How is that supposed to help the Philippians in their suffering? How do they relate to that? How can they even dare to feel entitled to think as Christ did, and to hope as he hoped? It’s because Christ not only descended with us, but he also brought us up with him. Ephesians 2:6, “[he] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”. The Gospel doesn’t make us neutral with God. We become adopted sons, heirs with Christ. Paul told the church at Philippi,
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (3:20-21).
Through Christ we are not only justified but also glorified. We are younger brothers and sisters to the King, and therefore we get to share in the inheritance with him. Consider the following verses:
Acts 26:23 – “the Christ must suffer… being the first to rise from the dead”
1 Cor 15:20 – “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep”
Rev 1:5 – “Jesus Christ… the firstborn of the dead”
Hebrews 1:2 – “His Son – whom he appointed the heir of all things”
Hebrews 12:23 – “The church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven”
Romans 8:17 – “[we are] fellow heirs with Christ… provided we suffer with him in order that we also may be glorified with him”.
This is the hope to which Paul calls the Philippians when he exhorts them to have the mind of Christ. When he tells them in 1:27 to behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ, he’s referring to our citizenship in heaven. Our lives here are to be lived as sojourners and aliens, remembering always that we are citizens of our King, that although we do not presently see all things in subjection, yet the victory is sure. Even the worst efforts of the evil one, even the most broken circumstances, are playing into the hand of God’s master plot to exalt the worth of Christ to the glory of the Father.
In conclusion, Philippians generally, and the Christ Hymn specifically, call us primarily to three things:
First, Expect suffering. Why should you be caught off guard? Be aware, and beware, of your expectations. – You should expect to suffer in this world. Jesus said it – “in this world you will have trouble”. If you expect ease, you’ll be disappointed. There’s a way in which we should be glad to suffer for Christ. An example from the early church comes in Acts 5 (vs. 17-42), where the apostles were arrested for preaching Christ, then beaten and released. Their response is noteworthy – “They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name”. We are to behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ. Mind your reactions to suffering. When you’re out of step with the Mind of Christ by expecting ease – pause, repent, and look for ways to obey.
Second, Suffer joyfully – Suffering is not a warrant for us to indulge sinful desires, selfish attitudes, be a grumpus, entertain self-pity, or anxiously freak out on family or the church. Ask someone in your DG – How do you see me responding to suffering? When you have the mind of Christ, you’ll think of yourself as an instrument instead of as a victim. Rather than thinking of what you deserve and constantly demanding it from everyone around you, humbly consider others more important than yourself. Husbands, ask your wives/Wives ask your husbands – What selfish or conceited attitudes am I displaying toward you? What occasions them? Are there ways I can demonstrate considering you more important than myself? Kids, listen really close. Kids – have you ever been obedient to the point of death? Would it kill you to glorify God by obeying all the way, right away, and with a happy heart? If you’re struggling to obey your parents in this way, then you’ve just discovered the solution you’ve been searching for – have the mind of Christ. And, rather than yourself, have the glory of Christ as your top priority.
God is directing all things to fulfill his purposes for your good, and always to magnify the worth of Christ to the glory of the Father. Let that be the central desire of your life. Don’t let mistaken expectations lead you to miss out on opportunities to obey, serve, and proclaim Christ in your choices, your marriage, your parenting, your ministry, your friendships, or your driving. Paul saw being in a Roman prison as an opportunity for Christ to be honored in his body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:20) and this brought him unconditional joy. What is your joy rooted in? Try to think right now of circumstances and suffering in your life and view it with the mind of Christ. Is having more of Christ and Christ getting more glory, even if it means suffering, worth it for you? How did Christ think of himself? As God’s servant. And if you’re in Christ, so should you. What does that mean? His interests rather than yours. Let him worry about your welfare. You be about his business. “I am put here for the defense of the gospel”, “To die is gain”, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better”, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings”!
Third, Set your hope fully on the day of Christ – As the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, life under the sun is vain. If your hope is in this world and this age, you’re going to be vexed, confused, frustrated, angry, discouraged, and depressed. It’s all meaningless – a chasing after the wind. Our citizenship is in heaven, and our hope is to be set on the day of Christ, as it was for Paul.
This is the path, the pattern – suffering. It’s no surprise. Jesus exemplified it. He lived it for us. He is victorious. And he will come back to usher in the Kingdom. His suffering was bringing many sons to glory – and so is gospel partnership – and both are cause for rejoicing.
May we do all things without grumbling or questioning, that we may be blameless and innocent, children of God (and fellow heirs with Christ) without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, that we may shine as lights in the world – with a peculiar joy and an unreasonable hope in the face of suffering that causes those around us to ask the reason for the hope that is in us – holding fast to the promise of life, with our hearts set on the day of Christ, knowing that none of it is in vain. May we be eager to be poured out as an offering for the sake of the Name, on grand occasions as a martyr or on mundane occasions as a husband, a wife, a son or daughter, a brother, a sister, or a neighbor – in unity, not frightened in anything, and in humility counting others more important than ourselves. And may we rejoice in the Lord always. Amen