The truth of the proverb that states, “Before honor is humility” (Pro 15:33), was perfectly displayed in the life of the Lord Jesus. His voluntary stoop (Phi 2:6-8) preceded His exaltation by God the Father (vv 9-11). Satan, on the other hand, rose up to be “like the most High” and was therefore brought down (Isa 14:12-15), warning us of the danger of pride. Because our God puts “down the mighty from their seats,” and exalts “them of low degree” (Lk 1:52), Paul commanded the believers to have the mind which was in Christ Jesus (v 5).
The Lord Jesus Christ, “being in the form of God” (v 6), was always the possessor of full Deity. Eternally He had outwardly expressed what He truly was in Himself: God. And so, Christ’s pre-existence as eternal God is where the story of His humiliation begins. He could not possibly have filled a higher position in the universe, and yet to purchase our salvation, He took seven downward steps, as unfolded here:
Step 1: He did not think it a thing to be grasped at to be equal with God (v 6, Newberry). Equality with God was not something that Christ needed to strive to attain, for it was eternally His. To excel in one’s chosen field requires years of struggle, training, and sacrifice. However, Christ did not need to exert Himself in the least to be equal with God, for He already was. Furthermore, in possessing a fully divine nature, the outward display of divine glory, or the form of God, was not something that He strove to retain. A world class athlete must continually strive to retain his title, but the Lord Jesus Christ expended no effort in retaining equality with God. Knowing that this was immutably so, He was willing – with full awareness of all it involved – to lay aside the outward display of what He essentially was in Himself: verily God. Therefore, His first downward step was the very thought, which resultedin His laying aside, not the possession of deity, but that expression of it which angels and men could not behold (Exo 33:20; Isa 6:2).
Step 2: He “emptied Himself” (v 7, JND). The Savior never ceased to be what He eternally was. Men generally seek to fill themselves with material prosperity and prestige. They seek gain: “looking every man on his own things” (v 4). The Lord Jesus Christ, however, in this second downward step did just the opposite, for “though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (2Cor 8.9). Instead of going in for making ourselves full, we should rather empty ourselves and make ourselves of no reputation. What Paul meant by Christ emptying Himself is expanded upon in the final four steps. He laid aside no divine attribute, but instead, “the insignia of majesty” (Lightfoot).
Step 3: He took a bondman’s form (v 7, JND). He, Who was “in the form of God,” added the mark of servanthood to His deity. Even though the Lord Jesus Christ “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), He was never a bondslave to man, only to God.
Step 4: He was made in the likeness of men (v 7) and so was a true man. His humanity was not artificial, yet His body would have been without physical blemish because it was untainted by sin. It has been said, “He was as much a man as I am, but not such a man as I am.”
Step 5: “And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself” (v 8). We have now moved from the unapproachable light of absolute deity, to the gracious veiling of that glory at the incarnation. We would have expected Him to live as a rich and noble king, but instead He was born into poverty – Mary His mother, and Joseph His foster father, could only give the smallest offering allowed by law (Lk 2:22-24). He lived in despised Nazareth (Jn 1:46). Far from enjoying a prestigious career, He was but a carpenter (Mk 6:3). Even in adulthood He had to say, “Shew Me a penny” (Lk 20:24) – He had none.
Step 6: He became obedient to the very extent of death. The Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, passed the ultimate test of obedience in perfect submission (Heb 5:8).
Step 7: The character of that death, “even the death of the cross” (v 8) was the very lowest form of death, crucifixion having been described as the most painful and the most degrading capital punishment, reserved for the worst crimes and for the lowest class of people. However, it was not only the most cruel of deaths, but, according to Mosaic Law, it was for those accursed of God (Gal 3.13).
“Wherefore,” because of His self-humbling, God has given Him a position which is “highly exalted.” He is now above all. His name is above every other, and at that name every knee [shall finally] bow in worship (v 10). In the garden of Gethsemane the multitude, coming to take Christ, involuntarily acknowledged His power when they “went backward and fell to the ground” – prostrate before Him (Jn 18:6). So, too, in the future the entire universe will bow before the Lord Jesus. If His humiliation glorified God the Father (Jn 13:31), how much more will His immeasurable exaltation: “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (v 11)!
If we all emulated Christ and were marked by genuine humility, any likelihood of division would be thwarted.