If I were to ask you how your Christology impacts your ecclesiology would you know what in the world I was talking about? Sometimes theological jargon can sound like a foreign language. I’m really just asking this: How does what you believe about Jesus affect what you believe about other people in the church? You see, this is exactly how Paul is teaching in this passage. He says that Jesus’ person and work ought to lead us to submit our interests and desires to the desires of others. He wants us to have “this mind” in us “which was in Christ Jesus.”
This passage is one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture as it describes the pre-existence of Jesus and His equality with God, His humiliation unto death for our salvation, and then His exaltation unto lordship and glory. But what is often missed is that this glorious piece of high theology is being used by Paul to achieve very practical purposes. Leading into those majestic verses 5-11 and then immediately following them is the same word, “therefore.” Since Jesus is Who He is and has done what He has done, therefore, we must do something. We must relate to one another in a posture of humility.
Fulfill My Joy
As we have talked about in the past two weeks, Paul is explaining how people in the church live with one another. First, he pointed out that they are partners in the gospel through their communion. This means that what happens to one member happens to all of the other members. But then secondly, he connected this shared communion to the doctrine of union with Christ. This union is so real that Paul can say that “to live is Christ,” and thus that shared life we have together is not some sort of pragmatic unity or shared hobbies and side-interests, but it is in fact the very life of Christ in us. From this point our text now picks up and continues by way of explanation. We embody our communion and fulfill one another’s joy precisely by living like Christ, and here’s how: Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. (vs. 1-2)
Paul is not actually unsure whether these qualities are present. He is saying that those qualities ought to be present in a mature church and that their presence in turn ought to lead to like-mindedness. If the church grows into like-mindedness, then they will fulfill Paul’s joy, thus again showing that their life as the church affects his life on the mission field. He continues: Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (vs. 3-4)
This section is very important. Like-mindedness does not mean that we always agree on everything. It does not mean, as many churches unfortunately interpret it to mean, that everyone must sign off on all the theological distinctives or specific vision plans of the pastor and session. It doesn’t mean that we have all the same political views or that we support the same sorts of programs or outside ministries. What it does mean is that we must all agree to “esteem others better then ourselves.” The key thesis of the whole thing is found in those two sentences: “Let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
The Example of Christ
This lowliness of mind and esteeming others better than ourselves which Paul is exhorting us towards is exactly what Jesus did for us, and this is why Paul leaps from what appears to be ordinary practical ministry to high-level Christology:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (vs. 5-11)
And so we must imitate Jesus in doing this. What He did, as explained by his humiliation and exaltation, is what we must do as His followers. This is “the mind of Christ” which we are to have “in us,” which will then produce the like-mindedness among us.
Now let us look more closely at this mind of Christ. This section can be divided into two parts, first the humiliation of Christ, where He volunteers to submit to the divine mission and suffer and die for our salvation, and then the exaltation of Christ, where His humiliation is recognized and rewarded by God and He is given lordship and glory. This downward and upward motion controls the logic of the argument.
Paul says that Christ was first “in the form of God.” The Greek word for “form” is a term loaded with meaning, morphe. It does not mean a mere appearance, though there have been many commentators who have tried to argue that here. If were it only indicating appearance, you might argue that Christ was not actually God in His nature. But, in fact, the term morphe carried a strong philosophical meaning in the ancient Greek world. Plato and Aristotle famously disagreed on what a “form” was, but both agreed that the “form” of a thing was inseparably united to its essence. We could cut through the complications by saying that the “form” is the manifestation of an essence, and so Christ manifests God, even His divine nature. We can see that “the form of God” is paralleled with “equality with God” and contrasted against “the form of a bondservant” and the “likeness of men.” The “form of God” means that Jesus Christ was eternal and divine, equal with God.
And yet, Christ having the form of God “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” That line is one of the most complicated and widely-disputed pieces of translation in the New Testament, and the version I have read, coming from the New King James, is most certainly incorrect. The term which gets translated “robbery” is an odd Greek word which means “a thing to be taken by force.” So some translations say, “he did not consider equality with God something to be seized.” The word actually has a reflexive sense, meaning that Christ did not consider his own equality with God a thing to be clutched or grasped forcibly. The NIV actually captures the main point quite nicely. It says, “[He] did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage.” That’s exactly what Paul is saying here. Even though Jesus was equal with God and had all of the divine nature and power, He did not hold on to that and insist upon a lofty and powerful existence. Instead, “He made Himself of no reputation.”
