Last month, we saw that the Lord Jesus Christ is a real human being. Yet, we also noted, in closing, that He is unlike every other person that has existed, is existing, or will exist. We must now turn our attention to His humanity.
Consider part of a passage mentioned in an earlier article (on the deity of the Lord Jesus). It was stated then that we would not look at that passage until we reached the subject of His humanity. That time has now come. The passage is Philippians 2:5-8:
“… 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: And being found in fashion as a man …”
Many have misinterpreted these precious words, using them to teach that the Lord Jesus, in becoming a man, relinquished His deity. A careful study will, however, show that this is not so.
The word twice translated “form” is morphe, of which W. E. Vine says: “morphe is therefore properly the nature or essence, not in the abstract, but as actually subsisting in the individual, and retained as long as the individual itself exists. … Thus, in the passage before us morphe Theou is the divine nature actually and inseparably subsisting in the Person of Christ.”
In other words, “in the form of God” denotes the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and “being” shows that it is His, essentially and eternally. He has always existed “in the form of God,” and that did not change when He came into the world.
What, then, of the phrase “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”? The noun “robbery” is from a verb meaning “to grasp; to seize.” Many conclude that, though He was equal with God, He did not continue to hold onto this equality, but relinquished it.
We believe that is the wrong conclusion, and that, rather, the teaching is that He did not regard His being equal with God as something to lay hold onto in order to further His own self-interests. To use a common phrase, He did not take advantage of it. Thus, it is not that He let go of His deity (even partly); rather, it is that He did not make use of His deity for selfish ends.
This interpretation fits the context: Paul has been telling the Philippians to think, not of their own self-interests, but of the interests of others. The supreme example of this attitude is Christ, Who, being God, is greater than all others, and yet He did not consider His deity as something to seize upon as a reason for self-centeredness.
Now we come to the next phrase: “made Himself of no reputation,” which some translate as “emptied Himself.” If (as we firmly believe) this does not mean that He emptied Himself of His deity, what does it mean? Happily, we need not speculate, for the following clause explains it: “and took upon Him the form of a servant.” The phrase “took upon Him” is a participle meaning”taking upon Him.” In other words, His taking upon Him the form of a servant is not additional to Him emptying Himself, but explanatory of it: He “emptied himself” by the act of taking upon Him servant form. He did not “empty Himself” by relinquishing something; on the contrary, He “emptied Himself” by taking on something additional.
As before, consideration of the context helps. In telling the Philippians that they should follow the example of their Lord, Paul was not suggesting that they should relinquish any aspect of who they are, but that they should voluntarily become servants, in the interest of others, as the Lord Jesus did. For them, it did not involve giving up anything of who they were; nor did it for Him.
And how did He take upon Him the form of a servant? The answer, again, is found in the next phrase: “and was made in the likeness of men.” “Was made” is a participle – “becoming in the likeness of men.” So He took upon Him the form of a servant by becoming a man, and this was the way in which he “emptied Himself”. The KJV translation, “made Himself of no reputation,” conveys the sense well.
The word “form” (morphe), which has been used in connection with His deity, is also used of His humanity. This morphe (v7) was not a replacement for the morphe of verse 6, but additional to it. That is, He became something He never had been before, while fully retaining all that He always was. And, just as surely as He will always be God, He will (having taken the great step that we have been considering) ever be a real human being.
We observe also that He became in the “likeness” of men, that is, resembling men. Thus, while He is a real man, He is different from us. The same word translated “likeness” is used in Romans 8:3: “God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” His resemblance to His fellow men is not total. He is without sin, as we will see in future articles, and He is still God.
Finally, we read, “being found in fashion as a man.” The word “fashion” is schema, referring to what people could observe. Vine describes it as “the entire outwardly perceptible mode and shape of His existence, just as the preceding words morphe(form), and homoioma (likeness), describe what He was in Himself as Man.” People looked at Him, and they saw a man, for that is what He became.
Thus, the few words of this exquisite section of Philippians teach us blessed truths concerning our Lord Jesus Christ: He is God; He became a man; and yet, in doing so, He never ceased to be God.