How would you illustrate humility? Paul illustrates it in the most profound and moving way in Philippians 2. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). The apostle often does this—he uses profound theology to teach practical Christian living.
To do this, he proves (1) that Jesus is God; and (2) that Jesus humbled Himself.
Two expressions in verse 6 prove that Jesus is God.
(1) “Who being in the form of God”: The form (Greek: morphee) of something is its essential nature or character. If Jesus is in the form of God, He has God’s attributes, power and glory, that is, He is God. In verse 7, Paul uses the same word “form” (Greek: morphee), this time to describe the humiliation of Jesus. Jesus took the “form of a servant,” which means that He really became a servant with all the attributes of a servant. Jesus did not pretend to be a servant. Similarly, Jesus does not have a superficial resemblance to God. Jesus really is God. Moreover, the KJV is correct in its translation, “being in the form of God.” The word “being” is the present participle of the verb “to be.” The meaning is not properly conveyed by the translation, “Although He was,” or “While He was.” “Was” is the past tense. “Being” is the present tense—the eternally present tense. Jesus is God, and He remains God. Throughout His Incarnation, humiliation, death and subsequent glorification, He is and remains God.
(2) “[He] thought it not robbery to be equal with God”: The word “robbery” (Greek: harpagmon) means something that is snatched, grasped or held. The idea is that Jesus possesses equality with God, but He did not consider such equality something to be held or something to which He had to cling. It was, in fact, something He gave up in order to humble Himself. There is some controversy over the word “robbery” here. The two meanings offered by theologians are (1) Jesus did not have equality with God, and He did not reach out and grab something that was not His; or (2) Jesus does have equality with God, but He did not cling to it as something He wanted to keep. However, only the second option fits the context.
Perhaps, I can illustrate it this way. If Satan, who is not God, did not reach out and try to grasp equality with God, would you consider that humility? Of course not! Not seeking equality with God is the duty of all creatures! (In fact, Satan’s sin was that he sought equality with God!). If Jesus were a creature, of course He may not seek equality with God! But, if Jesus is God, and does have equality with God, what wonderful condescension and humility it is for Him not to seek to hold on to what He has!
That is humility. There is no greater example of humility than that!
What did it mean for Jesus to relinquish equality with God, or not to consider equality with God as something that He would cling to? Verses 7-8 explain.
“[He] made Himself of no reputation”: This is the translation of one Greek verb, kenooo, which means to empty, to make empty or to make void. He emptied Himself! Of what did He empty Himself? Charles Wesley wrote, “He emptied Himself of all but love” (see the hymn, “And Can It Be?”). Wesley’s words are heretical. If Jesus did, in fact, empty Himself of “all but love,” He emptied Himself of His essential deity and of all His divine attributes except one—love. That is impossible! Jesus emptied Himself of His exalted position of equality with God. However, He is God—He cannot cease to be God. The Son of God is almighty, omniscient and omnipresent. That cannot change. (Certainly, His glory as the Son of God was veiled behind human flesh, but He did not lose even one of His divine attributes).
Instead of losing anything of His essential deity, Jesus added a real humanity. “He was made in the likeness of men” and He was “found in fashion as a man.” The two Greek words (homoiooma and schema) indicate that Jesus took to Himself a real human nature. He became what He was not, without ceasing to be what He essentially and eternally is. These two words teach Jesus’ essential humanity as the incarnate Son.
And what kind of man did He become? Did He become a king, a prince or an emperor? Did He come to be served and adored by the masses? Absolutely not! “He took upon Him the form of a servant” (Greek: doulos, which means slave). “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
Jesus came to obey His Father: “He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death” (v. 8). Jesus did not refuse to die. He knew that it was His duty to die. Willingly and obediently, He died for His people. And what kind of death did He die? “Even the death of the cross” (v. 8). He died the death of the lowest of the low, the kind of death reserved for criminals and slaves, the most shameful, painful and accursed death of the cross. And He did that because that is what sin deserves. Although He had no sins, He came to make satisfaction for the sins of His people, to save them from their sins.
That, dear reader, is humility! To give up a privileged position—the highest position of glory—and to enter the lowliest position—a slave, and even a crucified man—is the greatest possible humility. And the one who did that is the Son of God—He is God!
In response to that humility, says Paul, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3).
Will you say that serving others is beneath you, when the Son of God did not think the cross was beneath Him? Will you insist on your dignity, convenience and welfare, when the Son of God thought nothing of His?
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus!
Rev. McGeown is missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.