“Christology”                  Philippians 2:3-11                               October 10, 2010

 

SI:  We’re studying Paul’s letter to his favorite church—the Philippian church.

Bible teachers have often called Philippians, the Epistle of Joy.

   Because even though Paul was writing from a Roman prison,

   he talks about the joy of Christ, rejoicing in the Lord,

   and gives us great insight how believers walk through the difficult times.

 

As I’ve said before, there were no big doctrinal problems in the Philippian church

   and there were no big sin problems.

   Paul was mostly writing to thank them and to encourage them.

But he knew that there were some church members who had rubbed each other the

   wrong way, nothing major, but he wanted to address that.

 

The reason is that Paul knew that when difficult times come, church unity is 

   important, good relations with your Christian brothers and sisters is important.

Paul may have had some reasons to think that in the near future, the Philippians

   might be facing hard times, and he wanted them to be ready for it.

He wanted nothing to stand in the way of their joy.

 

So he urges them to live in unity,

   and then he gives them the greatest possible reason.


 

INTRO:  Have you ever heard about Thomas Jefferson’s New Testament?

   I’ve never actually seen it in person, but I’ve seen pictures of it.

 

Jefferson went through his New Testament with a razor blade,

   and he carefully cut out everything supernatural.

He cut out all of the miracles—the water into wine, the feeding of the 5,000. 

   He cut out everything supernatural related to Christ—the Virgin birth,

   the transfiguration, the resurrection, the ascension, promises of Second Coming.

 

So what did he leave in his New Testament? 

   He left the ethical teachings of the Bible.  He left the moral teachings.

He left things like:  The love of money is the root of all evil.

   Love your neighbor as yourself. 

   Do not let the sun go down on your anger. 

Because Jefferson admired that kind of teaching in the Bible. 

   He thought those were very good and important rules to live by.

 

Why did Jefferson do that? 

   Because he thought:  I don’t need the supernatural stuff. 

   I don’t need miracles and doctrines about Jesus’ divinity.

I just need the rules and principles.

   I just need to be told how to live right and inspired by great moral teaching.

 

Now, that seems bad, cutting out parts of the Bible.

   But lots of people in the church think this way.

They don’t necessarily cut out or deny the supernatural in the Bible.

   But they say that the most important part of the Bible is the practical part.

The most important part is the rules and principles for good and successful living.

   And what we really need to know is just the practical part.

What we don’t need is heavy, hard core theology.  We can cut that out.

   It’s not inspiring.  It’s boring.  It’s divisive. 

   Give us simple, practical stuff with an inspiring Christian twist and that’s enough.

 

Some preachers are responding to this.  It’s becoming a popular preaching style—

   Heavy on practical stuff, light or non-existent on the doctrinal side.

The sermon today is “How to Spice Up Your Marriage.”  We have a theme verse.

   And then some funny stories about how husbands don’t get it.

   And then some practical ways you can appreciate each other and show love.

“Five Steps To Getting Out Of Debt”  “Biblical Principles for Time Management”

It’s helpful as far as it goes.  And it’s certainly popular.

   But what did Paul do?  What was his model?

The Philippian church was a good church.  There were no huge problems.

   But Paul knew there were some strained relationships.

   There were those in this congregation who had rubbed each other the wrong way. 

It was just standard, run-of-the mill church problems that every congregation has.

   We have these conflicts in Christ Covenant from time to time.

You put a bunch of sinners together and sooner or later will hurt each other’s

   feelings.  Paul knew how important Christian unity is for facing trials of life.

 

So how did Paul deal with this typical, run-of-the-mill, mundane problem

   of Christians in the same congregation rubbing each other the wrong way?

   He dropped a doctrinal teaching the size of Mount Everest on this little problem.

After telling the Philippians to do nothing out of selfish ambition,

   and to look after the interests of others, he gave them the most profound

   exposition of the person and work of Jesus Christ found anywhere in all of his

   writings, and he dropped it right on top of them.

 

Here’s what we learn from this (and most of you already know this)

Theology and daily Christian living are inseparable. 

   Your daily life is shaped by your beliefs.  Love comes from faith. 

