[The following blogpost is re-edited from a post published on 7/27/14. After prayerful consideration of the text itself, the first commentaries that I looked to were John Chrysostom and John Calvin. Additionally, my understanding of this passage has been sharpened by comments in Simon Gathercole's book The Preexistent Son, James White's book The Forgotten Trinity (Chapter 8), and class notes from Dr. Stephen Wellum.]
Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who–existing in the form of God–did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men, and–when He had come as man in His external form–He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that–at the name of Jesus–every knee will bow (of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth), and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (HCSB)
In this passage, the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul commands us to humility. This passage calls us to follow Christ as our example for humility. It also, implicitly, holds out a promise to us. God exalted Christ Jesus due to His humble obedience. We who have been united to Christ by faith (1 Cor 6:17) will share in His exaltation as we follow His example.
The Apostle Paul gives an argument from the greater to the less. Christ exercised humility, as Calvin notes, “[B]y abasing Himself from the highest pinnacle of glory to the lowest ignominy.” We, on the other hand, exercise humility simply by not thinking higher of ourselves than we ought.
“Form” in Philippians 2:5-11 is equivalent to “nature”. Christ emptied Himself by taking on a human nature. The Word became flesh (John 1:14). The Word–who “was God” (John 1:1)–was called a man (1 Tim 2:5). Christ forever retains His bodily form (Col 2:9).
Of these concepts, John Chyrsostom helpfully remarks: “Let us not then confound nor divide the natures. There is one God, there is one Christ, the Son of God; when I say ‘One,’ I mean a union, not a confusion; the one Nature did not degenerate into the other, but was united with it.”
The incarnation and crucifixion were due to a voluntary act of the divine will as expressed through the subsistency within the Trinity known as the Word (as in John 1) or Son, identified in the text under present consideration as Christ Jesus. As Gathercole notes, "[Christ's] act of emptying himself in the incarnation is paralleled with his act of humbling himself to the point of death." As Christ chose to go to the Cross (John 10:18), He had previously chosen to be born of the virgin Mary. No one chooses the manner of his own birth: no one save Christ, [who] emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. Notice the human existence the Christ chose: not a life of fame and fortune, but one that (for most of His time on this earth) was characterized by obscurity and poverity.
“Assuming the form of” and “taking on” modify the ‘emptying’ mentioned in this passage. The ‘emptying’ is thus not a losing but a gaining. The Son does not lose anything of His divinity, but he adds a human nature to His divine nature, which is an emptying because it temporarily masks His divine glory and becomes the opportunity for His suffering on behalf of others.
As Calvin notes, “[T]he abasement of [Christ's] flesh was… like a veil, by which His divine majesty was concealed. On this account, He did not wish that His transfiguration should be made public until after His resurrection” (Matt 17:9; Mark 9:9; Luke 9:36). The incarnate Christ was publicly manifested as the Son of God by means of His resurrection (Rom 1:4).
Prior to His resurrection, Christ suffered humiliation in the manner of His death: “cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13). Christ was hanged between two robbers, sharing in their ill repute, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “And He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isa 53:12). Christ crucified is a stumbling block and considered foolishness by those who are proud in their religious or philosophical endeavors (1 Cor 1:24).
Once the incarnate Christ was exalted, following His resurrection, the Word was returned to the glory that He had with the Father from “before the world began
” (John 17:5). Nothing was added to the Son’s divinity (for it is impossible that the all-glorious One could increase in glory), but now His humanity, which was previously a vehicle for humiliation, has become glorified, manifestly partaking in the divine nature, allowing everyone who is united to Christ by faith (1 Cor 6:17) to become a partaker in the divine nature as well (2 Pet 1:4).
The above thoughts are key to rightly understanding the term "emptied
" as it is used in Philippians 2:7 and help indicate how Christians must obey the command to 'make our own attitude that of Christ Jesus' in the way indicated by this passage (see Phil 2:5). Humility, as James White
has observed, consists of: "having privileges, and laying them aside in service of others." As Martin Luther noted in On the Freedom of a Christian
, whereas a Christian is "a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none" (due to the privileges we have in Christ through faith, John 8:36; Eph 2:6), a Christian is also "a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all" (due to the fact that the Holy Spirit has commanded us to practice humility). We cannot empty ourselves of divine attributes (as some would wrongly suggest is indicated by "emptied
" in Phil 2:7), but we can empty ourselves though self-sacrificial service to others.
Labels: Bible study