Philippians 2:1-30 NIV
Imitating Christ’s Humility
1Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;
7rather, He made Himself nothing
by taking the very natureb of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place
and gave Him the Name that is above every name,
10that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Do Everything Without Grumbling
12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,
13 for it is God Who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.
14Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”c Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16as you hold firmly to the Word of Life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
Timothy and Epaphroditus
19I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.22But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
25But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.
Who, being in the form of God - There is scarcely any passage in the New Testament which has given rise to more discussion than this. The importance of the passage on the question of the Divinity of the Savior will be perceived at once because Paul regarded the Redeemer (Whom he dramatically met on the road to Damascus) as equal with God. If he was truly divine, then His consenting to become a man was the most remarkable of all possible acts of humiliation of Him.
The word rendered “form” - μορφή morphē - occurs only in three places in the New Testament, and in each place is rendered “form.” Mark 16:12; Philippians 2:6-7. In Mark it is applied to the form which Jesus assumed after His resurrection, and in which He appeared to two of His disciples on their way to Emmaus. “After that He appeared in another form unto two of them.” This "form" was so unlike His usual appearance, that they did not know Him. The word properly means, form, shape, bodily shape, especially a beautiful form, a beautiful bodily appearance - Passow. In Philippians 2:7, it is applied to the appearance of a servant - and took upon Him the form of a servant;" that is, He was in the condition of a servant - or of the lowest condition.
The word occurs often in the Septuagint:
(1) as the translation of the word ציי - Ziv - "splendour," Daniel 4:33; Daniel 5:6, Daniel 5:9-10; Daniel 7:28;
(2) as the translation of the word תּבנית tabniyth, structure, model, pattern - as in building, Isaiah 44:13;
(3) as the translation of תּמונה temuwnah, appearance, form, shape, image, likeness, Job 4:16; see also Wisdom Job 18:1.
The word can have here only one or two meanings, either:
(1) splendor, majesty, glory - referring to the honor which the Redeemer had, His power to work miracles, etc. - or.
(2) nature, or essence - meaning the same as φύσις phusis, "nature," or ουσία ousia, "being."
The first is the opinion adopted substantially by Calvin. He says, "The form of God here denotes majesty. For as a man is known from the appearance of His form, so the majesty which shines in God, is His figure. Therefore Christ before the foundation of the world was in the form of God, because He had Glory with the Father before the world was; John 17:5. For in the Wisdom of God, before He put on our nature, there was nothing but there was magnificence worthy of God."
(1) The "form" here referred to must have been something before He became a man, or before He took upon Him the form of a servant. It was something from which He humbled Himself by making "Himself of no reputation;" by taking upon Himself "the form of a servant;" and by being made "in the likeness of men." Of course, it must have been something which existed when He had not the likeness of people; that is, before He became incarnate. He must therefore have had an existence before He appeared on earth as a man, and in that previous state of existence there must have been something which rendered it proper to say that He was "in the form of God."
(2) that it does not refer to any Divine qualities, or to His power of working miracles on earth, is apparent from the fact that these were not laid aside. When did He divest Himself of these in order that He might humble Himself? There was something which He possessed which made it proper to say of him that He was "in the form of God," which He laid aside when He appeared in the form of a servant and in the likeness of human beings.
But assuredly that could not have been His moral qualities, nor is there any conceivable sense in which it can be said that He divested Himself of the power of working miracles in order that He might take upon Himself the "form of a servant." All the miracles which He ever did were performed when He took the form of a servant, in His lowly and humble condition. These considerations make it certain that the apostle refers to a period before the incarnation. It may be added:
(3) that the phrase "form of God" is one that naturally conveys the idea that He was God. When it is said that He was "in the form of a servant," the idea is, that He was actually in a humble and depressed condition, and not merely that He appeared to be. Still it may be asked, what was the "form" which He had before His incarnation? What is meant by His having been then "in the form of God?" To these questions perhaps no satisfactory answer can be given. He Himself speaks John 17:5 of "the Glory which He had with the Father before the world was;" and the language naturally conveys the idea that there was then a manifestation of the Divine nature through Him, which in some measure ceased when He became incarnate; that there was some visible splendor and majesty which was then laid aside.
What manifestation of His glory God may make in the heavenly world, of course, we cannot now fully understand. Nothing forbids us, however, to suppose that there is some such visible manifestation; some splendor and magnificence of God in the view of the angelic beings such as becomes the Great Sovereign of the universe - for He "dwells in light which no map can approach unto;" 1 Timothy 6:16. That glory, visible manifestation, or splendor, indicating the nature of God, it is here said that the Lord Jesus possessed before His incarnation.
Thought it not robbery to be equal with God - This passage, also, has given occasion to much discussion. That is, that though He was of a divine nature or condition, He did not eagerly seek to retain His equality with God, but took on Him an humble condition - even that of a servant. This is the correct rendering of the passage is apparent from the following considerations:
(1) It accords with the scope and design of the apostle's reasoning. His object is not to show, as our common translation would seem to imply, that He aspired to be equal with God, or that He did not regard it as an improper invasion of the prerogatives of God to be equal with Him, but that He did not regard it, in the circumstances of the case, as an object to greatly desired or eagerly sought to retain His equality with God. Instead of retaining this by an earnest effort, or by a grasp which He was unwilling to relinquish, He chose to forego the dignity, and to assume the humble condition of a man.
