Notes on Philippians 2:5-11

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The apostle proceeds to enforce lowliness in love, by setting the way of the Lord Himself before their eyes. This is the true “rule of life” for the believer since His manifestation; not even all the written word alone, but that word seen livingly in Christ, who is made a spring of power by the Holy Ghost to his soul that is occupied with Him. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal [on equality] with God; but made himself of no reputation [emptied himself]” &c.
What an illustrious testimony to the true, proper, intrinsic deity of Christ! It is all the stronger, because, like many more, it is indirect. Who but a person consciously God in the highest sense could adopt, not merely the unhesitating assumption of such language as “Before Abraham was, I am,” or “I and my Father are one,” but the no less real, though hidden, claim to Godhead which lies under the very words which unbelief so eagerly seizes against Him? Where would be the sense of any other man (which He surely was and is) saying, “My Father is greater than I?” A strange piece of information in the mouth (I will not say of a Socrates or a Bacon merely, but) of a Moses or a Daniel, a Peter or a Paul; but in Him, how suitable and even needful, yet only so because He was truly God and equal with the Father, as He was man, the sent One, and so the Father was greater than He! Take again that striking declaration in John 17:33And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3), “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Of course He was man, He deigned to be born of woman: else unbelief would have no ground of argument on that score. But what mere man ever dared, save the vilest impostor, calmly to class himself with God, yea, to speak of the knowledge of the only true God, and of Him, as life everlasting? So, again, the scripture before us; nothing can be conceived more conclusively to prove His own supremely divine glory, than the simple statement of the text. Gabriel, yea, the archangel Michael, has no higher dignity than that of being God's servant, in the sphere assigned to each. The Son of God alone had to empty Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. All others were, at best, God's servants, and nothing could increase that dignity for them or lift them above it. Of Christ alone it was true, that He took a bondservant's form; and of Him alone could it be true, because He was in the form of God. In this nature He subsisted originally, as truly as He received a bondman's; both were real, equally real; the one intrinsic, the other that which He condescended to assume in infinite grace.
Nor was this all. When “found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” This is another distinct step in His descent of grace to glorify God. First, it was humiliation for Him to become a servant and a man; next, being man, he humbled Himself as far as death in His obedience (the blessed converse of Adam's disobedience unto death). And that death was the extreme of human shame, besides its atoning character. Yet must we carefully bear in mind that it would be as impossible for a divine person to cease to be God, as for a man to become a divine person. But it was the joy and triumph of divine grace that He who was God, equally with the Father, when about to become a man, did not carry down the glory and power of the Godhead to confound man before Him, but rather emptied Himself; contrariwise perfection morally was seen in this. Thus He was thoroughly the dependent man, not once falling into self-reliance, but under all circumstances, and in the face of the utmost difficulties, the very fullest pattern and exhibition of One who waited upon God, who set the Lord always before him, who never acted from Himself, but whose meat and drink it was to do the will of His Father in heaven; in a word, He became a perfect servant. This is what we have here. He is said to have been in the form of God; that is, it was not in mere appearance, but it had that form, and not a creature's. The form of God means that He had His and no other form. He was then in that nature being, and nothing else; He had no creature being whatever; He was simply and solely God the Son. He, subsisting in this condition, did not think it a robbery to be equal with God. He was God; yet, into the place of man which He truly entered, He carried down the willingness to be nothing. He made Himself of no reputation. How admirable! How magnifying to God! He put in abeyance all His glory. It was not even in angelic majesty that He deigned to become a servant, but in the likeness of men. Here we have the form of a servant as well as the form of God, but that does not in anywise mean that He was not really both. In truth as He was very God, so He became the veriest servant that God or man ever saw. But we may go yet farther. “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Mark that. There are two great stages in the advent and humiliation of the Son of God. The first is in respect of His divine nature or proper deity: He emptied Himself. He would not act on a ground which exempted Him from human obedience, when He takes the place of servant here below. Indeed, we may say that He would act upon what God the Father was to Him, not upon what He the Son was to the Father. On the one hand, though He were a Son, He learned obedience through the things that He suffered. On the other, if He had not been a divine person—the Son no doubt—He would not have been the perfect man that He was. But He walks on through unheard-of shame, sorrow, and suffering, as one that sought only the will and glory of His Father in everything. He would choose nothing, not even in saving sinners or receiving a soul. (John 6) He would act in nothing apart from the Father. He would have only those whom the Father draws. Whom the Father gives Him, whoever come to Him, He welcomes them: He will in no wise cast any out, be they ever so bad. What a proof that He is thoroughly the servant, when He, the Savior, absolutely puts aside all choice of those He will save! When acting as Lord with His apostles, He tells us that He chose; but in the question of salvation He virtually says, Here I am a Savior; and whoever is drawn to me by the Father, that is enough for me. Whoever comes I will save. No matter who or what it was, you have in the Lord Jesus this perfect subjection and self-abnegation, and this too in the only person that never had a will to sin, whose will cared not for its