The Lord's Day Morning
February 3, 2008
Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility,
Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians
“The Exaltation of Christ”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians 2. It has been our joy over the last number of weeks working through this letter to pay very close attention to what some theologians and New Testament scholars call “the song of Christ” or the “hymn to Christ” recorded here in Philippians 2:5-11. We have been focusing especially on the section of that song in which Paul sets out the humility and the humiliation of Jesus Christ in verses 5-8. Today we’ll be looking at verses 9-11, in which Paul sets out the exaltation of Christ. But we're going to read the whole of the passage so that we can remind ourselves of the whole of Paul's argument.
Back in Philippians 1:27, Paul had said to us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. He's working out what that means in the whole middle part of this letter, including the section that we're studying right now. His big point is that Christians ought to live a life that fits the gospel: that is according to or is appropriate for a person who has been saved by grace, who embraces Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior of sinners, as Lord of life and Savior of our souls. And he has said in Philippians 2:5 to us as Christians — and not simply to us as individual Christians, but as Christians who live life together congregationally. That is, Christians who recognize that we cannot go it alone, that we are not lone rangers, that we need one another, that we are called to the Lord Jesus Christ in a fellowship of belief in which we mutually love one another and care for one another and submit to one another, and serve one another's well being. And so in Philippians 2:5, the Apostle Paul gives us congregationally this exhortation:
“Have this mind in yourselves…” [Express in your life and ministry together as a Christian congregation] “…the mind which is yours in Christ Jesus.” [The same mind that Jesus had.]
And what is that mind? Well, he explains that mind in verses 5-11. It was a mind of humility and service that led Him to the lowest depths of degradation, even death on a cross. And the Apostle Paul says, ‘Be humble like that, brothers and sisters in the Christian congregation. Serve like that in the Christian congregation. Be willing to give up all that you are and all that you have for the glory of God, for the exaltation of Christ, and for the well being of one another in the Christian congregation.’ That's how we live life befitting the gospel: a humble, willing, tangible, self-displacing service; a gospel love to others; a service which is in the interest of others, and in which the interests of others takes priority over our own interests; and in which our service is rendered with humility. That's what we've been studying over and over and over again as we've slowly worked through this section on the humiliation of Jesus Christ.
Well, we come to another part of this passage today, and this part of the passage in verses 9-11 is about Christ's exaltation. Here's the surprise: Paul's teaching to us about Jesus’ exaltation is also to help us in our humble service of one another.
That's a little bit ironic, isn't it? It's not hard for us to see how Paul's teaching about Jesus’ humble service would help us in our humble service, but it is not at first readily apparent that his teaching about Jesus’ exaltation would help us in our humble service. But it does. And that's what we're going to look at together today.
Now before we read God's word, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this Your word. It is more necessary than food, for You did not create us to live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from Your mouth. This Your word is profitable. You mean it to build us up and to equip us for service. Since You have given it to us to equip us for service, and since the Apostle Paul is exhorting us to humble service, we pray that by Your Holy Spirit we would not only understand what Paul is saying to us, but that we would so believe it as to obey it. This will require the Holy Spirit because we don't want to die to self, we want to live for self. But You are calling us in Your word not to live for self, but to live for Christ and to die to self. So by Your Holy Spirit grant that we would do this, and thus be hearers and doers of Your truth. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of the living God, beginning in Philippians 2:5.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
What did Paul just say to us? Here's what he said, in a nutshell: Even Christ's exaltation serves the interest of our growing in humility and service, and has a view to our sanctification. What is Paul talking about in this whole center section? You see it in verse 5; you see it in verses 12-13. He's talking about our sanctification; or, to explain that word in language that we more frequently use, he's talking about our growing up to maturity as Christians. He's talking about our becoming more like Jesus Christ. He's talking about how we ought to live as Christians, but theologians sum up just with that word sanctification. That's the technical term.
Paul's talking about sanctification in this whole passage: being more like Christ; being what God made us to be. And he is telling us in verses 9-11 that not only does Christ's humiliation show us how to live and minister in humble service to one another, but Christ's exaltation shows us how to live and minister in humble service to one another, and has a view to our sanctification.
That is, Christ's total life, death, resurrection, and exaltation provides for us the example of how we are to live, and is the basis for our being able to live that way.
Now in particular, the Apostle Paul draws our attention to four things in this passage. We could say more, but certainly not less. Four things in particular that Paul draws our attention to in this passage.
