Philippians 2:6-11

As Paul exhorts the Philippian church to Christian unity (1:27-2:4), he calls them to selflessness.[1] This is because unity always requires the loss of self for the benefit of the group. It is at this point that Paul gives us the apex of all examples of selflessness—Christ. He calls us to tune our minds[2] to His actions of self-denial, self-sacrifice, self-humiliation and non-self-exaltation.

Self-denial (6): "[Christ], although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped." Christ willingly let go of the glory which He shared with the Father.[3] The Lord of the universe denied Himself what was rightfully His in deference to the Father. How foolish it is when we demand what we think is ours with no consideration for others!

Self-sacrifice (7): Then comes the Lord's willing self-sacrifice: "[He] emptied[4] Himself [willingness!]" (7a). This act is further defined by two additional actions: "taking the form of a bond-servant[5]" (His servitude) and "being made in the likeness of men" (His incarnation). The Eternal Son of God took the posture of a slave and willingly took on human flesh, accepting all the limitations of a finite human being. None of this, of course, meant that He ceased being God. The Lord Himself made it abundantly clear that He continued to be God in His humanity.[6] But in His incarnation, He set aside His glory. As for His miracles, He performed them only as the Father willed.[7]

Self-humiliation (8): Verse 8 adds another[8] dimension to His selflessness: "being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself" (2:8a). Becoming man wasn't enough. The Lord stooped lower in deference to the Father and became "obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." He deferred to the Father holding back nothing, even giving up His precious human life unto crucifixion![9] Keep in mind, this is the Eternal God who did not have to do this!

Non-self-exaltation (9-11): All the actions so far were done by Christ unto Himself.[10] But the actions of exaltation were all done by the Father.[11] There is no self-exaltation here. It is the Father who exalts Christ highly and grants to[12] Him the name above every name. This exaltation is the perfect antithesis of the Son's self-humiliation. The Son by Himself willingly stoops down far beneath His divine glory. The Father Himself then raises Him up far above all creation and ensures that His name is highest above every name. And in all of this the Son never seeks His own glory—even His exaltation is to the glory of the Father! This is the mindset that produces selflessness and Christian unity.

[1] "regard one another more important than yourselves" (2:3).

[2] phro-ne-ō (φρονέω) which describes the mind is repeatedly used in vv. 1-5: "being of the same mind [φρονέω]" (2:2a), "intent [φρονέω] on one purpose" (2:2b), and "have this attitude [φρονέω]" (2:5).

[3] That the Lord laid aside His glory is evidenced in His prayer in John 17:5, "Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was."

[4] "Emptied" is the Greek verb ke-no-ō (κενόω), which means to "nullify" or "make void." This is better rendered "He made himself nothing" (NIV).

[5] This is the Greek word dou-los (δοῦλος) which is "slave."

[6] "calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God" (John 5:18). "I and the Father are one… You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God" (John 10:30-33). "Are You the Son of God… Yes, I am" (Luke 22:70). We reject all forms of kenotic theology that teach that Christ in any way emptied Himself of His divinity.

[7] Hence, Scripture tells us: "God performed through Him" (Acts 2:22), "healing… for God was with Him" (Acts 10:38), "works of My Father" (John 10:25-38), and "the Father abiding in Me does His works" (John 14:10).

[8] This is the second action after the adversative "but" of 2:7. In the Greek, verse 8 begins with the conjunction "and [kai (καί)]." The ESV and NKJV retain it and begin the verse, "And being found…"

[9] At Gethsemane, He cried: "remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will" (Mark 14:36).

[10] "emptied Himself [he-au-ton (ἑαυτὸν) is in the emphatic position!]… He humbled Himself [same]…" (2:7-8).

[11] "God" is in the emphatic position in the Greek and this underscores His initiative in the action. Also, Christ is the subject in verses 6-8, but in verses 9-11 the Father is the subject with Christ as the object. Lastly, this is highlighted by the adverb "also" which shows that the Father is now the One who is active.

[12] "bestow" is the verb cha-ri-zo-mai (χαρίζομαι) which comes from "grace [cha-ris (χάρις)]." Cf. also 1:29.