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Series:  Philippians:  A Letter of Life in Jesus - Part Four

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
July 27, 2003

Please turn with me to Philippians 2. As you’re turning think with me about humility.

The CEO of a Fortune 500 company pulled into a service station to get gas. He went inside to pay. When he came out he noticed his wife engaged in a deep discussion with the service station attendant. It turned out that she knew him. In fact, back in high school before she met her eventual husband, she used to date this man.

The CEO got in the car. The two drove in silence. He was feeling pretty good about himself when he finally spoke. “I bet I know what you were thinking. I bet you were thinking you’re glad you married me, a Fortune 500 CEO, and not him, a service station attendant.”

“No,” said his wife. “I was thinking if I’d married him, he’d be a Fortune 500 CEO and you’d be a service station attendant.” (1)

Over the past few Sundays we’ve been looking at how Paul describes our life together as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ - how we’re to conduct ourselves in relationship to one another. In what we’ve looked so far - Paul has written that - as Christians - our faith is constantly being challenged. We’re attacked by Satan and his minions. We suffer adversity for our faith. But, while we face the temptation to focus on ourselves and complain or to turn against each other we have the opportunity - in the worst circumstances of this world - we have a tremendous opportunity to support and encourage and uplift and serve and stand with each other.

Paul has been giving us some practical points of application - how we can live like this together. In chapter 2 - verses 3 to 5 - we looked at this last week - Paul telling us - first, to regard others as more important that ourselves - and second, to look out for the interests of others - then third, to understand that we’re here for what God desires to give others through us. The bottom line attitude that makes all this possible is humility.

Coming to Philippians 2:5, Paul gives us an illustration of what that humility looks like. He’s going to show us Jesus - the ultimate illustration of humility. Paul writes - verse 5: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus."

Five examples of Jesus’ humility. First - verse 6: Jesus - "who, although He existed in the form of God, - Jesus - did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped." Jesus did not hold onto His privilege as God.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses tell us that Jesus is a creation of God. The Mormons tell us that Jesus, through obedience, attained to the rank of a god. The Christian Scientists say that Christ is a “divine idea” and Jesus is a “human man.”

Paul writes that Jesus “existed” - the word in Greek expresses the idea of a continuing prior state. “Form” in Greek has the idea not just of an outward appearance - but of one’s inward nature - the essence of who a person is.

In Colossians 1 - Paul describes Jesus this way: "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:16,17)

Jesus is not just a creation of God. Jesus is the God.

But, Jesus did not "grasp" - literally hang on to - His rights and privileges as God - to be worshipped as God - to exercise His power as God. He had the right to - to insist on His preeminence. But for us - He choose not to.

Second - verse 7: Jesus “emptied Himself, taking on the form of a bond-servant.”

“Emptied” has the idea of removal - taking something off. Imagine I have a coat - a really nice coat. I take it off and put on a pretty ragged old coat. I stay the same. But my coat changes. Jesus chose to take off His Godly privilege - emptying Himself - and to put on humanity.

Jesus became a servant - literally "a slave." In the Roman world slaves were the possessions of their masters - looked on with the same regard as a shovel or hammer - a tool to be used. Jesus should have been worshipped - adored by people - angels - animals - served by all of creation. Yet, Jesus set all that aside to serve.

Third - again in verse 7: "and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself" - Jesus became in the likeness of men.

Having become a man - Jesus didn’t come as a king - a ruler or a rich person - someone insulated from the worst parts of our human condition. He became the son of a common family - in a conquered nation - born in the humility of a stable. In humility He came and embraced us as brothers and sisters - without any advantage over us - facing life as we face life.

Fourth - verse 8: Jesus became “obedient to the point of death.”

Jesus didn't have to die. He isn't born - as we are - with the terminal illness of sin. Jesus loved us so much that He chose to receive the death sentence that’s really ours.

Fifth characteristic - of what Christ-like humility looks like - verse 8: Jesus chose “even death on a cross.”

Jesus could have chosen to die quickly - painlessly - in some peaceful setting surrounded by His family and friends. But, He chose to die on a cross - in pain and agony - rejected and despised - executed as common criminal - in shame and disgrace. Deserted by everyone - including His Heavenly Father - He died finally - because He was unable to breathe.

Verses 6 to 8 are a profound Christological passage explaining the incarnation of Jesus Christ - the reality of God being born in a Bethlehem stable. Jesus - God - freely and lovingly choosing to become a human being - to humble Himself as a servant - dying on a cross in our place - for our sins. All of that is an illustration for us of our attitude towards each other as we live together as the church.

When I was in college - down at Biola - I took a rock climbing class. One of the skills they taught us was how to belay our rock climbing partner. In other words - when you're climbing you have this rope attached to you that's held at the other end by your partner. The theory is that, while climbing, if you ever lose your grip you won't fall - very far - because your partner will be holding you up with this rope. As you might imagine - its very important to have confidence in the person holding the rope.

One of the exercises we did - to practice our climbing skills - was to climb Sutherland Hall. Sutherland Hall was a large building in the center of the school - about 1½ stories high - that had bricks sticking out of the outside wall which made it easy to climb up the wall.

One day - while we were climbing the walls of Sutherland Hall - we were told that we were going to practice falling. I realize that for some people that comes easy. But this was a little different. As we got to the top of the wall - 1½ stories up - without giving advance warning to our climbing partner - who we hoped was hanging on to the other end of the rope - we were suppose to let go of the wall and fall.

