Philippians 2:5-11


1. What Makes Someone Tick
One of the issues of great interest today, is the issue of what makes someone tick. Indeed we are bombarded with biographies, documentaries, and other television programmes, where questions are asked of a variety of people, in order to work out what makes, or what made, someone tick.

Questions are asked to work out what is important to the person concerned; what their background was; what influences they may have had; why they chose certain manners of behaviour, rather than others; and who their role models were.

Indeed, we seem to be obsessed about establishing frameworks in which people live (or lived); in trying to understand where they have come from; and, for those still living, trying to work out where they may be headed too.

2. What Made Jesus Tick
But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised about our obsession with other people. Because it’s not just a modern phenomenon. Indeed, even in the bible there are examples of that kind of curiosity. And in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the topic is not just about anyone, it’s about none other than Jesus himself.

Indeed, in a section based on what could have been an early first century hymn, we have Paul’s version of what was it that made Jesus tick; what it was that Jesus had in mind when he chose to be born to live an earthly life; what it was that was important to him; and what it was that Jesus cherished.


So what was it that, according to Paul, made Jesus tick?

1. The Eternal God Becomes Incarnate (5-7)
Well Paul’s starting point is the concept of Jesus before he was even born as a baby in this world. Indeed, he identifies him as Christ Jesus in heaven, being truly God and, at the same time, co-existing with the Father. He then goes on to state that Jesus, using his own free will, chose to empty himself—to deprive himself of his proper place—so that he could be born into this world.

Now, that is a mind-boggling statement. And unfortunately Paul does not give us the details of what Jesus emptied himself of. But he does describe what Jesus emptied himself to become. And that is he became an ordinary human being—just like you and me. And within that, he took on the role of a servant—a role that he deliberately consigned himself to—knowing full well where that role would take him.

Now one could easily ask, “Why would anyone to do anything like that? Why would the Son of God voluntarily put aside his position, power, and authority in the triune God, and come to live on earth with us—insignificant beings in comparison? After all, we are just part of the universe that he had helped create, and a very small part at that. So, why would he do that?

And here we get the first clue of what made Jesus tick. Because Paul quite clearly tells us that the Son of God did it because he believed that being obedient to the Father was more important than anything else. He might have had position, power, and authority, but they were nothing in comparison with doing what his Father wanted.

Now we can speculate that life would have been far more comfortable for the Son of God if he’d stayed in heaven. But as far as Jesus was concerned, absolutely nothing was going to get in the way of his relationship with his Father. And that meant that disobeying God’s will and pursuing his own self-interest was not an option as far as Jesus was concerned. As a consequence, whilst Jesus was not compelled to do God’s bidding, he freely chose to follow his Father’s leading, with whatever hardships that would come his way.

2. The Incarnate Becomes a Curse (8)
Now, of course, the idea of the Son of God coming to earth, could quite easily have meant the birth of a baby, but a baby who could use all his godly powers in this world too. But Jesus didn’t do that either. Indeed, even with the miracles that Jesus performed, he showed remarkable restraint in the use of any godly powers.

Yes, he was tempted to use them on a number of occasions. But Jesus restricted himself to the powers that were available through the Holy Spirit, that the prophets and others had demonstrated before him. Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm. But then Moses had parted the Red Sea and got water from a rock. Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. But Elijah and Elisha had done exactly the same things before.

There was only one thing that Jesus did that had not been done before, and that was to heal the blind. But then that was traditionally believed to be a sign that only the Messiah could do. And as a consequence was one of the proofs of who he really was.

And, as a consequence of his restraint, Jesus not only acted as a human being but was seen to be a human being too. Indeed, in his home base at Capernaum, the people said: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother called Mary? And aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?” (Mt 13:55).

Now the fact that he didn’t use his own godly powers for his own benefit is significant. Because it meant that he had to face the world as we face it—with all the greed, self-interest, and all its troubles and faults. And most significantly he had to face the one thing that the heavenly Son of God should not have had to face—death.

Jesus, the Son of God, could have used his divine powers, just as the devil tempted him to do in the wilderness. He could have used his immortality, proper to God alone, to avoid being sacrificed upon a cross. But he didn’t. Instead, he put his divine nature aside; he faced life as we face it; and he submitted himself to something which otherwise would have had no control over him—death itself.

And why did he humble himself in such a way? Why did he so totally submit himself to the task in hand? Well, it was all a matter of obedience to God. Nothing else mattered. The only thing that mattered to Jesus was doing God’s will. Nothing more, nothing less. And as far as he was concerned, no price was too high to pay in the carrying out of God’s will.

And the fact is there was a high price to pay. The Old Testament sacrificial system worked on the basis of a transfer of sin and guilt, from those who were guilty to the sacrificial victim who was innocent. But the Old Testament sacrificial system was incomplete, for no uncomprehending, unconsenting animal could really represent people, only a perfect man could do that.

So here we get the second clue of what made Jesus tick. Because Jesus recognised that only he could be that sacrificial victim. The sacrifice had to be a human being, and it had to be one who had never sinned. As a consequence, in an act of total obedience to God, and submitting himself to the horror of death, Jesus became that sacrificial victim.

