The Lord Initiates Obedience
The Bible tells us that the Lord Jesus and the Father are one. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. The heaven and the earth were made through the Word. The glory which God had in the beginning, even the unapproachable glory of God, was also the Son’s glory. The Father and the Son exist equally and are equal in power and possession. Only in Person is there a difference between Father and Son. This is not an essential difference; it is merely an arrangement within the Godhead. Therefore the Scripture says that the Lord "counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped"—that is, a thing to be seized. His equality with God is neither something seized upon nor acquired, for inherently He is the image of God.
Philippians 2.5-7 forms one section and verses 8-11, another. In these two sections our Lord is seen as having humbled Himself twice: first He emptied Himself in His divinity, and then He humbled Himself in His humanity. By the time He came to this world, the Lord had so emptied Himself of the glory, power, status, and form of His divinity that no one then living, other than by revelation, knew Him nor acknowledged Him as God. They treated Him as a man, as an ordinary person of this world. As the Son He willingly submits to the Father’s authority and declares that "the Father is greater than I" (John 14.28). Thus there is perfect harmony in the Godhead. Gladly the Father takes the place of the Head, and the Son responds with obedience. God becomes the emblem of authority, while Christ assumes the symbol of obedience.
For we men to be obedient it should be simple, because all we need is but a little humility. For Christ to be obedient, however, is not so simple a matter. It is much harder for Him to be obedient than for Him to create the heavens and the earth. Why? Because He has to empty Himself of all the glory and power of His divinity and take the form of a slave before He is even qualified to obey. Hence obedience is initiated by the Son of God.
The Son originally shared the same glory and authority with the Father. But when He came to the world He on the one hand forsook authority and on the other hand took up obedience. He willingly took the place of a slave, accepting the human limitation of time and space. He humbled Himself further and became obedient unto death. Obedience within the Godhead is the most wonderful sight in the whole universe. Since Christ was obedient unto death—suffering a most painful and shameful death on the cross—God has highly exalted Him. God exalts whoever humbles himself. This is a divine principle.
Since the Lord has initiated obedience, the Father has become the Head of Christ. Now because both authority and obedience have been instituted by God, it is natural for those who know God and Christ to obey. But those who know not God and Christ know neither authority nor obedience. Christ is the principle of obedience. He who accepts Christ accepts the principle of obedience. Hence a person who is filled with Christ must be one who is also filled with obedience.
Nowadays people often ask, "Why should I obey? Since both you and I are brothers, why must I obey you?" But men are not qualified to ask in this manner. The Lord alone is qualified; yet He has never said such words nor has such a thought ever entered His mind. Christ represents obedience, which is as perfect as the authority of God is perfect. May God be merciful to those who claim they know authority when obedience is yet missing in their lives.
As regards the Godhead, the Son and the Father are co-equal; but His being the Lord is rewarded Him by God. The Lord Jesus Christ was made Lord only after He emptied Himself. His deity derives from who He is, for His being God is His inherent nature. His being Lord, though, issues out of what He has done. He was exalted and rewarded by God to be Lord only after He forsook His glory and maintained the perfect role of obedience. As regards Himself, He is God; as regards reward, He is Lord. His Lordship did not exist originally in the Godhead.
The passage in Philippians 2 is most difficult to explain, for it is most controversial besides being most holy. Let us remove our shoes and stand on holy ground as we review this Scripture. It seems as though at the beginning a council was held within the Godhead. God conceived a plan to create the universe. In that plan the Godhead agreed to have authority represented by the Father. But authority cannot be established in the universe without obedience, since it cannot exist alone. God must therefore find obedience in the universe. Two living beings were to be created: angels (spirits) and men (living souls). According to His foreknowledge God foresaw the rebellion of the angels and the fall of men; hence He was unable to establish His authority in angels or in the Adamic race. Consequently, within the Godhead perfect accord was reached that authority would be answered by obedience in the Son. From this come the distinctive operations of God the Father and God the Son. One day God the Son emptied Himself, and being born in the likeness of men He became the symbol of obedience. Inasmuch as rebellion came from the created beings, so obedience must now be established in a created being. Man sinned and rebelled; therefore the authority of God must be erected on man’s obedience. This explains why the Lord came to the world and was made as one of the created men.
