Today it is popular to over-simplify difficult subjects in order to appeal to the masses, whom it is presumed do not want to engage in rigorous thinking. With its preoccupation with amusement, modern society largely rejects sustained meditation on challenging subjects in favour of shallow entertainment. That many churches in Christendom are infected with this mindset is evidenced by the progressively shorter, simpler sermons, as well as the dominance of shallow music and drama in their public gatherings. In contrast, Philippians chapter 2 verses 5 to 11 provide an excellent example of the connection between doctrine and Christian living. Theology is not restricted to the ivory tower precincts of theoreticians; rather, it is well-suited to the everyday problems that Christians regularly face. In overcoming preoccupation with themselves, believers must fix their minds on the selfless example of Christ.
Contrasting Verdicts Regarding the Death of Christ
The passage begins with ‘Wherefore’, carrying the reader’s thoughts back to verses 5 to 8. The New American Standard Bible rightly captures the idea by rendering it ‘for this reason’. There is a direct correlation between the voluntary humbling of the Lord Jesus and His subsequent promotion to universal glory. The same disciples who witnessed His crucifixion, observed His elevation to the heavens, Acts 1. 9. One expositor remarks, ‘The historical, physical event of the ascension is a moral and spiritual comment on Jesus’.1 It is God the Father’s unequivocal declaration of His unsurpassed appreciation of His beloved Son.
The Father honoured the Son at His incarnation with angelic hosts hailing the blessed event, Luke 2. 9-14, as well as the star that subsequently led sages to where the young child resided, Matt. 2. 1-2. At Christ’s baptism, the Father famously owned Him, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’, Matt. 3. 17. On the mount of transfiguration, He further acclaimed His Son before three intimate disciples, Matt. 17. 5. Late in the Lord Jesus’ public ministry the Father again vocally acknowledged His appreciation of the Son, John 12. 28. Yet at Golgotha, the heavens were silent. When men reviled Jesus, there was no word of correction heard from the Father. The chief priests, scribes, and elders derisively dismissed His claims in strong terms, assuming that He was divinely accursed, Deut. 21. 23. They vehemently denied His deity and close relationship with the Father, saying, ‘He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God’, Matt. 27. 43. Instead, Christ’s anguished cry, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ v. 46, revealed the extreme suffering of being made a propitiation for sin, 1 John 2. 2. As R. C. Chapman put it, ‘In His spotless soul’s distress, I perceive my guiltiness. Oh how vile my low estate, since my ransom was so great’. To unbelieving observers of the crucifixion it seemed that God cared nothing for Jesus of Nazareth. Nonetheless, Isaiah chapter 53 verse 5 describes the reality of the situation, ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed’, Isa. 53. 5.
God the Father has the Last Word
Man’s erroneous verdict was repudiated three days later, when the Father vindicated His beloved Son by raising Him from the dead, Rom. 1. 4. Forty days after the resurrection He was further honoured by the Father exalting Him to His own right hand, declaring Him ‘Lord and Christ’, Acts 2. 33, 36. Another hymn captures the thought well, ‘All the depths of thy heart’s sorrow, told in answering glory now’. Still another says, ‘Look ye saints the sight is glorious, see the man of sorrows now; from the fight returned victorious, every knee to him shall bow’. As one Greek scholar articulates, ‘Nothing could be lower than the degradation of the cross, nothing higher than the mediatorial crown. Infinite condescension surely merits highest glory’.2
The Glory that Should Follow
Because of these unprecedented sufferings, ‘God hath highly exalted him’, Phil. 2. 9. As one authority describes this phrase:
‘Strictly speaking [huperupsoo is a comparative verb, meaning that God exalted Him more than before. In the New Testament there are more than forty [huper] compounds, most of which have an elative (intensive, e.g., 2 Thess. 1:3) or a superlative (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:13) sense. Most commentators give this verb a superlative translation, such as ‘raise … to the loftiest height’ … The One who died as the lowest malefactor has been raised to the greatest height’.3
W. E. Vine adds, ‘The verb huperupsoo is used here only in the New Testament. It is in the aorist (or point) tense and refers to the definite act in the past in His resurrection followed by His ascension, viewed as one great historical event’.4 It is the same word used in the ancient Septuagint Greek translation of Isaiah chapter 52 verse 13, ‘He shall be exalted’. Christ’s resurrection and ascension are the beginning stages of the glorious advancement of Jehovah’s Servant before the eyes of the nations, as foretold by Isaiah.
