The Essence of Humility
Tim Temple

Introduction

Our text is Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5-11, but to set those verses in their context, we will begin by reading from verse 1:

Philippians 2

1If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
2Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

A few years ago many of us were interested to read in the paper the story of a young woman in Sweden who wandered away from a Christmas Eve party in the city of Stockholm. As this young lady wandered along, she soon realized that she was lost. She wandered aimlessly for some time. Because she was not dressed for the weather, eventually she collapsed from the cold and exposure; and after a period of time–no one knows for sure how long she was there–a man who was walking his dog in the neighborhood found her and put his own coat around her and took her to his home, which was nearby. The thing that made all of this worthy of notice was the fact that came out by the next day that the man who found this lady, and he went to great trouble to rescue her, turned out to be King Gustav Adolf VII of Sweden. Because of that, it was in all of the newspapers and some papers even carried a picture and a lengthy story.

That is an interesting thing to think that a king would take the time to help someone in distress. But if that story is of interest, and it is mildly interesting, how much more interest should we have in the passage which is before us now. Here we have the story of the King of the Universe who emptied Himself and rescued you and me.

We are thinking about chapter 2 from four standpoints. First, in verses 1-4, we talked in our last lesson about the exhortation to humility. In verses 5-11, we want to think about the essence of humility. Then in verses 12-18, we will notice the expression of humility, primarily in Paul's own life; and then in verses 19-30, two examples of humility, Timothy and Epaphrodditus.

In this lesson, we want to think about the essence of humility as it is described for us in verses 5-11. As we think about the essence of humility, we need to think about it in the context, and for that reason we have read the first few verses together. Remember that in the first four verses, Paul is writing to the Philippians about the need for humility. Evidently there was some problem of conflict and competition in the church at Philippi, and so he writes to them concerning their need for humility.

An Example of Humility

Then in these verses at which we are looking, he is going to give the most impressive example of humility possible, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

So in verses 5-11, as we think about the essence of humility, we notice an example of the kind of exhortation that he has been making back in verse 4:

Philippians 2

4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

We pointed out last time that what Paul is saying is something that is unusual and unheard in the Roman world, and really even in our own world: “Think not about ourselves, but about other people.”

The interesting thing to notice is that the Lord Jesus Christ said this same thing. Keep a marker here in Philippians and turn back to the Gospel of Matthew and notice chapter 7. We will just look at one verse here, a very striking parallel. Jesus is giving what we commonly refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” In verse 12, of chapter 7, He says:

Matthew 7

12Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Whether you have heard it in exactly these words or not, whether you realized it was Scripture or not, most of us here have heard this concept before. This is what is commonly referred to as “the Golden Rule.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That is exactly what Jesus is saying here in Matthew, chapter 7, verse 12, and it is exactly what Paul is saying back in Philippians, chapter 2.

Matthew 7

12Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them…

Notice it doesn't say, “whatsoever these men do to you,” but “whatsoever you would that men should do to you.” Don't treat other people like they treat you, but treat other people like you would like for them to treat you.

Notice another important statement in Matthew, chapter 7, verse 12:

Matthew 7

12…for this is the law and the prophets.

Do you see what Jesus is saying? If we could put this principle into practice in our lives, we would be accomplishing all that was described in all of the Old Testament. This is the point that God was trying to make in all of the law and the prophets, that we learn to treat others as we would like to be treated. Of course, the Lord Jesus Christ is not just talking about an ethical standard, and Paul, in writing to the Philippians, was not just talking about an ethical standard. We know that this is simply not possible without the power and the strength of the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is this kind of thing that Paul was discussing in the first four verses. So if you will go back to Philippians, chapter 2, this is the context in which he gives us the example to follow.

In the course of this example that Paul was giving to us in verses 5-11, he gives us also one of the most important theological passages in the entire Scripture. Notice the line of reasoning that Paul follows as he talks about Him as the supreme example of all that he is talking about. First, in verse 5, he says:

Philippians 2

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Notice the specific statement of Jesus' name there. In reading through this quickly, we might not pay this much attention to it, but the form there is “Christ Jesus.” Usually when the Apostle Paul refers to Jesus, he refers to Him as the Lord Jesus, or sometimes the Lord Jesus Christ. But only in a couple of other places in his writings does he use this formal title,“Christ Jesus.” This is a formal title, because “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah . So when we use the word “Christ,” it is a title. It means that He is the Messiah . It is not just another way of saying His name, but rather it is a matter of referring to His office. So Paul is bringing out that the One whom he is going to use as an example was the Son of God Himself.