   Practical Christianity draws its strength and meaning from theology.

If your theology is weak, so will be your response to problems and temptations.

   If your theology is strong, that will give you a deep well for daily life.

   It will become immensely practical.

 

So we’re going to dig in to this profound teaching of Paul.

We’re going to work on our Christology.  That’s the title of this sermon.

   That’s a seminary word:  Means study of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

As we study, we’re going to see how having a solid Christology

   is absolutely essential for the Christian life.

We’re going to see why what you believe about Christ is tremendously practical.

 

Three points for note-takers: 

   1.  Christ’s humiliation

   2.  Christ’s exaltation

   3.  One particular application

 

 

You may have noticed, if you were following along in the NIV,

   that verses 6-11 are written as if they are poetic verse.

The reason is that these verses appear to be from two early church hymns.

   Maybe Paul wrote these hymns, maybe he just quoted them.

The first hymn is verses 6-8 and it’s about Christ’s obedience, suffering and death.

   That’s what theologians call his humiliation.

The second hymn is verses 9-22 and it’s about Christ’s resurrection, ascension,

   and the glory of his Second Coming.  What theologians call his exaltation.

So let’s start with Christ’s humiliation.


 

MP#1  Christ’s humiliation

Paul begins with a powerful statement of the deity of Christ.

   You have to understand the divine nature of Jesus Christ before you can truly

   understand his humiliation.  Have to see how great he is, before you can see

   how much he lowered himself.

 

Look at verse 5:

   “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God.”

This word “in very nature” is the Greek word morphe.  It’s a special word.

   One that Paul chose very carefully to communicate an important truth.

 

Almost all English Bibles translate morphe as “form.”

   “Who being in the form of God . . .” says the King James Version, for example.

   That’s a good translation.  It does mean form.

But here’s the thing that you need to know.  The Greeks had two words for “form.”

   Morphe, which is used here.  And schema.  And the difference between is crucial.

 

Schema meant outward form.  Appearance.

But morphe meant essential form.

   Possessing the essential qualities that make something what it is.

Paul deliberately chose the word morphe for Jesus Christ.

   He is the essential form of God.  He possesses all the qualities of God.

   He’s eternal.  He’s all-knowing.  He’s all-powerful.  He’s everywhere present.

This is the strongest possible statement about the deity of Christ. 

   It’s stronger even than if Paul had said:  “Jesus is God.”

   A statement like that can be twisted.

 

Paul says something impossible to twist, impossible to deny.

   Jesus Christ has the very identical qualities that make God, God. 

   He has the very substance, the very characteristics and nature of God.

And, Paul’s point is that he had that divine nature when he was a man on earth. 

   But instead of asserting his divine rights, power and glory, he humbled himself.

   He was willingly humiliated for our salvation.

 

What’s your most humiliating moment? 

   You can make jokes about embarrassing moments and laugh at yourself.

   But you can’t laugh at true humiliation.  It’s intensely painful.

Maybe when something ugly, or immoral you did was exposed. 

   Maybe when you were rejected by someone you loved. 

Maybe when something you worked for that gave you status was taken away.

Perhaps you’ve come to a point in your Christian walk in which you can look at

   that painful humiliation and see God’s hand.  But would you ever choose that?

Would you ever in a million years say:  I want to be humiliated.

   Jesus did.  And it did it from a position of greatest honor and glory.

And he did it to obey his Father’s plan for your salvation.  The hymn says . . .

 

“(He) did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

   He refused to grasp, he refused to assert, his equality with God.

Remember what Satan said to him at the temptation:

   If you are the Son of God, turn these stones to bread.

   If you are the Son of God, cast yourself off the pinnacle of the Temple.

Assert yourself.  Seize your equality with God and get Lordship over nations.

   You don’t have to follow the path of suffering planned for you.

   But he refused to take the path of glory, even though he could have.

This comes into sharper focus when you contrast Christ with Adam.

   Eat this fruit and you will be like God.  And Adam did.  Christ refused.

 

Next the hymn says (he) “made himself nothing.”  Love the King James Version.