What’s in a Name?
Christ’s exaltation is described in terms of authority and homage. First, He is given ‘the name that is above every name’ NKJV. The Greek word for ‘given’ – charizomai, which the Lexham English Bible translates as ‘graciously granted’ – is explained by Vine thus, ‘to give freely, confer, here [it] signifies that God the Father bestowed the Name upon Him as a gift of supreme love and approval’.5 At this name every knee will one day do obeisance and every voice shall willingly or unwillingly acknowledge as supreme.
The ‘name’ itself is a matter of discussion among commentators, with some suggesting that it is ‘Lord’ and others affirming that it is ‘Jesus’. Of course, in one sense both terms refer to the same person: Jesus is Lord. The question is a matter of emphasis. Those holding to ‘Lord’ point out that He is Jehovah and therefore is sovereign over the universe. Those who prefer ‘Jesus’ see it as an elevation of the name of His earthly humiliation to a position of honour. As the hymn says, ‘Jesus takes the highest station, oh what joy the sight affords’. In His humanity He took the lowest place; consequently, that same humanity is now elevated to the highest place. Those who once cursed and vilified Jesus, will one day proclaim His greatness, even if it is against their will. I am not dogmatic on the point, but lean to the view that the name is ‘Lord’, due to the quotation from Isaiah chapter 45 verses 22-23 putting forth the claims of Jehovah. Nevertheless, neither position is utterly foreign to this context, and, in the final analysis, both sides express truth about the once humiliated, but now glorified Man of Calvary. The name of the Lord Jesus will be acclaimed over every other name save that of the Father Himself.
Worthy of Homage and Praise
While it is understandable that angels and glorified saints in heaven will bow the knee to the Lord Jesus, people on earth, as well as lost humans and demons ‘under the earth’ (i.e., in hell) will also be compelled to do Him homage, v. 10. Furthermore, every creature will confess Jesus as Lord to the Father’s glory. Even in His moment of supreme triumph, the Son will still cast glory upon His beautiful Father. Vine elaborates, ‘The glory of God the Father, the ultimate issue of everything, was the unremitting object of the whole course of the Son, as expressed in His affirmation, “I glorified thee on the earth” (John 17:4). His very exaltation, by which the Father glorified Him, had the glory of the Father as its end’.6
The word ‘confess’ itself carries the idea of ‘saying the same thing’, meaning that every sentient being will agree with what the Father and the Spirit have been saying about the Son all along. As one commentator points out, ‘This confession will be an open declaration of Jesus Christ as Lord in agreement with that which the Father declares concerning the Son’.7
Gordon D. Fee provides an excellent summary of the argument of Philippians chapter 2 verses 5 through 11:
‘In the final analysis, this passage stands at the heart of Paul’s understanding of God. Christ serves as pattern, to be sure; but he does so as the One who most truly expresses God’s nature. That this is what God is like is the underlying Pauline point; and since God is in the process of re-creating us in his image, this becomes the heart of the present appeal. Thus we are not called upon simply to “imitate God” by what we do but to have his very mind, the mind of Christ, developed in us, so that we too bear God’s image in our attitudes and relationships within the Christian community–and beyond’.8
Humbling oneself before the Lord pays off in the end. The way up in Christ’s kingdom is first to go down; the path to greatness lies on the hard road of selfless service. The Lord Jesus who went lower than any man ever has or shall go, is on the inexorable road to ever increasing glory. In light of this principle, no act of service is beneath the believer, and the lowly mind of Christ is the one we must cultivate in our own thinking.