In verses 5 and 6, he talks about the Son of God. He was Christ Jesus. To the Roman mind, to those familiar with the names and the terms in the Greek and Hebrew language, this would have immediately said that he is talking about Jesus in His office as the Son of God, in His position as God.

The Essence of God

Notice the more specific statement in verse 6:

Philippians 2

6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

Notice particularly there in verse 6 the word “form.” The word “form” is a translation of the Greek word morphe . The word morphe is a word that refers to the essence of a thing, the inner quality. That word should be contrasted, if you want to understand it fully, to a word that is very similar in the English, though not similar in the Greek, the English word “fashion.” It is interesting to notice that several times in the New Testament these two words are contrasted. In fact, right here in this passage, as we will see in a moment, we have both of these words used together–form and fashion. They are concepts that we use in our own society also.

The difference between form and fashion is the difference between, for example, a snapshot of a person and an oil portrait of that person. Why is it that a snapshot of a person is not as valuable as a portrait painted by an artist? It is still a likeness of the same person, and sometimes a snapshot is even more recognizable than the oil painting is, yet a portrait costs a great deal more and is usually regarded much more highly. The difference is that a good portrait artist has the ability to bring out the essence of that person.

If you are familiar with oil painting, you know that often the comments that are made about an oil painting are not about how much it looks like a person, but the fact that the artist has caught the expression in the person's eyes or you can see somehow in that oil painting the character of the person. That's what the artist strives for–the form, the essence, the morphe . And so that is the word that describes Jesus Christ as God. In other words fashion simply refers to the outer appearance of a person. That would be the snapshot. The snapshot shows us what that person looked like that particular day, in that particular situation, but it may not at all show us the character of the person, the essence of a person.

Someone has suggested that the difference between these two words is that the form of housewife, for example, is what she looks like at breakfast on Sunday morning, and the fashion of a housewife is what she looks like after she gets to church. Maybe that is a good description. What she really is, you see there at home; what she wants to appear like, you see after she gets to church. I think probably the same thing is true even more so for men, but we like to pick on the ladies, so that is why we use that kind of illustration.

Notice that he says, “He had the morphe .” He had the essence of God; He was in the form of God. I am stressing that because our English word “form” is sometimes used simply to refer to similarity of something. He is not saying, “He was shaped like God or had the appearance of God.” He is saying in verse 6, “He was God; He had the essence of God.”

Christ Equal With God

Notice also in verse 6, that this was perfectly legitimate for Him to be called God:

Philippians 2

6…thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

The essence of robbery, the basic idea of robbery, obviously is to take something that you have no right to, to take something that is not yours. That is exactly what Paul was saying. Not only was Jesus Christ in the form of God, not only did He have the essence of God, but He had every right to have it. In saying that He had the form of God, he was not saying that He had taken something He had no right to. Jesus Christ did not think it robbery to be equal with God. He did not consider that something that He had stolen, something that He had no right to. He was the very Person of God.

In spite of all this, the Lord Jesus Christ became a servant. He was not only the Son of God, but He became a servant. So notice in verse 7:

Philippians 2

7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

Verse 7 begins with a very, very important word. It is a very short word, and we tend to overlook it, the little word “but.” As we have mentioned many times before, we believe in the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. “Plenary” means “all of the Scripture.” “Verbal” means “the very words of Scripture,” and so we believe that it is not by accident that this verse begins with the word “but.”

In the Form of a Servant

There is a volume of information in the word “but.” It means “in spite of all of the above.” He emptied Himself. He made Himself of no reputation. The word “but” signifies that we need to have paid attention to what has gone before. What has gone before? He was in the form of God, and He had every right to be so, “but,” in spite of that, what happened?

Philippians 2

7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant…

There is something else that is very important along the same lines as this word “but,” and that is the fact that the word “robbery” is important from another standpoint. The word “robbery” in Greek has two basic meanings. In English it has only the one basic meaning, even though there are many different forms of robbery. It means basically “to take something that is not yours.” No matter how you go about doing it, that is basically what it means. But in the Greek, there is a second meaning for the word “robbery” which really has nothing to do with stealing something, yet it is a legitimate meaning of the word. It is the meaning of “holding onto something at all costs.” The closest we could come to that in English and still associate it with robbery is purse-snatching, the idea of a purse-snatcher who grabs a purse from someone and holds onto it with all of his might.

