COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“ . . . 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.” (Phil 2:7-8. NKJV)
The greatness of our salvation is confirmed by the the involvements of Christ’s entrance into, and accomplishments in, this world. What He was required to do reveals the seriousness of the human dilemma. When someone in the image of God falls, coming short of His glory, it requires Divine wisdom to correct the situation. Willingness on the part of the Savior is also necessary, together with a forfeiture of Divine prerogatives and the sacrifice of life. Once seen, these extraordinary requirements move us to embrace the Savior without reservation. The paltry things we surrender are seen as dungwhen compared with what Jesus relinquished, and what He now offers.
MADE HIMSELF OF NO REPUTATION
“ . . . but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant . . . ”(NASB). This is one of the most arresting statements in all of Scripture. Here language appears a pauper, and words appear inadequate containers. Unless our faith grasps this statement, it will be too challenging to retain. The RSV, NRSV, and NASB read “but emptied Himself.” The NIV reads, “but made Himself nothing.” The word “but” allows a contrast between what the Lord WAS, and what He BECAME in order to save us. “Equality with God” is thus contrasted with “emptied Himself,” or “no reputation.” The willing transition was from the highest (not higher) to the lowest (not lower).
The word translated “emptied Himself” is unusually strong. Lexically, it means (1) lit. remove the content of something; (2) (a) as taking away theeffectiveness of something. deprive of power; (b) as taking away thesignificance of something. destroy, make invalid, empty; (c) as taking away theprerogatives of status or position empty, divest; He emptied himself, i.e. took an unimportant position. When Jesus came into the world, He began a new kind of existence, or presence. That is why Scripture affirms, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Heb 1:5; 5:5). He entered the world in the most frail of all forms–as an infant, totally dependent upon others. He was first dependent upon God the Father, and next upon Joseph and Mary. Christ’s humanity was as real as His Deity–a staggering consideration.
In emptying Himself, the basic Person of our Lord was not changed. Rather, He was divested of the freedom and privileges belonging to Deity. The vessel was the same, but the contents were poured out. He had to “learn”to be obedient (Heb 5:8), be subject to limitation and handicap (Lk 12:50), and be “subject” to those He created (Lk 2:51).
The “emptying” refers exclusively to His manhood. He Who could NOT be concealed placed the cloak of flesh over His Deity so it could not be seen. His flesh was to His Deity what the veil was to the Holy of Holies (Heb 10:20). As long as He was in the world, He could not be seen as He really was in Person or character. A small portion of that Deity burst through His skin and garments when He was transfigured (Matt 17:2). Even then, Jesus strictly charged His disciples not to make the transfiguration known, that His Deity might remain concealed (Matt 17:9).
Remember, the Spirit is exhorting us to esteem others better than ourselves–to be willing to forfeit what may be rightfully ours. The supreme example of this is found in our Lord Jesus. Due consideration of His humiliation will subdue any inclinations to regard ourselves too highly.
He took upon Himself the “form,” or appearance, of a “bond-servant.”He embraced this “form” willingly, and was not forced to take it. In this, He differed from ordinary slaves. He became like the slave who could be free, but chose to be bound to his master, as prefigured in the Law (Ex 21:1-6). He Himself said He came “to minister” (Matt 20:28). Isaiah prophesied of our Lord, “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights!” (Isa 42:1). The contemplation of what would RESULT from the humbling experience of His humanity brought great delight to God. What it would yield was worth sending Jesus, and worth Jesus emptying Himself!
COMING IN THE LIKENESS OF MEN
“ . . . and being made in the likeness of men” (NASB). The humility of Christ is accentuated by the “appearance” He assumed. We are categorically told “He took not on him the nature of angels,” but was, in fact, “made for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb 2:9,16).
The “form,” however, was not that of Adam when first created. He did not come into the world to merely give man a fresh start, and reproduce the nature and conditions enjoyed at the first by Adam! With great care, our Lord’s identity is said to be with “the seed of Abraham” (Heb 2:16)–a fallen race to whom God had made a promise.
According to appearance, Jesus was no different from any other man. His“form” was not that of a superior man, but an ordinary man. The Spirit takes this matter further in Romans 8:3; “God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” He Himself was not a sinner, yet appeared like those who were! That is why His critics could speak so derisively of Him. “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” “ . . . we know that this man is a sinner.” “Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber” (John 8:57; 9:24; Matt 11:19). He was “numbered with the transgressors” in His death (Mark 15:27-28), and in His life as well.
