Thinking in Christ
Series: Advent 2020
When we’re united to someone, we begin to think “in” them; we see their future as our future, their pains as our pains, their victories as our victories. if Christians are united to Christ, how do we think in Him? that’s what this passage is about.
Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Christology, Geerhadus Vos
We’re just over a month away with what seems clearer and clearer will be a transition of the presidency here in the United States. But when a presidency changes, it’s not just the president who changes. It’s all those who are united to that president: His cabinet, office staff, etc. When President Trump got elected, his people started thinking with him, “We’re going to White House.” Now President-elect Biden’s people are thinking the same thing. Well the Bible says that Christians are not ultimately united to a Presidential candidate. Our ultimate, life defining union, is our union with Christ. So how should we think? That’s what the passage we’re looking at today is about. It starts in verse 5 with this command: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. It’s saying since you are in Christ, think in Christ. Let His mind be yours. And the main way this section of the passage helps us do that is not by describing how we should think; that’s in the verses just before these. It doesn’t give us a technique; in fact, it doesn’t really talk about us at all. Instead, it gives us doctrine, the doctrine of Christ. In these verses, we’re taught how to think in Christ by seeing the mind of Jesus on full display, and what we’ll see is He emptied Himself, He humbled Himself, and therefore, God exalted Him.
He emptied Himself
If we are to think in Christ, we have to see how Christ thought, and that’s what this passage shows us. The first thing we see about him in verse 6 is that he was in the form of God, verse 7, before he was born in the likeness of men. We learn a few things about Jesus from this. First, we learn that He existed before He was born. You and I begin to exist when we are conceived, but Jesus existed before He began that process of birth in the likeness of men. That alone tells us that Jesus is no mere human, nor even a particularly great human. He’s something more, and indeed, if there was any question about that, it is dispelled in this ascription to Him, that not only was He before He was born, but what He was, was in the form of God.
What does that mean? The word “form” here has a fairly broad range of possible meanings, and when we encounter a word like that, we want to get its meaning from the context around it. Here we see as we keep reading in verse 6 that being in the form of God meant being equal with God. Since the Bible is clear that there is only 1 God, and none is His equal, we can at least conclude from this that to be in the form of God means that Jesus was truly God, one in being with God the Father. There was never a time when He was not. We get another clue in verse 7, where we read that Jesus took on the form of a servant (same word), and we read there that the way He took on the form of a servant was by being born in the likeness of men. So there is also there a sense of outward expression. The form that is fitting for God is to be exalted, to be served. The form that is fitting for a human is to be a servant: To serve God as His people.
One more question remains, then, for us to explain this, and then I’ll attempt a summary. What does it mean in verse 7, when it says Jesus emptied Himself? Does it mean that He ceased to be God? No; it cannot mean that. Part of what it means to be God is that you do not change. Malachi 3:6 says, “I, the LORD, do not change.” Certainly what that means is God cannot cease to exist. So Jesus doesn’t cease to be God, but when He becomes human, being born in the likeness of men, He kinda has two options: Since He is both God and man, He can assume the form proper to God, or the form proper to man: He can be served as God, or He can serve as man, and the emptying means He empties Himself of the form proper to God. Though He’s still God and deserves to be served as much as God; He is equal to God; He does not grasp that equality. He empties Himself of the right to be served and instead takes on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
This is the profound mystery of the doctrine we call the incarnation, God the Son becoming man. Christians have summarized it in various ways, some more logical, some more poetic. Augustine said, “He became what He was not without ceasing to be what He was.” One of our great hymns says, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity” and “Mild he lays His glory by.” Probably the best illustration I’ve heard of it, though, is a true story of a tribe in Africa ruled by a chief. The chief wears a headdress and ceremonial robes to display that he is the chief. We could say, using the language of our passage, that is the form proper to him. In this tribe, water was scarce. In order to get it, they had to dig wells, but not the pristine wells people in America have when they live on farms. They would dig these wells a hundred feet into the ground, and intentionally make it somewhat difficult to get down into them, digging slits in the wall some distance apart from one another, so that nobody could come and steal the water that was scarce. Only the strongest men in the tribe could successfully go down in there, fill water skins, and carry them back up on their backs.
