"Let this mid be in you, which also was 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" (Philippians 2:5-7).
Paul the Apostle issues a threefold directive to the Philippian Church. First, they are to be of one accord. In order to achieve this each one must humble self and take an active concern in the things of his brethren above his own concerns, wants and needs. As the supreme example of this disposition of mind, Paul introduces the example of Christ to them. The Word, whom they knew as Jesus, "made Himself of no reputation" or "emptied Himself" (ASV). He did not consider His own pleasures, comforts, desires or rights but put the needs of His brethren above Himself and was made in the likeness of men.
The primary lesson of this text is humility. When brethren have the mind of Christ, they are at peace, united and working spreading the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 2:14-16).
In addition to the primary lesson of humility, the Apostle sets forth concepts that relate to the nature of Jesus Christ in the days of His flesh. A careful study of this text will help us understand some important questions about Jesus Who is God and man (John 1:14). In coming to appreciate these concepts, we will gain an even greater appreciation for the mind of Christ that we are to acquire.
There are two positions taken relative to the phrase "the form of God." W.E. Vine, following E.H. Gifford, asserts that morfev includes the whole nature and essence of Deity, and is inseparable from them. It does not include anything accidental or separable such as modes of manifestation at one time attached to the form, and at another separated from it. Gifford concludes, "The Son of God could not possibly divest Himself of ‘the form of God' at His incarnation without thereby ceasing to be God."
Gifford is correct in his conclusion regarding divestiture of Deity; Jesus most assuredly retained in the incarnation the essence of Divinity. However, Gifford misses the truth concerning morfhv being the "essential form" or "the divine nature" without which there can be "no existence".
Notice Mark 16:12, "After that He appeared in another form unto two of them." If morfev means the divine nature without which existence is impossible, how could Jesus appear in another (etevra), that is, different essential nature? Did God cease to exist on the road to Emmaus?
That morfev does not mean "essential nature" is evident from other passages where the participle is used. For example, "the form of knowledge" in Romans 2:20 denotes the outline of the scheme of redemption which the law gave, certainly not the essential knowledge of the totality of God's plan (cf. Romans 16:25, 26). Likewise, in 2 Timothy 3:5, "the form of godliness" is the appearance of religion where the real substance of it was lacking (cf., James 1:26, 27). The word morfev designates what strikes the vision, the external appearance. It does not refer to the essential nature of a being.
This truth about morfev appears in the words compounded with it. For example the word metamorfovomai means "was transfigured" when referring to Christ in Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2. The Father did not change Jesus' essential nature on the mount, only His outward appearance, that which struck the eye. In Romans 12:2, believers are commanded to be "transformed." Their outward manifestation is to be consistent with the new man that was born in baptism (cf. Romans 6:11-18). They are no longer to pattern their lives after the world. Similarly in 2 Corinthians 3:18, believers are to "be changed" into the same image of Christ. Not that our essential natures become Divine, but that we seek to be what Jesus is revealed to us in manner of life through the Word. We change our spiritual appearance to that of Christ (Galatians 2:20).
Rather, "form" is "the appearance, look or likeness, of someone, that by which those beholding him would judge him" (Nicoll). Gene Frost correctly observed: "The form is not identical with the divine essence, but is dependent upon it, a reflection of it; the appearance can be laid aside, but not the essence of one's being" (The Deity of Christ, p. 6).
Jesus did not choose to retain His station, nor did He regard the necessary humiliation robbery. Jesus "for your sakes became poor, that ye through His poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).
The translations in the various versions grapple with the difficulty of the language in verse six. The ASV gives us, "who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped." The NASV reads, "although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped." The RSV says, "Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped." The NIV renders the text, "who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped."
All of the versions make it clear that Jesus did not grasp, hold on to or retain that which constituted equality with God. We have already made it clear that Jesus did not and could not relinquish His Divinity (John 5:18). All that Jesus, the pre-incarnate Word, could release His hold upon was the glory (John 17:5), the power (Luke 4:14, 18, 32, 36), the authority (Matthew 28:18), the privileges (John 6:15) and the prerogatives of the Divine Son of God (Matthew 26:53).
Mark Twain wrote an interesting novel entitled, The Prince and the Pauper. The plot involved two young boys that were "bookends" in facial appearance and size. However, one was a prince and the other a poor commoner. The prince wanted to try life outside the confines of the castle on for size and convinced his doppelganger to take his place in the affairs of the state for the brief escapade. They exchange clothing and names and the merriment begins.
Which one was the prince? He who had the appearance and was enjoying the privileges or he who had the birthright and the title? If you can understand this, then you can understand to a small degree what Jesus did. He removed from Himself all that gave the appearance that he was Divine and entered the world; this Prince became a pauper for our sakes.
