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Back to the Basics: Jesus Christ, the Humble Son of Man (Phil. 2:5-8)

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We are now moving into a new section of our statement of faith. We looked at the Word of God, God Himself, the Fall of Man and now for a few weeks, the Son of God. Last week we ended with talking about the need of a Redeemer to come. We are now going to talk about that Redeemer! Take a look at two points that relate to this:

5.    That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent by the Father, begotten by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary; that He lived a sinless and obedient life, suffered and died on the cross vicariously for the sins of those who believe in Him; that God raised Him from the dead, exalted Him both as Lord and Christ, and gave Him the Holy Spirit for His Church.

7.    That Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and men; through Him and only through Him the believer has access to the Father.

Again, this is a mouthful to say, so we will as best as we can, try to unpack these truths the next several weeks looking at His humanity (today), His deity, His suffering and finally His resurrection.  The title of the message today is “Jesus Christ: The Humble Son of Man.” By the way, whenever you see “Son of Man” as referred to Christ, it usually speaks of His humanity, as opposed to “Son of God,” which refers to His deity. Today we will look at the former.

One of my favorite shows on television is called Undercover Boss. This is a reality show where the CEO of a large company works undercover in its company to learn how the company really works, how it can be improved and to reward the hardworking, usually unnoticed staff. So in the season premiere, the CEO of Waste Management, Larry O’Donnell, goes undercover and starts working as an entry-level worker, being “forced to snatch recyclable bits of trash from a speeding conveyor belt. He's made—under the barking orders of a foreman…to fill bags with windblown scraps of litter. Finally, he's given a scrub brush and a pump and told to clean and empty a long row of portable toilets at a scabrous fairground.”[1] Workers are told this filming is for a documentary. In the end, the CEO says he is a changed man and that Waste Management must change as well.  Usually the CEOs will gather all the people he encountered during that week and reveals His identity. This is my favorite part when the workers are shocked as they realize they had been working with the CEO of the company during the week! And then, in a nice twist, the CEO tells them that he/she is going to help them out by promoting them, giving them a raise or promising to mentor them. It’s a happy ending and a feel good story.

I am sure, like all other reality shows, this is probably not reality at all. I am not sure if this kind of thing happens outside of a reality show? If it does, probably very rarely will a CEO do this. I mean, which CEO has time to do this? And which CEO wants to do this? And some of us who work hard week after week might watch this show and might wish we had a CEO who would leave his/her throne and actually come down and notice us, be in our shoes, pick up the trash with us, recognize us and even perhaps promote us.

The CEOs of our company might not do that, but aren’t you glad we have a true Undercover Boss for our lives? Jesus Christ, if I may, is the true Undercover Boss. And that is why I love the show. It reminds me of who my Savior is and what He has done for me! And I thank Him that not only does He notice the little people and little churches, He also blesses us in so many ways, lifting us up to have, be and do so much more than we could have ever imagined! But have you wondered what kind of qualities should our Undercover Boss notice about us? How do we know how He wants us to be? If He calls us into his “office” and goes over our work, what will He say?  Will he go over how talented we are? Will He be amazed at how we got to the top level of our video games? Will He talk about how much money we made? How great we look? How nicely we sing? What amazing grades we got in school? Our resume? What will our Lord Jesus, the true Undercover Boss say about us?

Well, Paul is trying to help a small church answer that same question out as well.  Today we are going to look at a church Paul founded on his second missionary journey, the church at Phillipi. Paul tells them in our text today that not only do we have great Undercover boss who came not just to watch us for a while and leave, we have One who permanently came to be like us and to save us from destroying ourselves. And in doing this for us, we have the ultimate model and power source of how to live life and especially how to live life in the church for His glory.  So in Phil. 2:1-4, Paul tells them that if they want Jesus Christ to be glorified in this church, if they want to enter His boardroom and receive His commendation and blessing, they must realize this great truth: It is not great talents that God blesses, but great likeness to Jesus Christ! I believe this quote is attributed to the old Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne. This is the point of Paul’s command in Phil 2:5. “Have this mind” here literally means “to set one's mind or heart upon something.”[2] It is not a casual, maybe if I like it, kind of thing (notice the command), but a very intentional, purposeful attitude to adopt. It is in the present tense, meaning it is to be continuously, working and developing in the church. Within your church community at Philippi then, develop the attitudes that you already have in Christ, let it rule every move you make. But what in a nutshell, was the attitude that Christ had that primarily marked His life? Paul says here it was one of humility.

