According to the law of gravity what goes up must inevitably come down. That is a law which governs the way that things work on this planet. It is an undeniable and unavoidable reality.
There are many such laws of physics and life that pertain to the physical realm of our existence. Likewise, there are spiritual laws which relate to all of us. There are undeniable spiritual laws, axioms if you will, that govern the affairs of men in relationship to God.
One of those is a principle often cited in the Bible: “Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” Those who lift themselves up in pride, will be humbled by God. Those who humble themselves before God, shall be exalted.
This correlates with another principle found in the Bible: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” You will find this principle repeatedly cited in Scripture also.
Jesus spoke of such matters.
On one occasion he was invited to the house of one of the Pharisees for a meal. He noticed how the invited guests were vying to sit in the places of honor at the table. So, he spoke a parable to them about how a person, if invited to a wedding feast, should not take the place of honor, because someone more distinguished might come along. And there would then be embarrassment if that guest was moved to the lowest place at the table. Instead, the guest should proceed to the last place, so that he might instead be moved to a more prestigious place and be honored in that way. And Jesus summarized the parable by saying, “For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:7-11).
On another occasion he spoke a parable to those who were trusting in themselves in their own righteousness and looking on others with contempt. The parable had to do with two men who went up to the temple to pray. The first prayed to himself. He thanked God that he was not like other people: “swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer.” The second was unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, “but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner’.” Jesus summarized the parable by saying: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
On a third occasion Jesus was speaking to the multitude concerning the Pharisees. He spoke of how the Pharisees loved the places of honor and how they gladly received respectful greetings, like “Rabbi” and “Teacher.” And in doing that they were living contrary to this spiritual principle of which we have spoken. And Jesus said regarding their misguided ambitions: “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:6-12).
This spiritual axiom is proven to be valid in the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the preeminent example of the truth that “he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” And that’s what we find here in Philippians 2.
Philippians 2:5-8 speaks to the humility of Christ. Philippians 2:9-11 speaks to His exaltation.
But let’s back up, before we go any further, and do a bit of review.
We have noted how God has called us, as believers, to a radically different way of thinking and living (Philippians 2:3-4). This way of thinking is contrary to the way the world, the flesh, and the devil thinks. These think that “looking out for number one” is the way to go. According to the world’s economy, in this sinful way of thinking, it is perfectly okay and proper to idolize oneself.
But God calls us to a way of thinking and living that is characterized by humility and servant-mindedness and a propensity to put the needs of others ahead of ourselves. “Love does not seek its own.” And this radical way of thinking and living is according to this Biblical definition of love.
The radical way of thinking and living is exemplified in the Lord Jesus. Amazingly, God’s word exhorts us to adopt the attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:5). We are to adopt His way of thinking. This will require of us, of course, a change in the way that we think—by the Spirit in the renewing of our mind.
So, what do we find as we consider this example of Jesus. The key facet of His example is His humility. We are called to “humility of mind.” He demonstrated humility. The eternal Son of God relinquished His divine prerogatives. “Though He was rich…He became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He became a man. He took on servanthood. He humbled Himself in obedience. He suffered and died on a cross.
And in all of this He is set forth as an example to us of how we are to think and live.
- Was Jesus selfless? We are to be like Jesus in that.
- Was Jesus servant-minded? We are to be like Jesus in His servant-minded perspective.
- Was Jesus humbly submitted to the Father in obedience? We are likewise called to submit ourselves to God and to others in humble obedience.
- Was Jesus willing to suffer? “It has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).
Now the cross was not the end of the story for Jesus. Nor is servant-mindedness and suffering the end of the story for any of His followers. Jesus did what He did on the cross looking forward to His reward. He was living according to the principle of which we have already spoken: “But he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” In the words of the author of Hebrews, Jesus did what He did for the joy that was set before Him. Hebrews 12:2, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising His shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” First the cross, then the crown. First humility, then exaltation.
“Therefore, also God highly exalted Him.”
The term exalted is a particular Greek term which means “to exalt to the highest rank and power, to raise to supreme majesty.” God “super-exalted” Jesus.
And what we have here in Philippians 2:5-11 is the grand example of the truth of which we have been spoken, “he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” To what extent did Jesus humble himself? To the maximum extent possible. In descending from the heights of heaven to humbling himself to the point of death on a cross, he humbled himself beyond that of any person in the history of men. And note that “He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:8). He was not humbled by others. He deliberately chose that path. He “super-humbled” Himself.
And as we remember the events leading up to His death we see clearly how He humbled Himself.
- He knew full well what would happen, but He set His face to go to Jerusalem.
- In His prayer, He submitted Himself in obedience to the Father, “Yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39).
- When He was arrested, He did not resist arrest.
- When He was tried, He did not plead His innocence.
- When He was beaten, He did not strike back.
- When He was reviled, He did not revile in return.
