Philippians 2:6-11 is among some of the most famous words about the identity of Jesus Christ. It reads:
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, by 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.
Theologians have been debating for centuries exactly what these words mean. Do they mean that Jesus was not ‘equal with God’ when he did not count equality “a thing to be grasped”? What happened to his divine nature when he was ‘found in human form’? In what sense did he empty himself? However, these questions, while important, are not the point of this poetic description of Jesus Christ.
The point of this description is found in the verse before this description. Verse 5 reads, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” You see, Jesus had a certain ‘mind’ about him. That is, he thought about things and about himself in a certain way. And Paul wants us to have the same mind that Christ Jesus had.
And so, the big question is: what was Jesus’ mind like? How did he think? How did he live?
Paul answers that question with the little relative pronoun at the beginning of verse 6: “who”. Christ Jesus’ mind is then described in verses 6-11. Jesus’ mind is humble. The kind of thinking that characterises Jesus is humble. He came to earth as a human, when he had every right to come to earth as its God and creator. He came to earth as a human, and then became a servant, when he had every right to come to earth and be served. He came to earth as a human, and then became a servant, and then died (and on a cross, no less), when he had every right to be worshipped and praised and to live forever and ever. In short, he humbled himself in every imaginable way.
That’s what Jesus’ mind is like – it is humble. That’s how Jesus thinks – he thinks humbly.
And Paul wants us to have the same mind as Jesus (v. 5). He wants us to be of the same mind and have the same love (v. 2). In more practical terms, he wants us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (v. 3a). Rather, he wants us to “in humility value others above yourself.” (v. 3b). Or as the ESV puts it: “Count others as more significant than yourselves.” But, how would we go about valuing other above ourselves? By “not looking to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (v. 4).
That was the mind of Christ – he did not look to his own interests, he looked to our interests. That is the heart of the Gospel – Jesus did not look to his own interests, but looked to our interests. It was not in Jesus’ best interests to be tortured and die on the cross. It was not a time he was looking forward to. But, he counted us as more significant than himself. He did nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. He humbled himself for us. He died (and on the cross, no less) for us.
Paul, by commanding the Philippians to count others as more significant than themselves, is really commanding the Philippians to follow Jesus. To imitate Jesus. Specifically, to imitate the cross!
This command also comes with a promise. In verse 15, Paul says, that if the Philippians were to imitate the cross, if they were to consider others better than themselves, “Then you will shine among [a warped and crooked generation] like stars in the sky.” When Christians value others above themselves, when Christians humble themselves, Paul says that mission happens! The world sees people who are imitating the cross, like they see stars in the sky.
Therefore, if we want to be stars in the sky, among a warped and crooked generation, we must humble ourselves, by considering the interests of others as more important than our own. We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus. We must imitate the cross.