Well, one day, one of the men was climbing back up with water on his back, fell backwards, and broke his leg. He was in great pain, and the people of the tribe panicked. There were already very few people who could carry water up out of the well; it didn’t seem like there was anyone who could carry a person up. So they went and told the chief, and do you know what the chief did? He removed his headdress. He removed his ceremonial robes, went all the way down to the bottom of that well, put the man with a broken leg on his back, and carried him back up. Now, at any point in that process, did he stop being the chief? No; but he did lay his glory by in order to take on the form of a servant.
That is what Jesus has done. He is true God: No beginning, no end. Before He was born, He was, and He was God. He is the one through whom and for whom all things were made. He is the one with every right to be served, and yet, He did not grasp that right. Instead, He emptied Himself of it, and took on the form of a servant by becoming human and being born like the rest of us, only without sin. In fact, even the conditions in which He was born demonstrate the form of a servant: Born in a manger where animals feed to a poor family of no fame. As another great Christmas song puts it, “Thou who wast rich, beyond all splendor, all for love’s sake, becamest poor. Thrones for a manger didst surrender, sapphire paved courts, for stable floor.”
Do you see the mind of Christ, then? Though He was in the form of God, He did not count, or in other words, He did not think equality with God a thing to be grasped. He had an incredible position, privilege, and right, but did not think of it as something to be held onto. The chief in our illustration had an incredible headdress and robes, but did not think of them as something to be held onto. What positions, privileges, and rights has God given you? Perhaps you are a manager of employees, the head of your household, parent of children, government official, pastor of a church. Think of these positions in Christ, not as a way to grasp glory and respect, but as a way to serve God and the interests of others. Or, perhaps you are under the leadership of another in any of those areas I’ve just mentioned. Do you resent it? Do you think it beneath you? How could you, when Christ did not consider taking on the form of a servant to be beneath Him? The reality is, everyone here today is above someone else in some way: In position, status, reputation, income, abilities, etc. Instead of looking up to get what someone above you has, thinking in Christ means looking around to give what you have. Instead of looking up to see who above you can serve your interests, thinking in Christ means looking out to see whose interests you can serve. I’ve seen so many of you members of Citylight serving our neighbors and considering one another’s interests especially since the stay-at-home order was first issued in March. Some of you know you’re healthier, so you’re taking the minor risk to serve with small things for neighbors who are at higher risk. Don’t lose sight of these things. Who could use a phone call today? Who needs prayer? Where do you have opportunities? Jesus was the one with every right to demand to be served, but He emptied Himself. And, it actually goes even deeper. He also humbled Himself.
He humbled Himself
Of course, emptying Himself was an act of humility already on Christ’s part. When the one who has every right to be served takes on the form of a servant, that’s humble. But verse 8 tells us that being found in human form, He still humbled Himself yet further! Not only did He become a human servant, but He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Though He was truly God, He became human and took upon Himself the demands of God’s law, both the demand of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, and the demand of punishment to any who did not obey. Though He was equal with God the Father, He now takes on a position of having to obey God the Father on our behalf, and having to suffer the wrath of God the Father for our sins.
The Bible story begins in a garden without suffering, pain, or difficulty. The first human, Adam, is given all the trees of the garden from which to eat, and we’re even told they were good for food and a delight to the eyes. The obedience God requires of Him is summarized in one command: You can eat from all the trees of this garden, except one. If you eat of it, you’ll be cursed. But one temptation comes in, and he disobeys. He wasn’t having a bad day, there was no past trauma he hadn’t processed, he wasn’t physically or mentally ill: He had every chance and every reason to obey, and he refused. And because he refused, God pronounced a curse on him and all his children.
Now Jesus is born into that world, the cursed world. Now God’s law has been spelled out in much greater detail. Now obedience only comes through pain and suffering. Now people do sin against you. Now our minds and bodies do get ill. When Jesus faces the same tempter Adam faced, now it’s not in a garden full of trees that are good for food and a delight to the eyes; it’s in a desert, and he’s not eaten for 40 days. And His obedience could only be complete if He also suffered the death Adam’s sin and ours deserves. This He did, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. We didn’t just have broken legs at the bottom of the well. We were dead at the bottom, and the only way we could be brought to life again is if Jesus came down and died with us. Once His headdress and robes were removed, that’s what He did.