- And He was put on that cruel cross, and object of mocking and scorn. He was mocked and insulted by the soldiers, by the religious leaders, by those passing by, and by the two thieves who were crucified with Him.
- And a sign was placed above His head. It was written in three languages. It was the charge held against Him. It appeared to mock Him too, saying, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
- And people insulted Him, saying, “He saved others, He cannot save Himself” (Matthew 27:42).
- And He is all alone. Utterly forsaken. The sin of the world is put upon Him. He bears our sins and cries out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46).
So, on the other side of this spiritual axiom, we have the expected result. “He who humbles Himself shall be exalted.” So, what if someone were to super-humble themselves in a transcendent and preeminent manner? What would we expect in that case? Well it is exactly as we suppose—according to this spiritual law—that person would be “super-exalted” to a place of preeminent honor.
And this is exactly what we read about in the history of Jesus. He was born into this world. He lived among men as a servant. He humbled Himself to the point of death. He died on a cross for sins. He rose from the dead. And in Acts chapter 1 we read of how He ascended to heaven. And in his first sermon, Peter preached on these matters. And we read in Acts 2:32-33, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God…”
Some might wonder “Where is Jesus now?” The Apostle Peter acknowledged the fact that we “do not see Him now” (1 Peter 1:8). But we believe in Him and love Him and know that He is now in heaven exalted to the right hand of God.
The Apostle Paul spoke to this (Ephesians 1:20-21): “He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.”
Likewise, the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 1:3), said: “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
Charles Spurgeon, “He stooped, who can tell how low? He was raised, who shall tell how high? “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him. ” He threw away his name; he emptied himself of his reputation. How high is his reputation now! How glorious is the name that God hath given him as the reward of his redemptive work!”
And He stands in this super-exalted position in relation to the church, His body. From heaven He exercises authority (Matthew 28:18). From heaven He is at work preparing His bride, the church, for His return (Ephesians 5:27). From heaven He intercedes on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25). God has given to Him the Highest Place, the Highest Name, and the Highest Reign.
The One who died for sins in humility, is now exalted to the right hand of God in glory. And He’s coming again and will reign over all.
Now, in sin, some still mock Him. According to 1 Corinthians 1:23 the message of Christ crucified is “to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.” They deny the reality of His death and resurrection. They refuse to obey the gospel. They use His name for a curse word.
But none of this will work to dethrone Him from His super-exalted position. He rules even now and is coming again, and all things will be brought into subjection under His authority. And for us, as believers, this is a comforting truth. We are members of His body. He is our head. He is our captain, our commander, the author and perfecter of faith. He is our champion. He has defeated all our foes—sin, death, and the devil Himself. He has been super-exalted in this triumphant position. We, the members of His body, have nothing to fear. He has overwhelmingly conquered, we will too.
Or, to put this is real practical terms, we believe that Jesus, the son of a carpenter, who lived about 2000 years ago and who was executed on a cross, rose from the dead and is alive today in heaven where He ascended to the right hand of God. Even now, He reigns, “as ruler over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5) and is coming again “to judge the world” (Acts 17:31). Things are not spirally out-of-control in our world, to some unforeseen conclusion. The ascended Jesus is coming again. Those who have refused the gospel will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction. Those who have believed in Him will be glorified with Him
There are a couple of other important lessons for us here:
The fact that He has been super-exalted by God implies that God was satisfied with the sacrifice He made for sins. He finished the work. Hebrews 1:3, “When He made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Through His death for sins and resurrection from the dead He has provided a means for lost sinners to be saved. His ascension proves that.
Going back to the spiritual principle that we started with. We see it perfectly fulfilled in the person of Jesus…
“Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
This principle applies to the matter of salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. But that grace is received, and that faith is expressed by way of humility. Salvation comes to those who humble themselves before God, acknowledging that there is nothing that they can do to merit or earn salvation from their sins. Instead they confess their sins and turn their eyes to the provision God has made for their salvation in Jesus. To those who believe in Jesus God gives the right to become children of God (John 1:12).
The path of humility exemplified to us in Jesus is the path that He has called us, as believers, to also. We have already seen how we are to avoid selfishness and empty conceit. And how we are to instead, in humility of mind, regard others as more important. We are called, in this manner, to walk according to a Christ-like way of thinking and living. And this is a manner of life which is pleasing to God and meets with Divine approval.
The Apostle Peter put it this way (1 Peter 5:5-6): “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He might exalt you at the proper time.” In other words, live like Jesus. Humbly serve Jesus by serving others. In due time you will receive your reward.
As one writer put it, “As a consequence, God exalted Him. Thus, in the divine economy of things, by giving a person receives, by serving he is served, by losing his life he finds it, by dying he lives, by humbling himself he is exalted. The one follows the other as night follows day, but always in order—self-sacrifice before the self being exalted by God.”