Philippians 2:6-7 “Being in the form of God, he thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation.”
We’ve been discussing Philippians 2:6 on Sunday Evenings, and it is one of the most difficult verses I’ve ever had to explain. There are several reasons for that, though I only have space to list two before wrapping up this post.
First, Paul used an adverbial participle in the first phrase . . . “being in the form of God.” This is inherently ambiguous and could mean either “although he was in the form of God” or “because He was in the form of God.” The former option is the most popular among translators, though I’m leaning toward the latter.
Second, What does “form of God” mean? Form (morphe) usually refers to the physical appearance of an object (see Mark 16:12 where it is said that Jesus “appeared in another form unto two of them”). “Form” usually refers to “that by which the eye distinguishes one object from another.” But since God is Spirit and has no physical shape (John 4:24; Col. 1:15), “form of God” cannot refer to God’s physical shape. So what does it mean? It could mean that Christ existed in God’s essence: “being in the essence of God.” This is what Hebrews 1:3 teaches: “Christ is the express image of God’s person.” Person here means “essence” or “substance.” It is the Greek word hupostasis, which refers to essence, or that which makes a person what he is (in God’s case, His omnipotence, omniscience, etc). So “existing in the form of God” may mean that Christ existed as the “exact representation of God’s essence,” which is what Hebrews 1:3 teaches. Christ said things like “If you have seen me you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9) because He is an precise copy of the Father’s essence. They are one in essence, and thus both are fully God and worthy of worship. A second solution is to take “form” as being akin to the word logos in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the logos, or Word.” John coined this term logos for Christ, because no one has ever seen the Father; it is the Second Person’s role to reveal the Father to creation (see John 1:18). In other words, Christ is the self-expression of the Father. As a man’s word is the expression of his inmost being, so Christ is the self-expression of God to His creation. Therefore, “form” may be similar to “word,” just a visual idea instead of a verbal idea. “Word” illustrates “divine self-expression” with a verbal idea. “Form” may illustrate “divine self-expression” with a visual idea.
It is important to point out that either way you take it, the phrase “Being in the Form of God” upholds Christ’s full Deity. Philippians 1:6 discusses Christ in His pre-incarnate state (before he became the babe of Bethlehem). Christ eternally existed as “the exact representation of God’s very essence” and as “the divine self-revelation.” Christ is fully God, just as the Bible asserts in so many places: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:7). “Before Abraham was I am” (John 8:58). And there are so many more.
Though Philippians 2:6 is difficult, it is nice to know that there are some conclusions that can be reached. When you think that God the Son added to Himself a human nature to save man, you understand how low He really stooped. You understand how merciful He really is. “He humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in earth” (Psalm 113). If it is humbling for God to merely behold heaven, how much more did He humble Himself to be born in a stable, laid in a manger, submit Himself to human parents, live a life of service to others, and die an ignoble and excruciating death? We are the objects of extreme mercy. The Maker of the Empyrean Ocean of the Heavens walked upon the dust of the earth. The One Who Upholds All Things was held in a mother’s arms. The Fountain of Blessing became the object of cursing. He Who Spoke Worlds into Existence allowed Himself to be spat upon. The Prince of Life Shed His Blood In Death. This was how far God was willing to go to bless us. This is how far He had to go, if sinners like us are to be saved.
Such thoughts magnify God and humble us. How can we exalt ourselves when He so humbled Himself? How can we think much of ourselves when we are so bad it took the death of God’s Son to save us? Consider the following reflection from C. H. Spurgeon . . .
“Jesus is the great teacher of lowliness of heart. We need daily to learn of him. See the Master taking a towel and washing his disciples’ feet! Follower of Christ, wilt thou not humble thyself? See him as the Servant of servants, and surely thou canst not be proud! Is not this sentence the compendium of his biography, “He humbled himself”? Was he not on earth always stripping off first one robe of honour and then another, till, naked, he was fastened to the cross, and there did he not empty out his inmost self, pouring out his life-blood, giving up for all of us, till they laid him penniless in a borrowed grave? How low was our dear Redeemer brought! How then can we be proud? Stand at the foot of the cross, and count the purple drops by which you have been cleansed; see the thorn-crown; mark his scourged shoulders, still gushing with encrimsoned rills; see hands and feet given up to the rough iron, and his whole self to mockery and scorn; see the bitterness, and the pangs, and the throes of inward grief, showing themselves in his outward frame; hear the thrilling shriek, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And if you do not lie prostrate on the ground before that cross, you have never seen it: if you are not humbled in the presence of Jesus, you do not know him. You were so lost that nothing could save you but the sacrifice of God’s only begotten. Think of that, and as Jesus stooped for you, bow yourself in lowliness at his feet. A sense of Christ’s amazing love to us has a greater tendency to humble us than even a consciousness of our own guilt. May the Lord bring us in contemplation to Calvary, then our position will no longer be that of the pompous man of pride, but we shall take the humble place of one who loves much because much has been forgiven him. Pride cannot live beneath the cross. Let us sit there and learn our lesson, and then rise and carry it into practice” (Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, June 3rd, on Phil 2:8)
This Christmas, magnify God for His mind-boggling gift of Jesus Christ.
More on Philippians 2:6 to come!