But what does it mean to be humble as Christ was humble? What exactly are we to imitate or model? As one commentator asks, “What was it that seemed important to Jesus? What principles did he cherish? What objectives? On what footing were his choices made?”[3] First of all:

I.  Selflessness (Phil. 2:6)

We are about to get a lesson on Christology here and namely His deity and His humanity. Supposedly, these verses (vv.6-11) are parts of a hymn sung by the early church. First of all, Paul says Christ was “in the form of God.” J.A. Motyer says this means “one who possessed inwardly and displayed outwardly the very nature of God himself.”[4] Jesus was and is and will be very God of very God. NIV says “who being.” The words who being in Greek are a present participle indicating continuing existence from the beginning (Genesis 1:1).[5] So when we talk about the person of Jesus Christ we mean undiminished deity and perfect humanity united in one person forever.[6] Like the Trinity, how can Jesus Christ be 100% man and 100% God at the same time is truly a mystery.

Here Paul emphasizes the “undiminished deity.” Jesus was always God (we will look more into this next week). Though Jesus possessed full deity and as God and did not need anything, since He always had everything, Paul says, yet, He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” He means though Christ had all the honors, privileges and honors of being God, He did not tightly hold on to them. So “He did not regard it as something that must not slip from his grasp.”[7] So “though He was God, Christ refused to cling to His favored position with all its rights and honors, but was willing to give them up for a season.”[8]

The first Adam wanted to be like God, (i.e. he tried to, like Satan, “snatch” it for himself) and selfishly thought only for himself, but here Christ, the second Adam, though He was God and already has all honors and privileges of God, willingly and selflessly gave them up for others. Isn’t it ironic that Adam and Eve thought being like God meant they could master their own existence and get what they wanted, but God shows us that if you truly want to be like God, it is actually giving and spending yourself out for others. In fact, God’s true nature, then “is characterized not by selfish grabbing but by an open-handed giving.”[9]

Aren’t you glad that Jesus Christ, who is God of very God, who had the riches of Heaven, the praise and adoration of all the angels, did not look down at pitiful humanity and think, “I am Eternal God. I have and own everything. I’m not going to give this up to save Robin Koshy! Give this up and become a man? A slave? DIE?! No way!”

Paul says Christ was selfless. But not only was He selfless in deciding to lay aside His rights to come to earth, He was selfless in this way every moment on earth. Stephen Smith in his book Dying to Preach explains this:

While Christ took on the form of a human, he set aside his rights as God. In other words, all of Christ's time on earth he was always Godlike. When he was tired in Samaria, he was all-powerful; when he was asking questions in the temple, he was all-knowing; and when he was present in a particular place, he was omnipresent. It is simply that he made a choice not to take hold of what was always, and always will be, his—namely, his God-like properties.

Imagine that you are visiting a hospital. You cannot find a parking place close to the hospital, so you park way in the back, and now you are lost. You stop another driver in the lot to ask directions, and he kindly says that he will just park beside you and walk with you to where you need to be in the hospital. Now suppose that as you get to the front of the hospital, you find out that this man is actually the chief surgeon of the hospital, and as you near the door, he adds, "Oh, yes, and this is my parking place." He had a superior advantage because of his status. However, in deference to your needs, he did not take his rightful parking spot but walked with you the whole way. So here is the question: As he was walking with you, did he stop being a doctor? No. Did he have a parking place? Yes. He had all of these things and at any time could have laid hold of those things and used them, but for your sake he just chose not to in that particular moment.

As thin as that metaphor is, [it illustrates] that Christ's walking among human beings did not mean he was not God. Then why did he not reverse his tiredness or overcome all his physical limitations? It is because if he were to override his humanity, he would not have been fully in the form of a man and therefore could not fully empathize with our weakness or save us by his perfect life. The Incarnation was not just an event at Bethlehem. The Incarnation was the moment-by-moment choice of Christ to lay down his privileges, his rights as God, and to acquiesce to ungrateful sinners every second in order to effect our salvation.”[10]

So how can we grow in selflessness? What we learn from Smith here and from Christ in this passage is that one of the keys to selflessness is that it not a one-time prayer at your quiet time or at church. Just as Christ made that choice moment by moment to lay down what His rights, we are called to do the same, walking in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21). It doesn’t happen automatically or magically. It happens as we seize the opportunities God gives us moment-by-moment being first aware of our selfishness (Jonah-like hearts). After all, there are two types of selfish people. The ones who admit it and the rest of us! And with a lot of failure and a lot of habitual choosing selflessness by His strength, we will grow. Secondly, selflessness comes from being amazed at His selflessness and in the worship of Him, asking Him for opportunities to bring along our way to change us. He will answer this prayer! Because it is not great talents God blesses, but great likeness to Jesus!

