Follow the Example of Christ's Humility Page 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on Philippians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature2 of a servant, being made in human likeness.

rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature2 of a servant,
Rather than appearing in the form (or “nature”) of God, Christ emptied Himself “by taking the very nature2 of a servant” (bond slave is better). The apostle did not say that He emptied Himself of His essential equality with God, or of His divine attributes, as is falsely inferred by the proponents of the modern “kenotic”{5] theory. The phrase “he made himself nothing” (or “He emptied Himself”) is used here metaphorically to underline the contrast between the preincarnate glory and the incarnate humiliation, “to show that Christ utterly renounced and laid aside the majesty which he possessed in His original state.” The most satisfactory definition is found in the succeeding details which describe the incidents of Christ’s humanity. Christ’s consciousness of deity was not suspended during His earthly life. “Emptied” (“made himself nothing”) therefore means that Christ veiled his glory when he “stripped himself of the insignia of majesty”. But ironically, Christ emptied Himself “by taking the very nature2 of a servant.” “He took “the very nature2 of a servant” (the form of a servant) while He retained “the very nature” (form) of God! It is exactly that which makes our salvation possible and achieves it. Yet though Christ remained essentially one with the Father (John 10:30), the stark reality of His servanthood necessarily involves complete subordination to the Father’s will, so that He refused every temptation to make independent use of His divine powers during the period of His humiliation{4] (John 14:10, 28). This “taking the very nature of a servant” also made Christ subject to the law of God in both its active and passive demands (Galatians 4:4, 5{6]). He came to fulfill all its precepts as our representative, and to exhaust its penalty as our sin-bearing substitute. To have taken the form of a servant in reference to any human will or authority would have contradicted His dignity and mission. It was to God the Father that He assumed this relation and it was to the will of the Father that He surrendered Himself in the fullness of subjection and obligation. (John 6:38; 17:4).

Paul presents a second aspect of Christ’s mindset through His humble incarnation. The humility of God the Son did not remain in glory. Jesus “made himself nothing” (made himself of no reputation). His character, in conjunction with His Father’s will, compelled Him to empty Himself—to come to earth and be born as a man. This statement refers to Jesus’ surrender of the following privileges and rights in becoming a man:
• The holy atmosphere of heaven
• The display of His eternal glory
• The wealth and privileges of His deity and power

He set all these rites aside to become the Redeemer and Mediator between God and man. In this self-emptying, Jesus took on the “nature” (form or essence of a slave). He retained “the nature of God” but added to it “the very nature of a servant.”

Some have attempted to argue from this that Christ gave up His deity or some of His divine attributes. What is meant, however, must be defined by the explanation which accompanies this statement, namely, that Christ did not empty Himself of his deity, but only of its outward manifestation and its use for His own benefit.

being made in human likeness.
How did Christ appear when he took human form? Many artists have tried to capture the face of Jesus but the truth is, no one really knows what He looked like. Personally, I don’t care for pictures which show Him looking sort of feminine. I believe He was a real man among men, but Paul uses the word “likeness” to show that in assuming our humanity (sin being the exception; Romans 8:3) He did not cease to be Himself—the eternal Son of God. So though Christ entered upon a genuinely human existence at a definite point in time, his prior existence “in the form of God” means that the secret of His person cannot be grasped by those who think of Him in merely human terms (Matthew 16:16{7]). Christ could not have achieved His earthly purpose if He had manifested the beaming Glory which He had from eternity past. He needed to appear as a man, even if he still were God.

5. “Kenosis” in Christian theology (Greek; lit. the act of emptying) is the self-emptying of Jesus’ own will and Him becoming entirely receptive to God's divine will. The Philippians passage urges believers to imitate Christ's self-emptying. In this interpretation, Paul was not primarily putting forth a theory about God in this passage; rather he was using God's humility exhibited in the incarnation event as a call for Christians to be similarly subservient to others.

6. (Galatians 4:4-5) But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
7. (Matthew 16:16) Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

And being found in appearance as a man,
This is almost the same as the previous clause. Having become man, Christ was recognized as such by those who saw Him in the days of His flesh, for He wore the clothes and acted like men of His generation. The word “appearance” refers to His external features, so that here the contrast “is between what He is in Himself, and what He appeared in the eyes of men”. The majority did not see beyond the outward guise, and this failure to perceive His divine dignity meant that his whole earthly walk was one long via dolorosa which lead inevitably to the cross (Isaiah 53:2, 3).

In Romans 12:2 the Christian is instructed not to fashion himself after the world, but to be “transformed,” changed in his inner nature and experience. But he had a genuine humanity, manifested in Him being in the form of a servant, like other men except that He was not a sinner, and in outer appearance or fashion He looked like a man and acted like a man. And the fact is that while Christ was a man on earth, he still was a man after His resurrection and is still a man in heaven. While on earth He was God and looked like a man, in heaven, while he will retain His humanity, He will resume the appearance of God and his prerogatives of deity. Although His humanity was to continue forever, Christ’s outer form was to be changed when he resumed his place in glory.

In verse 8 Paul relates a third aspect of Jesus’ humble mindset. Christ is our example of humility because He is giving, not grasping. He is our example because He emptied Himself of deserved privilege. And He is our example because He obeyed His Father fully. Jesus Christ completed His humble descent as a man by submitting Himself to the crux of His Father’s will—dying on a cross.

By coming to earth as a man, Jesus Christ unveiled His humility for all the world to see. Had He stooped to become a king, He still would have been the humblest man who ever lived. Instead, He took the lowest position in every choice of life. No one judged Him to be divine by His appearance, and He grew and developed just like any other child. In His lifestyle, He chose the path of poverty and suffering. In His ministry, He reached out to the poor and to society’s outcasts. However, we see the ultimate manifestation of His humility in His complete obedience to His Father’s will when He died on the cross for the sins of the world. He lowered Himself as far as possible when “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” To the Roman mind, crucifixion was the vilest death imaginable. A crucified Messiah didn’t meet the approval of many Jews either. They assumed Jesus was accursed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). But that shame paled in comparison with the agony of bearing “the inequity of us all” and being forsaken by His Father (Isaiah 53:6; Matthew 27:46).

he humbled himself{8] by becoming obedient to death—
First, the pre-incarnate Christ emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant (v. 7). Then having become man, “he humbled himself{8] by becoming obedient” even up to the point of death. The description covers Christ’s entire life upon earth, and shows that His undeviating subjection to the Father’s will led him to accept a life of humiliation which culminated in His death. This extreme height reached by His obedience was, however, just the extreme depth of the humiliation, and thereby at the same time its end.

Ordinary men have been humiliated and have died violent, painful deaths, but never did one die as Christ died. He had it in His power to come down from the cross and destroy His enemies, and yet He willingly died not only suffering the unspeakable agony, but the torture of soul of a holy person bearing the sins of the whole world and for the first time experiencing separation from God the Father. No human body has ever entered into the experience of Christ, the obedient Servant, who coming from the infinite height of glory went to the infinite depth of hell.

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