Philippians 2:7

Sermon preached on December 10, 2017 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

A few months ago Marg and I watched an episode of a show called Undercover Boss. The show was about the owner of a chain of department stores who pretended to be an lowly employee for a few days. I think the idea was that he wanted to get a view of what a day in the life of the workers in the store was like. The show was interesting but I remember coming away from the show thinking that it was all about good public relations for the boss. He gave money away to some of the good employees that he worked with during the time he was undercover. On TV, in front of a great audience, he showed how generous he was. Pretending to be a lowly employee for a few days wasn't much of a hardship for him. He became a TV star who looked good lavishing gifts on poor employees. His pretending to be a lowly employee wasn't a hardship for him at all.

King Edward VIII of England abdicated in 1936. But it wasn't for a good reason. He was in love with a married woman and he wanted to get married to her. He wanted her to divorce her husband and then he would marry her. But the British establishment at the time wouldn't allow that and they made him choose between the crown or Mrs. Simpson. He chose Mrs. Simpson. There was no virtue in him doing that—rather there was great shame. He abdicated for his own pleasure, so he could indulge himself.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn tells us that Alexander II, (the Tsar surrounded by revolutionaries, there were 7 attempts on his life) (The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1, p. 144-145)

"once visited the House of Preliminary Detention on Shpalernaya… where he ordered them to lock him up in solitary-confinement cell No. 227. He stayed in it for more than an hour, attempting thereby to sense the state of mind of those he had imprisoned there."

Solzhenitsyn continues,

"One cannot but admit that for a monarch this was evidence of moral aspiration, to feel the need and make the effort to take a spiritual view of the matter."

For a king to be voluntarily locked up in a solitary confinement prison cell was certainly remarkable. But he only did it for an hour. What he did was good and it was a hardship for him—but it was for a very brief time. And if he wanted to end it after a half hour he could have.

The work of Jesus in coming to this earth was far beyond anything like that. What Jesus did for us was the greatest act of condescension that could ever be. We saw last week that Jesus was truly and fully God. Yet He came to suffer. He came to die. Isaiah 53:3–4 describes his earthly sojourn this way,

"He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows,
and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men
hide their faces he was despised,
and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted."

Moisés Silva says of our text, (verses 6 and 7, Philippians, BECNT; 2d; p. 99)

"the apparent meaning of these striking lines is that the divine and preexistent Christ did not regard the advantage of his deity as grounds to avoid the incarnation; on the contrary, he was willing to regard himself as nothing by taking on human form."

This morning we're going to focus on some of what being born as a human in Bethlehem involved for Jesus. In doing so we should note that this is a passage that has great practical implications for us. Not only should it have us hold Jesus in awe, but it should change how we live.

But when Jesus came to earth, what did He do? Our text tells us,

He emptied Himself.

What does that mean? Does that mean that when Jesus came to earth He emptied Himself of the form of God? There are some who believe this and believe in, (as described by Donald Macleod, A Faith to Live By, p. 141)

"an attenuated, depotentiated, reduced Christ who had divested Himself of Godhead and contracted and shrunk to the proportions of a mere man."

But that is not in accord with biblical teaching. Matthew's gospel tells us that Jesus was Immanuel, God with us. While He was here on earth Jesus said, (John 10:30)

"I and the Father are one."

During his earthly sojourn He was transfigured on the Mount of Transfiguration. That displayed His deity. He was still God while He was on earth. John 1:14 also makes it clear that while Jesus was here in the flesh he was absolutely God. It says,

"The Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory,
the glory of the One and Only,
who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth."

So to suggest that Jesus laid aside his divinity when He took our nature is not in accord with the teaching of the New Testament. John Calvin writes, (Commentary)

"Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it."

G. Walter Hansen puts it this way, (Philippians, PNTC; p. 148)

"Although Christ did not exchange the form of God for the form of a slave, he 'gave up the appearance of his divinity' when he took the form of a slave. While still existing in the form of God, he experienced all the powerlessness and poverty of a slave."

Donald Macleod points out, our text literally reads, (p. 141)

"himself he emptied, taking…" "What a marvelous paradox. Christ emptied Himself by taking! It was what Christ took to Himself that humbled Him, not what He laid aside."

G. Walter Hansen writes, (Philippians, PNTC; p. 148)

"Christ's act of emptying himself is equated with the incarnation."

He voluntarily became a servant. Gordon D. Fee writes, (Philippians, NICNT; p. 212-213)

"He entered our history not as kyrios ('Lord'), which name he acquires at his vindication (vv. 9–11), but as doulos ('slave'), a person without advantages, with no rights or privileges, but in servanthood to all."

G. Walter Hansen writes, (Philippians, PNTC; p. 148)

"The form of a slave is the exact opposite of glory: a slave does not have a high position, unlimited power, unrivaled sovereignty. A slave has the lowest position; he is powerless; he has no rights. He has no glory: no honor; only shame."