So are you a selfish grabber or an open hand giver? Do you look out primarily for your best interests or His best interests? Do we try to lift others up and put ourselves down or do we try to lift ourselves up and put others down? What does your bank balance say about your selflessness? Not even about how much you give, but how much do you keep for yourself? Do you compare yourself and compete with others, especially with those who have similar gifts? What are your first thoughts as you wake up? Is it I’m hungry? I’m tired? I’m this, I’m that? What would your day look like if you thought, “Father, I have received so much from you. Help me to give that away to someone today!” The good news is that our Savior, who can change the leper’s spots, can melt our hearts of selfish stone. He can overcome our hearts, even when our hearts are full of ourselves. Let’s seize opportunities to be selfless in His power and strength.

Secondly, Paul says:

II.   Servanthood (Phil. 2:7)

Notice Paul continues with “but made himself nothing.” Some translations use “emptied Himself.” Scholars debate over what did Christ empty Himself of? Was it of deity?  We just talked about that. Absolutely not! Christ becoming fully human never diminished His deity.  I wonder if Paul is simply saying, “Christ emptied Himself.” The emptying or “made Himself nothing” is simply what he says in v.7 that God became human and the Sovereign Lord became a lowly servant. So Christ, having the attitude of a selfless servant, at a point in history, climbed down the stairs of glory and became human. Paul says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Here Paul says Jesus became a servant. The word servant here is “the extreme bottom of the ladder when it came to rights, because he had none. He didn’t have a right to his own time. He didn’t even have a right to his own life.”[11]

Unlike the CEO of Undercover Boss who only appeared like a servant or an entry-level worker, Christ actually became a servant. The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). So He wasn’t just an actor playing a role. He didn’t just look like a servant. He became a servant. John Macarthur adds, “As God, Christ owns everything. But when He came into this world He borrowed everything: a place to be born, a place to lay His head (many nights He slept on the Mount of Olives), a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee and to preach from, an animal to ride into the city when He was being triumphantly welcomed as King of kings and Lord of lords, a room for the Passover, and a tomb to be buried in. The only person who ever lived on this earth who had the right to everything on it wound up with nothing, and became a servant. Though King of kings, and Lord of lords, the rightful heir to David's throne, and God in human flesh, He had no advantages or privileges in this world. He was given little, but served everyone.”[12] Did you hear that? Given little, but served everyone. Sometimes we think if we had more this or that, we could serve better. Not true! We can serve a lot because we have Christ in us, the hope of glory!

Not only that, He was being “born in the likeness of men.” By choosing to be born as a human, Jesus Christ fully identified with the human race and “He fully participated in our human experience.”[13] He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, He had to grow up, He had brothers and sisters, He had to learn a trade, He got tired, thirsty and hungry. What exactly was His human nature like? At the point of conception, Christ’s human nature was joined to His divine nature. In this way, He is different from us. Yet His human was burdened by the results of sin, though not sinful in of itself. So He can be weary. He can get angry and grieve. He can weep like a human. His body can die. His human body did change after He resurrected, as the disciples noticed that it was Christ, but something was different about Him. In this way, He was showing us what we will look like once we receive our resurrected bodies. So He identified with us in every way without sin (Heb. 4:15).

So He was fully human, yet without sin. Adam tried to serve himself when God had called him to “work” the garden (Gen. 2:15), which meant to “serve.” Adam failed to serve God. We fail to serve God. But Jesus was the perfect servant of God, as predicted in the prophets (Is. 42:1ff for ex.). D. L. Moody once said, “The measure of a man is not how many servants he has, but how many men he serves.”[14] And there is not a bigger man than Christ in that regard!

Jesus was always serving others. One author says, “Never did any servant serve with more unswerving loyalty, unwavering devotion, and unquestioning obedience than did this one.”[15] Did you ever notice that Christ’s greatest delight came from not making demands but meeting needs? Even when the disciples were fighting about who’s better and best, Jesus wrapped a towel around His waist and washed their feet (John 13:1ff). And it is not so much that God wants actions of a certain kind, but He is interested in people of a certain kind. Edgar Z. Friedenberg says, “What we must decide is how we are valuable rather than how valuable we are.”[16] We can study servanthood all we want, but at the end of the day, our head will grow by taking in. But if we want our heart to grow, that is only by giving out.

