The Condescension of Christ – Philippians 2:1-11

 

Have you ever been on a vacation which was so perfect – so wonderful – that you hated to return? Maybe it was to a place of absolute luxury, or a place of apparent perfect peace. Back home you knew that you had serious problems to solve or you knew that stress would immediately bring you back to the breaking point. But for a week, or maybe two weeks, you were absolutely free of those things – then it ended. What might be some words which might describe your condition when you got back to the real world: “Disoriented, disappointed, depressed …..”?

Now, I’d like you to try to do the impossible: Imagine what the Son of God was experiencing prior to His incarnation. What are some words which might describe His condition and position before He became incarnate? “Glory, perfection, worship and adoration, supremacy, holiness………”? A word the Bible uses, but which doesn’t begin to describe Christ’s pre-incarnation condition is “rich.” II Corinthian 8:9 – “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he WAS rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” The word means what we would expect – “wealthy; abounding in resources.” But behind the word lays an infinite more.

There must be ten thousand things which make the Lord Jesus unique among men. One of the excellencies of Christ is the sacrifice which He made just to come to this planet in order to become our Saviour. Take the change from perfect vacation to problems at home, and multiply them a thousand times. That would only begin to describe what was involved when the Son of God became the Son of man. The term which the theologians sometimes give to that specific sacrifice of Christ is – “Condescension.”

This morning, I’d like us to briefly contemplate the condescension of the Son of God.

But first, we need to realize is there a difference between the “condescension” of Christ and His “humiliation.” It is easy to confound these two concepts – they are clearly related – but different. Notice Philippians 2:8 – “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” The scripture tells us that Christ was humbled at Calvary, but His birth was something else. And besides, was the Lord Jesus humbled by the Roman soldiers? (Some would say, “yes.”) But “what saith the scriptures?” “He humbled himself.” Let’s word the question differently: Was the life of the Lord Jesus taken from Him by the Romans? It can be argued He was killed by the Romans. and it can it be argued that He was killed by the Jews. Then, what is meant by Jesus’ words, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit?” Usually crucifixion took days before the victim died. Why did Christ’s death only take a few hours? Because He “gave up” His spirit. In much the same way, we can think about the humiliation of Christ. Was Jesus humbled by the Roman soldiers? (Absolutely.) But in another sense Christ only permitted them to behave contemptuously towards Him. And thus it might be argued the Lord Jesus humbled Himself when He permitted them to crucify Him. “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

Our subject this morning is the CONDESCENSION of Christ. We have be careful not to let our ears confuse to “condescension” with is “condensation.” I have to be more careful than you, because I could easily say one, when I mean the other.. I remember as a child a very embarrassing situation when I could not hear the difference between the words “present” and “president.”

“Condensation” is the act of condensing something. It might be the act of changing something from a gas to a liquid. Or it is the act of taking water out of something like the condensing of milk – into condensed milk. Or it is the act of reducing the volume of something – condensing and making it smaller. Theologically speaking, the word “condensation” should not be applied to the Son of God. The word we are thinking about this morning is “condescension” not condensation.” I make the point because I want you to understand that the Son of God didn’t become anything less by way of His incarnation. There was nothing sucked out of Him; He wasn’t any less divine, for example.

What is the definition of the word “condescend?” It is the act of descending to take a position or station lower than before. Has there ever been a United States President who left office and was elected to the U.S. Congress? Has any President became a state senator or governor? If he had then that would have been act of condescension. He would have descended from one level of government to a lesser level of government. Has there ever been a king who voluntarily changed places with an imprisoned criminal? Which of those acts of condescension would have been the greater?

Now, would either of these examples have been a greater condescension than that which the Son of God made in His incarnation? Perhaps we need to define the word “incarnation.” To become incarnate is to take up a physical form, like the idea of a statue which the sculptor has. He envisions the war hero on a horse, and through his skill the chunk of marble almost becomes alive. When the Son of God left Heaven to become a man, He became “incarnate.” When Christ became incarnate it was an act of unbelievable condescension. The distance He traveled from Heaven to humanity was greater than the sculptor’s idea to the completion and dedication of his statue. It was infinitely greater than your peaceful vacation back to the hectic life in town.

Let’s think about what Paul is telling us here in Philippians 2:1-11.

