The Westminster Standards divides Christ’s life into two distinctive parts: his humility and exaltation. Christ’s humility “consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.” This image presents a full orbed perspective of the humility of Christ when contrasted with his exaltation: “Christ’s exaltation consisteth in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.” Therefore, leaders and followers should look to Christ, the quintessential example of humility, to learn how to lead and follow with humility.
Paul highlighted this theme of humility in his letter to the Philippians. Philippians is an unusual letter in that Paul planted this church, but they do not seem to have been overcome by internal or external problems. One may wonder why it was included in the canon if it did not address an issue (and therefore, may not have relevance or significance for today). However, before this letter is thrown out, the Christology that saturates this letter shapes every part of life and, more specifically, how leaders should lead, and followers follow.
Paul encouraged the church in Philippi to remain steadfast, even when suffering visits them. To the church, this reminder seemed unusual because Philippi was a wealthy city—they did not need much as a Roman colony on its own. In fact, this perspective of sustainability and autonomy, although not necessarily wrong, could be why Paul included the reminder of humility in Philippians 2. The Philippian church is encouraged to follow the example of Jesus because even though he occupied the highest positional authority in heaven and on earth, he willingly gave up all rights and privileges associated with that status to become man and redeem God’s people from their sins. This act of humility is one of the greatest acts witnessed by God’s people and they should emulate his humility in all spheres of life.
Paul entreats the Philippian church to complete his “gladness” that he already possesses. He only wants them to complete (πληρώσατέ) his joy (χαρὰν) if they are encouraged (παράκλησις) by Christ, interested in encouraging, sharing in, and promoting each other’s encouragement (κοινωνία … ἀγάπην), their natural disposition is encouragement (σπλάγχνα), and concerned when another is not encouraged (οἰκτιρμοί). Unity is reflected in having the same goals (discussed above and bookending verse 2), and “harmony” (σύμψυχοι). Disunity is reflected in selfishness (ἐριθείαν) and self-promotion (κενοδοξίαν). Unity will reflect a thought life that looks at others with surpassing “quality or value” (ἡγούμενοι ὑπερέχοντας). Rather than selfishness, unity and humility are concerned with “pay[ing] careful attention to” others—selflessness (σκοποῦντες).
These commands are not just a list of what Paul thinks is a good idea for humility—they find their source in Jesus. He appeared “in the form of God” (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων), meaning that he displayed divine strength and authority on earth. Unsurprisingly, he never usurped God’s reign to gain equality. Instead Jesus, motivated by obedience rather than his deity, “seized the form of a servant” (μορφὴν δούλου λαβών) by demonstrating obedience to God, thus “divest[ing himself] of [his] position” (ἐκένωσεν). While κενόω in connection with λαμβάνω is normally used to mean something was taken away, it is used uniquely in that he added something to himself: human nature. Additionally, no one emptied Jesus of his divinity; he actively “emptied” himself of his own accord. In essence, he took “to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul.” He became like humanity by “limit[ing] … his glory … that he might be born in human likeness.” Ὁμοιώματι in verse 7 is a “dative of reference,” indicating that this situation is typically not true. This instance is obviously so because it was the first (and only) time God became incarnate. While it seems no one could be humbler than Jesus (for what other person would give up their divinity to save sinful people?), he goes one step further in his humanity by dying on a cross (θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ).
In the great reversal, Jesus is “raise[d] … to honor” by God (ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν) from his low humility. As a further reward for his humility, God “give[s] freely as a favor” (ἐχαρίσατο) to Jesus all power and authority (τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα). This gift is fully realized when “every knee will bow (πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ) in heaven (ἐπουρανίων), on the earth (ἐπιγείων), and under the earth (καταχθονίων).” Creation will yield whatever power it has to the all-powerful King Jesus. It will also “declare openly in acknowledgement” that he is king (πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται). This realization of the exaltation has not happened yet, but God promises this end. The main solution in the Philippian church was to look to Jesus as an example and for power to follow through with humility.
This post was originally part of an academic paper submitted to Dr. Bradley Matthews in Acts & Paul at Covenant Theological Seminary. It has been modified from its original version.
- The Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church with Proof Texts (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2005), Larger Catechism 46-56.
- The Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the OPC, Shorter Catechism 27.
- The Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the OPC, Shorter Catechism 28.
- Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the NT, 511–512.
- Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the NT, 498.
- Hans Bayer, Lecture 21 – Philippians, Lecture (St. Louis, MO: Covenant Theological Seminary, 2020).
- Danker and Bauer, BDAG, 828; BDAG, 1077.
- Wallace, GGBB, 350. Love, in the second instance, indicates that they have the same love—not competing loves.
- Danker and Bauer, BDAG, 766; BDAG, 769; BDAG, 6; BDAG, 552; BDAG, 834–835; BDAG, 938; BDAG, 700.
- Danker and Bauer, BDAG, 6; BDAG, 961.
- Danker and Bauer, BDAG, 392; BDAG, 538; BDAG, 989; BDAG, 434; BDAG, 1033.
- Danker and Bauer, BDAG, 931.
- Danker and Bauer, BDAG, 659.
- Danker and Bauer, BDAG, 133; BDAG, 480–481.
- Wallace, GGBB, 635. Note 56.
- Danker and Bauer, BDAG, 539.
- Wallace, GGBB, 630.
- Wallace, GGBB, 350. Instance of reflexive pronoun.
- The Confession of Faith and Catechisms of the OPC, Shorter Catechism 22. A lot of discussion has gone into this conversation about how this addition actually happened but figuring out this nuance is not within the scope of this paper. Additionally, it does not seem likely that the conversation can get more specific than this declaration.
- Ralph Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 109.
- Wallace, GGBB, 144.
- Danker and Bauer, BDAG, 1034.
- Danker and Bauer, BDAG, 1078. Compare to Matthew 28:18.
- Philippians 2:10, my translation from Jongkind, THGNT.
- Interestingly, it seems that Satan, will make this affirmation. Compare to Matthew 4:9-11, Wallace, GGBB, 173.
- Wallace, GGBB, 474. Subjunctive mood used in dependent clauses. Specifically, subjunctives in conditional sentences.