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By John Piper — 5 months ago
This podcast often addresses gospel boldness, risk-taking, and personal suffering. On occasion, those three themes — boldness, risk, and suffering — merge together, like they do in today’s sermon clip from the ministry of John Piper. Today, we look specifically at how the assurance of the hope of heaven releases us for radical, risk-taking love that makes people look at our lives and ask for “the reason for the hope that is in you,” as Peter says it (1 Peter 3:15). So, how do we escape the natural love of safety? Here’s Pastor John’s answer, from thirty years ago, in a sermon on Revelation 21.
Richard Baxter was a very effective pastor in the seventeenth century in England. He’s well known for his book The Reformed Pastor. Not many people know, however, that Richard Baxter labored for all the years of his life under tremendous pain. He had frequent nose bleeds, constant cough, headaches, digestive ailments, kidney stones, gallstones.
He believed in supernatural healing, and he testified several times that God had delivered him out of a deadly disease to keep on ministering via direct intervention. In fact, he told the story one time of entering the pulpit, and he could see in the looking glass a big cancerous tumor on the back of his throat that vanished while he was preaching and testifying to the grace of God.
Preciousness of Heaven
And yet, all his life, from the age of 21 on, he testified that he was “seldom an hour free from pain.” One of the effects on Richard Baxter’s life is that it made him keenly aware of how short life is, how certain death is, and how precious heaven is. When he was 35 years old, he became what he thought was mortally ill. And he was on his bed, and he thought he was dying.
And he formed a habit, which as it turned out, lasted for forty years, because he didn’t die. The habit was meditating a half an hour a day on the glories of heaven. The reason he formed this habit and maintained this habit is because of the profound effect that it had on his life, keeping him awake to the things of God and to the brevity of this life. He wrote down those reflections in those days, and they became a book called The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, which is still in print three hundred years later to testify to the power of this man’s vision of what he had seen of God’s glorious hope for the believer. He commended it to us, that we would take time each day to set our minds on heaven.
This is the way he said it:
If you would have light and heat, why are you not more in the sunshine? For want of this recourse to heaven your soul is as a lamp not lighted, and your duty as a sacrifice without fire. Fetch one coal daily from this altar, and see if your offering will not burn. . . . Keep close to this reviving fire, and see if your affections will not be warm.
Set Your Mind on Things Above
Now, that’s good advice. I think it’s the same advice that Paul gave in Colossians 3. He said, following up on last Sunday’s message, as it were,
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1–4)
“How frequently do you set your mind on things that are above and dwell there?”
Now, I want to ask you, do you do that? Do you obey that? How frequently do you set your mind on things that are above and dwell there? How frequently do you seek the future? Do you seek the age to come? Do you look to where your life is hid with Christ in God and anticipate the glory that will be you when you come with him, and you in your true life are revealed?
We are so addicted to the world. So, I just want to invite you, with Richard Baxter, to do what he did, and every day to set your mind on things that are above. And I want you to repudiate with me a lie that goes like this: “Well, if you spend time thinking about heaven, if you dwell on the age to come, and the glories of your hope, you are going to become of no earthly good whatsoever.” Now, that’s a lie. It’s a common one.
I think exactly the opposite is the case. It’s the people who know their hope, who know that their destiny is rock-solid and sure, who know that their destiny is glorious, who are free to take risks of love, free to “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still.” I’ve got a destiny. I’ve got a future. I cannot die. Mark it. It is not the people who have that hope, who have that security, who live in that confidence, who live their lives gathering treasures on earth and ignore the needs of people.
It’s people who are free, who don’t need money, who don’t need comforts, who don’t need worldly acclaim because they’ve got it all in Jesus, who are free to take risks for others. First Peter 3:15 says, “. . . always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Now, have you ever had anybody ask you a reason for the hope that is in you? Have you had anybody look at your behavior and say, “My, what hope must be behind that behavior?” I ask you, what kind of behavior would that be?
If somebody jumps out of an airplane, you don’t jump out behind them with no parachute. Two dead people aren’t better than one. So, if somebody falls out of an airplane with no parachute on, you might jump out after them, if you have a parachute on, and you try one of those bullet dives to catch them. So they’re falling kind of loose and stopping a lot of air, 110 miles an hour, maybe, and you go bullet-like, 150 miles an hour, maybe. You might do that, because the security and the hope of this parachute free you for that kind of love — free you for that kind of risk-taking. So, if somebody’s in the airplane, and they see you about to jump, and they ask you, “What’s the reason for the hope that you have, to jump out of this airplane to try to catch somebody? What’s the reason for your hope?” You say, “The parachute. It’s called the hope of glory. The parachute, that’s my hope.” And then you jump.