First, Paul shows us that Jesus’ exaltation brings to our attention a different kind of exaltation in God's kingdom. It's very, very different than the kind of exaltation that happens out there in the world. There is lots of exaltation of people — appropriate and otherwise — that goes on in our culture. But, appropriate or otherwise, Paul wants to show us that the kind of exaltation that Jesus experienced (and especially the reason for Jesus’ exaltation in this passage) shows us that the exaltation that exists in God's kingdom is very, very different from the exaltation in the world. We need to understand that.
Secondly, Paul shows us here that because of Jesus’ exaltation, we can be certain that God will reward humble service. We live in a culture that pushes us to push ourselves forward, or else we won't get the recognition that we crave or deserve. And the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘I'm going to ask you, Christian, to go against the flow and not do that as you live and minister to and with one another. And when you do that, you’re going to think, ‘I'm going to miss out on recognition. If I don't push myself forward like the culture does, if I don't build up my resume and flash my credentials everywhere, and keep saying ‘Hey! Look at me!’ I'm going to miss out.’’ And the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘Don't do that, Christian!’ He knows that he can't just say don't do that, he's got to give you some motivation; and so he says, ‘Let me tell you this. When you do what Christ did, by the grace of the Holy Spirit at work in you, though the world says you’re not going to be rewarded, you’re not going to ever get what you deserve, God is going to reward and exalt you in a way that the world could not. And Jesus is the proof.’ That's why Paul's telling you what he tells you in verses 9-11.
Third, in this passage we learn that there is salvation only in Jesus Christ. There is salvation only in Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul, in the strongest possible way, affirms two things. One, that Jesus Christ our Lord is in fact fully divine, and that the fullness of deity dwells in Him in bodily form so that He is deserving of the worship of the living God. And the Apostle Paul does that in verses 10-11 by quoting a glorious and unmistakable declaration by God out of the book of Isaiah, which we’ll turn to later today. But he does that to make clear two things: Jesus is God; and, Jesus alone in this world has the name which is above every name, and therefore there is salvation in Him alone and in no other.
But we also learn, fourth, that the only life worth living not only brings us the only joy worth having and puts Jesus in His place — the place of exaltation. First. The name above every name. But that, you see does not take glory from God the Father, it does — what? Paul says at the end of verse 11 it gives glory to God the Father. We want to look briefly, if we can, at those four things together today.
I. There is a different kind of exaltation in God's kingdom.
First, Paul in this passage shows that there is a different kind of exaltation in God's kingdom than the exaltation that we see in the world around us.
What does Paul say in Philippians 2:9? That “God highly exalted Him.” Let's not miss what he says: “Therefore God has highly exalted Him.” Why? Because Jesus has taken upon himself a humble servitude that leads Him all the way to death, even the death of the cross, in which He willingly embraces degradation and dereliction, in which He willingly embraces humiliation of the deepest and most unique sort. And because of this, God highly exalts Him. And the Apostle Paul is drawing our attention there to the fact that there is a different kind of exaltation in God's kingdom.
We see human beings, appropriately or inappropriately, exalted all the time around us, and usually it is because they possess certain qualities that set them apart from other people. They may be really smart, and so we praise them because they’re smarter than other people. Or maybe they’re better students, they word hard. It's not that their brain cells are more blessed than somebody else's brain cells, but they study really hard. And we set them apart, we give them titles and we give them degrees, and we give them honors for their academic prowess. And so through their efforts and their native abilities, they are set apart. Or it may be that a person is handsome or beautiful, and when they walk in the room everybody says, ‘Boy, that person is more handsome [or more beautiful] than someone else.’ Or it may be that a person is self-promotingly ambitious. They really work hard at promoting themselves in the world, and so they are acclaimed, they are esteemed, they are exalted before others.
The Apostle Paul is saying here to notice how Jesus, who, in all of those categories, was more worthy than anyone who ever lived, did not promote himself on that basis. And God did not exalt Him on that basis. He exalted Him because He embraced humility, and He embraced servitude of the deepest sort.
So in the kingdom it is not that beauty or wisdom or knowledge, or influence or ambition or resources…it is not that these things in and of themselves are bad, but they are not going to be the reason for exaltation in the kingdom. So a smart person could exalt God in his or her humility and service, or could exalt self. But what was going to cause that person to be exalted in the kingdom would not be just the sheer possession of brain power, intelligence, and good study habits. It would be how those things were put to work in life: in humble service, or in self service; humble service of others, or prideful advancement of self. And in this passage the Apostle Paul is showing us those in the kingdom who serve are exalted; those who are humble are great; those who are lowly are lifted up to the highest places; so that Jesus, by His humble servitude, is exalted by God. He's saying that we do things in the kingdom totally different from the world around us. We esteem and evaluate differently in the kingdom.