This second use of this word “robbery” in the Greek doesn't really need to imply any thievery at all. It really doesn't need to imply anything criminal. It means “to hold onto something with all of your might,” and it is the same Greek word. So we can use that word also in thinking about the importance of Jesus Christ's becoming a servant. When He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, He thought it not something to be held onto at all cost. Do you see that? The robbery there in verse 6 is in a negative statement. “He thought it not robbery,” He thought it not something to be held onto at all cost, but He willingly gave it up, in verse 7. So He was the Son of God in every sense of the word and by all rights, but He became a servant.

Christ Relinquished Heaven's Glory

There is another important phrase in verse 7, and that is the phrase:

Philippians 2

7But made himself of no reputation…

In fact, theologically, technically speaking, this is probably the most important phrase in this whole passage. Notice, “He made himself of no reputation.” Literally that is, He emptied Himself. In the Greek, if we had translated word for word, literally it would be, “He emptied Himself.” In fact, some of the more modern translations use that very terminology: “He emptied Himself.”

It simply means, “He made Himself of no reputation. He emptied Himself.” What it means is not that He ceased to be God. It does not mean in any way that He became less God than He had been, because there is much other Scripture that indicates that He continued to be God. This is a phrase that we have to take into context of Scripture as a whole–not that He ceased to be God, but that He gave up His right to be present in Heaven with all of the attendant glories of Heaven.

I say this reverently, but it is a very real truth: The Lord Jesus Christ could have said, “No,” to God the Father's plan of salvation and there would have been nothing God the Father could have done about it. When God the Father explained the plan of divine decree, the fact that He was going to send His Son to die on the Cross to pay for the sins of mankind, Jesus Christ could have said, “I will have none of it. I won't do it,” and it would not have diminished His holiness one bit; it would not have diminished His relationship to the Father in any way. He would have been completely within His rights and completely within the context of His holiness and His Godhead to say that. But He gave that up. He willingly said, “I will leave My place in Heaven and all of the glory that is Mine and all of the worship that is Mine being physically present in Heaven. I will empty Myself of that, and I will go and perform the plan.”

This is why the King James Version's translation, “made himself of no reputation,” I think is a very good translation. Can you imagine what it would have been like to go from being the King of Glory, with the worship of angels and all of eternity, to going to being a humble carpenter in a very rural and humble civilization, completely unknown by other people. That is why we can say legitimately, “He made himself of no reputation.”

The Transfiguration

Turn with me to Matthew, chapter 17, for just a moment. There is a good illustration of His self-emptying from a little different standpoint. Matthew, chapter 17, contains what we generally refer to as “the Transfiguration.” There are several reasons why God brought this into the life of Christ at this particular time. We will not go into all of those, but notice in Matthew, chapter 17, beginning with verse 1:

Matthew 17

1And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
2And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
3And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.

Notice verse 2. “He was transfigured before them.” What that means is, for a brief moment of time, there on the mountain top, He was returned to His former glory. The word “transfigured” is the translation of the Greek word metamorphoo . It is the word from which we get our English word “metamorphosis.” It means “a change of form,” “a change of essence.” What this is saying is that the Lord Jesus Christ for a brief period of time was returned to His form, to His appearance as the Son of God.

Notice in verse 2, “His face did shine as the sun, and even His clothing was white as the light.” Here is an example of how, though the Lord Jesus Christ emptied Himself, made Himself of no reputation, He was still God, and He still had all the essence of God and all the glory of God, and it was possible for Him at anytime to have this transfiguration experience. This is the only time it is recorded, although there may have been other times, some of those times when He was praying privately perhaps. It is very possible that He had been transfigured before.

An Example of Servanthood

Going back to Philippians, chapter 2, here is what we are saying: The Lord Jesus Christ was in the essence of God. He had every right to be in the essence of God, and yet He willingly gave that up. He emptied Himself of the glory and the appearance and of the worship that was due Him as God, but not of His essence of God. He came to earth. A good summary phrase, if you are back in Philippians, chapter 2, is in verse 7:

Philippians 2

7…and took upon him the form of a servant…

That is a very descriptive phrase of what took place when the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth. He emptied Himself. He made Himself of no reputation and took upon Himself the form of a servant.