own way in anything. He was the only man that never used His own will; His will as man was unreservedly in subjection to God. But we find another thing. He emptied Himself of His deity, when He took the form of a servant. Next, when He becomes a man, He humbles Himself and becomes obedient as far as death. This is important because it shows, among other things, this also, that death was not the natural portion of our Lord as man, but that to which, when found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient. There was no death for Him merely as man, for death was the wages of sin, not of man as such before sin, still less of the Holy One of God. How could He come under death? In this was the contrast between Him and the first Adam. The first Adam became disobedient unto death; Christ on the contrary obeyed unto death. No other was competent so to lay down His life. Sinners had none to give: it was due to God, and they had no title to offer it. It would have been sin to have pretended to it. But in Christ all is reversed. His death in a world of sin is His glory—not only perfect grace, but the vindication of God in all His character. “I have power,” He says,” to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” In the laying down of His life He was accomplishing the glory of God. “Now is the Son of man glorified and God is glorified in Him.” So that while God was pleased with and exalted in every step of the Lord Jesus Christ's life, yet the deepest moral glory of God shines out in His death. Never was nor could be such obedience before or in any other. He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
In this chapter it is not a question of putting away sin. It is ignorance of the mind of God to confine the death of Christ, even to that astonishing part of it, while fully admitting that there is not, nor ever will be, anything to compare with it. But the death of Christ, for instance, takes in the reconciliation of all things, as well as the bringing us who believe unto God; and now that the world is fallen under vanity, without that death there could not be the righteous gathering up again out of the ruin that which is manifestly marred and spoiled by the power of Satan. Again, where without it was the perfect display of what God is? Where else the utmost extent of Christ's suffering and humiliation, and obedience in them? The truth, love, holiness, wisdom, and majesty of God were all to the fullest degree vindicated in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is not a single feature of God but what, though it expresses itself elsewhere in Christ, finds its richest and most complete answer in His death. Here it is the perfect servant, who would not stop short at any one thing, and this not merely in the truest love to us, but absolutely for the glory of God. It is in this point of view that His death is referred to here; and the Spirit of God adds, “Therefore God also hath highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name, that at [in virtue of] the name of Jesus every knee should bow both of things in heaven and things on earth.”
It is not merely a question of saints or of Israel, but “every knee shall bow,” &c. This takes in angels and saints, and even those that are forever under the judgment of God; for “things under the earth” carries the worst possible sense. Thus the infernal beings, the lost come in here, as well as the saved; those that have rejected salvation, no less than those who confess the Savior. It is the universal subjection of all to Christ. Jesus has won the title even as man. If unbelievers despised Him as man, as Son of man He will judge them. As man they must bow to Him. The lowly name that was His as Nazarene on the earth must be honored everywhere: God's glory is concerned in it. In the name of Jesus or in virtue of His name “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
It is not, again, a question of His being Son (which of course He was from all eternity), but Lord also. We know that the spirit of this is true for the believer now. Every soul that is born of God now bows his knee in virtue of the name of Jesus and to Jesus. The Christian now confesses by the Holy Ghost that Jesus Christ is Lord; but this homage will be made good to an incomparably larger extent by and by. But then it will be too late for salvation. It is now received by faith, which finds blessedness and eternal life in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. Neither is there any man that confesses Him to be the Lord by the Holy Ghost, but a saved person. But there will be more than this by and by. When the day of grace is past and God is not merely gathering out an elect body, the Church, but putting down all opposing authority, then the name of Jesus will be throughout the universe owned even by those who did it by compulsion, and who by that very acknowledgment confess their own eternal misery. In Eph. 1:1010That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: (Ephesians 1:10) we are told of God's purpose for the dispensation of the fullness of times to “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth.” There is not a word, it has often been remarked, about things under the earth, because there it is not a question of universal, compulsory acknowledgment of Christ, even by the devils and the lost, but very simply of all things being put under the headship of Christ. Neither lost men nor devils will ever stand in any such relation to Christ. He will surely judge them both. In Ephesians it is Christ viewed as the head of the whole creation of God, all things heavenly and earthly being summed up under His administration. Besides that, He is the head of the Church, which consequently shares His place of exaltation over all things heavenly and earthly, as being the bride of the true and last Adam. “He has made Him to be Head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” Christ fills all in all; but the Church is that which fills up the mystic, glorified man, just as Eve was necessary to the completeness of God's thoughts as to the first Adam. The Church is the bride, the Lamb's wife. This mystery is great and largely treated in Ephesians; but it is not the subject of our epistle, where the aim is practical, enforced from One who came down from infinite glory and made Himself nothing, and who now is exalted and made Lord of all, so that every creature must bow. This is put before the Philippians as the most powerful of motives and weightiest of examples for self-abnegation, in love, to God's glory.