Free to Change the World
Now I want to ask you, what kind of lifestyle will move people to ask you questions like that about your hope? Gathering money? No, because they’ll assume money is your hope. Gathering comforts? Comforts are your hope. Spending all your time watching television? No, television is your hope. Hope frees for a radical new lifestyle.
“People in love with heaven are the ones that are free to change this world.”
So, I want to call you with Richard Baxter, and I want to call you with the apostle Paul, if you have been raised with Christ, if your life is hid with Christ in God — out there secure. It’s done. Absolutely. You cannot die. You cannot lose. If it’s that sure, I want to invite you to set your mind on things that are above. Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated. Let your mind dwell on the glories of the age to come.
And you know what’ll happen? You will become a free person. And free people are dangerous people to the kingdom of Satan, because they don’t ask cautionary questions about what it will cost in this life. They throw that to the wind, and they love, and they sacrifice, and they go, and they serve, and they change the world — this world, of all things. Of all things, can you imagine that? People in love with heaven are the ones that are free to change this world.
By David Mathis — 3 months ago
At present, I’m enjoying a slow walk through Middle-earth. We first toured some of this terrain together almost six years ago, as I read aloud The Hobbit to our twin boys. Now, they’re almost twelve. Harry Potter is behind us. The boys are almost teens, more grown-up, with maturing palates ready for richer fare — and the patience that Tolkien requires. At long last, we journey to Mordor.
The Lord of the Rings is striking for its contrasts. Suffocating darkness, then stunning bursts of light. Brooding evil, and resilient good. Yes, this tale has its greys — perhaps the most common color named in the trilogy. Yet beneath its cloaks is a marked world of stark contrasts. From the beginning, this is not a journey Frodo started from some deep urge for adventure. He doesn’t choose to go; he signs no contract. Pursued by Black Riders who have breached the Shire, he is forced to run, with life and death — and the whole world — in the balance.
When all the world is so quickly at stake, diverse races soon divide between Mordor and the West. Even Elves and Dwarves join together in the Fellowship. The horror of the White Wizard’s change in allegiance is that the chasm between Evil, and those who would resist it, is so stark. And in the meantime, one who is Grey is shown to be White.
This is one reason Lord of the Rings is a welcomed influence in many Christian homes. We teach our children first and foremost from Scripture that the real world is one of stark contrasts, with many voices vying to paint it all in shades of grey. Cloaked as it may be for now, ours is a world of darkness and light, of evil and good, of wrong and right. We need eyes for biblical reality — what God himself says about our world through the apostles and prophets and climactically in his Son — and we are happy to be helped along by some great stories, and wise voices, that echo the contrasts of Scripture.
God Put Roses on Briers
One such wise voice is Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). No, I am not yet reading him aloud to my children, but I dream of the day. At least I hope some of his spine will come to them through their father.
Edwards, says biographer George Marsden, “saw all created reality as bittersweet contrasts, dazzling beauty set against appalling horrors, ephemeral glories pointing to divine perfections” (Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 136). And what is at the center of that contrast-filled reality and beauty?
At the core of Edwards’ outlook is a rigorously unsentimental view of love. . . . Edwards’ universe was similar to that of many of our own moral tales, from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings to countless lesser entertainments. (137)
Star Wars may be a stretch, but the point is well-taken in terms of contrasts between light and dark. Often we need to go back — to Tolkien and Lewis seventy years ago, to Edwards in the early 1700s, and most of all to the Scriptures — to escape the gently disorienting breezes of our own day, feel the great directional gusts of reality, and remember that life and death are at stake. The atmosphere of secularism rests so heavy on us that we are prone to take eternity so lightly. But the real world is one of briers and worms, of snakes and sharks, of death and hell.
“The atmosphere of secularism rests so heavy on us that we are prone to take eternity so lightly.”
In Scripture, God shows us the glory of his light against the backdrop of darkness. Slavery in Egypt accents the glory of his deliverance. His people regularly falling under foreign powers accents his rescues under the judges. The destruction of Jerusalem, and the horrors of exile, accent the glory of return and restoration. The death of his own Son precedes the glorious rush of resurrection life; and our own sin, the stark contrast of grace and the gift of new life. In it all, we learn our need for God, and learn to marvel in his light.
As Edwards wrote in one of his earliest entries in his journal,
Roses grow upon briers, which is to signify that all temporal sweets are mixed with bitter. But what seems more especially to be meant by it, is that true happiness, the crown of glory, is to be come at in no other way than by bearing Christ’s cross by a life of mortification, self-denial and labor, and bearing all things for Christ. (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 11:52)
Our Trouble with ‘Love’
Another voice unafraid of God’s stark contrasts and God’s unsentimental love — and this one from our own day — is Don Carson.
