Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 9-11)
Here is the completion to the song/poem Paul shared with the Philippians as a teaching source on the humility that leads to unity. It began with an astonishing description of Jesus’ willingness to give up the right to express His deity so that he might accomplish our salvation. In humility of mind Jesus considered us more important than Himself and was moved to meet our needs above His own.
Now comes the startling and counter-intuitive exaltation of the humbled Jesus. Because he was willing to humble himself God rewarded him by elevating him back to his position of glory he had shared with God the Father from all eternity. And a declaration was made that he is indeed the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, the Lord, Yahweh, of whom Isaiah said, “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’” (Isaiah 45:23).
Though Jesus humbled himself and no one could see his glory from his mere appearance, every tongue will one day be required to acknowledge who he is. Those who can see who he is even in his humiliation have already acknowledged that he is Lord. The demons currently must confess that he is Lord. At the judgment, all knees will bow to him as their Sovereign. Yet this great king first gave up his own rights, even as we must, in order to benefit the many.
Jesus himself taught us this lesson when he was here in his humbled state. “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled,” he said, “and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). He taught it and he lived it. And now we must do the same. Yes, there is inside us a desire to exalt ourselves, to make sure that people know what we did that deserves credit, to take care of ourselves even at the expense of others, to want our way no matter what, to be selfish and self-absorbed. But this is the way of death. This is the way that leads to the kind of humbling that God brings.
The Pharisees had trouble learning this lesson. Politicians have trouble with it. Pastors, too. It is a danger of positions of leadership that we are tempted to think we are there because we are so great, rather than understand that God put us there to serve others. The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. The gospel will not advance outwardly (transforming hopeless people) or inwardly (transforming our residual sinful baggage and making us more like Jesus) unless we humble ourselves.
The quickest way up is down.