That was one of the hardest things I've ever done. To consciously let go of a secure wall and put my life in someone else's hands.

One time when Jesus and His disciples were in Galilee - Jesus had been teaching about His coming betrayal, death, and resurrection. In the context of this discussion - the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him, "Who then is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" Self-centered - they completely missed the point of what Jesus was talking about and what God was about to do.

Do you remember how Jesus answered the disciples? Matthew 18:2 And He - Jesus - called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven."

Children have an amazing ability to let go of the rope. As children we did that all the time. We didn't know anything different. We knew that our parents would catch us - we'd be safe. As adults we learn to think differently.

Humility is a choice. Try that together: “Humility is a choice.”

Jesus chose humility. Letting go of all the things and attitudes - our prerogative to trust ourselves and defend ourselves and take care of ourselves - letting go of all the things and attitudes we hold to - trusting God is a choice. If we’re going to live together in Christ-like humility we need to get off of our own self-made pedestals and learn to trust God with the circumstances and people in our lives.

Humility is a choice. But, humility is not easy. Let’s be honest. Praise God Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. Verses 9 to 11 are a powerful statement of why we can trust God. Here’s the “how to” part.

Verse 9: For this reason also - because Jesus loved us enough to act with such humility - even to death on the cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

John - the Apostle - was given a vision of this - the exaltation of Jesus.

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshipped. (Revelation 5:11-14)

In response to humiliation Jesus is exalted. No one is greater than Jesus. No one deserves greater respect - honor - worship. He has first place in everything. The dominion of Jesus is greater. He is Lord over all of creation. He is the Head of the Church.

In response to humiliation Jesus given the name which is above all others. A person’s name invokes recognition of their character - reputation - the very nature and essence of who they are. At the name of Jesus - one day - all creation will bow. Today His Church bows in service and obedience. One day His enemies will be forced to bow in submission.

What began in a stable in Bethlehem ends with Jesus exalted. It all happens according to God’s plan. God wills it. God does it.

Hear this. As Paul holds up Jesus as the example of how we are to live our lives we need to see in Jesus’ example and exaltation that God can and will accomplish in us what He wills to accomplish - even the healing of our relationships together - the forging of the church into the Body of Christ. God will accomplish what He wills if we will come before Him in humility.

How we do that is to recognize for ourselves the importance of the Name of the exalted Jesus Christ.

Franklin Graham in his book, “The Name” shares a true story from a Bedouin tribe in the desert of southern Jordon.

Two boys - Abdul and Mohammed - were climbing the rocky terrain one day. They wound up in a heated argument. Abdul struck and accidentally killed Mohammed. The Middle Eastern temper has a very low boiling point. Most of the time they vent their emotions with yelling and wild arm motions. But, Abdul had lost control. Now his friend lay dead on the ground - a victim of second-degree murder. Abdul experienced the ultimate horror. His heart sickened as he saw the limp body of his friend.

“Mohammed!” Abdul shrieked, But Mohammed didn’t answer. With tears running down his checks Abdul shook him - trying desperately to get a response from his best friend. But, Mohammed was dead.

In Bedouin society, “an eye for an eye, life for a life” still prevails. Knowing the inflexible custom of his people, Abdul ran across the desert in terror until he spotted the tent of the tribal chief. The youth, gasping for air, raced to the shelter, grabbed hold of the tent peg, and screamed for mercy. When the sheik heard the boy’s cry he came to the door. The young man confessed his guilt and asked for protection.

Its Bedouin custom that if a fugitive grabs hold of a tent peg and pleads for protection from the owner of that tent - if the owner grants protection - he’ll lay down his life for the one on the run. It is a matter of honor and duty - the integrity of the owner’s name is on the line.

The sheik looked at the frantic young man, his knuckles white from gripping the tent peg so tightly. The old sheik put his hand on one of the guy-ropes of this tent and swore an oath, “I give you my protection.”

The next day, young men who had witnessed the crime came running toward the tent, shouting, “There he is! There’s the killer! Out of the way! Give us the boy!”

But the old man said, “No, I’ve given my word.”

The old Bedouin sheik stood his ground. His name was respected in the village. His word was good. If these men, intent on revenge, laid a hand on Abdul, they would have to kill the old man first.

“Do you know who he killed?” The men argued.

“It doesn’t matter,” the sheik replied.

“He killed your son - your only son!”

There was a long silence. The old man’s knees weakened. His face tensed. Abdul felt his heart race. I’m dead, he thought.

After a few moments, the old man softly spoke, “I’m an old man; I’ll never be able to have another son. I have given the boy my protection and I will honor my oath. Because this boy came to me in the right way, I will take him as my own son and raise him. He will live in my tent and will be my heir. All that I have will be his. He will bear my name.” (2)

Through the Name of Jesus - His work of humility - life and death for us - His exaltation - God establishes the means of our approach to Him. Just like with Abdul - eternal life or death depends on our coming to Him for refuge. Humility - towards God - towards each other - comes as we recognize that the only way to come - to be here together in His refuge - is to let go of everything else - grab onto the tent peg - and cry out in desperation - pleading for God’s mercy and grace.

This morning we have an opportunity to ask ourselves some important questions about our lives - what we think - how we act. Who do we trust? What are we holding on to? Are we willing - as Jesus did - to choose to trust God and lay down our lives for each other?

1.  Ortberg, John, Love Beyond Reason, Zondervan, 1998 - quoted from Leadership, Summer 2003
2.  Graham, Franklin, The Name, Thomas Nelson, 2002

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.