It is not Paul’s primary purpose to teach us some fundamental doctrine. He is giving us instructions about us and our lives, rather than essential doctrine about Christ. But Bible doctrine is never far from practical reality. “Orthodoxy produces orthopraxy.” We live our lives according to our faith – what we really believe, not what we profess. Remember that Philippi was primarily a Roman military community with a growing mercantile trade. Like most of the early churches outside of Israel, the members came from a mixed cultural background. The purpose of Philippians 2 was to encourage everyone to get along. “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”

It is important that we don’t forget the context from which we dig our most important doctrines. As Christians, we been predestinated to be conformed to Christ’s image. That conformation is not supposed to begin when we are glorified and removed from this world. What do the words “let nothing be done through strife” mean? The words “let nothing be done through vainglory” remind us to empty ourselves of pride. Whose situation should we consider first – our own or our fellow Christian’s? What should be our highest standard in seeking to solve contentions between fellow church members? Even before the wonderful eternity of our glorification with Christ, we are supposed to strive to have the same mind as Christ. We are to have the same way of thinking, the same attitude, the same spirit as our Saviour. And we begin to see that in His condescension.

“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” What does this verse say about the deity of Christ? Can any created being be in the form of God? Colossians 1:15 reminds that Christ Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” And Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Christ is the “brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his person.” The whole nature of God is contained in Christ Jesus, and by Him God is revealed to hearts like ours.

Christ, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:” This is a controversial passage of scripture, and even people who claim to be fundamentalists quarrel about the meanings of these words and the way they should be translated. I am of the opinion that the Holy Spirit guided our translators so that we have here in our King James Bibles what He wanted us to read. What is “robbery? “ My English dictionary says it is “the act or an instance of unlawfully taking the property of another by the use of violence or intimidation.” Strong’s Greek definition makes robbery “the simple act of seizing something.” And then there is that word “thought” – Christ “thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” Paul was saying that God the Son did not reckon equality with the Father something to be seized. Would it have been robbery for Christ to be, or to declare himself to be equal to God the Father? It certainly would have been for anyone else. But that was something which was His by indisputable right. “In Christ is the fulness of the God-head, bodily.” By the way, can you hear Paul thinking about the fall of Satan when he writes this? Lucifer wanted through robbery to be equal or greater than Jehovah.

The key word in verse 6 is probably not “robbery” but the word “equal.” What does that word mean? It’s the same word as in John 5:18 – “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” This statement has the same weight as – “I and my Father are one.”

And yet He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” So far was the Son from tenaciously insisting upon His personal rights as a member of the Trinity, He voluntarily relinquished them. He willingly set aside the magnificent distinctions of the Creator to appear in the form of a creature. And more specifically – what KIND of creature did the Lord become? A man. Was Jesus a real man or just the likeness of a real man? He was a genuine son of Adam. So why is the word “likeness” used in verse 7? Doesn’t Romans 8 make the reason nice and clear? “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”

For what did the Lord exchange His glory? It was not for “reputation.” The words “no reputation” are the Greek word “ken-o-o” and the literal meaning is that He “emptied Himself.” In order to become a servant of God – in order to become the servant of Jehovah” according to Old Testament prophecies, the Son of God emptied Himself of the prerogatives of deity. He didn’t cease to be God, but He chose not to behave as God. Be very clear – It was God who condescended to become man – to become manifest in the flesh. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” The One who was born in Bethlehem’s manger was the “mighty God.” “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

What is the importance of this doctrine?

What makes the condescension of the Son so vitally important? Galatians 4:4-5 – “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” For centuries before the incarnation, God-ordained priests had been offering various God-proscribed sacrifices for the sins of the people. But every one of those sacrifices were failures in the sense that they couldn’t atone for sin. They fulfilled a purpose in pointing to the coming divine “Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” But they were a inadequate because an ordinary animal cannot meet the eternal need of a sinful person.

It was absolutely essential for our salvation that there be a perfect, sinless sacrifice. That sacrifice had to be able to fully represent the sinner – it had to be an acceptable substitute for the sinner – a human being. But it also had to be completely without sin. There was only one way to accomplish the combination of those two things – the incarnation. From the perspective of the Son of God, the incarnation was an act of incomparable condescension. There never has been a greater act of condescension than when the Son of God became the Son of Man.

And what was Paul’s point when he brought this to our attention here in Philippians 2? “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus; Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:” As sinners we desperately need the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. And as Christians we desperately need to become more like Him in order to give Him the glory due to Him. But obviously the first step must be salvation.

Do you believe that the Son of God became a perfectly sinless child of Adam – a man? Do you believe, as the Bible teaches, Christ Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life? Do you believe that Christ died a sinner’s death in order to deliver sinners from the penalty of their sins? Fine! Now, do you believe that trust that Christ died specifically to save you from your sins? Do you live humbly and repentantly before God worshiping Christ as your Lord and Saviour? Is your faith and hope for forgiveness of sin resting on the Sons of God? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”