(2) it accords better with the Greek than the common version. The word rendered "robbery" - ἁρπαγμος harpagmos - is found nowhere else in the New Testament, though the verb from which it is derived frequently occurs; Matthew 11:12; Matthew 13:19; John 6:15; John 10:12, John 10:28-29; Acts 8:29; Acts 23:10; 2 Corinthians 12:2, 2 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Jude 1:23; Revelation 12:5.
The notion of violence, or seizing, or carrying away, enters into the meaning of the word in all these places. The word used here does not properly mean an act of robbery, but the thing robbed - the plunder and hence something to be eagerly seized and appropriated. According to this, the meaning of the word here is, something to be seized and eagerly sought, and the sense is, that his being equal with God was not a thing to be anxiously retained. The phrase "thought it not," means "did not consider;" it was not judged to be a matter of such importance that it could not be dispensed with. The sense is, "He did not eagerly seize and tenaciously hold" as one does who seizes prey or spoil.
To be equal with God - τὸ εἶναι ἶσα Θεῷ to einai isa Theō. That is, the being equal with God He did not consider a thing to be tenaciously retained. Compare John 5:18. "made Himself equal with God." The phrase means one who sustains the same rank, dignity, nature. Now it could not be said of an angel that he was in any sense equal with God; much less could this be said of a mere man.
The natural and obvious meaning of the language is, that there was equality of nature and of rank with God, from which He humbled Himself when He became a man. The meaning of the whole verse, according to the interpretation suggested above, is, that Christ, before He became a man, was invested with honor, majesty, and glory, such as was appropriate to God Himself; that there was some manifestation or splendor in His existence and mode of being then, which showed that He was equal with God; that He did not consider that that honor, indicating equality with God, was to be retained at all events, and so as to do violence, as it were, to other interests, and to rob the universe of the glory of redemption; and that He was willing, therefore, to forget that, or lay it by for a time, in order that He might redeem the world. There were a glory and majesty which were appropriate to God, and which indicated equality with God - such as none but God could assume. For how could an angel have such glory, or such external splendor in heaven, as to make it proper to say that he was "equal with God?" With what glory could he be invested which would be such as became God only? The "fair" interpretation of this passage, therefore, is, that Christ before His incarnation was equal with God.
But made Himself of no reputation - This translation by no means conveys the sense of the original According to this it would seem that He consented to be without distinction or honor among people; or that He was willing to be despised or disregarded. The Greek is ἑαυτον ἐκένωσεν heauton ekenōsen. The word κενόω kenoō means literally, to empty, "to make empty, to make vain or void." It is rendered: "made void" in Romans 4:14; "made of none effect," 1 Corinthians 1:17; "make void," 1 Corinthians 9:15; "should be vain," 2 Corinthians 9:3.
The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, except in the passage before us. The essential idea is that of bringing to emptiness, vanity, or nothingness; and, hence, it is applied to a case where one lays aside his rank and dignity, and becomes in respect to that as nothing; that is, he assumes a more humble rank and station.
In regard to its meaning here, we may remark:
(1) that it cannot mean that he literally divested Himself of His Divine nature and perfections, for that was impossible. He could not cease to be omnipotent, and omnipresent, and most holy, and true, and good.
(2) it is conceivable that He might have laid aside, for a time, the symbols or the manifestation of His glory, or that the outward expressions of His majesty in heaven might have been withdrawn. It is conceivable for a Divine being to intermit the exercise of His Almighty power, since it cannot be supposed that God is always exerting His power to the utmost. And in like manner there might be for a time a laying aside or intermitting of these manifestations, which were expressive of the Divine glory and perfections. Yet,
(3) this supposes no change in the Divine nature, or in the essential glory of the Divine perfections. When the sun is obscured by a cloud, or in an eclipse, there is no real change of its glory, nor are its beams extinguished, nor is the sun itself in any measure changed. So it might have been in regard to the manifestation of the Glory of the Son of God. Of course there is much in regard to this which is obscure, but the language of the apostle undoubtedly implies more than that He took an humble place, or that He lowered Himself in an humble manner. In regard to the actual change respecting His manifestations in heaven, or the withdrawing of the manifestations of His glory there, the Scriptures are nearly silent, and conjecture is useless - perhaps improper.
The language before us fairly implies that He laid aside that which was expressive of His Being Divine - that glory which is involved in the phrase "being in the form of God" - and took upon himself another form and manifestation in the condition of a servant.
And took upon him the form of a servant - The phrase "form of a servant," should be allowed to explain the phrase "form of God," in Philippians 2:6. The "form of a servant" is that which indicates the condition of a servant, in contradistinction from one of higher rank. It means to appear as a servant, to perform the offices of a servant, and to be regarded as such. He was made like a servant in the lowly condition which He assumed. The whole connection and force of the argument here demands this interpretation.