You know how in every organization there is somebody, a man or a woman or a team of men and women, who quietly work behind the scenes and they make things go. And every year when the big hoopla event for that organization is held, for a few brief moments someone draws attention to the work that they've quietly been doing all year long. And they embarrassedly sort of step forward and acknowledge themselves and then scuddle back quickly out of the view of everything. There's somebody up front getting all the credit, but for a few moments that person is pointed to that has been working really hard for the sake of everyone. And the Apostle Paul is saying that in the kingdom that person who is great–not necessarily the person out front who's getting the credit… In fact, if the person out front is thinking in the categories of the kingdom, that person out front is quickly giving credit everywhere else. In the kingdom, those who serve are exalted. Those who are humble are great. Those who are lowly are lifted up to high places.
We were reading from Psalm 132 this morning, and in that Psalm, God talks about the temple as His — what is the language that He uses? It's His footstool. You know, it's the earthly place in the Old Testament where God manifests His presence. But the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 66:2, tells us that God, because He made the heavens and the earth, cannot be contained in a temple; and that, ultimately speaking, the temple in terms of a building is not His footstool.
And then God says, ‘You want to know where My footstool is?’ And He tells you in Isaiah 66:2. You know where it is? “My footstool,” He says…the place where I manifest My presence, the place where I draw near and inhabit is what? The place where the humble dwell. That's My footstool. That's My temple. That's the person to whom I draw near. That's the house in which I dwell. It's a humble house.
It's not a surprise then, is it, that when Mary is approached by the angel Gabriel and told that she will be the earthly mother of the Son of God incarnate… [Can you imagine that task, ladies? I mean, it's hard enough raising boys. Can you imagine being the earthly mother of God's unique, His only begotten Son?] And not only does she respond…you remember how she responds? “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” Behold the servant of the Lord. Lord, if that's what You want me to do, I'm here, Your humble servant, to do it.
But what else does she say? Luke 1:52. She says, ‘Isn't that just like God?’ To do what? ‘To humble the proud, and to exalt the lowly. Isn't that just like God?’ And that's what the Apostle Paul is saying. When you look at Jesus’ exaltation, you are looking precisely at the economy of God's kingdom. It is those who in humble service have loved and cared for one another in the body who will be exalted. And why does Paul share that with us? To encourage us to this kind of selfless, self-giving, gospel-empowered, grace-enabled love and care and service of one another.
II. God has given Jesus a unique name.
Secondly, notice that the Apostle Paul tells us here that God has bestowed on Jesus a name. He has rewarded Jesus in His humble service with a name.
Now I don't have time to do justice to this theme, but let me just make a few things quickly clear. Jesus has always been the Son of God. Jesus did not become the Son of God for the first time in the resurrection or in the ascension. Jesus has always been Lord. He has always been the second person of the Trinity. There was never a time when He wasn't Lord, and then He became Lord. That's not what the Apostle Paul is saying here. He's not saying that Jesus one time wasn't Lord, and now He's Lord. Jesus has always been Lord, even as He has always been the Word of the Father. It's just that now in flesh He has appeared, and in His flesh He rendered such a service that God publicly owned and acknowledged Him and pronounced Him to be Lord. And Paul is telling us here God does this precisely because of what Jesus has done in His humble service.
Now, that's a mind-blowing thought! But it's repeated elsewhere in the New Testament. Remember when Jesus says those mind-blowing words in John 10:17 — “The Father loves Me because…” [Now that ought to get your attention! Jesus is getting ready to tell you “The Father loves Me because…” What? “I lay down My life.”
Now is Jesus saying that's the only reason that the Father loves Him? No. That the Father hadn't loved Him before He laid down His life? No. But what is he saying? He's saying that the Father takes a peculiar delight in the fact that I, the Son, have willingly said I will lay down My life as a ransom for many.
Or, in Hebrews 5:7, where we're told that Jesus in His life cried out to God with cries and tears on our behalf, at the end of the verse what does it say? “He was heard because of His piety.” In other words, God heard Jesus’ cries and sighs and tears for you because of His godliness.
Now let me ask you this. Was Jesus not godly before He got here? Of course He was! But what the author of Hebrews is saying is that God took delight in this willing, vicarious obedience which Jesus accomplished for His people in all His life and ministry. He took note of it, and He blessed and He rewarded it.
