Our Example of Humility – Philippians 2:5-8

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Grace Bible Church

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

April 25, 2003

Our Example of Humility

Philippians 2:5-8


Turn in your Bibles this morning to Philippians 2 as we come to the passage that describes the most humble person and most humble action that has ever occurred in all time which is Jesus Christ, the second person of the triune Godhead, becoming a man to pay the penalty of our sins with His own life.

Recall from last week that Paul begins this chapter with a foundation for unity in the church by using the word “therefore” to point us back his statement in 1:27 for us to “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come to see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Paul then shows that his expectation of them is reasonable by using four first class conditional statements. Recall from last week that though these statements start with the word “if” in English, the sense of the Greek grammar here is “if this is true, and it is, then . . .”. They are statements of truth.

It is reasonable to expect Christians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ and be unified because there is encouragement in Christ; because there is consolation of love; because there is fellowship of the Spirit, and because there is affection and compassion. We find encouragement in Christ because He is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1). We are strengthened by Him because He is with us always even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). We are inspired by Him because He is our high priest who makes intercession for us with the Father (Heb. 7:25) and through Him we can come to the throne of grace ourselves to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16). There is consolation (comfort, counsel and assistance) in the love of Christ and other Christians. No matter how bad our situation might get we will always know without any doubt that we are loved by God because it was proved for all time and eternity when Jesus Christ died in our place while we were sinners (Rom. 5:8). Every Christian shares in common fellowship with the Holy Spirit who made us alive in Christ when we were dead in our sin (Eph. 2) and then baptized us with Himself into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). In addition, the Holy Spirit also makes intercession for us (Rom. 8:26) and is the seal of God’s promises to us (Eph. 1:13). And finally, affection and compassion are the marks of true Christianity. Others know we are Christians when we love each other as Christ loves us (John 13:35) which includes the heart of mercy spoken of here.

These are four practical reasons why unity should be one of the practical demonstrations of a Christian’s walk with Christ. Christian unity is neither the ecumenical idea of broadest common belief nor the cultic demand to agree on everything. Christian unity is clear and uncompromising on fundamental doctrine while charitable in areas where the Bible does not speak clearly. This unity is demonstrated by Christians in the four characteristics of having “the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit and intent on one purpose.

We are to live in harmony of mind because we agree on the same fundamental doctrinal truths which forms the foundation of our beliefs and conduct. We purposely commit ourselves to the best interest of others in word and action based on our conviction of what is right before God and not on personal feelings or preference. That is the nature of Christian (agape) love. Since we are one body in Christ and individually members of one another (Rom. 12:5), we strive to be united in spirit and action. We resist having any division among us, but rather seek to have the same care for one another knowing that if one member suffers, all of us suffer with it, and likewise, if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (1 Cor. 12:25-27).

The key to this unity is found in each of us being humble instead of proud. As Paul put it in verse 3, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” Selfishness and conceit are just specific aspects of pride, which is the root of all other sins. Humility of mind speaks of the mindset of a servant or slave who seeks to please their master. That mindset results in your considering or regarding others as more important than yourself. Being a Christian is about Jesus Christ and His kingdom, not yourself and your kingdom. The Christian’s greatest concern is to please Jesus Christ which includes being a servant to others. Paul brings this out even more specifically in verse 4 saying, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others.” Obviously there are personal affairs we must take care of even it is just the care of our own bodies, and everyone naturally will do that (Eph. 5:29), but Paul’s call for us here is to go beyond those things because humility looks at life in terms of how things affect others. We are to say, as did Paul, that to live is Christ. Our lives are to reflect Him in service to others.

The Command – vs. 5

As we now come to verses 5-8 we find the greatest example possible of what Paul describes in the person and action of Jesus Christ. There has never been anyone more humble or who has demonstrated greater love than Jesus, and Paul specifically points Him out and commands us to follow His example.

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”

The word “attitude” is translated as “mind” in the KJV because it from fronew /phroneô, the same word used back in verse 2 and translated as “mind.” It refers to your understanding, thinking, and view and hence “attitude.” It is in the command voice, so this is not just a good thing to do, it is a necessary thing to do. The immediate context lets us know that the specific attitude or mindset Paul is speaking about is humble love for others. This characteristic is clearly seen in Jesus Christ in which He did regard others as more important than Himself and looked out for their interests instead of just His own.

