by T. Austin-Sparks
"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: but 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. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Phil. 2:5-11
"Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." Eph. 1:20-23.
In our present meditation we are led to the question of power in witness. It is perhaps the major question for the church. It does not matter very much what the church may have, if it is without power it is without effect, and for the fulfilment of its purpose, the justification of its existence, it must be an expression, an instrument of the power of God in Christ as exalted.
When we speak of the church, let us not get far away ideas. We must remember that the church functions in representation, though that representation may only be in two. Peter and John, for instance, as in Acts 4, were not just men by themselves, they were functioning in relation to the church, and the church was in expression by them at that time. You notice that the Holy Spirit is very true to that principle in the whole of that story. Being led they went to their own company, and told them all that the rulers had said, and the company, when they heard these things, took up the whole matter in prayer before the Lord. They did the praying. It does not say that Peter and John did it, but when the company heard they prayed and took up the Psalm and brought it to the Lord in relation to the present situation. So that it was the church operating. The whole setting of things there is that of the church, and it was functioning by representation in just two. Two is the divine meaning for representation, and the whole question is that of the church functioning in power, even though it may only be by two or three, or by a small company. It, after all, is the church’s testimony which is to be represented there, and that is to be an expression of divine power.
The Lord would have us marked by spiritual power. Not by mighty words, but by mighty deeds. These are the tokens of God’s Kingdom, and, of course, power always has been a very living matter, question, interest for the people of God, and it is a matter about which the Lord would exercise the hearts of His people again in these days. We believe He is doing that in many parts; we may say, perhaps, all over the world the Lord’s honest people are exercised on the matter of spiritual power. To put it another way, they are concerned about the lack of power, the spiritual weakness, the ineffectiveness, and they are crying for a new visitation of the Holy Spirit, with the desire that there should be a fresh manifestation of divine power. Now the Lord has some light to shed upon this matter of power, for He does not just give power willy-nilly, or as something in itself, and He does not give the Holy Spirit on any basis at all as the Spirit of power, but He always has a background and a foundation for the exercise of power, and we need to know, and the rest of the Lord’s people need to know, what the Lord’s basis of power really is.
Taking such a chapter as Acts 4 as an illustration, you will notice that while power is in evidence, and power is the feature of the church in those days, that power was related to the Name of Jesus. Six times in that chapter reference is made to the Name of Jesus. “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” It was a question of the Name, that by what authority and in what name they had done this thing. Peter’s answer was: “Be it known unto you all... that by the name of Jesus Christ... doth this man stand here before you whole.” It was a question of the Name which was also the question of the authority that produced this, the superior title, the superior authority, the superior Name by which this power was being manifested. So that power was bound up with the Name of Jesus.
When we turn to the letter to the Philippians, and to the passage in Ephesians, we are given an insight into the moral and spiritual basis of the Name, and therefore of power in the church, and we are given a very wide, a very vast range of insight. We are told, first of all, that Jesus of Nazareth before times eternal subsisted in the very form of God. You have to go back there for your first insight into the question of power, as to Who Jesus of Nazareth is from eternity. He subsisted in the form of God; that is, all the essential attributes of Godhead, of deity, were His. John makes the thing utter, as we know: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” There is nothing to add to that. Paul puts it this way: “Who subsisted in the form of God”. So that Jesus of Nazareth from eternity is Very God, and nothing which has happened in the course of the cycle of history, the history of His person, has altered that.
The next phase makes no difference to that basic and eternal fact. When we see Him coming out from His eternal place as God, and being found in fashion as a man, taking the form of a servant, emptying Himself, that makes no difference to the original, basic fact. Let us be perfectly clear about this. I do not want to enter upon any theological arguments, but we must be perfectly clear about this, that Jesus of Nazareth is still from eternity God in all the essential attributes of deity, of Godhead, and He has not emptied Himself of those attributes, He has not emptied Himself of Godhead. When the Word says that He emptied Himself, that clearly relates to form and not to person. He existed, or subsisted, in the form of God; now He is in the form of man, and that is all that is meant by emptying Himself; and it is a big enough emptying for anybody to consider. You cannot contemplate any greater emptying than that. He Who had subsisted in God-form, now is in man-form, but He is still God in man-form.