Jesus emptied Himself or, as the KJV says, He made Himself of no reputation. There has been much discussion of these phrases. Some have taken the position that Jesus "emptied" by adding to Himself all the attributes of humanity. Others have said that Jesus did not add or lose any thing because all that man is He already was and He retained in full possession and use all that He was. Others have noted correctly the primary lesson of the text and simply said, "Jesus emptied Himself." All of these explanations fall short of communicating the truth of the text.
As already noted above, Jesus could not relinquish divine nature, upon this I think all brethren are agreed. Whatever interpretation is given of this passage must begin with the recognition that Jesus retained divine nature (John 1:1-3, 14). However, where the disagreement arises is in ascertaining to what degree if any Jesus relinquished the exercise of His divine powers and prerogatives.
The text identifies four things of which the "emptying" consisted. These are: (1) taking the form of a servant, (2) being made in the likeness of men, (3) Being found in fashion as a man, (4) humble obedience unto death.
The word for "form" in this phrase is the same as the word for "form" in verse six, morfev. When we studied this word before we noticed that it means the "external appearance." Those who have taken the position that morfev must mean "the essential unchanging nature of a thing" find themselves in great trouble here. I would like for one of them to explain how a being can exchange one unchanging nature for another unchanging nature. This explains why some have said Jesus "emptied" by adding. I would also like to hear what the "unchanging nature" of a servant is. The passage does not say "the form of a man," but that of a servant. We know that angels are servants as well as men (Hebrews 1:14). Furthermore, the nature of a man is not that of a servant exclusively, since not all men are servants (Luke 16:19,20). It is apparent that morfev has to do with the appearance of a thing not its essential nature.
Jesus did not come in the splendor and glory of the Word of God. Neither did He descend in the radiant light of an archangel. The Son of God did not come riding a charger at the head of an immense army as would King David. His birth was not attendant with the flourishes of trumpets and the chiming of bells. His entry to His capitol was upon the foal of an ass. His appearance was ordinary and unbecoming. His hands were rough as a mason's and his feet were dusty and callused from walking everywhere He went. The measure of His life is summed up in these words, "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). Our Lord came in the role of a servant and never left that role during the extent of His sojourn upon the earth. He did not claim or demand what was rightfully His, but suffered as a poor, homeless Jew.
Jesus did not use any of the powers, demand any of the privileges, or exercise any of the prerogatives of His divine status. He came as one under authority dependent upon His Father who sent Him (John 5:19,30; 8:28).
The word "likeness," omoivwma, means: the shape, image, similitude, or resemblance of a thing. The Servant resembled a man.
While it is true that "likeness" does not always indicate "sameness" the issue of whether or not Jesus really took on human nature is dealt with in other passages. In Hebrews 2:14-17, the writer says of Jesus, "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same … wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren in all things." Philippians 2:7 is an affirmation that the Eternal Word was made flesh, that is, human in nature.
Not only did Jesus look like a man, He acted like a man. I believe that Paul is telling us that Jesus lived a real human experience. The word "fashion," sch'ma, refers to the manner of life. Men not only saw in Jesus the form and bearing of a man, but one in the state and relations of a human being. The servanthood of Christ involved not only the manifestation of human nature but a real human experience. Jesus lived life as a man. Of Him Paul wrote, "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him" (Hebrews 5:8,9).
Paul does not end his description of the service of the Word, his synopsis of the human existence of the Son of God, with only a consideration of its appearance and experience. Paul describes it in its character when he says that the Word "humbled himself and became obedient unto death."
When Paul writes of the humanity of Jesus, it was genuine, not only in its outward manifestation but also in its performance. Jesus was a real man giving real obedience to His God. Herein Jesus came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" and "condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans 8:3). Jesus is an example of perfect human character (1 Peter 2:21-22). Therefore, we are commanded to follow His steps and imitate His example (1 John 2:6; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1,2).
Jesus as a real man, living real human experiences dealt with them as all men do. There could be little purpose in the humiliation of Jesus if it were not possible for the rest of us to learn how to live from Jesus' example.
Some of our brethren would rob us of the comfort, the power and the victory the life of Jesus gives us by saying Jesus was different. They tell us we cannot do what Jesus did because Jesus was divine, deity, God. What they ignore is that He was man.
This is the whole point. Jesus came and showed us the way. He redeemed us from sin and said, "Brother, come and follow me. Walk as I walked and live as I lived." Jesus gives us hope. He gives us courage. And, when we fail, He show us compassion and says, "Try again, I am here to help."
There is no cheap grace here. No passing the blame to God because "I am only human." There is only the man Christ Jesus, example, friend, and brother in tribulations, friend and Saviour—Amen!