In the opening chapter of his Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Carson five times uses the words “sentimental” or “sentimentalized” to characterize the prevailing notions of love in our age — in contrast to the rich, multi-dimensional portrait of God’s love in the Scriptures. Which means that when biblically-shaped Christians speak about the love of God today, we “mean something very different from what is meant in the surrounding culture” (10). What is more, writes Carson:
I do not think that what the Bible says about the love of God can long survive at the forefront of our thinking if it is abstracted from the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the providence of God, or the personhood of God — to mention only a few nonnegotiable elements of basic Christianity. (11)
“When we listen to God’s own words, we do not find a portrait of his love that is simple or tame.”
Some today flinch at divine sovereignty — and divine wrath all the more. And set against these suspicions are shallow and sentimental notions of his love. Of course God will forgive me, it’s assumed, That’s his job. But when we listen to God’s own words, we do not find a portrait of his love that is so simple, one-dimensional, tame, or boring.
How, then, is God’s love “rigorously unsentimental”?
God’s love toward sinners comes on quite different terms than his love for his Son. Carson points first to God’s intra-Trinitarian love with which he loves his worthy Son. But we are mere creatures, and fallen, and undeserving. God loves us not because of our worth, but despite it. Our sin deserves the justice of eternal separation. His love toward sinners shines out for what it is against the backdrop of our rebellion, and the hell we deserve. His love for us demonstrates, at bottom, his value and worth, against the common assumption that it preeminently echoes how valuable we are.
And divine justice and wrath are satisfied in the death of God’s Son. His is bloody, deadly, unsparing love — the kind that makes people squirm and some utter horrible phrases like “cosmic child abuse.” The hubris is staggering. Still, he tells us that he loved the world in this way: “he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). How does God show his love for us? “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). How do we know that he is for us, and no one, Satan included, can be successfully against us? God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
Carson also observes God’s providential love — he makes his sun rise on the just and unjust — and his yearning love, holding out open hands to any sinner who will bow and received Jesus as his treasured Lord. But sinners, on their own, do not repent without God’s elective love — his special love for his people, his sheep, his bride. And just as unnerving as election, if not more so for some, is God’s provisional love, which is conditioned on obedience.
Twenty-first-century, Christ-haunted Westerners have their sentimental slogans, that God’s love is unconditional, or that he loves everyone the same. It is true that his elective love is unconditional, but certainly not his provisional love. And he does love everyone, in some respect, with regard to his providential love and yearning love, but certainly not in his elective love. As Carson writes, “What the Bible says about the love of God is more complex and nuanced than what is allowed by mere sloganeering” (24).
News Worth Sharing
In such biblical tensions, we find the deep and complex love of our God — his unsentimental love — a love which is not weaker than the world’s version, but stronger. The edges and hard-to-stomach truths do not dilute divine love; they distill it.
God does not promise his people temporal comforts and ease. Nor did he promise, and give, such to his own Son in the days of his flesh. Divine love, in this age, is not simple, sentimental, or predictable. Owning this now, before the next time this world roughs us up, will help us be ready to suffer well, for the joy set before us.
So, we relish contemporary voices with backbone. And we go back a century for Tolkien and Lewis, or back three centuries for Edwards, and four for the Puritans. And best of all, by far, we build our lives daily in this modern world in the firm words and stark contrasts of the Scriptures, as faithful Christians have for two millennia. Then we watch with compassion as our world tries to satisfy itself with a cheap, thin, sentimental counterfeit.
And we stand ready with such good news to share about the love of our God.
By David Mathis — 10 months ago
Christ did not exalt himself. Both culturally and theologically, these can be surprising words to encounter in Hebrews 5:5. So also with Jesus’s own confession in John 8:50: “I do not seek my own glory.”
Culturally, we live at a time in which self-exaltation, self-promotion, and self-advocacy are increasingly cast in terms of virtue rather than vice. We expect self-exaltation, and even commend it. Assert yourself. Speak up for yourself. Put yourself forward. Yet one of Jesus’s most repeated teachings, increasingly at odds with our age, confronts our modern lifting up of self: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11; also Matthew 23:12; Luke 18:14).
Theologically, we have our questions as well. Many of us have come to learn, rightly, from the Scriptures, that God is the one being in all the universe for whom self-exaltation is the highest of virtues. But what does this mean for the man Christ Jesus as we see and hear him in the Gospels? He is both fully God and fully man. Did he seek his own glory — as is good and right and loving for God? If so, what do we make of the plain words in Hebrews and John that he did not?