   “He made himself of no reputation.”  Not only refused to assert Godhood,

   even on a human level, he refused to push himself forward.

Remember how he refused to accept praise of the crowds, their desire to be king.

   How that frustrated his family and disciples.

 

“Taking the very nature of a servant.”  He took the lowliest position of service.

   Think of him taking a towel and washing the disciples’ feet.

“Being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man.”

   This is a reference to his incarnation.  When Christ became a man he was

   condescended to us.  He came down to our level. 

He subjected himself to all of the pains and sorrows of life in a fallen world.

 

“He became obedient to death—even death on a cross.”

And here we have the lowest depths of his humiliation. 

   He embraced a death that was both painful and shameful.

   To hang naked on a cross, was a sign of rejection by God and man.

 

How do we take this in?  How do we even begin to grasp Christ’s humiliation? 

The only way I can begin to grasp this, is to think about how hard I try to

   protect myself from shame and humiliation. 

And how even the very slightest things that pull me down,

   or lower me in the eyes of others are intensely painful.

And how very hard it is when I’m not thought well of or when I’m put in a

   position lower than the one I think I deserve.  

 

That brings us to the second point.

MP#2  Christ’s exaltation

To be exalted means to be lifted up, to be recognized, to be given glory.

Christ’s exaltation is the subject of the second hymn.

   It begins in verse 9:  “Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place . . .”

 

Jesus Christ was and is being vindicated, rewarded, and glorified by his Father.

   It started on Easter morning.  There was the resurrection itself. 

   That was the first event in his exaltation.

   He was given a glorified body and he broke the chains of death.

Think about all the funerals you’ve attended.  And there is the body of the person

   in the casket and they are bound by death.  Even if a Christian, soul with God,

   still, their body is bound by the chains of death.

Jesus’ body was glorified.  He broke the chains of death. 

 

And then there was his ascension into heaven. 

And at his ascension, he was further glorified.  Compare how Jesus is described

   during his appearances right after the resurrection with the way he is described

   after his ascension into heaven.

When Paul saw him on the Damascus Road, he had a brilliant glory.

   When John saw him on the Isle of Patmos, the Revelation vision,

   shining like the sun.  So beautiful and terrible that John fell down like dead.

His body and human nature is raised to a heavenly glory.

 

The Bible says that Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

That means he is occupying the position of supreme rule over the universe.

   He is the focus of all the hosts of heaven. 

   The angels are serving him.  The all believers now in heaven praising.

   He is carrying out all his holy will.

 

And there is still more glory to come.  That is when he returns at the end of the age.

   And when that happens, not only will he be the focus of all heaven, but also of all

   the earth.  And this hymn in Philippians speaks of that ultimate exaltation.

It says:  Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess.

His people will bow willingly.  Singing his praises with joy.

   His enemies will bow, grinding their teeth in hatred and fear.

Every knee in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.

   All angels, all people, and all demons will bow before him.

 

And why did Jesus Christ receive this glory?  Why was he exalted?

Look back at verse 9—Therefore, God exalted him.

   What does the therefore refer to?  His humiliation. 

   He was exalted because he willingly humbled himself in obedience to God.

This tells us something crucial about the Kingdom of God—

   It tells us that the way up is down.  The way to honor is to be a servant. 

 

I was looking through Adrienne’s yearbook recently and saw Who’s Who.

   Most Athletic.  Wittiest.  Most Likely To Succeed.

It seems like they used to also have categories like

   Cutest Couple.  Most Beautiful and Most Handsome.  Most Intelligent.

   Teacher’s Pet.  (You always felt sorry for the Teachers’ Pet)

But a high school yearbook Who’s Who gives a good summary of the sorts

   of reasons why people are normally exalted. 

 

Because they are smarter than other people,

   or because they are more disciplined and excel in some area,

   or because they are more beautiful or more handsome,

   or because they are more committed to self-promotion than other people.

And I’m not saying those things are wrong, just that the reasons people are exalted

   is because in some way, by natural ability or by effort,

   they raise themselves above other people.

 

But when it comes to Jesus Christ, he was not exalted for any of those reasons.

   He was exalted because he embraced obedience and humility.