The humility did not begin when He took man-form. The humility began before that: “...who, subsisting in the form of God, counted it not something to be grasped to be on equality with God...”. There was no pride about His position. Of course, this is said quite obviously as over against Satan in the first instance, who grasped at equality with God, and that was his pride. There was no personal, self-glorifying in the position of the Lord Jesus, no self-exaltation, no grasping at something for Himself. That is where the humility of God is found. God is no vaunting, proud, self-glorifying Being.
What we are seeking to make clear is this, that humility is not just a feature of man, it is a feature of God; it is a divine thing, a thing which belongs to God. Humiliation and humility are two different things. The humiliation of the Lord Jesus is one thing; His humility is another thing. His humility is eternal, it comes out of eternity, and it belongs to His very Godhead.
Now you notice that He, back there in eternity, was marked by this humility that counted it not something to be grasped at to be on equality with God; but then He emptied Himself, and being found in fashion as a man He humbled Himself. You notice the difference. There was humility in Godhead, but that humility has come into manhood, and is going ever deeper. There is a humility which belongs to heaven, but when you bring that humility out of heaven here into a condition such as this world is in, and humble yourself to this state, that is getting very low, that is going down very deep. He humbled Himself when found in fashion as a man. As God He emptied Himself, as Man He humbled Himself. What a depth! Satan and Adam sought to exalt themselves to be equal with God. Here is One Who did not grasp at this equality with God, but emptied Himself.
Then, (not as our translation says, “...he... became obedient...”) “...becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”, we see that His whole life was a life of continuous emptying unto the obedience of the cross. His whole life here was a life with the cross in view, which required continuous obedience unto death. Death as it were was going on all the time, and He knew it. It was before Him, and He was continually to be obedient unto it. How often temptations came to Him, to turn Him aside from that way of death. A disciple would say to Him: “Far be it from thee”. It is a temptation not to be obedient unto death. In the wilderness the devil three times tempted Him along the line which was other than a line of obedience unto death, to reach His end by another course. He was becoming obedient all the time up to the final act of obedience unto death, and that meant constant humbling of Himself as a Man, when He might have been exalted, when they would have exalted Him, when they would have made something of Him, when He could have made something of Himself. Satan said, “Cast thyself down...”; if You do You will be preserved, and You will come down among this people and everyone will come to You and say, This is God! But He was obedient unto death, by the way of humbling, obedience, emptying.
“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” He subsisted in God-form, He took the form of man; now in a strange way, which is always the mystery of God and of the person of Christ, which you and I will never understand in this life, there has come about a union between God and man in Christ, so that here in the exaltation it is not the exaltation of God to glory, it is the exaltation of Christ as Man, Son of Man: Man with God allied, God joined, God and Man together. So that Jesus still bears the Name, but it is Jehovah-Jesus, it is God and Man united, Jesus of Nazareth with God’s Name resting upon Him, Jehovah. It is a difficult thing to explain, and a very dangerous realm. It is necessary to protect that when you talk about God and Man joined in one, but in His case it is true. It only becomes true in any measure in our case by reason of our union with Christ; it never becomes true of us in ourselves. We shall never have the attributes of Godhead and deity, but in Christ God allies Himself with man, and, as we have already said, to meet the man in Christ who is living on the basis of Christ exalted is to meet God. To meet the church, though it be in representation in two or three, when that representation is on the basis of Christ’s exaltation, is to have to reckon with God. That is shown in Acts 4: “...Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. ...And now, Lord, behold their threatenings...”. It is the ground of appeal on the part of a little company. What happens? The Lord comes in and shows that He is allied with this; the place where they prayed was shaken. God comes in on that ground of the exaltation of His Son, and on the basis of that there is power.
The point, of course, is just this, that power in the church—and for our present purpose that is power in the church as represented in two or three or more—is a matter of our standing upon the spiritual and moral ground of Christ’s exaltation. What is that? Humility. What is humility? Utter emptiness of self. There is a tremendous power about humility when it is of this kind, when it is the humility of Christ. Christ is exalted by reason of His humility. There are various reasons given in the Word for the exaltation of Christ. In chapter 5 of the book of Revelation He receives glory and honour on the ground, or in virtue of, His redemption and His Blood. In the letter to the Hebrews it is because of the suffering of death, and having tasted death for every man, that He is crowned with glory and honour. In John 17 He says that He is glorified because He has glorified the Father on the earth. But in Philippians, while all that is involved, included, it is the Father Himself coming in and glorifying Him, exalting Him, honouring Him, on the ground of His humility. He humbled Himself, He emptied Himself. “Wherefore (on that ground) God hath highly exalted him...”. It is a peculiar spiritual and moral basis of exaltation. The apostle takes hold of that and applies it to the situation at Philippi, and he says: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”.