Who Glorifies Whom?
In Scripture, to glorify, or exalt, or lift up, is sacred action and language. God made us to image him, to reflect and reveal him in the world, that he might be glorified and exalted. Before addressing the question of what it meant for Christ, as man, though God, to not seek his own glory, it may help to rehearse Scripture’s plain and repeated teaching about the pursuit of glory and exaltation.
God exalts God.
That God righteously (and lovingly) exalts himself is not Scripture’s most frequent teaching about the act of exalting, but it is plain and repeated — and theologically foundational.
It is no flaw, but indeed the highest of virtues, that God says, through the psalmist, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10). So too it is no flaw, but indeed virtue, for the psalmist to say to God, as rationale for his praise, “You have exalted above all things your name and your word” (Psalm 138:2). In his name and through his word, God has revealed himself, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness toward his people.
“God exalts God, and his people exalt him, and he exalts them, but his people do not exalt themselves.”
God’s self-exaltation comes not at the expense of his people’s joy, but in the service of their joy. As Isaiah says, “He exalts himself to show mercy to you” (Isaiah 30:18). When God moves to glorify himself — “Now I will lift myself up; now I will be exalted” (Isaiah 33:10) — rightly do his enemies cower, while his people rejoice. So too, in the Gospels, when Jesus prays, “Father, glorify your name,” a righteous and loving voice comes from heaven in response: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:28).
God’s people exalt God.
Then, without surprise, and with the greatest scriptural frequency, God’s people exalt him. This is the very heart and essence of our creation in his image: to glorify him, make him known, exalt him in the world. When humans exalt, or when humans glorify, God is to be the object of the sacred action.
Rescued from Egypt and the Red Sea, Moses and the people sing in celebration, “This is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him” (Exodus 15:2). We come to the bottom of our nature and calling as humans when we say with the prophet, “O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you” (Isaiah 25:1), and repeat with the psalmist, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (Psalm 34:3).
Jesus himself captured this profound calling in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” The impression on Peter and the disciples was indelible. Among dozens of other instances of exalting or glorifying God in the New Testament, Peter echoed this basic human calling, now made Christian: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that . . . they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12; also 4:11, 16).
God exalts his people.
Sometimes those who have rehearsed the first two truths most can struggle with the third: God exalts his people. Not only are his chosen people predestined to Christlikeness, called, and justified, but they also are glorified (Romans 8:29–30). The Scriptures make stunning promises — almost too good to be true — about how God will glorify his people: being pleased with us, making us heirs with Christ of everything (Romans 8:16–17), serving us at table (Luke 12:37), appointing us to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), ascribing value to us and rejoicing over us (Zephaniah 3:17), and (perhaps most shocking of all) granting us to sit with Christ on his throne (Revelation 3:21).
In the Old Testament, God moved to glorify or exalt the leader of his people. First, Moses; then, Joshua: “The Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life” (Joshua 4:14; also 3:7). Then markedly so with David, as king, as he knew full well (2 Samuel 5:12; 22:49; 1 Chronicles 25:5). But not just prophets, leaders, and kings. To all his chosen people, he said, “Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land” (Psalm 37:34).
God’s exalting of his people is likewise explicit in one of Jesus’s most repeated statements, as we’ve seen: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12; also Luke 14:11; 18:14). And it’s applied particularly to Christians in James 4:10 and 1 Peter 5:6: humble yourselves before God, and he will exalt you.
God’s people do not exalt themselves.
At this point, however, the symmetry breaks down. Scripture here is gloriously asymmetrical, we might say: God exalts God, and his people exalt him, and he exalts them, but his people do not exalt themselves. Just as in the sacred language of exaltation, God is to be the object of human glorifying, so God, not man, is to be the actor when his people are glorified.
“Biblically, the path of human self-exaltation is a trail of tears and tragedy.”
Biblically, the path of human self-exaltation is a trail of tears and tragedy. Pharaoh, who oppresses God’s people as almost the serpent incarnate, is first to be tagged: “You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go” (Exodus 9:17). Centuries later, the ancient head reared when David’s son Adonijah “exalted himself, saying, ‘I will be king’” (1 Kings 1:5), and rebelled not only against his own father, but against God.
Psalm 66:7 identifies “the rebellious” as those who “exalt themselves.” Proverbs 30:32 identifies “exalting yourself” with folly. Self-exaltation may feel attractive, and safe, in the moment, but God’s humbling hand will come in time.