When Jesus was on this earth He came as a servant. In John 6:38 Jesus said,

"For I have come down from heaven
not to do my will but to do
the will of him who sent me."

As He said in Mark 10:45,

"For even the Son of Man
did not come to be served,
but to serve, and to give his life
as a ransom for many."

When Jesus stood before Lazarus' grave, just before He called Him out, He said, (John 11:41–43)

"Father, I thank you
that you have heard me.
I knew that you always hear me,
but I said this for the benefit
of the people standing here,
that they may believe that you sent me.
When he had said this,
Jesus called in a loud voice,
'Lazarus, come out!' "

While He was on this earth Jesus did His miracles by the power of the Father. This is also evident from the first temptation that the devil put to him. The devil said to him, (Matthew 4:3)

"If you are the Son of God,
tell these stones to become bread."

What would have been wrong with that, with Jesus using His own power to ensure His survival? It would have been wrong because He came as a servant, to do the will of the Father. It would have been an abandonment of His calling. It would have indicated a lack of trust in the Father.

Jesus emptied Himself. He became a servant, your servant. That was His reality. We see this from the beginning of His life to the end. He was not born in a palace, with many attendants. He was born in a stable. He served His disciples, washing their feet. He allowed Himself to be arrested. He allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross. At the end of His suffering He breathed His last and voluntarily gave up His life, allowing His body to become lifeless.

Moisés Silva says of the phrase, (Philippians, BECNT; 105)

" 'he made himself nothing' (cf. NIV). Whether or not the phrase focuses on the initial act of humiliation ('he became flesh,' John 1:14), it surely points forward to his death. In other words, the phrase is in-tended to encapsulate for the readers the whole descent of Christ from highest glory to lowest depths."

G. Walter Hansen puts it this way, (Philippians, PNTC; p. 151)

"His act of self-emptying was the incarnation; the result of the incarnation was humiliation, suffering and death."

The second thing we see in our text is that

He was made in the likeness of men.

G. Walter Hansen says, (Philippians, PNTC; p. 152)

"The word likeness means "having common experience" and "being similar in appearance."

He became a true human being. G. Walter Hansen writes, (Philippians, PNTC; p. 153)

"The phrase in the likeness of human beings guards the mystery of Christ's incarnation from … two extremes… The ambiguity of the phrase in the likeness preserves both the similarity of Christ to human beings in his full humanity and the dissimilarity of Christ to fallen humanity in his equality with God and his sinless obedience."

He was made like is in every way except for sin. (Hebrews 2:17, 4:15) He was subject to danger, to hunger, thirst. He looked like an ordinary man. He didn't have a halo. His face didn't shine.

Donald Macleod, says of Jesus on the cross, (p. 143)

"There was nobody there, with one possible exception, able to understand who He was because His identity was buried beneath layer after layer of humiliation: beneath servanthood, beneath humanness, beneath death, beneath cross and curse and dereliction."

The incarnation is one of the greatest events in the all of history. What are some of the implications for us, as far as how we should live?

One of the main lessons we should learn from it is humility.

The book of Philippians was written to a church in trouble. There was conflict. In Philippians 4:2 the apostle Paul pleaded with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other. There was personal conflict, jealously and envy. This is also obvious from Philippians 2:3 where Paul warned them saying,

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility consider others
better than yourselves."

In chapter 2:21 Paul wrote to them,

"For everyone looks out for his own interests,
not those of Jesus Christ."

It seems that many people in the Philippian church were using the church for self-promotion. One of the results of this is that the congregation seemed to be discouraged, as Paul constantly reminded them to rejoice.

There was also danger from false teachers. In Philippians 3 Paul told them to watch out for dogs—evil men who were trying to lead them astray.

In light of all this,

Paul urges the Philippian Christians to imitate the attitude of Christ and show humility in their dealings with others.

In Philippians 2:5 he wrote,

"Your attitude should be the same
as that of Christ Jesus:"

Moisés Silva writes, (Philippians, BECNT; 2d; p. 92)

"he appeals to the spirit of servant-hood that brought Jesus to his death—a death which, incidentally, has over-flowed in life for the Philippians."

James Montgomery Boice adds, (Philippians, p. 120)

"The meaning of the incarnation of Jesus Christ is this: Jesus Christ became like us in order that we might become like him."

Humility is so rare in our society. It is rare in the church. But this should not be.

As we consider Christ's coming to earth for us. His taking our nature, His suffering and dying for us. The fact that the King of Glory did that for us—means that we should be awe-struck, filled with wonder at His emptying Himself. It means that we too, should put ourselves last, esteem others better than ourselves, and so honor Jesus by pointing others to Him.

May God give us grace to do so.