Sunday, July 09, 2006

Philippians 2:5-11 - Get an Attitude!

A.B. Simpson

Pray and read Philippians 2:5-11

Opening thought:
You’ve encountered someone with an attitude. A teenager. A waitress. The smart-aleck in front of you in the grocery line. The loud-mouth at the ball field. The driver riding your back bumper.

When I was in college, our Fellowship of Christian Athletes designed a T-shirt each year. My junior year, we emblazoned across the back of it, “Get an Attitude!”  We got quite a number of comments like, “What kind of Christian organization puts something like that on a T-shirt?” We were quoting Philippians 2:5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Textual Notes

Philippians 2:6-11 is generally agreed to be a hymn of the early church because of its poetic structure and Semitic linguistic substratum. It may have been originally written in Aramaic. No one knows if Paul wrote it here or if he was quoting it. The hymn appears to be based on the fourth Isaianic Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) where the Servant’s exaltation follows His  humilitation.  The hymn falls in two balanced parts (vv. 6-8) and (vv. 9-11). These verses show that despite what Dan Brown says in the Da Vinci Code, from earliest times in the church, Christians affirmed Christ’s preexistence, his equality with God, and his full humanity.


  1. Christ’s Preexistence: He existed in the very form of God (2:6)
    1. Essential in nature as God
    2. 2:6 harpagmon only here in NT, rare in other literature. Paul uses it to show Christ as the ultimate expression of humility. Rather than insisting on his status, he willingly emptied himself and took on human form. If this was Christ’s attitude, who are we to struggle to maintain our own status before others?
ILLUSTRATION: Eutichus (the founder of Eutichianism) argued that Christ's human and divine natures merged to form a third composite nature. "The divine nature was so modified and accommodated to the human nature that Christ was not really divine...At the same time the human nature was so modified and changed by assimilation to the divine nature that He was no longer genuinely human." Thus, according to this teaching, Christ was neither fully human nor fully divine. This view was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

The Incomprehensible Christ: In a company of literary gentlemen, Daniel Webster was asked if he could comprehend how Jesus Christ could be both God and man. "No, sir," he replied, and added, "I should be ashamed to acknowledge Him as my Savior if I could comprehend Him. If I could comprehend Him, He could be no greater than myself. Such is my sense of sin, and consciousness of my inability to save myself, that I feel I need a superhuman Savior, one so great and glorious that I cannot comprehend Him."

  1. Christ’s Earthly Life: He took the very form of a servant (2:7)
    1. He did not consider his rights as the Son of God. Lived as a slave with the Jews under the Roman law.
                                         i.    The first Adam (Gen 3:5ff) and Lucifer (Isaiah 14:13ff) did see their dignity as something to be seized.

Christ, the God-Man
A professor of theology once asked his students to get a sheet of paper and divide it into three columns. In the first column they were to write every passage where Christ is spoken of as God-Man; in the second column all the passages where Christ is spoken of as God alone; and in the third, all the passages where Christ is spoken of as man alone. The papers were badly balanced. The first and second columns filled right up, but as to the third column, no one found a passage speaking of Christ as man alone. There just is no such passage.

Many are willing to die to gain some prize, like the terrorists of 9/11 or the London subway bombers of a year ago, but who is willing to die as a nothing?

POLYCARP: Polycarp, the venerable bishop of Smyrna, hearing that persons were seeking for him, escaped, but was discovered by a child. After feasting the guards who apprehended him, he desired an hour in prayer, which being allowed, he prayed with such fervency, that his guards repented that they had been instrumental in taking him. He was, however, carried before the proconsul, condemned, and burnt in the market place.
The proconsul then urged him, saying, "Swear, and I will release thee;--reproach Christ."
Polycarp answered, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?" At the stake to which he was only tied, but not nailed as usual, as he assured them he should stand immovable, the flames, on their kindling the fagots, encircled his body, like an arch, without touching him; and the executioner, on seeing this, was ordered to pierce him with a sword, when so great a quantity of blood flowed out as extinguished the fire. But his body, at the instigation of the enemies of the Gospel, especially Jews, was ordered to be consumed in the pile, and the request of his friends, who wished to give it Christian burial, rejected. They nevertheless collected his bones and as much of his remains as possible, and caused them to be decently interred.

    1. Christ humbled himself even more (2:8)
                                         i.    enduring the worst execution: crucifixion
                                        ii.    The punishment of a slave
                                      iii.    literal rendering of Isaiah 53:12

Isaiah 53:12: Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

Andrew Murray: “Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is, from the very nature of things, the first duty and the highest virtue of man. It is the root of every virtue. And so pride, or the loss of this humility, is the root of every sin and evil.” Humility, p. 10.

  1. Christ’s Present Exaltation: He was exalted by the Father for his humility (2:9)
    1. Huperupsosen – super exalt
    2. Even over every spirit power and person.
  1. Christ’s Future Rulership: He will be worshiped by every tongue & knee (2:10-11)
    1. The believer recognizes Him today and gladly chooses to kneel.
    2. The unbeliever will recognize Jesus at His Coming and will be forced to kneel and confess Christ Lord of all.

Paul’s point: Counter to our culture and that of the Philippian Graeco-Roman culture was Paul’s insistence that considering others better than yourselves (2:3) and looking “to the interest of others” (2:4) is the way of a Christian.

A.B. Simpson on Philippians 2:5-11: “Christ is more than a Pattern to us, more than a bright and glorious Example. He becomes the Power to reproduce that pattern and to transfer to our lives that example. Our text does not bid us to imitate Christ or have a mind like Him, but to have the same mind in us which was also in Christ Jesus. This is the deepest truth of all Christian experience. It is Christ Himself who comes to imitate Himself in us and reproduce His own life in the lives of His followers. This is the mystery of the gospel. This is the secret of the Lord. This is the power that sanctifies, that fills, that keeps the consecrated heart. This is the only way that we can be like Christ. . . .

“Do we want humility? We receive the spirit of humility from Him, and let the same mind be in us which was also in Him. Do we want love? We open our hearts for a baptixm of His love and it flows into us and lives through us. Do we want patience, courage, wisdom, anything? We simply put on the Lord Jesus, and ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 2:5).”[1]

For the Christian, the way up leads downward. Giving is the path to gain…Whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt 16:25-26; 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14).

If you live your life trying yourself through discipline to measure up to what you think Christ would have you do, by your effort trying, trying to be good, two things might be happening: (1) You might not understand that your job is to abide in Him, allowing Him to take you over as Lord and live His life in you, or (2) You might not know Him.

[1] Albert B. Simpson, The Christ in the Bible Commentary, vol. 5 (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1994), pp. 474-6.