The birth of our Lord is actually God coming forth. Instead of remaining as God with authority He came to man’s side, accepting all the limitations of man and taking the form of a slave. He braved the possible peril of not being able to return with glory. Should He have become disobedient on earth as a man, He would have still been able to reclaim His place in the Godhead by asserting His original authority; but if so, He would have forever broken down the principle of obedience.
There were two ways for the Lord to return: one way was to obey absolutely and unreservedly as man, establishing the authority of God in all things on all occasions without the slightest hint of rebellion; thus, step by step through obedience to God, He would be made Lord over all. The other way would be to force His way back by reclaiming and using the authority and power and glory of His deity because of having found obedience impossible through the weakness and limitation of human flesh.
Now the Lord discarded this second path and walked humbly in the way of obedience—even unto death. Once having emptied Himself, He refused to fill Himself again. He never took such an ambiguous course. Had the Lord failed in the way of obedience after having relinquished His divine glory and authority and taken the form of a slave, He would have never again returned with glory. Only by the way of obedience as man did He go back. Thus it was that He returned on the basis of perfect and singular obedience. Though suffering was added upon suffering, He displayed absolute obedience, without ever the slightest tinge of resistance or rebellion.
Consequently, God highly exalted Him and made Him Lord when He returned to glory. It was not He who filled Himself up with that which He had once emptied Himself of; rather, it was God the Father. It was the Father who was the One who brought this Man back into glory. And so God the Son is now also become Jesus the Man in His return to glory. For this reason, the name of Jesus is most precious; there is no one in the universe like Him. When on the cross He shouted "It is finished!", it proclaimed not only the accomplishment of salvation but also the fulfillment of all that His name signifies. Therefore, He has obtained a name which is above every name, and at His name every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord. Henceforward, He is Lord as well as God. His being Lord speaks of His relationship with God, how He has been rewarded by God. His being Christ reveals His relationship with the church.
To summarize, then: when the Son left the glory He did not intend to return on the basis of His divine attributes; on the contrary, He desired to be exalted as a man. In this manner, God has affirmed His principle of obedience. How necessary it is that we be wholly obedient without even the faintest trace of rebellion. The Son returned to heaven as a man; He was exalted by God after He was obedient in the likeness of men. Let us face this great mystery of the Bible. In bidding farewell to the glory and clothing Himself with human flesh, the Lord determined not to return by virtue of His divine attributes. And because He never gave the slightest appearance of disobedience, He was exalted by God on the ground of His humanity. The Lord set aside His glory when He came; but when He returned, He not only regained that glory but received even further glory.
Let us too have this mind which was in Christ Jesus. Let us all walk in the way of the Lord and attain to obedience by making this principle of obedience our own principle. Let us be subject to one another. Once having seen this principle, we will have no trouble discerning that no sin is more serious than rebellion and nothing is more important than obedience. Only in the principle of obedience can we serve God; only in obeying as Christ did can we reaffirm God’s principle of authority, for rebellion is the outworking of the principle of Satan.
Learning Obedience through Suffering
It is told in Hebrews 5.8 that Christ "learned obedience through what He suffered." Suffering called forth obedience from the Lord. Please note here that He did not bring obedience to this earth; He learned it—and He did so through suffering.
When we meet suffering we then learn obedience. Such obedience is real. Our usefulness is not determined by whether or not we have suffered, but by how much obedience we have learned through that suffering. The obedient ones alone are useful to God. As long as our heart is not softened, suffering will not leave us. Our way lies in many sufferings; the easy-goers and pleasure-lovers are useless before God. Let us therefore learn to obey in suffering.
Salvation makes people obedient as well as joyous. If we seek only joy, our spiritual possessions will not be rich; but those who are obedient will experience the abundance of salvation. Let us not change the nature of salvation. Let us obey—for our Lord Jesus, having been made perfect through obedience, has become the source of our eternal salvation. God saves us that we may obey His will. If we have met God’s authority we shall discover obedience to be easy and God’s will to be simple, because the Lord Himself was always obedient and has given this life of obedience to us.
(Spiritual Authority, CFP white cover, Watchman Nee.)