Now people who died by hanging on a tree—or crucifixion—were recognised as being cursed (Gal 3:13). And Jesus’s cry of dereliction on the cross, shows the extent of his momentary rejection by God. Nevertheless, as a result of what Jesus did, he made it possible for people everywhere to transfer their sin and guilt on to him; for them to begin their lives again with a clean slate; and to enter into a full relationship with the Father, without the barrier of sin getting in the way.

When Jesus was in heaven, he had looked at himself, his father, and us. And he had decided that there was a much more cherished purpose for his existence than simply clinging on to what he was and what he had. Consequently he chose to be obedient to his Father and come to our rescue; he decided to take what he had—what was best, greatest and most desirable—and he abandoned it all freely. In short, he humbled himself in order that we could be saved.

3. The Curse Becomes Exalted (9-11)
What made Jesus tick, then, was his recognition of his need to be totally obedient to his Father; and his recognition of the fact that only he was able to save his Father’s creation.

And because Jesus recognised those things—because of the sacrifices that he made for a greater cause than his own comfort—God rewarded him. God the Father took that emptied and broken man off the cross and exalted him to the highest place of honour—a place where at some stage every person who has lived, is living, or will live, will acknowledge his position, authority, and power.

Jesus didn’t resurrect himself. He couldn’t, he needed God the Father to do that. And why did his Father do that? Well, not because Jesus had gone through the motions; not because he had mechanically done certain things at certain times. But, rather, because of the sort of person that Jesus was. It was the way Jesus looked at things; the values that he cherished; and the principles he observed. Because Jesus did not insist on holding on to the things that were his or even his glory. Indeed, he was willing to give up everything, to be obedient to his Father, for what he saw to be a greater cause.

And because Jesus humbled himself—because he did all these things—he showed obedience to God the Father, and a love of God and his creation to the uttermost degree. The very things that the Father prized the most highly.


Now can you think of anything that is more mind-boggling than what Paul has described?

Having said that, however, Paul did not set down his insights into Jesus just to satisfy our curiosity. He did not write them down so we could simply look at the historical figure of Jesus and see what made him tick. No! Paul’s intention was more than that. What Paul intended was for his insight in to Jesus to actually help in transforming lives.

Now in a sense thinking about what Jesus has done may well do that. But Paul wanted to be sure that our part in Jesus’s story wasn’t missed too.

Which is why, in the very opening sentence of this passage Paul begins: “Your attitude should be the same as the attitude of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5a). And that of course should get us asking, not just “what made Jesus tick?” but “what are the things that make us tick” too?

1. Obedience to God
Because if the Son of God’s primary aim in life was to be obedient to God—and that was his one overriding goal—can we say that the same goal is on top of our agenda too? In other words, do we always put God first in our thinking, in the way that we organise our lives, and in the things that we do.

Because, you know, there are many other things that we can be tempted to put on the top of our agendas. There are many things that we may find to be appealing, attractive, tempting . . . Or even that we may be encouraged by others to do.

So when it comes to us—and what makes us tick—can we confidently say, without hesitation, that God—and doing what God asks—is our number one priority too. Indeed, are we confident that we allow nothing, absolutely nothing, to get in the way of fulfilling that priority?

2. Rescuing God’s Creation
And if the Son of God’s aim was to give his all for the benefit of God’s creation—and that included sacrificing his own life in order for others to be reconciled with their God—is that something that is part of what makes us tick too?

Because there are many alternate ways that we can live. And it can be very easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we are helping others when, all the time, our hearts are really into helping ourselves.

So when it comes to us—and what makes us tick—can we confidently say that we are genuine in our want to reconcile those around us with their creator God?

3. Willingness to Serve
And, if the Son of God sacrificed everything that he had—his godhood down to his human life, willingly—can we also say that we commit ourselves to the total devotion that is required to serve God and our fellow man? And that we do so voluntarily, of our own free will.

Because being embarrassed into helping others, or feeling obligated, is not the same thing. So are we willing and eager to help, and help no matter what the cost?

4. Exalted by God
Now, of course, if we can answer all those questions in the affirmative, we, like Jesus, can expect to be exalted by God. But not because we are motivated by the prize (because that shouldn’t be the case), and certainly not because we deserve it. Rather we will be exalted by God simply because we embody the things that he prizes the most highly. And because as a consequence, he has seen something inside us, that in his eyes, is very special indeed.


The question of what makes someone tick, what influences them, and what motivates them in life, then, is something that is often asked. And that is particularly true regarding well-known and influential people. And in the letter from Paul’s to the Philippians we have Paul’s reflection on Jesus himself.

But, as I’ve said, Paul did not set out his insight to simply satisfy our curiosity. Rather the insights that he gave were intended to transform lives.

Paul’s intention was to let the members of the Philippian church know—using the example of Jesus—what it was that should make them tick. Consequently we have a picture of what should make us tick too.

For any believer, then, far more important than anything else should be: an acceptance of the need for obedience to God—putting God first before anything else; an acceptance of the role of helping one’s fellow man—in their need for reconciliation with their creator God; and a willingness to do both, voluntarily, and without compunction—and to do so, no matter what the cost.

These were the marks of the Son of God as he considered being born into this world as a baby; these are the things that made Jesus tick. And these are the marks that should be seen in all of us today.

Posted: 12th February 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis