Carmen Christi

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should 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 (Philippians 2:5-11).

The passage before us is known as the ‘Carmen Christi’ or ‘Hymn to Christ as God’. It is one of the most precious passages in the whole of Scripture – worthy to be written in letters of gold. Within a few lines of poetry, we find the whole Gospel beautifully summarised. Paul urges the Philippians to have this Gospel ‘in mind’ as a reflection of the mind of Christ who humbled Himself as the Saviour of sinners. In other words, this hymn ought to shape our thoughts and our affections. We are to have the mind of Christ formed in us – this Christ-like spirit of humility. Paul is calling upon the Church to be gracious, lowly, kind, compassionate, and self-giving, even as Christ gave Himself to death upon the Cross. There is a connection between the objective reality of the Gospel and the responsibility of Christian conduct: ‘Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus’ (v.5). The ethos of the Church ought to reflect the mind of Christ. We are to be a people of love: tender, merciful, compassionate, kind, generous, selfless, and charitable. We are to be conformed to His image – a people who follow Jesus Christ. 

Think of the incomparable grace that the Lord Christ has shown us in our salvation. He came into this world for us. He went to the Cross for us. He shed His blood, and gave His life, and He died for us. This message should penetrate our minds, and sink into our hearts, and transform our lives. We need the knowledge in our heads of this Gospel to sink into our hearts and make us more like Jesus in our conduct and affection. This encounter with the Crucified God in Scripture ought radically to change us, so that He becomes everything to us. His mind, His values, His ethos, His love, His mercy, His grace must be impressed upon our hearts. There is something profound and uncanny about His obedience unto death:
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain –
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Wesley had an experiential awareness of the amazing love that Christ – the Immortal God – demonstrates to lost mankind by dying in our stead. He saw and felt the wonder of it all. It was real to Him. My friends, have we lost sight of that? When did we last feel anything at all? Any love? Any joy? Any hope? Any sorrow? How can we stand before the Cross of Christ and the blood He shed unmoved? The exhortation to ‘have this in mind’ is essential. We must have this experiential Christianity. This wonderful Gospel of Christ coming into the world, dying upon the Cross, rising from the dead, and ascending to the right hand of God, ought to permeate our minds, transform our affections, and melt our hearts with love.

We see that there’s basically two parts to this hymn: the humiliation of Christ (vv. 6–8) and the exaltation of Christ (vv. 9–1). The Lord Christ comes down from the heights of heaven to the death of the Cross, and from death to resurrection, and from resurrection to glory everlasting. 

1] Firstly, I would like us to think upon the humiliation of Christ (vv. 6–8). ‘Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped’ (v.6). Jesus Christ was in the form of God. This is a reference to His eternal pre-existence as God the Son. We often use the word ‘form’ differently today, but the meaning of ‘form’ in Greek thought, the language of the New Testament, expresses the idea of His ‘essential nature’. The simple and plain meaning of our text is that Jesus Christ in His very essence is God. As the writer to the Hebrews says, Jesus is the ‘brightness of the Father’s glory, the express image of His person’ (Hebrews 1:3). All the reality, the complete form and being of God, is most perfectly expressed in the person of Christ. The Lord Jesus didn’t come into existence at some point in time. He is eternally the Son of God. He is one with the Father and the Spirit. He is mighty, majestic, and powerful. He is infinite, eternal, and unchanging. He is the Creator of heaven and earth. This vast universe was formed by His power and is sustained by His powerful Word. This is the incredible starting point from which Paul begins expounding the work of Christ. He begins with the deity and the glory of Christ as God. That’s where the story of redemption begins: in the heights of heaven’s glory with the eternal Son of God who condescends to rescue lost mankind. 

The deity of Christ is so essential to His nature that ‘He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped’ (v.6b). Think of Satan trying to usurp God – to rob God of His glory, to grasp at His power and majesty. It’s not like that with Jesus Christ. He is equal with God by nature. He doesn’t grasp at deity. He doesn’t rob God of His glory. He is God. He is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, but in humility He is willing to set aside His glory, to assume human nature, even to face the death of the Cross. Can you imagine a great King coming down to the slums to live with the poor and needy? That’s what Jesus Christ has done. He remains the King of the Universe, but He comes down freely into the human situation. He comes down to the slums of earth – to a world of sin and degradation. He comes down into misery, and suffering, and sorrow. He comes into a world of tears – a world of sickness and death. There’s no pride in the heart of Christ. Though He is the King of heaven and earth by right, yet He has a humble, gentle, merciful, and compassionate heart. He didn’t grasp at the glory and majesty of God as though unsure of His position and status as the Son. He knows that He is God the Son. He is fully self-aware of His power and majesty, yet He freely comes into this world that He might seek and save the lost. There is something deeply practical about Jesus Christ. He’s not an armchair theologian. He’s not a god of the philosophers. He’s sees the desperate need of sinners, and He hears the cries of lost mankind, and He comes in the flesh to rescue and to save. He rolls up His sleeves and gets on with the business of redemption. He doesn’t sit in an ivory tower moving chess pieces, but He comes to our reality. He comes right down into the muck and the mess of life to lift us up from the miry pit.

‘He made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men’ (v.7). Paul is not saying that Jesus Christ ceased to be God in the incarnation, rather as Paul says to the Colossians, ‘For in Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form’ (Colossians 2:9). There is no subtraction of deity, only the addition of frail humanity. He makes Himself nothing – ‘of no reputation’ (KJV). He becomes the great nobody. He becomes like an undercover King clothed in beggar’s rags. He becomes God incognito – God in disguise. He clothes Himself in human nature. He takes a body like our own, being born of in the likeness of men. ‘He took the form of a servant while He retained the form of God’ (William Hendriksen). And these two natures (divine and human) are perfectly united in the person of Jesus Christ – the God-man. It’s not that Christ simply appears to be like a man, but that He is a real man. Though He is truly God, yet He is truly man. His humanity is as real as His deity. That’s why John in the prologue to His Gospel uses the word ‘flesh’: ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). There’s something tangible about the idea of ‘flesh’. There is a physical reality to this incarnation. I’ve heard it described as ‘the enfleshment of God’. He takes a real body – skin, nails, teeth, hair, bones, organs, capillaries, arteries, veins, a human heart, a human mind, a human soul. He assumes the whole reality of humanity, yet without sin. He is consubstantial with us according to the manhood, but sinless and pure in every way.

‘And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross’ (v.8). In the divine nature alone, it would be impossible for Christ to suffer and die. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchanging in His being. You cannot crucify God. You cannot hurt God or humiliate God. He is invincible and invisible. He is a pure, immortal, almighty spirit. He’s not subject to physical pain and suffering like human beings.  In order to suffer human frailty and die for humanity, the Lord Christ had to be ‘found in human form’. Therefore, He takes our nature upon Himself and He humbles Himself in obedience to the will of His Heavenly Father. He is obedient, but we were disobedient. He is holy, but we are unholy. He fulfilled the Law of God, but we’ve broken it. We’ve not loved God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We’ve not loved our neighbour as we love ourselves. We’ve hated God. We’ve trampled upon His commandments. We’ve put Self on the throne and pushed God aside. The Lord Jesus Christ, however, was obedient in every way. He satisfied the demands of God’s Law perfectly. He was the Man of love. He loved God as His delight and highest good. He loved humanity. He was always kind and gentle with broken and sinful people. He was perfect in obedience. He is altogether righteousness and holy. He is just, good, faithful, gracious, loving, and fair. 

There is a consequence for human rebellion against the righteousness commandments of a Holy God. There is a penalty to pay – a debt is owed. There is a sentence upon sin – ‘the wages of death’ (Romans 6:23). Not merely physical death, but death to God – alienation from a personal love relationship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Sin places an iron curtain between God and man. The Lord Christ is not merely the moral example of a holy life, He is the atonement for sin. He dies the death we all deserved to die. He faces the punishment that was due to us for our sin. At the Cross, there is this great transaction: the guilt of our sin was laid upon Him, and He faced the wrath and judgement of a Holy God in our stead. 

