Philippians 2. 5-11 is full of important doctrinal truth touching on the person of our Lord. In this article we are concerned, however, only with verse 6.
We note at the outset that this spiritual gem of a passage is set in a most mundane and practical context. Verse 4 requires that each of us has regard not to his or her own advantage but to that of others. It should be noted that the word translated “others” (heteros) often carries the thought of “others of a different kind” as opposed to others of the same kind.
See, for example, its use in Luke 23. 22. The noblest example of considering others is to be found, as in the case of all other things of worth, in the Lord Himself. Paul instructs us, therefore, to reflect in ourselves “the mind” of Christ Jesus, v. 5.
Verse 6 presents to us the One who, subsisting in the form of God, did not esteem equality with God as something to be held fast. The word rendered “being” (kuparcho) conveys the idea of “prior existence”, Lightfoot, p. 110. Walvoord (p. 138) comments, “The thought is that Christ always has been in the form of God, with the implication that He still is”. What is in view here, therefore, is the person of our Lord prior to His incarnation.
We are told that the “form” (morphe) of God was His. Vine (article “Form") tells us that this “denotes the special or characteristic form or feature of a person or thing”. He quotes Gifford’s definition, which is that morphe is “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”. It is “a term which expresses the sum of those characterising qualities which make a thing the precise thing that it is”, Warfield, p. 39.
It will be seen from these quotations that the true, divine nature of our Lord is involved in the term “form of God”. “The image of God is Christ, while the morphe iheou is the garment by which His divine nature may be known”, Behm in Kittel, vol. IV, p.752. Norbie sums it all up, “The idea of morphe is that of form native to essence … That form of spiritual existence which is native to the Father was native to the Son in the ages prior to the incarnation. This implies full equality of essence and hence of glory and authority. All that the Father was the Son was”, p. 81. Philippians 2 contains a corresponding phrase to the “form of God”. It is found in verse 7: the “form of a servant”. He who was really and actually God became really and actually a bondman! What is in view here is the Lord’s taking manhood. A comparison of Hebrews 10. 5 with Psalm 40. 6 indicates that what the opening (lit. digging) of the ear was to the Israelite, the taking of the prepared body was to our Lord. The word used for “opened” in Psalm 40. 6 (kahrah) really means “digged” – “in allusion to the custom prescribed in Exod. 21.2; Deut. 15. 16, in token of perpetual servitude”, Wilson, p. 295.
To the Israelite, the opened ear was the sign of his having become a “servant for ever”, Deut. 15. 17. A similar significance attached to our Lord’s taking the body prepared for Him: He took upon Himself the “form of a servant”. In commenting on Psalm 40. 6, Darby says, “Here it is ‘digged ears’ (that is, took the place of a servant). But this He did, as may be seen in Philippians 2, by becoming a man. Hence the Spirit accepts the interpretation of the LXX – ‘a body hast thou prepared me’ “, Synopsis, vol. II, p. 11.
It is important to note that it is not said that the Lord exchanged the form of God for the form of a servant. Far from it! To the “form of God” He added the “form of a servant”. His becoming man was not a supersession of, but an addition to, His being in the form of God. Philippians 2. 6-7 is stressing, therefore, that (i) our Lord was, is and ever shall be truly God, v, 6, and (ii) that He became truly man, v. 7. Both His deity and manhood are real and absolute.
What then are we to make of the fact that He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God"? The idea behind “thought it not robbery” is that He did not regard it “as a prize, a treasure to be clutched and retained at all hazards”, Lightfoot, p. 111. Our Lord, that is, did not regard equality with God as something to be held fast. Far from viewing equality with God as something which should not fall from His grasp, He emptied (kenoo) Himself and took the form of a bondman.
This equality, we must stress, was not equality of nature; contrast John 5. 18. It has in view not personality but circumstances. Our Lord never relinquished His deity; He never ceased to be what He had always been. He laid aside the insignia of His majesty in coming to earth. The external accompaniments of divine splendour and glory were left behind, cf. John 17. 5. He relinquished, not His divine nature, but the heavenly circumstances. There were certain rights which belonged to Him which, as an act of amazing condescension, He waived. A king, in order to mingle unrecognized among his subjects, might lay aside his regal robes and sceptre, put off his crown and leave his palace. Yet, though he rub shoulders with his people in their own lowly circumstances, he would not cease for one moment to be their king.
The Lord Jesus did not esteem His equality in heavenly circumstances with God as something to be clung to, but He emptied Himself and took on Himself both “true human nature (the form of a servant) and the externals of human nature (in fashion as a man)”, Lightfoot, p. 133. This He did without relinquishing one iota of His essential deity. Having taken the form of a servant, He remained in the form of God!
Come now, and view that manger – The Lord of glory see, A houseless, homeless Stranger In this poor world for thee.
There see the Godhead glory Shine through that human veil, And, willing, hear the story Of Love that’s come to heal.
J. N. Darby
References: J. N. Darby – “The Man of Sorrows”, Spiritual Songs; G. Kittel – Theological Dictionary of the N.T.; J. B. Lightfoot – Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians; D. L. Norbie – God the Son, A Symposium; W. E. Vine – Expository Dictionary of N.T. Words; J. F. Walvoord – Jesus Christ our Lord; B. B. Warfield – The Person and Work of Christ; W. Wilson – O. T. Word Studies.