Here are some servanthood questions or “heart checks.” I really think you realize how much of a servant you are or not by the way you react when someone actually treats you like one! First, I would ask ourselves not how much are we serving or where are we serving or even who we are serving. The first question is how much do we worship Christ? What does that have to do with serving you ask? Well, Jesus says in the temptation narrative, “Worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:7). What is He saying? Jesus is making a connection between worship and service. Whatever you worship, you will also serve. So if you care a lot about people’s opinion (a little criticism inflates you and a little praise lifts you up), that shows you are a slave of it, because you worship it. And we become poor servants of Christ when we are poor worshippers of Christ.

Secondly, is your greatest delight in making demands or meeting needs? I think with the TM I often am making lots of demands for them to do for us, but have I thought about how I can meet their needs? How about those of you living with your parents? They may be making a lot of demands on you, but do you make a lot of demands on them? Do you try to meet their needs? Do you selfishly cling to your rights? How about of your time? Your resources? Thirdly, do we spend our time envying others and their significant place of service? Or we do try to make where God has called us to serve significant? And where do I serve? I like what author Frederick Beuchner said once, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”[17] Because after all, it is not great talents that God blesses, but great likeness to Jesus.

So Jesus was selfless, he was a servant and the third characteristic He modeled was:

III.  Obedience (Phil. 2:8)

Paul continues to say, “and being found in human form.” This sounds initially like a repeat to the end of verse 7, “being born in the likeness of men.” However, Paul is shifting the focus to how people saw Christ when He was on the earth. John Macarthur notes, “For Christ to become man was humbling enough. For Him not to be recognized must have been humiliating.”[18] Even when He did all the miracles, people said things like, “You are a Samaritan and have a demon!” (John 8:48). Or “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?...How can He now say He came out of Heaven?” (John 6:42). Isaiah said, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2). Yet His motivation was always, “I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). Recognition was not first on His mind. Obedience to His Father was always utmost and first. We have been learning on Friday Nights that even our obedience without the proper motivation alienates us from the Father, but not so with Christ, the true elder brother, who obeyed joyfully as a selfless servant of the Father, though He was the worthy Son.

Notice also, “He humbled Himself.” Commentator Gerald Hawthorne says, “This means that as a human being Christ did not strive for some pinnacle of earthly achievement.”[19] He came to die in obedience to His Father’s will to save mankind. Jesus knew obeying God would cost Him His life, but never at any point, He did He disobey. The Father never forced the Son to die. The Son willingly obeyed. Think of Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was sweating great drops of blood because God started to pour on Him the wrath for our sins. It was hard to drink that cup, but obedience kept Him going as He said, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Think of all the mocking, the punching, the pulling out of His beard, the spitting, the treating like dirt, etc. that He endured, without saying a word. He never claimed His rights. He never said, “Ok, this is enough! These people are not worth redeeming. Don’t you know who I am? I’m out!” If He did that, we would have all been gone. See, the cost of obedience is small compared to the cost of disobedience. He humbled Himself and that attitude was because He was obedient.

Not only that, He humbled Himself, “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” One commentator says, “This is not a measurement of the time of obedience, but of the degree of obedience. The point is not so much how long, but how much Christ became obedient. Jesus’ obedience took him to the nth degree, to death itself.”[20] Paul says Christ obeyed at great personal cost to Him: His life! Dr. J.H. Jowett has said, “Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing.” If there is to be any blessing, there must be some “bleeding.”[21] Many people are willing to serve others if it does not cost them anything. But if there is a price to pay, they suddenly lose interest. Aren’t you glad Jesus was not like that? I praise God for Christ’s obedience! Never giving in or giving up, even as He walked half naked through a city with a 150 lb. beam on His back, not to mention the heavy weight of our sins He bore. Even “while he was hanging on that cross, from below Satan and all his hosts assailed him; from round about men heaped scorn upon him; from above God dropped upon him the pallor of darkness, symbol of the curse; and from within there arose the bitter cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Into this hell, the hell of Calvary, Christ descended,”[22] but He never disobeyed. And sometimes I wonder, to grow us in faith, if God intentionally withdraws His presence and when we feel sometimes forsaken, that He finds us still obeying?