‘He was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross’ (v.8b). Notice that there is this emphasis upon the particular manner of His death. He was not lying comfortably at home in His bed. He was suspended between heaven and earth upon a Cross of wood. This death, this particular death, is stressed by the Apostle Paul because it was an accursed, painful, and shameful death – a death cursed under divine Law: as Moses says, ‘Cursed is He that hangs on a tree’ (Deuteronomy 21:23). This was a death filled with unspeakable agony and shame. Nails were driven through His hands and feet and the weight of His body hung there as He struggled to breathe. This was the death of a criminal and a slave, not of a free-man, and surely not of a good man. This death was a public spectacle. You hung where every eye could see you in all your shame, nakedness and agony. He was obedient to the point death, to the point of this death, even the death of the Cross. Such was the obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is more to this death than the physical pain. At the back of these sufferings, there is the outpouring of divine judgement against sin. There was one awful moment upon the Cross where the darkness of sin and the weight of divine wrath so clouded the sight of Christ from the Father’s love that He cries, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46). The Father had never stopped loving His only beloved Son, but for a moment the horror of sin was so unbearable that even the Son of the Father felt stricken by God and cut off from His loving presence. This was the cost of our redemption – ‘For God so loved the world, He gave His one and only Son’ (John 3:16). He gave Him to die upon a Cross. Yet the more that Christ saw of His Father’s hatred for sin, the more He set His face like flint to obey His Father in love. Even when darkness covered the earth and the love of God felt like a distant memory, He obeyed. ‘The more real His apprehension of the hatefulness and dreadfulness of sin which consists in disobedience to God, the more did it engage the Lord Jesus Christ not to disobey Himself, but to love – to love God and to love sinners of lost mankind’ (adapted from Jonathan Edwards). He obeyed to the very end. He was obedient to the point of death, even death upon the Cross. He fulfilled perfectly the redemption-mission He had received from His Father, even that He should drink this bitter cup and go through these sufferings to rescue sinners of mankind lost.

The death of the Cross therefore was the highest act of voluntary obedience. The more Christ saw of His Father’s hatred for sin, the more He determined to obey His Father. ‘The more He had a sense of what an odious and dreadful thing sin was, the more His heart was engaged to do and suffer all that was necessary to take it away to carry this odious, dreadful thing away from those that His heart was united to in love, those whom the Father had given Him to save’ (Jonathan Edwards). The more He saw of the horror of sin, the more He longed to save us from it. Here is the greatness of His obedience and love for sinners: He tasted the bitter cup and drank it to the dregs because He loved His Father and He loved those whom the Father had commissioned Him to save. He humbled Himself in obedience to the accursed death of the Cross because of His love for helpless sinners, and supremely because of His love for the Father and the pleasure of doing His will.

I wonder, my friends, can we learn from His obedience? If Christ, the Son of God, so willingly humbled Himself, how much more should we cast down our pride and self-righteousness, and humble ourselves before His infinite majesty? If the Lord Christ was willing to obey His Father even unto death for our salvation, how much more should we seek to obey our Father in heaven, to keep His commandments, and live in gentle holiness for the glory of God? If Christ was so zealous to come and rescue us from sin, should we not also be zealous to make known His Gospel to the world and become soul-winners for the glory of Christ? If Jesus Christ was willing to abase Himself for our salvation, should we not also abase ourselves and be willing to count all things but loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord? If we desire to have the mind of Christ formed within us, then we must give ourselves to His example, to this message, and learn from His obedience and humility. 

2] Secondly, I would like us to think upon the exaltation of Christ (vv. 9–11). The reward of His obedience is exaltation. We’ve seen that He came down even to death upon a Cross, now we see that God lifts the Lord Jesus to the highest place and gives Him the Name above every other name. ‘We’ve seen the Sun of Righteousness in eclipse; now we witness the Sun coming out of the eclipse, and shining in full glory’ (Thomas Watson). If we had finished the story at the death of Christ, what hope would there be? If He remains dead in the tomb, then what’s the point? Why are we here? What’s the meaning of it all? No! He’s not dead! For the great hope and expectation of Christianity is resurrection. The Lord Jesus was crucified, dead, buried, but He didn’t stay dead. On the third day, He rose again, according to the Scriptures, and was seen by many witnesses, and ascended into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Father in majesty on high; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead, and His Kingdom shall have no end. We look forward with the eyes of faith to the resurrection of the dead and the glorious life of the world to come. We have this great and certain hope. He is alive. He is risen. He has conquered sin, and death, and hell once and for all. He’s been lifted up from death to Glory and now He is exalted as the King over all. He’s been given the Name above every other name. There’s no one higher than Jesus Christ. He’s the boss. He’s number one. He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings. There’s no one greater or more incredible than Jesus Christ. He is awesome in power, and majesty, and glory, and He rules and reigns as the Alpha and Omega.

