As the pressure mounts, how can we get along with each other? “Looking out for myself” is like breathing. But what seems most natural is actually the wrong approach. Only when we look out for the needs and concerns of others are we able to be strong. Under stress, relationships in Philippi were beginning to fray. (For example, Christian women who had served together were feuding.) The apostle loved these people and sought to strengthen them. He knew that Christians are only strong together. So he taught them what was already theirs “in Christ”: a mind of humble service, that came from the Servant himself.
This is the theme of Philippians 2:5-11. The Lord of the whole creation humbled himself. Christ did not grasp tightly his eternal equality with God (v. 6). He laid aside what was his by right, his eternal glory as the divine Son. Rather than the joy of eternal delight in the Father and the Spirit, and the adoration of the angelic creatures, he “took the form of a slave” (v. 7). This is what we call the Son’s act of “incarnation.” In Mary’s womb the Lord took a human nature “of her substance.” (We are taught elsewhere in the New Testament that this humanity was prepared for him by the Holy Spirit). He was “born” exactly like any other person. Thus, when people saw Jesus, they saw nothing but a normal human being. This is a breathtaking descent.
But he went lower. In this human form, the Lord “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (v. 8). His whole life, to his last breath, was obedience. Athanasius, the greatest of the Greek Fathers, answered “why?” in the fourth century:
Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered his body to death instead of all, and he offered it to the Father. This he did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be demolished because, having fulfilled in his body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. The Incarnation of the Word of God, II.8
“Advent” was for the purpose of “Good Friday.” The Son of God loved us and gave himself for us. To save us, he must obey the Father to the depth of an accursed death. “Therefore,” we read, “God has highly exalted him, and given him the name above every name” (v. 9). The Father’s reward for his self-denial was the highest possible glory.
Had Adam not responded in unnatural rebellion, the response of our hearts would not be to “look out for myself.” But our Lord loved to humble himself on account of our need. That is the kind of person he is, the kind of person the Father has loved eternally. Our God counted our need more important than his own Son, for a time. And by that breathtaking humiliation, he has glorified his Son as Lord before the whole creation. By his grace in our lives, this mind is ours “to have” in him (v. 5). “Lord, teach us that mind toward each other.”
Dr. Howard Griffith
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.