Summary: We'll have unity when we have humility, we'll have humility when we do like Christ did, and we come all the way down. I hope that every time you read that passage you'll not only think about Christ but you'll compare yourself to the standard because ...
Opening illustration: Bill, a college student, was a new Christian. According to author Rebecca Manley Pippert, one Sunday he visited a church near campus. He walked in barefoot and was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. The service had already started, so he walked down the aisle looking for a seat. Finding none, he sat down cross-legged on the floor-right in front of the pulpit! The congregation became noticeably uneasy. Then, from the back of the church, an elderly deacon got up and with his cane slowly made his way to the front. Every eye followed him. The minister paused and there was total silence. As the old gentleman approached Bill, he dropped his cane and with great effort lowered himself and sat down beside him so the young man wouldn’t have to worship alone. Many in the congregation were deeply moved.
Paul wrote that Christ, being equal with God, set aside His reputation, and became obedient unto death - the ultimate act of humility (Philippians 2:6-8). Why? To come to us in our loneliness, to forgive our sins, and to teach us a new way to live and worship. When we learn to think as Jesus thought, we see people through the same eyes as that godly deacon. May we learn how to humble ourselves for the benefit of others. (Dennis J. De Haan, ODB)
Let us turn to Paul’s letter to the Philippian Christians in chapter 2 and meditate and apply the humility Christ showed through His life in ours.
Introduction: Our text was NOT primarily written as a warning to unbelievers; it was intended to be an incentive and an example for Christians. It was meant to teach us about humility, using our Lord Jesus Christ as the supreme example of humility. Have we thought of our Lord as subordinating His interests to ours, and His happiness to ours? Have we wanted to think of God as serving me, rather than we as His servants (remember Paul’s words in 1:1).
Now our Lord did come to serve, rather than to be served (Mark 10:45), but our whole focus and orientation in looking at this text has been wrong if I think only in terms of the benefits I have received from our Lord’s incarnation, suffering, and death on the cross of Calvary. Paul’s words remind us that our Lord put His Father’s interests above His own, and the fruit of this is seen in His obedience to the Father’s will, even unto death. The result is that our Lord is exalted, but the primary aim of our Lord was to bring glory to the Father. He did not subordinate His interests to the interests of the Father in order to further His own interests. He subordinated His interests to the Father’s; so that the Father’s best interests would be served. Our Lord’s exaltation was a fringe benefit, as we see it now, and not His primary goal.
How can we imitate Christ’s humility?
1. Walking in UNITY - SUBMISSIVENESS (vs. 1-2)
The apostle introduced his comments on submissiveness by giving his readers four incentives. He stated each one in a conditional clause that he introduced with the word "if." He assumed each one to be true for the sake of his argument (a first class condition in Greek). The translators have supplied the verb that Paul did not state. The NASB has "there is," but the NIV gives a better sense of Paul's meaning with "you have." We could read each of the four clauses, "Since you have …"
(i) The first reason Christians can and should be submissive to God and to one another, is that Jesus Christ has exhorted us to do so ("encouragement in Christ"). His teachings while on the earth, as well as those that followed through His apostles after He returned to heaven, especially Paul, encourage us to be humble. Similarly, Jesus' personal example during His earthly ministry also encourages us.
(ii) Second, Paul's love for the Philippians, which came as an encouraging (rather than comforting) gift from God ("consolation of love"), should impel them to respond positively to his request also.
(iii) Third, the "fellowship (of the Spirit),"that the Holy Spirit creates, should also make Christians submissive. It seems best to take this reference as including both our participation in the Spirit, and the "in common life" (fellowship with other Christians) that He has created for us. We should probably regard the genitive as both objective and subjective rather than just objective. The former incentives also come from being in Christ and from love. Another interpretation is just our participation in the Spirit.
(iv) Fourth, the tenderness ("affection") and "compassion," or the affectionate sympathy, of God and Christ toward the Philippians would make unity normal and expected for this congregation.
Paul stated his exhortation for submissiveness in the first part of this verse, and then elaborated on it. The apostle wanted his readers to be "one" in their attitude ("of the same mind") and "purpose," so they could fulfill God's purpose for them, both individually and as a church. To accomplish this, they would need to be humble and submissive in these aspects of their lives. The result would be that Paul's "joy" because of this congregation, which was already great, would become "complete." Four participial phrases elaborate on this exhortation. The first is that the readers should maintain "love" for one another. The second is that they should maintain unity "in spirit" and in "purpose."