Christ the Servant (A Sermon on Philippians 2:5-11)

You have an attitude problem…

I have an attitude problem…

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a parent say “I don’t like your attitude”… I’d have a big pile of nickels…

Attitude is a big deal. Your attitude is important. It makes a very big difference in life.

Paul told the Philippian church “Your attitude should be like that of Christ Jesus” (2:5).

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is in some ways unique. Most of Paul’s letters include some correction- either in terms of doctrine or practice. The Galatians had fallen into a works righteousness doctrine, insisting that Gentile converts had to fulfill the obligations of the law (esp. circumcision). The Corinthians had a whole plethora of issues- rampant sexual sin, factions, disorder and chaos in their worship, and even some who denied the resurrection. The Romans had tensions between Jews and Gentiles and the two couldn’t seem to work together. The Thessalonians had questions about Jesus’ return which left them confused and losing heart.

But the Philippians for the most part are celebrated by Paul. They’re getting lots of things right. Over and over Paul encourages them, saying hey, keep at it. Stay faithful. But there is still room for improvement. The attitude is not yet perfected.

At Philippi, there was considerable persecution, and much to discourage this church. It’s actually a city created for retired soldiers. Many big important former generals of Rome lived there. Powerful men, faithful to Rome, with time and means. When Paul was in Philippi (See Acts 16:11-40), he was arrested with Silas, flogged, and put in chains in prison. But there, in prison, they worshipped, and an earthquake flung the prison open and the jailor was amazed that Paul and Silas stayed put, and that jailor and his household received the gospel, and were baptized.

Paul had strong affections with the Christians at Philippi (See 1:3-8).

So he says, “make my joy complete” by being like minded, by doing everything without selfishness, by loving one another. Keep going as you have been. If I could sum up Philippians in one thought it would be: keep working and growing in the direction God has put in place. Keep working at it. God is completing his work in you. You’re not done yet, but you’re getting there.

In the middle of this beautiful letter we find what some scholars suggest is the oldest surviving piece of writing on Jesus. Here in chapter 2 we have what appears to be either a song or a creed meant to be memorized and chanted or sung in the church. This passage is straight out of the hymnal Paul used. Some suggest Paul wrote this, but most scholars believe he’s quoting another piece. They didn’t have the same rules for citations, royalties copyright and plagarism we do these days.

But he introduces it by saying, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”. You should mimic him and specifically his attitude.

In other words, we need to change our perspective, viewpoint. Even if we are doing things well, there is room to be more like Christ. He is the benchmark we aim for. He is the goal and model which we should be seeking to emulate. And our attitude plays a big part of that.

So what is Jesus’ attitude?

Well, as we can see, it’s humility and servanthood.

We are to follow Jesus. What we see in this passage here is movement. If you can remember back to high school math, this is a parabola. What on earth is a parabola?

We see a descent with a mirrored ascent. It goes down and back up.

We see Jesus descend or condescend (verses 6-8) if you will, and then be exalted (9-11). It follows this parabola movement.

He starts out up high- being in very nature God. You don’t get any higher. Jesus is Divine. He is God. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.” (Colossian 1:19)

But he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Grasped in this sense is not “comprehend” but a physical grasping. The Greek means more like “exploited, grabbed, taken for one’s own advantage”. The NIV editorial board updated the translation here to read “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” He was not willing to use his Divinity for his own benefit. He refused to exploit his authority.

He made himself nothing. He “emptied” himself. This one word has been the subject of so much debate among theologians- kenosis is the Greek. It comes from the Greek word for to pour. He pours himself out. He gives himself and his authority away.

He takes on the form of a servant.

There are two words for servant- diakonos (where we get the word deacon) which is an administrator, server, waiter, attendant.

But then there’s doulos– a bondservant, slave, one without any authority. Jesus becomes a doulos.

Being made into the form of a man (the gulf between man and God is quite the chasm; As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways). He is King of Heaven, but is now in the form of a human. Fully Divine, but not clinging to it. Fully human.

But he goes further. Being made in the image of mankind (quite the interesting flip- mankind was made in God’s image, now he is made in the image of mankind), he humbled himself again, becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross. He obeys death.