Why is Paul telling you that here in Philippians 2:9-11? Because he wants you to understand that you will not give a cup of water in Jesus' name to anyone in this world (especially to fellow believers…especially to fellow believers in your own congregation) that He will not reward. I think somebody once said that somewhere…. And Paul's just driving that point home. Jesus himself said that: You can't give a cup of cold water in My name that the Father won't reward.
So when you think because you’re going the way of Jesus Christ and you’re not pushing yourself forward and you’re not drawing attention to yourself that you’re missing out on exaltation, God is saying, ‘Oh, no! Oh, no! Nobody — nobody who in humble service ministers to the body of My dear Son will not be rewarded. Look at My Son. I have given Him the name which is above every name. Don't think that I won't reward you who have loved and served Him.’
III. There is salvation only in Jesus Christ.
Third, the Apostle Paul tells us here that there is salvation only in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God. There is no name in heaven which is above His name, and He is the only one in whom there is salvation. Listen to how he puts it:
“God has highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord….”
Now the Apostle Paul is drawing on a famous passage from Isaiah when he says that about Jesus. Turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 45:21-23. You've heard Derek preach about this passage before. This is the passage from Isaiah 40-48 which has been called “Isaiah versus the gods,” in which he shows the difference between the true God — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the one true God — and the false gods, the idols, the Baals, and all the false gods of the world. And in this passage God is contrasting himself to the false gods. And in verse 21, middle of the way through, he says,
“There is no other God besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides Me.”
Is God's point clear? Yes. “I am the only true God.” Now listen to what He says:
“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.”
Is that clear? You want to be saved, you turn to Me. Now listen to what He says:
By myself I have sworn;
“From My mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return…”
[Here it is!]
“To Me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall give allegiance.”
Hmmm. Heard that somewhere before? Paul says that that is true of Jesus. And in saying that that is true of Jesus, he's telling you two things:
One, Jesus is the very Son of God. In Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form. He is the Lord God of Israel.
And, he's telling you that there is salvation only in Jesus' name. That is so important for us to understand, because Christianity isn't offering a seven-step program of how to get humble apart from Jesus Christ. You can't get humble apart from Jesus Christ. You can't even begin the road down the path towards humility apart from the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so it's so important for us to understand today: it's good to want to be humble, but there's not a person in this room who can be humble apart from the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Until you have humbled yourself before the Lord, acknowledged your need, and then said, ‘I am not good enough. I must rest and trust in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation,’ you’re not ready to start the journey towards humility. And so the Apostle Paul is reminding us of that gospel right here.
But notice that last little phrase.
IV. The only life worth living not only brings us the only joy worth having and puts Jesus in His place — the place of exaltation… First… The name above every name. And that does not take glory from God the Father, but it gives glory to God the Father
There's a fourth thing I want you to see here. You might think that Jesus’ having the name which is above every name…you might be thinking that Jesus’ having the name “Lord” (which is God's Old Testament name)…you might think that somehow that would take glory away from God the Father. But the Apostle Paul says, ‘Oh, no. Not at all.’ Jesus’ having the name which is above every name, Jesus’ having all the nations turning to Him for salvation, Jesus’ having every knee bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord actually does what? The Apostle Paul says at the end of verse 11 it gives glory to God the Father.
It's really mind blowing, isn't it? Worshiping Christ gives glory to God the Father. Now how does that relate to humility? Well, in the end, the Apostle Paul says, Christ is going to be exalted above everything else, and all glory is going to go to God. So let me ask you this question: How much exaltation, how much glory is going to be left over for those who don't love and trust in God through Jesus Christ? Nothing. Nothing. So, if you want exaltation, if you want reward, if you want blessing in the age to come, the age that will not pass away, in the new heavens and the new earth, where is it going to be found? Only in a personal faith relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, because there's going to be no glory left when all the glory is given to God except the glory that He freely gives to His children in His Son.
For His children, there will be more and more to spare, such that they will give the glory back to Him, they will pass their crowns before Him. For those who are not His children, for those who have not trusted in Him, there will not be one ounce of glory.
It's the economy of the kingdom, you see. This world says ‘Push yourself forward, because the first shall be first.’ And Paul says, ‘Now let me tell you about the economy of the kingdom, where the first shall be last and the last shall be first; and those who exalt themselves will be abased, but those who are abased will be exalted. And those who are rich will be made poor, but those who are poor will be made rich because the Lord Jesus, although He was rich, became poor, that we might in Him become rich.
Lord God, grant that we would respond in belief to Your word, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let's take out our hymnals and turn to No. 295, and give all the glory to God through Jesus.