Bible Topics
in the Christian Library

Philippians 2:5-11

John L. Kachelman, Jr.


I. Some general observations on this passage.

1. "In the whole range of Scriptures this paragraph stands in almost unapproachable and unexampled majesty. There is no passage where the extremes of our Saviour's majesty and humility are brought into such abrupt connection" (Meyer).

2. "For all the simplicity of most of its words, it is, in very truth, one of the most profound passages in the whole of Holy Writ" (King).

3. "This is one of the prime passages in the NT. It has in it the deep mystery of the will of God and the light of his grace. To the theologians have come seeking to know God personally. To it the fellowship of believers have come to be inspired for their living together in peace. Profound, illuminating, moving, this passage is a prime treasure and a prime requirement for the church and every Christian" (Berkley).

II. This marvelous text follows as Paul has exhorted us to possess four specific traits:

1. Unity and harmony (v. 2b).

2. Freedom from faction and vainglory (v. 3a).

3. Lowliness (v. 3b).

4. Concern for others (v. 4).

III. Paul now turns to offer an example of One whose life portrayed these traits perfectly. If we honestly desire victory we must look to Christ and not to others (Psa. 118:8).

1. If we truly want harmony and unity in our fellowship, we must follow v. 5.

2. "Mind" -- literally "attitude." "Have the exact attitudes of Christ and you will find joy in your unity and harmony!"

3. Note: Paul stresses the importance of our attitude again. Outlook determines everything! If one's outlook is selfish his actions will be dictated by his attitude! (cf. Jas. 4:1-10).

4. Thus verse 5 stresses the need for us to develop the proper attitude toward others. How can we do this? By following the example of Jesus Christ!

IV. Because of the magnitude of this text we will note two study approaches: Doctrinal points about Christ; Contextual study to see how the text fits into Paul's line of reasoning.


I. A brief look at the doctrinal aspect of this passage.

A. Within this passage we are given three pictures of Christ.

1. We see Him in the past. (v. 6-8).

2. We see Him in the present (v. 9).

3. We see Him in the future (v. 10-11).

B. As the text is considered the following points are noted.

1. Christ existed in the "form" of God (v. 6). The word "form" refers to the essential attributes of the inner nature." Thus Paul affirms that Christ was God from all eternity (cf. Jn 1:1-4; Col 1:15; Hb 1:1-3).

2. Christ was completely equal with God (v. 6). He stood equal with God in all respects -- this position was rightfully His, He did not have to "rob" to receive it!

3. Christ emptied Himself (v. 7). He divested Himself of His royal glory. Jesus put aside the divine glory for a season. This glory is pictured in Ex 34; Rv 21:23.

4. Christ took the form of a servant (v. 7). The word "form" is used again and here shows that Jesus became man in every way. He knew hunger, thirst, disappointment, joy, and tears (Hb 4:15). 

5. Christ suffered death (v. 8). "He faced grim Gethsemane and gruesome Golgotha. He stooped from the crown of glory to the cross of Golgotha. People laughed at Him, and derided and spat upon Him, as He suffered and died in agony and shame" (Taylor).

6. Christ was raised and exalted, He reigns today at God's right hand and will judge the world (v. 9-11).

II. A contextual study of this passage.

A. As Paul writes this passage he is speaking to all who think of themselves as "too good" to be servants to others.

1. If anyone ever had the right to express his own right it was Jesus Christ--BUT He gave up an exalted position to become a Servant to the lowest human!

2. Why should we today think that we have a greater superiority than Christ? IF He gave up such a position to become a Servant, what reason argues that we should do any less?

B. What traits combined to form this attitude of Christ which all Christians should possess today? 

1. UNSELFISHNESS (v. 6) -- Christ existed as God but was willing to give up a heavenly position to occupy an earthly position!

a. Jesus did not think of Himself but others. His attitude would say: "I cannot keep my privileges for myself, I must use them for others. I will gladly lay my privileges aside any pay whatever price is needed."

b. Selfishness is expected in the world, but not in the Lord's body! Concern for others is a key trait of all true believers (2:4).

c. If we cultivate this unselfish attitude we will find the long sought harmony and unity.

2. HUMILITY (v. 7a) -- Christ willingly lowered Himself in order to save humility!

a. Some think that humility is being modest, quiet, timid, sheepish, and unassertive. But this is not so! On several occasions Christ was forceful, yet he remained humble.

b. Humility results when one is disciplined to the will of God and says, "not my will but Thine be done".

c. Whenever members learn to discipline themselves by God's Will, we will see peace and harmony uniting all believers (cf. 2:3; Mt 20:25-28; Lk 14:11; 18:14; I Co 1:26f).

3. SERVICE (v. 7a) -- Merely thinking of others is not enough, we must deal with specifics and think how we can serve them.

a. "Form" -- Jesus did not pretend to be a servant but was actually one; He was not an actor playing a role! (Mt 20:28).

b. Whenever we learn this great truth it will completely change our interaction with each other.

4. SACRIFICIAL ATTITUDE (v. 7) -- "To give up the glories of heaven: this is unselfishness. To be born as man: this is humility. But to die on a cross for the sins of the world: this is the greatest sacrifice known anywhere in the universe" (Getz).

a. Here is a significant ingredient for creating unity among Christians.

b. Most of us are willing to serve as long as it does not cost us too much -- But we must be willing to serve another even if it means a great sacrifice (Rom. 12:18-21; Mt. 5:39,44).

c. It is one of the paradoxes of Christianity that the more we give, the more we receive; The more we sacrifice, the more God blesses! When love is the motive, sacrifice is never measured or mentioned! 

d. Cf. Mk 10:45; I Pt 2:21-24.

5. PERFECT OBEDIENCE (v. 8) -- "Humbled" literally "to submit to authority." He set aside His own will to submit fully to the Will of God (Hb. 10:7).

6. GLORIFIES (v.11) -- This was His great goal in life. It is easy to put aside selfish rights when we are concerned about God's glory!

C. We quickly observe the traits the results which come as one possesses these traits.

1. Exaltation (Mt 23:12; Lk 14:11; I Pt 5:6; Hb 12:2).

2. Inheritance (Ps 2:6-9).

3. Position -- "throne."


I. To those who feel they are too important to stoop down and serve some other member, this section clearly applies. One has suggested the following paraphrase: "If because of your position you feel that you cannot humble yourselves to the will of another, let me point you to Jesus Christ, the truly exalted One. For He was in the form of God exalted above all creation, exalted above all the angelic realm, exalted above the human realm. This One did not deem His rights to be such a treasure that He could not give them up. The exalted One gave up His rights. He came as a man to submit to a Creator. He gave Himself in perfect obedience even though it entailed death. That was the mind of Christ" (Pentecost).

II. Here is the key to joy -- imitating the attitude and actions of Jesus Christ!

1. Follow His example in demonstrating unselfishness, humility, sacrificial attitudes, service, obedience, and you will find true lasting joy!

2. The one who has learned to practice these traits has found joy.

III. To those who are outside of Christ this passage reveals the great love of God. God is seeking to save all men, He has done everything He possibly can--it is up to sinners to come to God repenting, confessing, and being immersed. Think of the three views of Christ in our passage, these should move us to readily respond.

1. Consider Christ in the past (v. 6-8).

2. Consider Christ in the present (v. 9).

3. Consider Christ in the future (v. 10-11).

Copyright 1998 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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