And Paul makes sure we realize that it was not just any death Christ had to face. He says, “even,” to emphasize how horrible was the death by crucifixion. Did you know that “Roman law reserved the cross for the worst criminals and the most violent insurrectionists, and only those who were slaves or foreigners. A Roman citizen would never be executed by crucifixion. Cicero called death on a cross “a most cruel and disgusting punishment.” The cross is “the worst extreme of the tortures inflicted upon slaves.”[23]

Look at the contrast between the first phrase in this poem/hymn and the last: He was in the form of God…to the point of death, even death on a cross. There is no greater contrast given of the One who was very God of very God would suffer the most extreme humiliation of human experience of death on a cross.  Christ was obedient even at great personal cost. I love what R.C. Sproul said this week regarding Christ’s work on the cross: “Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered."[24]

So question: What areas/parts of my life have I not given over the will of the Father? Do I run away from things He calls me to like Jonah? Am I giving up because the call is tough? Where is disobedience showing up in my life? Maybe it’s my pride in not wanting to do a tough, not-so glorious job that I don’t want to do. Maybe it’s a heart that does not want to give or love. Confess this at the foot of cross as you worship Him for being the obedient Son.

We will stop here for now. We might wonder what do we get for all this selflessness, servanthood and obedience? That is a selfish question, because we don’t do these things to get, but because we have gotten already! In the rest of these verses (Phil. 3:9-11), Paul teaches us the biblical truth that exaltation always comes after humility. The crown comes always after the cross. We don’t have time to look into it today, but we see there that God rewards the faithful in His time! 


Why did Jesus do all of this for us? C.S. Lewis in his book Miracles says this, “In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity ... down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him. One may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the deathlike region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colourless in the dark, he lost his colour too.”[25]

God came down to bring us up. We were dead in our sins at the bottom of the ocean (not just sinking and crying for help), but we were to Christ, like the pearl of great price. So Jesus gave up everything, even to the point of death, to bring us from back from the dead. He came down to bring us up. Do you believe this? He is the true Undercover Boss. He comes down today, even today, to bring you up again. Today, let’s come to the cross again confessing our selfishness and see how selfless our Lord was and worship Him. Let’s come to the cross confessing our hearts that want to be served and see what a great servant Christ was and worship Him. Let’s come to the cross and confess our disobedience and thank Him for how obedient He was and worship Him. Then as we see that He took our selfish self-centered, disobedient sinful hearts and nailed them to the cross, let’s arise, embrace Him, and like our Savior, let’s selflessly and obediently serve those around us. Love so amazing and so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. After all, it is not great talents that God blesses, but great likeness to Jesus Christ.


[1]Kim, Walter. “The Fakery of CEOS Undercover,”  accessed 24 March 2011.

[2]Hurt, Bruce, “Phil. 2:5-7 Commentary,” accessed 25 March 2011. 

[3]Motyer, J. A. (1984). The Message of Philippians. The Bible Speaks Today (109). Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press.

[4]Ibid. (109).

[5]Barton, B. B., & Comfort, P. W. (1995). Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Life Application Bible Commentary (57). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

[6]Adapted from Cole, Stephen. “Supreme Humility,” accessed 24 March 2011. 

[7]Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 5: New Testament commentary : Exposition of Philippians. New Testament Commentary (105). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[8]Macarthur, J. “Christ Humbled/Christ Exalted: The Humiliation of Christ,” accessed 25 March 2011.

[9]Hawthorne, G. F. (2004). Vol. 43: Word Biblical Commentary: Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary (116). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[10]As submitted to accessed 25 March 2011. 

[11]Cole, Stephen. Ibid. 

[12]Macarthur, J. Ibid.

[13]Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: The Fellowship of the Gospel. Preaching the Word (85). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[14]Green, Michael P. (2000). 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (329). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[15]Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (110).

[16]Water, M. (2000). The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations (938). Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.

[17]As submitted to accessed 25 March 2011.

[18]Macarthur, J. Ibid. 

[19]Hawthorne, G. F. (122).

[20]Hansen, G. W. (2009). The Letter to the Philippians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary (156). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[21]Wiersbe, W. W. (Phil. 2:8).

[22]Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (112-113).

[23]Hansen, G. W. (157).

[24]Sproul, R.C. As quoted at the 2011 Ligonier Ministries 2011 Conference accessed 25 March 2011.

[25]As quoted in Macarthur, J. Ibid.

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