This article on Philippians 2:5-8 is about the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Source: Clarion, 1985. 3 pages.

Philippians 2:5-8 – The Mind of Christ

In addition to the Christmas narratives related in the gospels especially of Matthew and Luke, we also find in the letters various passages which offer an exposition of the meaning of the Christmas event. A well-known passage among them is found in Philippians 2:5-11; "an early Christian confession" as it is called. A very practical matter led the Apostle Paul to write it. Discord among fellow workers of the apostle, Philippians 4:2, and the activity of false teachers, who violated the sound teaching of salvation by grace alone and by faith alone, threatened the purity of the gospel and the unity of the church, which Paul calls "my joy and crown," Philippians 4:1.

To quell the arising trouble Paul makes an urgent appeal to the congregation of all it believes and stands for, Philippians 1:27 to Philippians 2:4. But he does not leave it at that. Admonitions, an old saying goes, wake people up, but examples get them moving. So Paul adds to his admonitions and exhortations an example of the kind of conduct which should be practiced by them, pointing to the example of their Lord and Savior to whom they belong and in whose footsteps they, and the congregations of all times and places should walk, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus," or in a better and simpler translation as offered by the New International Version, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus."

In this Christmas meditation I like to restrict myself to the vv. 5-8 which spell out this attitude of the Lord. To give an idea of the mind of Christ and the life-style practiced by Him the apostle does not give an overview of Jesus' ministry in Canaan, but starts way back in the aeon before the Son of God had come into the flesh; "the beginning" as John calls it when no Church at Philippi, nor any other for that matter, was around, but when the "Word" was. It was with God and it was God, John 1:1. Paul speaks of the Word as "Christ Jesus." That may surprise us because these names are the ones given to the Lord when He had assumed our flesh and blood. There are, for that reason, exegetes who are of the opinion that Philippians 2:5-8 deals with the attitude of the Lord after He had come into the flesh, but the content of Philippians 2:7 chronologically following what is stated in Philippians 2:6, make that, as far as I can see impossible. Philippians 2:6 speaks of the preexistent or pre-human Son of God. But Paul nonetheless calls Him "Christ Jesus" because he wants to express that the kind of mind which characterized the Lord when He had come into the flesh and walked the earth was already present with Him in His pre-incarnated state. He did not become our Savior on the day that Mary gave birth to her first-born son. While as yet in the bosom of the Father He was already our Savior.

Think about It!🔗

There are Christians who have their doubts whether they can pass when it comes to the question of being received by God in grace; wretched people that they are! Whatever our fears, the application of the names "Christ Jesus" to the preexistent Son of God, tells that there is no ground for that doubt. He became Savior in the fullness of time because He was it from the beginning. Redemptive history may be realized in the world-time; it had its origin before the world began, when Christ Jesus was, as Paul writes "in the form of God." A lot of philosophizing has been done to get to the bottom of these words, and various explanations have been given. We do not have to choose however, the Bible itself directs us to the meaning. There is no better guide! "Father," the Lord Jesus prays in the prayer before the beginning of His suffering,

glorify Thou me in Thy own presence with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was made.John 17:5

"God," the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes,

has in these last days spoken to us by a Son. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature. (1:3)

In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Paul mentions,

… the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God. In Colossians 1:15 this likeness returns, when Paul writes of Christ Jesus, "He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation …

In His likeness of God the pre-human Christ is portrayed in these verses, and the emphasis is on His glory and majesty; His radiant appearance which reflects the very nature of God. Commentators have pointed out that the qualifications "image" and "likeness" of God remind us of man's creation in the image and likeness of God, Genesis 1:26, 27. By using this terminology the Son of God is apparently presented as the last Adam, even before He became man.