Thinking in Christ, then, means not only viewing no service as beneath you, but viewing no obedience as beneath you. If you ever find yourself thinking, “Ok, I know God says to do that, but come on; let’s be realistic,” think again. If you ever find yourself thinking, “I know God says not to do _______, but I shouldn’t have to ______,” think again. Jesus is the one who actually didn’t have to obey, but He humbled Himself and chose to so we could be saved. How could we then exempt ourselves? We serve others ultimately because we are servants of God. And though we’ve refused to serve God, Jesus became a servant for us and subjected Himself to the demands and penalty of the law for us, so we could be forgiven and restored in Him. Let that mind that obeyed at all costs for you be your mind now. And finally, because Jesus obeyed in this way, God exalted Him.
God exalted Him
Note the “therefore” of verse 9. Therefore, God has highly exalted Him. Because He obeyed, He was rewarded. That Jesus was highly exalted here means He was risen from the dead, but not only that, that He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. That was the reward Adam was supposed to receive had he obeyed: eternal life and glory in the presence of God. But now Christ has obeyed where he failed and where all of us too have failed, and therefore God has highly exalted Him.
And just as there was an added depth to His humiliation, now there is an added height to His exaltation. He not only receives the glory Adam would have received, but a glory fitting His divine person, a glory fit only for one who is truly in the form of God. God bestows on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will 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. The name of Jesus is now invested with this unique glory, and we see evidence of it even today. People may speak of God, “the man upstairs,” “the almighty,” or perhaps even “the Lord,” but say “Jesus” and watch it get real. Jesus existed before He became man, and He was equal with God, but His name wasn’t Jesus. He hadn’t yet emptied Himself, become a human servant, and become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Now that He has, His glory is on display in a way it never was before.
Now we know His name, now we see His glory in all that He’s done, and now we can even call Him Lord, as the confession of verse 11 reads: Jesus Christ is Lord. Throughout the Bible, Lord is the unique title of God alone, and yet here, Scripture gives it to Jesus in His exaltation. Another of the songs we sing around Christmas time says “Jesus, Lord at thy birth,” which is technically true, because He was still God, but He didn’t wear the nametag at His birth. When He rose from the dead, God slapped the nametag on Him clearly for all to see: Jesus is the name above every name, and Jesus is Lord over all.
And the day is coming when all will acknowledge Him as such. At the name of Jesus every knee will bow. Those who trusted Him in this life will bow willingly and gladly, those who did not will hate it, but will bow nonetheless, and face His judgment. Once again, this is a unique prerogative of God. In Isaiah 45:22, God says, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’” God is saying, “I am God, and there is no other, and to me every knee shall bow, so turn to me and be saved now!” And now Jesus is described as Lord, and to Him every knee shall bow. So believe in Him now. Bend the knee to Him now. Confess now that Jesus Christ is Lord.
And this in no way detracts from the glory of God the Father. On the contrary, our passages ends by saying that every knee will bow to Jesus Christ and say that He is LORD, to the glory of God the Father. The Son only has done what He saw the Father doing. The glory we see in Him is the glory of the Father shining through. And in the end, because God exalted Christ, if you are in Christ, you will be exalted with Him, not to the name that is above every name, not so every knee bows to you; that’s His glory alone. Only He was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, but because He was, therefore, if you are in Him, you will also be risen from the dead and given a place in His heavenly kingdom.
If you’re constantly looking for a reward on earth, you won’t be able to really keep serving and humbling yourself. You can do it for a bit, but then you’ll start to think, “Man, I sure am giving a lot; and what thanks am I getting for it?” That’s not the mind of Christ. Thinking in Christ is something more like, “Man, in comparison to what Christ has given for me, I sure am giving very little. And yet amazingly, God is going to reward me and exalt me one day for this little. Really?” Yes, really. Think in Christ, who though He was truly God, did not think of His divine rights as something to hold on to, but mildly laid His glory by, took on the form of a servant, and willingly subjected Himself to obey and suffer under the law in your place. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him a glory unique to God alone. So trust in Him, think in Him, and one day, God will exalt you in Him.