The most remarkable aspect of His exaltation is the reality of His humanity. He is risen and exalted as the God-man. There is a real man in heaven making intercession for the people of God as our great High Priest, pleading before the throne of Heaven for sinners of lost humanity. He considers all of our prayers. Have you ever thought about that? Millions upon millions of prayers every moment, and He’s ever ready to listen and He hears and answers each and every single one of them. He desires to hear you pray and to take your needs and concerns to Him. He wants to help you and to lead you in His righteousness. If He has assumed our nature and has lifted our humanity up to glory, can we not see that He is deeply and passionately concerned about us, so much so that He represents us in the courts of heaven as a real man? And though He is highly exalted, yet that human heart He still retains. He feels for us in heaven. His heart beats with love for sinners. He knows the hardships of life. He remembers the struggles. He understands the pain, the suffering, and the despair. He hears your sighs and He bottles your tears. We can always approach Him as our sympathetic High Priest and representative in Glory. He is clothed in our humanity and He sits at the right hand of God as a real man, as our Shepherd King and loving High Priest.

The calling of this hymn to Christ is to exalt Him. If God has so highly exalted Christ, let us labour to exalt Him also and worship Him in the beauty of holiness. Let us exalt Him in our hearts: believe upon His word, trust in His Gospel, adore Him, worship Him, love Him, and sing His praises. This is true experimental Christianity. We must act upon this wonderful Gospel in faith. We are called to submit and bow the knee to His Lordship and majesty. There can be no such thing as a passive Christian. We must worship Him actively, and serve Him, and follow Him, and pray to Him, and glorify Him with every breath. ‘We cannot lift Him up higher than heaven, but we may lift Him up in our hearts’ (Thomas Watson). Let us exalt Him as we sing hymns. Let us exalt Him as we pray. Let us exalt Him in our lives every day, by living for the sake of His glory. Let us exalt His truths – the truths of the Gospel. As the hymn-writer says, ‘Tell out my soul, the greatness of the Lord’. Let’s make known the Gospel to our families, and our friends, and colleagues, and neighbours. We lament that our Churches are emptying, but if we sit on our hands and seal our mouths concerning the truths of Christ, then God will not honour us. ‘How can they believe on Him of whom they’ve never heard?’ (Romans 10:14). In vain we pray for revival if our lips are sealed concerning the Gospel of Christ. Truth is the most precious pearl in the crown of Christ, and it is the proclamation of truth that will set men and women free from bondage to the law of sin and death.

The day is coming when He shall return and every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. It’s far better that we bow the knee today than on that coming day. It’s far better to urge men and women to bow the knee in repentance and faith this day, or else they will do so under the judgement of Christ at the last day. My friends, there is an urgency to the words of the Apostle and this hymn. Jesus Christ will return with glory, and majesty, and power. He will come as the King of kings and Lord of lords, and everyone in all creation, the living and the dead, will fall at His feet and worship Him. Let us watch and be ready for His return. Let us plead as dying men and women to a dying world concerning Christ and His Gospel. Let us implore others to see by faith the risen and exalted Saviour who was obedient unto death, even death on the Cross. Amen. 

References & Reading
Ames, William, Medulla Theologica (1623).
Motyer, Alec, The Message of Philippians (1984).   
Watson, Thomas, A Body of Practical Divinity (1692).
Williams, Garry, Silent Witnesses: Lessons on Theology, Life, and the Church from Christians of the Past (2013), chapters 3 & 4.
Wilson, Geoffrey, New Testament Commentaries: Philippians to Hebrews and Revelation (2005).