What is power? How shall we know power? Power is bound up with the Name of Jesus. What is the Name of Jesus, the Name which is above every name, above every name in this age and that which is to come? It is that in which you find God and Man united. God was so with Him, that when you met the One you met the Other, when you touched the Man you touched God, when you came up against the Man you came up against God, when you dealt with the Man you dealt with God. That is what is meant by the Name of Jesus. What is the basis? He humbled Himself. It is humility. We sought to define humility in our last meditation. Humility is selflessness in every sense, and in the fullest sense.
It seems that it was necessary for the disciples to break down, and to be allowed to break down. Some of us have bitterly complained to the Lord that He has allowed us to break down, but there is another point of view. All these disciples had a very close association with the Lord Jesus in the days of His flesh, and yet every one of them broke down: “They all forsook him and fled.” “It is written, I will smite the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered.” They all broke down, and it is a sorry picture that meets our eye after Christ had been crucified and buried. It is a sorry picture of those disciples, but it would seem that it was necessary. Peter had a good deal of confidence in what he could do, and how far he could go. He was very sure of himself. They all had to come to the place where it was perfectly clear to them that there was nothing in them that could go through, that they could not stand up to things, that they were as weak as water when it really came to the crucial test. That had to be demonstrated in their very experience. It was essential to the afterward. If we have complained that we have known weakness and failure and breakdown, there is a divine providence in that. It is the Lord’s way of bringing us to the place where we may know power, because power is not in us, it is in Christ, and we can never know power in Christ until we have discovered the depth of our own impotence, the reality of our own worthlessness. We have to be humbled in order to learn humility, dependence upon the Lord.
You notice that afterwards the Spirit makes perfectly clear the change. There were the marks of power, the marks of triumph. Where was the secret? In the Name of Jesus. It was all Christ, it was all in the exalted Lord that was the basis, and they had learned their lesson and knew that in themselves there was no power, no strength. There was a wonderful change after the emptying of those men by the cross, and then the bringing of them to the place where, not in themselves but in Him as exalted, it was possible to go on and to triumph.
The Name, with all its glory, and all its majesty, and all its power, is based upon humility. It derives its strength, its gain, on the very ground of humility, self-emptying. If you and I did know and realise it, humility is one of the greatest, if not the greatest and most important thing for any life that is going to be used by God as a witness to the power of Christ. Unless God has that basis it is a desperately dangerous thing for us to know power. There is all that in us which will use power and turn it to our own glory and our own exaltation. It is a terrible thing to taste of the heavenly gift unless there is a right foundation, and the only foundation which makes us safe is that of self-emptiness, humility. Let us seek from the Lord continually much humility, true humility, the meekness of Christ. This is the moral basis of power. The opposite of that was the pride of Satan, and the pride of Adam, and that was the moral (or the immoral) basis of the ruin.
When we talk about power we must not think of God just baptizing us with something we call power, or with the Holy Spirit for the purpose of power, but we must remember that God must have His foundation, and that foundation is provided by the cross, the cross which smites us, and smites all in us that would take hold of the things of God to use them for ourselves, unto our own ends. The cross must do that work and bring about a true humility. We must, therefore, ask the Lord to keep the cross operative continually in our life: “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus...”. “I die daily.” This cross of Christ was a continuous thing with Him. It operated by various means: “Lest by reason of the revelation I should be exalted above measure, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me...”. It is the work of the cross, the principle of the cross, to break that “I”, and to keep it down so that no pride should mar the vessel and destroy the power.
In the humility wrought by the cross we are brought into oneness with the exalted Christ, and oneness with the exalted Christ means that God is committed to man. That is a tremendous thing. Two or three, on the basis of the cross, on the moral basis of Christ’s exaltation, who are emptied, weak, but confident in Him, should mean that when they bring God into a situation, that situation encounters God, the men involved encounter God. It is a tremendous thing to realise God is committed to us. That is what union with Christ means, and the moral basis of union with Christ is death to self and the centre of self: that is, pride.
May the Lord teach our hearts anew with His Word.
I am quite sure that the emphasis is a very necessary one upon the matter of humility, as the way of exaltation, the basis of divine power. May the Lord speak it to our hearts.