The vision of Daniel 11 shows that the rebellion and folly of human self-exaltation is no small flaw or misstep. It is the spirit of antichrist. “The king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods” (Daniel 11:36). Paul too sees self-exaltation as the calling card of “the man of lawlessness” to come: “[The day of the Lord] will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship” (2 Thessalonians 2:3–4).
Human self-exaltation is the spirit of antichrist. Meanwhile, human self-humbling, according to Paul, is the spirit of Christ: “Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Which brings us back to the question, Did Jesus glorify himself or not?
Did Jesus Exalt Himself?
The question about Christ’s self-exaltation is more challenging than what we’ve seen so far. Scripture is plain that divine self-exaltation and human God-exaltation are righteous, as is divine man-exaltation, while human self-exaltation is folly, rebellion, and even the very spirit of antichrist. Yet with Christ, we come to the unique and spectacular man who is also God, and the one person of the Godhead who is also man.
The Gospel of John in particular captures the marvelous complexities of the relationship between the man Christ Jesus, who is God, and his Father in heaven.
First, Jesus glorified God. As man, he gave his human life, from beginning to end, to the human calling, common to us all, to exalt God with our lives and words. “I glorified you on earth,” Jesus says to the Father on the night before he died (John 17:4).
Second, God glorified Jesus. The clear refrain as to who acted to glorify Jesus is God, both Father and Spirit. As Jesus says, “It is my Father who glorifies me” (John 8:54; also 13:32), and of the Spirit, “He will glorify me” (John 16:14). So too the book of Acts says it was “the God of our fathers” who “glorified his servant Jesus” (Acts 3:13). “God exalted him at his right hand” (Acts 5:31).
Third, God was glorified in Jesus. The glory of God and the glory of Christ are not competing but complementary glories (John 11:4). When Jesus is glorified, “God is glorified in him” (John 13:31). And Jesus tells his disciples to pray “in my name . . . that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).
Fourth, then, comes the surprisingly human truth about Christ: Jesus did not glorify himself. This is what we saw in Hebrews 5:5 related to his calling as our great high priest: “Christ did not exalt [literally, glorify] himself to be made a high priest.” And this is what we heard from Jesus’s own mouth in John 8:50: “I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.” He explains more in John 8:54: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me.”
Fifth, and finally, comes the surprisingly divine prayer of Jesus to his Father on the night before he died: Jesus asked to be glorified, to the glory of the Father.
Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you. . . . Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (John 17:1, 5)
This is perhaps the place, on the eve of the cross, where Jesus’s pursuit of the Father’s glory seems most distinct from ours. Yet even here, in asking for glory, he is strikingly human. Here, in human words, with his fully human mouth and soul, he asks of his Father, rather than grasping or self-exalting, and he waits in faith. And his pursuit is Godward. He does not posture to “receive glory from people” (John 5:41; also Matthew 6:2) but seeks “the glory that comes from the only God” (John 5:44). And he aligns his Father’s coming exaltation of him with his human exaltation of his Father: “. . . that the Son may glorify you.”
God Highly Exalted Him
What, then, do we learn from Christ, both theologically and ethically, in our milieu increasingly at home with human self-exaltation and confused by self-humbling?
“Christ, as man, did not exalt himself. How clear, then, is our calling and path as humans and Christians?”
First, oh what wonders await us in the unique and spectacular person who is Jesus Christ — the one man who is God, and the one divine person who became man. As Paul writes, with awe, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Which means we will need to beware of pigeonholing or of simplistic questions about Jesus. Who glorified Christ? Answer: God did — Father, Spirit, and Son. Christ, with regard to his humanity, did not (and does not) glorify himself; he is not guilty of human self-exaltation. And Christ, as God, the eternal second person of the Trinity, did (and does) indeed, without doubt, hesitation, or apology — and with the infinite energy and power of the Godhead — glorify himself. Christ, as man, did not exalt himself, even as he did as God.
As for ethics, and our lives as humans in these last days, we see afresh the folly, and rebellion, and even anti-Christian spirit of human self-exaltation. Even Christ, as man, did not exalt himself. How clear, then, is our calling and path as humans and Christians?
We were made, and we have been redeemed, for self-humbling, in service of God-exaltation. And there is great joy in this Christ-modeled pattern — perhaps we could even say “increasingly great joy” in a day when self-humbling might seem increasingly rare.
For Christians, as it was for Christ himself in human flesh, our being glorified, exalted, lifted up by God is not the problem, but our self-glorifying, our self-exalting, is the problem. God made us to be recipients of glory and honor from him, on his terms, not self-glorifiers and self-exalters on ours. And for those who humble themselves before him, he will indeed, without fail — in his “proper time,” not ours (1 Peter 5:6) — exalt them, even as he did for his own Son Christ (Philippians 2:9).