He serves us, by obeying even death. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give himself as a ransom.”

Jesus came to serve us through death. His death means something, it accomplishes something… for us. He willingly chose to leave behind his status as the immortal, almighty God, and be put to death, to buy us back from death. He died, that we might benefit. He died that we might live. As death came through Adam, so life comes through Jesus Christ.

The cross is the ultimate in humility. It is heaping public shame on top of physical torture (and vice versa). You get no lower. He has gone from the highest heights to lowest low.

THEREFORE. Therefore; when Paul says therefore, it usually means pay attention, here’s what this all means.

Because he obeys, God exalted him. Because of his humility and obedience God lifts Jesus from the lowest low, and exalts him.

God is most fully glorified through the act of being a doulos. God is most fully glorified by serving us. You would think God would be most glorified by being up there, unapproachable, heavenly, holy, untainted by mingling with us. But God says to us, no, the most glorious thing I can do is to be humble, be a servant of all. Because through this act, men and women will live forever with me.

So God exalted Jesus, and gave him the name which is above every name. Paul is a Jew, well trained in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God’s name is a big deal. YHWH, the divine name is holy. Jews came to believe it was risky and unwise to even utter the name of God for fear of violating the third commandment. You won’t use God’s name in vain if you just never use it. That name was above every name.

So when Jesus is given the name above every name, what does that mean? Is Jesus given the divine name? Or is the name Jesus elevated to equal or above the divine name?

Well, that’s tricky. But the answer comes in the following verses.

“At Jesus’ name every knee will bow. Every knee. In heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

One day, every knee will bow to King Jesus. For some this acknowledgement may be too late. It’s best to bow the knee now. At the name of Jesus. Not the name of YHWH. This is quoting Isaiah 45:23, which states that every knee will bow to YHWH, and every tongue confess by YHWH.

But every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Jesus Christ is Lord. When the Divine name appeared in the Scriptures, the Iraelites were taught to insert Adonai- In our English bibles we see LORD. LORD is the marker of the Divine name. Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus is Adonai, the name of Jesus is now equal to YHWH.

But also important here is the context of the Roman Empire, where Caesar had unquestionable authority. Suspected Christians would be told to confess Caesar is Lord or die. We have a surviving exchange of letters between the Emperor Trajan and the Roman governor Pliny. Pliny was having trouble with people making accusations that other were Christians, and how to best deal with them. He tells Trajan of his policy which is to demand that those accused of being Christians do “reverence with incense and wine, to your [Trajan’s] image which I had ordered to be brought forward for this purpose, together with the statues of the deities” (Epp. X [ad Trajan], ccvi). In other words, worship Caesar as Lord, or die.

Remember the Jews at the trial of Jesus- “we have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). Well, we have no King but Jesus. Caesar, the epitome of self-exaltation is not Lord. Jesus Christ is Lord. “he is the reality of which Caesar is the parody… There is another king, namely Jesus. He, not Caesar, is the world’s true lord.” (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God). Jesus Christ is the exalted Lord of the earth. The servant has had all things placed under his feet

And it is because he humbled himself, by dying, and being raised. Jesus Christ is Lord, because he obeyed, and God exalted him, and placed everything under his feet.

Want God to show you favour? Want to experience what it means know the pleasure and joy of God? Humble yourself. Serve. Love. Pour yourself out. Make your attitude like that of Jesus Christ.

Never will you be as filled with God’s pleasure and joy and ecstasy and wonder and love than when you give up yourself to make room. It is when you say your Kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven, and pray like Jesus, Father, your will not mine. Then and only then will you really be found faithful.

The first shall be last and last shall be first.

Jesus said “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (diakonos) and whoever wants to be first must be your slave (doulos)”

Give of yourself. Lose yourself for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Become a doulos of Jesus Christ.

Paul, Peter, Jude, James and John all use that title. doulos of Jesus Christ (See Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1:1) . Servant or slave is not exactly a title you’ll use if you are trying to flatter yourself. But that’s what we’re called to take on; doulos.

So, do you have an attitude problem? Do you need an attitude adjustment? Are you willing to be the servant of all to give your life over so that others might live?

2 Comments on “Christ the Servant (A Sermon on Philippians 2:5-11)

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