However, in order to understand the depth of Jesus’ humility and love we must first understand His true position and the glory that actually belongs to Him. It takes little humility for a slave to serve a king, but it takes a lot of humility for a king to serve a slave.

Jesus’ Position Prior to the Incarnation. (v.6).

Paul says of Jesus in verse 6, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” The KJV translates this as “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” This verse is tells us a lot concerning the nature of Jesus Christ.

First, “Although He existed in the form of God.” Paul is simply saying that Jesus had the “form, appearance, look or likeness” of God in that Christ has the divine nature of God. Other Scriptures say the same thing. Heb. 1:3 says, “And He (Jesus – the Son of God) is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. Col. 1:15,16 states “And He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. 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 by Him and for Him. John 1:18 records that “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [Him.]” Jesus Himself claimed the same thing in John 14:9. Philip asks Jesus to “show him the Father,” and Jesus responds by saying “He who has seen me has seen the Father;” and that “[He is] in the Father and the Father [is] in [Him].” Jesus is the revelation of God the Father because He is God in human flesh.

The second phrase that Christ “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” is also descriptive of Jesus’ divinity. The word “grasped” (arpagmoV / harpagmos) is translated in the KJV as “robbery.” The idea here is to grasp or snatch something and hold onto it as in a robbery.

There are two reasons why Christ did not regard equality with God as something to be snatched at, something to grasp. First, He already had equality with God, so striving for that was not necessary. Second, the Father would exalt Christ and restore Him to His full glory in the future (cf. v.9), so Jesus did not need to strive for that either. When something already belongs to you, you do not need to “snatch at it.” You already posses it. At the same time, when you already know that something is going to restored to you, you do not need to continue to grasp onto it. You can let go of it for you will have it again when it is returned.

The plain fact is that Jesus the Christ is God. Theologically we describe Him as the second person of the triune Godhead. The fact that Jesus is also man does not remove His deity. Isaiah 7:14, which prophesies of His birth, names him “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” The prophecy in Isaiah 9:6 names Him as “wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Scripture makes it clear that Jesus is God.

We are finite humans and do not understand the full nature and relationship of the trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but we can be firm on what God has said of Himself. Each person of the triune Godhead is God singularly and collectively at the same time. God the Father is God. God the Son is God. God the Holy Spirit is God. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are together one singular God .

The point of all this is to say that the glory that Jesus had before becoming a man was the very glory of the eternal God. That is the glory he left. Jesus Himself claimed to have had that glory. Remember Jesus’ prayer in John 17? In verse 5 He says, And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world began.” In the Transfiguration, recorded in Matt. 17:2-7, we see Jesus “transfigured before them (Peter, James & John); and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.”

We also get an idea of the glory Jesus had by looking at some of the revelations of God’s glory in the O. T. For example, Isaiah’s vision in Isa. 6 when he saw “the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” Isaiah goes on to talk of the Seraphim that stood above God. Each of them has six wings, two of which covered their faces, two were used to cover their feet and two were used to fly. They called out to each other “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah describes the sound of their calling making the thresholds of the temple shake. I think all of us would have had the same reaction as he did and cry out “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” The sight and sounds of such glorious holiness would make us fall down in repentance and terror as it did Moses, Daniel or Ezekiel in their encounters with God.

If we are to understand Jesus’ humility and love we must first understand this truth of who Jesus is and the glory that belongs to Him. Only in contrast to that can we see the high cost to Himself in His actions for mankind.

Jesus’ First Action of Humility

– vs. 7

Paul says in verse 7 that Jesus Christ, who was and is equal with God, “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” In theology we call this the “kenosis” from the Greek word here “emptied himself.” The word means to “make empty” “make of no effect” or “lay aside what one possesses.” While we cannot fully comprehend all of what it meant for Jesus to become a man, we do understand that He laid aside certain aspects of His deity to become a man. Jesus set aside the fullness of the glory He had with the Father when He became a man. A glimpse of that glory was seen by Peter, James and John at Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt. 17). He set limits for a length of time on certain of His attributes. God is omnipresent, but Jesus limited Himself to one physical body spacially present in one location at a time during His life on earth. He limited His omniscience since Jesus “kept increasing in wisdom, stature and favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). He also limited His omnipotence to some degree since He became physically tired (John 4:6), hungry (Matt. 4:2; 21:18) and thirsty (John 19:28). These things alone would be a wonder above all wonders, and cause for our rejoicing, but Jesus did even more than this.