Notice there in the last part of verse 7. We have our word “form” again. It is the same word that we saw before, the word morphe , and it refers to the essence of a thing. The Lord Jesus Christ had been in the form of God, and now He became in the form of a servant. Do you see what he is saying? The essence of a servant–Jesus Christ was the epitome of servanthood. He was everything that a servant ought to be. He was willing to do whatever was necessary for the meeting of the needs of others.

It doesn't immediately have anything to do with this lesson, but it is interesting to me to notice that there are many Bible teachers around who are perfectly willing to agree that the Lord Jesus Christ had the form of a servant. In fact, that is their major theme, “the great servant, Jesus Christ, the great example of servanthood.” And yet some of those very men who are happy to say that He had the form of a servant are unwilling to say that He had the form of God. Yet here we have within the space of two verses exactly the same statement. He was in the form of a servant, yes, but He was in the form of God also. It is exactly the same wording in the Greek and the English, and obviously we cannot deny one without denying the other, and we cannot accept one without accepting the other. He was the essence of a servant, but He was also the essence of the Godhead.

The Supreme Sacrifice

Verse 8 tells us that not only did He become a servant, but He went on to become the supreme sacrifice. It was not enough to just come and be a servant and to teach us to serve others, although He did that; but He went on to become the supreme sacrifice. Notice in verse 8, “Being found in fashion as a man”–having the outer appearance of a man. His form was the form of God, and the form of God as a servant. His appearance, His fashion, was that of a man.

Philippians 2

8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

The word “humble” carries more weight than we might ordinarily think. It is a translation of a Greek word that means “to submit to authority.” It is a military term, so it doesn't just mean that Jesus became “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” which, incidentally, is one of my favorite pet peeves. I cannot stand that idea. Jesus was as masculine, as much of a he-man as any man who ever lived. When the Scripture speaks of His being meek, the only other man that the word “meek” is used to describe in the Scripture is Moses, who at age eighty, his natural voice was not abated, and he was strong and a mountain climber. Yet Moses was said to be the meekest man in all the earth. So when we hear about “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” it's not at all talking about His physical appearance or His physical activities.

The Lord Jesus Christ was one who was willing to submit to authority. He was not humble in the sense that He was spineless and limp-wristed, speaking with a soft voice and all of those things that we might associate with our concept of humility. No, it means He submitted to authority; He took His place according to rank.

Submissive to the Plan of God

This shows, of course, the overall plan of God in salvation. God the Father had set forth His plan for bridging that gap that exists between God and man, and God the Son willingly took His place in that plan. He did not have to, but He voluntarily submitted Himself to the authority, to the plan, of God the Father. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament speak of this. For example, you are all familiar with Isaiah, chapter 53, verse 6:

Isaiah 53

6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Notice, “the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He became our servant. He took His place in the plan of God.

In the New Testament, a verse that I use a great deal is II Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 21:

II Corinthians 5

21For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin…

You see, it is all a part of the plan of God, and Jesus Christ willingly took His place in that plan.

Verse 8 also tells us that this was no ordinary death:

Philippians 2

8…and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

That wording is very important also. It was not just any ordinary death, but “even the death of the cross.” You see, we have become somewhat familiar with crucifixion. We think of it somewhat lightly, but crucifixion was such a horrible way of dying. It was so abhorrent to the basic instincts of man that it was actually forbidden to all but the grossest criminals in the Roman Empire. In fact, it was forbidden by law for any Roman citizen to be crucified. This is one of the many reasons that Jesus Christ was not born into the Roman Empire as a citizen of Rome. He was born into the little nation of Israel, which was a protectorate of Rome, and all of the details of God's plan fit together. But had Jesus been a Roman citizen, He would not have even been allowed to die in this way. In fact, very ironically, the Lord Jesus Christ died in a way that Paul, the writer of this letter, was protected from by law, and in a way that many of the readers of this letter would never have had to die. They would have been protected from it by law. “Even the death of the cross”–the most terrible kind of death imaginable.

The Exaltation of Jesus

Because of His willingness to sacrifice Himself in this way, when He did not have to, because of His willingness to give up all that was rightfully His, God made Him the Sovereign of the Universe, in verses 9-11. These verses pretty well speak for themselves, but let's just read through them.

