The following passage, Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV) may be a portion of a hymn sung in the Philippian church. Of course, it matters less whether anyone ever sang it than whether anyone lives up to it. It tells us Christ Jesus’ attitude–not as the risen Lord of glory, but the humble rabbi who walked the earth teaching the unreached. He expects his followers to have the same attitude.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 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.
Jesus, as God the Son, did not regard his divine privileges and attributes as anything to use or consider important here on earth. Before his ministry began, he turned down chances to turn stones into bread or jump off the temple so angels would catch him. On his final night, he reminded his disciples and those who came to arrest him that he could easily call down an overwhelming number of angels to stop them.
He emptied himself of all that. He did not leave behind his divine nature. He was, after all, in the form of God. But he did leave behind his divine privileges. Being in the form of God, he took the form of a slave. It doesn’t just say the form of a man or human form. It says the form of a servant, or slave as some other translations render it. That is an important word here.
All humans are slaves. We might not be slaves of other people, but we are all either slaves of sin or slaves of God. One or the other owns us and commands our obedience. The only distinction between that and being owned by another human is that everyone gets a choice of which master to serve. That is really the only free choice any of us ever gets. It determines every other choice we ever make, and the outcome of those choices.
So Jesus, God the Son, chose to become a man and live like a man without any of his godly privileges. And then he chose to be a man entirely sold to God without wavering. His master ordered him to a hideous, painful, and humiliating death, and he obeyed without hesitation. We waver between choosing God and sin as our master. Jesus never did.
In fact, have you noticed how many times in the gospel he performed some healing or other miracle while he was on his way to do something else? Occasionally we see some initial hesitance, but never because he thought his own plans were more important than meeting someone else’s needs. Being a slave to God often meant being a slave to passing strangers.
Yet he had one overriding goal in life and no man, woman, human institution, or the devil himself could distract him from it. In one sense, then, it was easy to distract him and in another it was impossible. That’s why I’m confident that I what I wrote about the first several verses of the chapter in Thinking inside the box: glory or empty?
It’s largely about humility. Jesus modeled it. I explained it right, but I can’t live it. I don’t want to suffer pain. I don’t want to suffer humiliation. I don’t even want anything to frustrate any of my short-term goals. Sin offers me a way to avoid all of that, and too often I accept the offer.
Something tells me I’m not confessing anything extraordinary, that my readers will also have to make a similar confession. But as adopted children of God, with the Holy Spirit molding us and fashioning us to conform to the image of Christ, we’re promised, to a limited extent, the same kind of reward that he earned from his obedience:
God restored Jesus to his former glory and allowed him to take up again all of the privileges that he had laid aside. We, too, will be glorified. We, too, will receive rewards and privileges. And again, we miss most of the point if we think only about what we’ll get as individuals. God promises rewards first and foremost to the church, and it is through being part of the church (in the universal sense) that we will receive them.
God gave Jesus the name above every name, in acknowledgement that in his earthly ministry Jesus added perfect humanity to the perfect deity he already had. God has a new name for us, too. But the name of Jesus is different. We will all bow our knees when that name is pronounced and glorify God. Imagine what a glorious worship experience that will be. It will be repeated throughout all eternity, and no one will complain about the sermon being too long!
But we, the church, will not be alone in bowing our knees at the name of Jesus. Every human being that ever lived will bow. Every angel in heaven will bow. The devil and all his demons will bow. Every knee, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, shall bow and every tongue will glorify God by confessing Jesus’ Lordship. Some (most, I suspect) will bow in an attitude of worship and adoration. Satan and anyone who ultimately chooses to follow him will bow and confess, too, but only in the humiliation of defeat and disgrace.
Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to build the attitude of Christ Jesus in you? If so, you are part of the victorious church and have been adopted into his family.