Jesus did not come as an exalted man. He came as a douloV / doulos, which is the word for a common slave or servant. Jesus Himself said that He did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). I would venture to say that most of us, if we were in Christ’s place and would even condescend to become a man, we would come as some great and powerful individual- a king, a general, a diplomat, the high priest, or a prophet along the lines of Moses or Elijah. But Jesus was born into a poor family and even earned his living as a carpenter until he was 30. He came as a common man in order to identify with man and become the high priest, i.e. the mediator, between God and man. Heb. 2:17 says, “Therefore, he had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God.” Hebrews 4:15 adds that Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Jesus’ humility and love for us is seen in His setting aside certain aspects of His deity in order to become a man. But His humility and love went even beyond this.

Jesus’ Second Action of Humility

– vs. 7

Jesus Christ not only become a man in order to become the mediator between God and man, but He also willingly died for the benefit of mankind. Paul says in verse 8, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This was not forced upon Him, but Jesus willingly did this, and it was the supreme act of humility. Remember that Jesus lived a sinless life. He deserved to be praised, honored and worshiped as He was during the “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem when the people cried out “Hosanna” to Him (Matt. 21:15f). But Jesus came from heaven and became a man for the purpose of dying.

In John 12:27 Jesus speaks about his upcoming death and says, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour. The fact that the Christ was to die was not something obscure, for Christ said to the two men on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 that all of the Old Testament showed it was necessary for Him to suffer and enter His glory.

To die is bad, but many have died in a way as to bring fame and glory to themselves. They die in some noble manner and become heroes. But there is nothing noble about death on a cross. It was utterly humiliating to be stripped, hung in public with your crimes posted over your head, and then slowly suffocated by the weight of your own body. It was the means of execution for common criminals who were not Roman citizens. Jesus did not come to die an ordinary death. He had to die this certain type of death.

Psalm 22 is a prophecy describing details of the Messiah’s death written 1,000 years before Jesus died. Jesus had to die in a manner consistent with the prophetic nature of this Psalm including having his clothes divided by casting lots, having his hands and feet pierced, and crying out “My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?” Second, and more important, Jesus had to die a death that would show that He was accursed by God. Isaiah 53 in particular speaks of the Messiah as the suffering servant- the one who would be “Smitten of God and afflicted. …pierced through for out transgressions, …crushed for our iniquities.” Jesus had to die a death that would demonstrate accomplishment of these things in some way. Death on the cross was that means.

I have pointed out before that there were many attempts to kill Christ. In Luke 4, the people of Capernaum sought to throw Him off a cliff after He had taught in the Synagogue. John records that the Scribes and Pharisees were often plotting to kill Him. In John 8:59, they picked up stones to stone Him and in John 10:31 they did it again. Though they were not able to stone Him either time, they did continue to plot to kill Him (John 11:8). The proper Jewish method of death for blasphemy, which is the crime the Jews accused Jesus of, was stoning. The Jews sought to do this many times, yet could never accomplish it. Why? Because the manner of Jesus’ death had to demonstrate that He was taking upon Himself the sins of the world and was cursed by God. In Galatians 3:13 Paul refers back to Deuteronomy 21:22,23 when he says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’.” It was no accident that Jesus was crucified. It was the plan of God, and it paid the penalty for our sins as 1 Pet. 1:18 describes “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death n the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”

Jesus death on the cross also fulfilled what he had said in John 3:14,15, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.” Jesus’ death made it possible for our redemption, but we have it applied to our own lives through simple faith in order to receive its benefits. We must believe and trust Jesus Christ and what He has done for our salvation in order to have the penalty of sin removed. John 3:16 states it clearly, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Jesus willingly and humbly left the glory He had with God the Father for the specific purpose of enabling you and me to be reconciled with God. Jesus has made it possible by paying the price for our sins which we could not pay ourselves. Our response is to believe and follow Him which includes Paul’s command here to follow the example of His attitude.


As each Christian is conformed into the image of Jesus Christ, among the many things that must change is our level of pride and humility. Our pride will diminish as our humility increases. As that happens, our unity with one another also increases because we are regarding one another as more important than ourselves and looking out for each others interests instead of just our own. That is conducting ourselves worthy of the gospel of Christ. The question that is left then is simply are you following Jesus example, and if not, are you willing to change your attitude to match His.