How is it that men could speak so derisively of our Lord? How could they oppose Him so publically and fearlessly? How could they dare to oppose and finally kill Him? It was because of His form, or appearance. He was “made in the likeness of men.” They could not see His Deity because of His humanity. Jesus was sinless and without guile as man, and none could convict Him of sin (John 8:46)! Yet, that holiness was not so apparent it could not be denied. He had “emptied Himself,” so His glory could not be seen.
The reaction of men to Christ proves He “emptied Himself!” No person knowingly confronting Deity has ever laid a charge against Him. Fear and trembling has gripped the heart of every person, godly or not, that has faced the Living God. Israel trembled (Ex 19:16). Moses trembled (Heb 12:21). Isaiah cried out in despair (Isa 6:5). Daniel fainted (Dan 10:8,16,17). John fell down (Rev 1:17). They all KNEW Who was before them. However, when Jesus “emptied Himself” and assumed the “likeness of men,” He was not recognized. The world “knew Him not” (John 1:10), and thus could hate and oppose Him. His own people–the very ones to whom He was sent–thought of Him as “the carpenter,” and “the carpenter’s son” (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3). They viewed Him as uneducated (John 7:15), and one who gravitated to the baser sort of people (Lk 7:34). They could not see His Deity! They could not perceive He was the son of God! He had “emptied Himself” and assumed the likeness of men.
It is the humanity of Jesus that became the vehicle of our salvation. Our condition was so serious, identity with us required the sheathing of Deity. If you are ever tempted to think too highly of yourself or some other mortal, ponder what was required of Jesus in order to save us. To become like us, he had to pour out His Deity so it could no longer be observed. He had to become a slave that we might be made free. That makes sin reprehensible.
HUMILITY AND OBEDIENCE
“ . . . And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (NKJV). As though it were not enough to pour out His Deity, and assume the “form of a servant,” our Lord went even further. Too, “emptying Himself” was not enough. AFTER He was “found in appearance as a man,” He further humbled Himself by becoming “obedient.” Mind you, obedience was involved in coming into the world (Heb 10:7,9). However, entering the arena of conflict was not enough. While here, He had to “learn obedience” (Heb 5:8). He did not “learn” it by occupying a classroom, or by sitting at the feet of the doctors of the Law. He “learned” it “by the things which He suffered.”
His obedience was not “learned” as a wild horse learns by being tamed, or sinners learn by subduing their sinful preferences. Nor is this learning meant to suggest He was ignorant of the will of God. In the crucible of suffering, He “learned” obedience was not automatic. In that learning experience, He could not rely upon his Deity, or inherent power. He had to empty Himself of that BEFORE entering the arena of hardship and conflict. After His baptism, and the announcement of His mission, “Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness,” to be tempted of the devil (Mark 1:12).
The obedience that He “learned” prepared Him for the ultimate act of obedience, which was “death on a cross.” That single work was so critical to our salvation, Jesus had to embrace it willingly and heartily. He would be subjected to such atrocities, that the slightest twinge of disobedience could not be entertained. The salvation of the world hinged on that obedience.
Just as our fallen state is traced to a single act wrought by a single man (Adam), so our salvation is traced to a single act of obedience accomplished by Jesus. “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift . . . the offence of one . . . the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ . . . by one man's offence death reigned by one . . . they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. . . . by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one . . . by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom 5:15-19).
Death on the cross was a death of Divine cursing (Gal 3:13). The reference is not merely to Roman cruelty, but to Divine renunciation. In order to save us, Jesus not only was required to “empty Himself,” but to become“obedient.” His obedience required more than obeying the Law. He had to endure the greatest of all suffering, and submit to the most grievous of all deaths. He had to tread the winepress of the wrath of God “alone,” and descend into the devil’s domain without the sword of Divinity in His hand. Men could not be saved unless God’s wrath against sin was thorough.
The “death of the cross” refers more to what occurred at that time, rather than the bodily sufferings Jesus experienced there. On the cross He carried our sins. On the cross, He experienced being forsaken. On the cross He was ravaged by both men and the powers of darkness. He had to “humble Himself” to undergo such things – and He did, praise the Lord!