Another reminder is the "equality with God" of which is spoken in connection with the preexistent Christ, Philippians 2:6. It calls to mind the narrative of man's fall. Over against the warning of the Lord that eating of the forbidden tree would mean death, the serpent said to the woman,

You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.Genesis 3:5

To express it in the words of Philippians 2:6, man counted equality with God, for example, being like God and thus being God Himself, a thing to be grasped. A word is used which has as first meaning "robbery," the attempt of seizing and appropriating something which does not belong to the one who tries to lay a hand on it and to which he is not entitled either. That's what the first Adam had in mind when, prompted by his wife, he also took of the fruit of the tree and ate. Pure rebellion, the attempt to take over from God and to place the law of good and evil over it, instead of submitting to it. It was different, or rather, it was the opposite with the Son of God, presented as the last Adam. The mind, the attitude which characterized Him, was that though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, or rather to cling to with all His might. For, different from Adam, He shared in the equality with God as Son of God. It was His lawful possession. If, therefore, He had wanted to cling to it, to use it for His own advantage, to exploit it for His own purpose, He was entitled to do so. We are obliged to God for everything which we are, and have, and receive, but God – and that includes Him who was in the form of God, equal with Him, Himself God – is not in any way obliged to us. He is free, as God alone can be free, to do with what is His as it pleases Him.

Did He take Advantage of His being like God?🔗

No, He did not! He did not count equality with God a thing to be cherished, a privilege to clutch to, a possession to be taken advantage of. Instead of doing the one or the other, "He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant," or as it literally says of "a slave," being born in the likeness of men," Philippians 2:7.

It made me think of King David who, at the occasion of bringing the ark of God back to Jerusalem, laid down his royal mantle and dressed like everyone else and took his place among the people as one of them, leaping and dancing before the ark, II Samuel 6:12 ff. This comparison by its very nature is inadequate, but nonetheless helps us to understand what happened a little better.

"He emptied Himself." No, that does not mean that He stopped being the Son of God anymore than David stopped being king. It meant that the form of God, and the equality with God, insofar as it concerned His glorious appearance, His royal state, His visible equality, fell away. To let Scripture be its own interpreter again, to empty Himself meant to exchange the form of God for that of a slave, and the being like God – as far as the manifestation of it is concerned – for the likeness of men. Mind the plural; it does not speak of man as he was created by God, but of men as they had become after the fall, deprived of glory and honor, a shadow of man's former self. "He emptied Himself." To put it in the words of Isaiah 53:2, ” … He had no form or comeliness that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him."

In view of the word used by Paul it is not certain whether that reference is made to "the servant of the lord" as portrayed by Isaiah in the chapters 42 ff, of his prophecies. "Slave" seems to be the better translation, indicating the totality of emptying, the complete degradation which He underwent. But, if not the servant of the lord, it is anyway the man of suffering of Isaiah 53:3 whom he portrays. Look only at Philippians 8:2, "And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."

"He has come a long way" we may say of people who have gone through hard times, but who have finally gotten over their troubles and are now doing well. Christ Jesus went a long way as well, but then the other way around; from glory to shame, from majesty to servitude, from being in the bosom of the Father, to being found as a man, from sharing the equality and the form of God to being humbled to death, even death on a cross, the most painful and the most shameful capital punishment, "Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree," Galatians 3:13.

This utter humiliation did not come over Him as is so often the case with human troubles. "He emptied Himself," it reads, and again, "He humbled Himself."

No one, the Lord Jesus spoke during His ministry on earth, takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.John 10:18

Why, Why, Why?🔗

The apostle does not say it in this passage, but he has done so in another one, found in II Corinthians 8:9 where it reads,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.

That's Why!🔗

And the reason why the apostle does not mention this in Philippians 2 is that he wants to focus all attention on that attitude of complete humility which was His, and which He showed, showed to the bitter but at the same time glorious end of having finished it all.

May your attitude be then as that of Christ Jesus. What He did we cannot do but we do not have to either. But that mind which was His, that attitude which He displayed, should be ours, as people who by faith are engrafted in Christ and are called to walk in His footsteps.

This is your Christmas mandate based on that incomprehensible miracle of the Son's emptying and humiliating of Himself.

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