Jesus left the glories of heaven to become a man. What could you possibly have that is so important that you cannot set them aside to serve Christ as He directs you? Jesus is God and should be served, yet He humbled Himself to serve the most lowly. What could possibly be so special about you that would keep you from serving God however and wherever He wants? There is no such thing as a position too subservient for any Christian. Jesus humbly submitted Himself to obey God the Father even to the point of death, including death on the cross. What could possibly be so important as to keep you from obeying God to the same degree if necessary? Heb. 12:4 even challenges us when it comes to even our basic obedience to God by asking if we have resisted sin to the point of shedding blood? If God wants you to do something that other people consider foolish, what could be so important about their opinions that pleasing them would be more important to you than pleasing God.?

I am fully aware that pride is probably the most difficult problem for humans to overcome, yet the example of Jesus Christ and His provision for us in the Holy Spirit make it possible. Innate selfishness causes us to struggle with pride. We want what we want when we want it and woe to those that block us from getting what we want. We also desire to be special and more important in some way than other people. Jesus’ example and His commands to us are exactly the opposite of these two sinful bents in our lives.

The foundation for humility in the Christian is actually very simple. Your life is not about you, your kingdom or what you want. It is about Jesus Christ living through you for the sake of His own kingdom. Life is about what He wants and His glory. If we love Him, then we demonstrate it by keeping His commandments (John 14:21). This strikes against both selfishness and empty conceit.

Jesus said that rulers in the world lord it over their subjects, but if we want to be great in His kingdom, we would need to become the servants of all, and whoever wanted to be first would need to become the slave (Matt. 20:25-27). In Jesus’ kingdom we have to consider others as more important than ourselves and put that into action by looking out for their interests. This requires us to be humble for humility seeks to serve while pride seeks to be served.

Humility begins in submission to Jesus Christ in all things. It extends to others that you might be a blessing from God to them. It concludes with yourself marveling that God would love, care for and use such a sinful person. Pride does the opposite. It resists obedience to God. It seeks to gain from others, and it thinks it deserves or has somehow earned God’s love. How are you doing in each of these areas in practical terms?

Are you seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? Are you deferring to others in issues that are not important to you as well as accommodating the desires of others as you are able? Are you meeting the needs of others as you have means to do so? Are you taking into account all those affected? In doing these things, are you also being cautious not to cater to the selfishness or empty conceit of others? Are you becoming more like Jesus Christ?

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Sermon Study Sheets


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times words for being humble are used. Talk with your parents about what you learned from Jesus’ example about being humble in your own life.


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

What does the “therefore” in Philippians 2:1 refer to? What are the four reasons Paul gives that Christians should conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel by being unified? What are the characteristics of Biblical Christian unity? Explain. What are the keys to Biblical unity? Explain how these work in your own life – or would like them to work. What does Paul command in Phil. 2:5? How does that effect our understanding of verses 6-8? What was Jesus’ position prior to the incarnation? Explain what it means that “He existed in the form of God.” Explain what it means that He “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Prove the deity of Jesus Christ from other Scriptures. How does understanding Jesus’ prior position help us understand His humility and love? What were Jesus’ first actions of humility? Explain your understanding of the “kenosis?” Could Jesus cease to be God? Why or why not? What kind of man did Jesus become (position in society)? What was Jesus’ second action of humility? Why did Jesus have to die? Why does Paul specifically point out that it was not just death, but death on a cross? Why is the cross a greater act of humility that death by other means? What happens to your pride as you become more like Jesus? How are you following Jesus’ example? Where can you improve? What is your life about? What should it be about? How are you doing at serving others? What characteristics show your humility? What characteristics of humility are you still working on?

Sermon Notes

Our Example of Humility : Philippians 2:5-8


Reasons for Unity – vs. 1,2

Key to Unity – vs. 3,4

The Command

– vs. 5

Jesus’ Position Prior to the Incarnation

– vs. 6

Although He existed in the form of God

He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped

Jesus’ First Actions of Humility

– vs. 7

The Kenosis

Become a man – a doulos

Jesus’ Second Actions of Humility

– vs. 8


Death on a cross


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