That next expression “He made Himself of no reputation” literally means that He emptied Himself. Now the self-emptying here does not mean that Christ gave up divine powers or attributes in the sense of actually ceasing to possess them. Jesus was always God and never stopped being God. He was simultaneously omnipresent and walking around in Jerusalem in a human body. And Jesus was always all-powerful, even on the cross. The power of the gospel is that Jesus, being God, could have used His divine powers to avoid death but instead freely chose to submit Himself to suffering and death for our salvation. And so He “emptied Himself” precisely by agreeing to come to earth, take on the “form of a bondservant” and “appearance of a man.” And more than this, “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (vs. 8).
So we see that the high point of Christ’s obedience is actually the low point, His ignominious death on the cross. Jesus came down from heaven, down to the position of a lowly servant in a lowly small country in Palestine, down to being arrested and beaten, down to death on the Cross, all out of a humble submission to the will of God. And so this example of Christ must ground our own willingness to do the same. We have to be willing to submit our privileges, our rights, and even our lives, and we must do it for the same reason that Jesus did, because God commands us to put others ahead of ourselves.
At this point Paul shifts the movement. After having emphasized humiliation and moving down, down, down, now Paul points to the reward given to Jesus, the exaltation. “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name…” (vs. 9). The Cross is actually not the conclusion of Jesus’ story. No, three days later came the resurrection and triumph over death, and then after that Jesus was raised to heaven, raised to sit at the right Hand of God the Father in order to reign with Him. This is the ultimate exaltation. The expression that God gave Jesus “the Name” is an unmistakably Jewish reference to Yahweh, the covenant name for Israel’s God. And again, it wasn’t that Jesus previously lacked this name, but rather, prior to the exaltation, Jesus was not perceived to be Yahweh. But after the resurrection it is clear. This Jesus is the God of Israel.
And yet more praise and glory is given to Jesus. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (vs. 10-11). You should notice that there is a future tense being used here. Christ’s work is complete. On the cross he said, “It is finished.” But the effects of Christ’s work are ongoing and the public manifestation and recognition of His person and Office are still to come. There is a future event to come, and that is the cosmic and universal recognition, by believers and unbelievers alike, that Jesus is, in fact, who we say He is. He is God. He is Israel’s messiah. He is Lord. At the end of world history, every creature, including angels and demons, will acknowledge the lordship of Christ, that He sits on the throne of heaven and rules all things. And so we see that humiliation eventually leads in the highest possible exaltation, all to the glory of God the Father.
Having the Mind of Christ in Us
We are now at one of those theological mountaintops. We’ve seen the glories of heaven and the face of God in Christ, and so where do we go from here? The answer might surprise you. We go back to our fellow church-members. We must put them ahead of ourselves, just like Christ did. You see, the practical application of this amazing Christology is that great exaltation does not come through self-interest and chasing after your own desires but rather through service and submitting to others. Paul is holding forth Jesus as an example for us to follow. We will be rewarded in the same way as Jesus was after we humble ourselves like Jesus did.
As we mentioned earlier, verses 5-11 are sandwiched between two sections which urge us to work together. The example of Christ is brought into the letter in order to move us towards humble living and serving others. Paul wants us to imitate Christ. But notice, he is himself also imitating Christ. He says a bit later on in this chapter that he is emptying himself by “pouring” himself “out as a drink offering” (vs. 17). Paul has followed Christ’s example in going on mission, sacrificing his earthly cares, and even putting his life on the line for the sake of the church. So as we see Paul imitate Christ, we ought to imitate them both. We need to be willing to pour out our lives as sacrifices on the altar of Christ’s ministry.
Now, if we imitate Christ in this humiliation, we will also imitate him in exaltation as God will bless us and crown us with righteousness and glory. We will be rewarded for our sacrifice. Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel that, “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29). We will have treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust can touch it. And we will reign with Christ, being crowned with the crown of righteousness, and we will be glorified in and with Christ all to the glory of God the Father.
But that all starts here and now, with our humiliation. And so have the mind of Christ in you by esteeming others better than yourself and looking out for their interests alongside your own. Let us pray.