   He embraced servanthood of the most humble kind.

And after he had completed all that God the Father required of him—

   culminating in his crucifixion and burial, he was rewarded.

 

And that means in God kingdom, its not beauty, or intelligence,

   or influence, or natural abilities, or family influence, or resources that matter.

Not that those things are bad.  They aren’t.  All gifts from God.

   But what God is looking for, and what he delights to reward,

   is humility and obedience. 

And that brings us to the third point . . .

MP#3  One particular application

   This is actually the point Paul makes first.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

 

The Apostle Paul wants these Christians to get along.

   He wants them to be humble, he wants them to be united,

   he wants them to be selfless, he wants them to be helpful.

He wants their church life to be sweet. 

 

And that’s what the Lord wants from you.  That’s what he wants for our church.

   He knows that in this life troubles will come. 

   And he wants you to have joy in the midst of those trials.

And one of the great means he has given, is life in the local church. 

   He wants you to cultivate that life.

   He wants life in the body of Christ to be a sort of training ground for the rest of

   life.  It’s here that we not only work out our sanctification, we also see other

   Christians doing the same.

 

So what do you do when fellow church members rub you the wrong way?

   Where do you turn?  Where do you find the help and inspiration to live this life?

This seems so basic, so fundamental.  It seems like the answer is simple.

   Eliza and Adrienne have been teaching the Kindergarten Sunday school class,

   and I’ve sat in for a few Sundays and watched them. 

This is the kind of stuff they are working on with youngest church members—

   Love one another.  Be kind to one another.  That sort of thing.  It’s so basic.

 

So how does Paul inspire?  How does he motivate them for this most basic thing?

   He gives them something huge.  He says:  Look at the person and work of Christ.

   Look at his divinity.  Look at his incarnation.  Look at his humiliation on cross.

   Look at his heavenly glory at the Father’s right hand.

Fill your mind and heart with the truth about Jesus Christ.

   See that for our Savior the way up was down.

   And that he has blazed that trail for us.

 

The other day Will and I were working outside, and a bug crawled up next to us,

   Will picked up a hammer and smashed it. 

He said, Dad, Look, I crushed its body and it’s head fell off!

   That’s what the doctrine of Christ is. 

It’s a huge hammer smashing your selfishness.  It’s a hammer smashing your pride.

   The Word of God doesn’t give us a little doctrinal fly swatter.

   “Four tips on how to be a good friend.”

 

It drops the doctrine of Christ right smack-dab on top of my sin.

   Because I need all the help I can get in fighting my pride and self-centeredness.

And it is only by looking to Jesus Christ that I can get the strength

   to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, and to consider others

   better than myself, and to look to the interests of others.

 

And you drive that home through worship, through singing,

   and by thinking it through.  Applying it to the challenges of your life.

Saying:  I can speak to this person, I can be kind to him, because Jesus Christ

   humbled himself for me and now he is glorified.  This is the path to glory.

And, of course, I know you see that this doesn’t just apply to church conflicts—

   but to all the challenges of life.  Here’s the key, the cross of Christ and his glory.

 

How do you live together as husband and wife?  By looking to Christ.

   Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave self for her.

   Wives, honor your husbands as you honor the Lord.

   Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

How do you deal with criticisms or disappointments?

   By looking to Jesus Christ.  Imitating his humility and path to glory.

 

How is your Christology?  Do you know and worship and follow after Jesus Christ?

   Is his incarnation and life and death and glory the object of your worship,

   and the inspiration of your life?  Nothing less will do when hard times come.

Years ago we had some friends whose grandmother had Alzheimer’s.

   Her speech had been reduced to one word.  Jesus, she would say.  Jesus.

And knowing that she was a believer, and had devoted her life to following Jesus

   made that one word so precious.  Because you knew that though her mind was

   now clouded, throughout her lifetime she had thought deeply on the cross

   and glory of her Lord, and she still found strength and help in him.

 

May that be true of us now.  People who face the troubles of life.

   Mundane problems, even people in own church rubbing us the wrong way—

   but the first thing we say to ourselves is, Jesus.  And then we follow his steps.