Philippians 2

9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If you think about the real meaning of verses 5-8, the exaltation of Jesus Christ to the position of Sovereign of the Universe is a very natural reaction. He was willing to go the the extreme, really beyond our ability to understand, to meet the needs that the human race had, and because of that “wherefore,” a very important word in verse 9, God has highly exalted Him. Notice this phrase in verse 9:

Philippians 2

9…and given him a name which is above every name:

You know, even in the fallen, sinful world we see that. If people want to give some credence to something they say, whether they are believers or not–they may even scoff really at the rule of God in society and the universe–if they possibly can they will find a phrase from Scripture to tuck in somewhere in their pitch. That is because the name of Jesus Christ, even in the minds of fallen men, is above every name. Even those who do not claim to be believers have an almost natural reverence for the name of Jesus Christ, and that is because God has exalted His name.

Recognition Even In Hell

But that is not really all that God is talking about there, because He goes on to say something about the future.

Philippians 2

10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Verse 11 is not talking about universal salvation. It is not saying that everyone will eventually be saved. Obviously we know that it is talking about the future because we can probably walk just a block from this place and find someone who will not say that Jesus Christ is Lord. It does not mean that everybody is going to be saved. The key phrase here in verse 10 is the phrase:

Philippians 2

10…and things under the earth;

This verse, taken in the context of the study of future things, taken in the context of the study of Revelation, will show that the day is going to come when even those who are suffering eternal damnation in Hell will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

One of the horrors of Hell will be that confession of Jesus Christ as Lord will have no bearing on their salvation. One of the horrors of Hell will be that people are there who know why they are there. They know that they deserve to be there, and they know furthermore that there is something that could have been done about it and they did not avail themselves of the salvation paid for by Jesus Christ.

There will never be a person in Hell in eternity future who claims he's there unfairly. God's judgment program is set up uniquely. The Judgment Seat of Christ is for believers. The Great White Throne Judgment is for unbelievers who will see exactly why they have to be in Hell.

You can visit any jail on the earth today–probably many of us have had this experience–and find any number of men who are willing to tell you, “I was framed. I should not be here. I am here by mistake. I am innocent.” There will not be anybody in Hell who makes that claim.

When eternity future becomes present for us, every person in Hell will know exactly why he is there, and even those in Hell will be willing to say, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Philippians 2

9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

Our Attitude as Believers

In conclusion, let's think about two or three things. First, let's remember the basic point that is being made in the statement of this very important theological passage. Remember that the whole point of this passage is back in the first verses:

Philippians 2

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

There is a great deal of theological truth here, but God intended that it be taken very practically. It is not just a matter of understanding the self-emptying of Christ. It's not just a matter of understanding the future exalted position of Christ, “that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.” This has a very practical application. You and I as believers, the Philippians as believers in Christ, Paul is exhorting to have the same mental attitude Jesus Christ had. What was that mental attitude? It was a mental attitude of doing whatever is necessary to meet the needs of another person, going to whatever extent necessary, even to the point of giving up our own rights, to meet the needs of another person.

In our last lesson, we began our study of this chapter with a story about a church dispute, and what a sad testimony it was in the eyes of unbelievers. Maybe it would be appropriate to end our study of this passage, this part of the chapter, with another story about a church dispute.

This story has to do with the fact that a church dispute was going on, and finally one of the spokesmen for one of the two sides in this serious rift in the church stood up and said, “Brethren, the sum of everything that I have said before, the purpose of my bringing all of this up is, I know my rights. I insist on my rights in this church.” Finally a soft-spoken man asked to be recognized. When he had the floor he stood with tears in his eyes and he said, “Brethren, just think where we would all be if Jesus Christ had demanded His rights.”

That is a very telling situation. Where would we be if Jesus Christ had said, “No, Father, I know My rights, and I'll not do it.” You know where we would be? We would be in Hell, because Jesus Christ had every right to stay in Heaven. He had every right to say, “No, I will not redeem the human race.” That puts our petty bickering and our selfishness in a little different light, doesn't it?

Conclusion

Let me conclude by asking you this question: Where would you be if it were turned around and the Lord Jesus Christ had the mind that you have? Where would you be if somehow it were possible to say to the Lord Jesus Christ, and He were to obey it, “Let this mind be in You, that is also in Tim Temple,” or whatever your name may be? Where would you be?

Philippians 2

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

The context is personal relationships with each other, with our families, our husbands, our wives, our children, our employers, our employees.

Philippians 2

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:


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