by Mike Ratliff
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11 ESV)
In yesterday’s post, The Express Image of God, we saw that the Bible is very clear that our Lord Jesus Christ is God. He is not a created being. He is not an any way lower than God nor are we humans in any way on His level. I believe the passage I placed at the top of this post makes this very clear. In Philippians 2:1-11, the Apostle Paul used our Lord’s incarnation as an example of humility that we should emulate. For this study, however, we we will focus on vv6-8 which clearly show that our Lord is God, but humbled Himself on behalf of those He came to save. Here are those verses again from the ESV.
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV)
ὃς ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα Θεῷ, ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος, καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ. (Philippians 2:6-8 GNT)
The point of contention here is, of course, in v6 where some scholars insist that this does not refer to the preexistence of Christ as part of the Triune Godhead prior to His incarnation as Jesus Christ. However, to assert this requires us to take a completely unnatural and “out of context” view of this passage. This is why I put the whole passage at the top of the post. In any case, the words translated in the ESV as “form of God” are the words μορφῇ Θεοῦ or morphē theou. The word μορφῇ means the true and exact nature of something, possessing all the characteristics and qualities of something. Paul is telling us that Jesus Christ possesses all the characteristics and qualities of God and is, therefore, equal with God. However, Paul goes right from there to show that our Lord took the μορφὴν δούλου in v7. Here we have the accusative, singular form of μορφῇ. This form means that the direct object receives the action of the verb. Our Lord Jesus is the direct object while δούλου is the genitive, singular form of δοῦλος, which we have looked at many times. It is the word for bondservant or slave. The genitive form speaks of what we refer to in English as the “possessive case.” The genitive has many functions, but one, I think, fits this. It can indicate a familial relationship between a word and its head noun (relationship). Often the head noun is not expressed, so it is up to the translator’s skills to determine the exact nature of the the relationship. Just whose δοῦλος was our Lord Jesus? Was he the bondservant of sinful men? When it was not yet His time to fulfill His mission, no one could kill Him so, no. He was the δοῦλος of those for whom He came to purchase with His life, however, no one ordered Him around like a slave, He humbled Himself to serve them. Does this make sense? In this, He is our example.
Our Lord, even though He is God, took on the form of a slave on our account. However, even in that state, He never ceased being God. He could have claimed that at any time, but did not, and He obediently went to the Cross, sinless and in complete fulfillment of the Law. Both of these things are what bought salvation for all who belong to Him. Go back to the top of this post and read what the result is in this total victory.
Soli Deo Gloria!