Some interpret this as meaning that He became the servant or minister of God, and that in doing it, it was necessary that He should become a man. But the objection to this is obvious. It greatly weakens the force of the apostle's argument. His object is to state the depth of humiliation to which He descended, and this was best done by saying that He descended to the lowest condition of humanity and appeared in the most humble status. The idea of being a "servant or minister of God" would not express that, for this is a term which might be applied to the highest angel in heaven. Though the Lord Jesus was not literally a servant or slave, yet what is here affirmed was true of Him in the following respects:
(1) He occupied a most lowly condition in life.
(2) he condescended to perform such acts as are appropriate only to those who are servants. "I am among you as He Who serves;" Luke 22:27; compare John 13:4-15.
And was made in the likeness of men - The Greek word means “likeness”, “resemblance.” The meaning is, He was made like unto people by assuming such a body as theirs; see the notes at Romans 8:3.
And being found - That is, being such, or existing as a man, He humbled Himself.
In fashion as a man - The word rendered "fashion" - σχῆμα schēma - means figure, mien, deportment. Here it is the same as state, or condition. The sense is, that when He was reduced to this condition He humbled Himself, and obeyed even unto death. He took upon Himself all the attributes of a man. He assumed all the innocent infirmities of our nature. He appeared as other people do, was subjected to the necessity of food and clothing, like others, and was made liable to suffering, as other men are. It was still He who had been in the "form of God" Who thus appeared; and, though His Divine glory had been for a time laid aside, yet it was not extinguished or lost. It is important to remember, in all our meditations on the Savior, that it was the same Being Who had been invested with so much glory in heaven, that appeared on earth in the form of a man.
He humbled himself - Even then, when He appeared as a man. He had not only laid aside the symbols of His glory Philippians 2:7, and become a man; but when He was a man, He humbled Himself. Humiliation was a constant characteristic of Him as a man. He did not aspire to high honors; He did not affect pomp and parade; but He condescended to the lowest conditions of life; Luke 22:27. The words here are very carefully chosen. In the former case Philippians 2:7, when He became a man, He "emptied Himself," or laid aside the symbols of His glory; now, when a man, He humbled Himself. That is, though He was God appearing in the form of man - a Divine Person on earth - yet He did not assume and assert the dignity and prerogatives appropriate to a Divine Being, but put Himself in a condition of obedience. For such a Being to obey law, implied voluntary humiliation; and the greatness of His humiliation was shown by His becoming entirely obedient, even until He died on the cross.
And became obedient - He subjected Himself to the law of God, and wholly obeyed it; Hebrews 10:7, Hebrews 10:9. It was a characteristic of the Redeemer that He yielded perfect obedience to the Will of God. Should it be said that, if He was God himself, He must have been Himself the lawgiver, we may reply that this rendered His obedience all the more wonderful and all the more meritorious. If a monarch should for an important purpose place Himself in a position to obey His own laws, nothing could show in a more striking manner their importance in His view. The highest honor that has been shown to the Law of God on earth was, that it was perfectly observed by Him Who made the Law - the Great Mediator.
Unto death - He obeyed even when obedience terminated in death. The point of this expression is this: One may readily and cheerfully obey another where there is no particular peril. But the case is different where obedience is attended with danger. The child shows a spirit of true obedience when he yields to the commands of a father, though it should expose him to hazard; the servant who obeys his master, when obedience is attended with risk of life; the soldier, when he is morally certain that to obey will be followed by death.
It should be said, however, that the obedience of the soldier is in many cases scarcely voluntary, since, if he did not obey, death would be the penalty. But, in the case of the Redeemer, it was wholly voluntary. He placed Himself in the condition of a servant to do the Will of God, and then never shrank from what that condition involved.
Even the death of the cross - Many a people might be willing to obey if the death that was suffered was regarded as glorious; but when it is of the most degrading character, and the most torturing that human ingenuity can invent, then the whole character of the obedience is changed. Yet this was the obedience the Lord Jesus showed; and it was in this way that His remarkable readiness to suffer was shown.
Therefore - As a reward of this humiliation and these sufferings. The idea is, that there was an appropriate reward for it, and that that was bestowed upon Him by His exaltation as Mediator to the Right Hand of God; compare Hebrews 2:9.
God also has highly exalted Him - As Mediator. Though He was thus humbled, and appeared in the form of a servant, He is now raised up to the Throne of Glory, and to universal dominion. This exaltation is spoken of the Redeemer as He was, sustaining a Divine and a human nature. If there was, as has been supposed, some withdrawing of the symbols of His glory Philippians 2:7, when He became a man, then this refers to the restoration of that glory, and would seem to imply, also, that there was additional honor conferred on Him. There was all the glory resulting from the work which He had performed in redeeming man.
And given him a Name which is above every name - No other name can be compared with His. It stands alone. He only is Redeemer, Savior. He Only is Christ, the Anointed of God; see Hebrews 1:4. He Only is the Son of God. His rank, His titles, His dignity, are above all others; see Ephesians 1:20-21.
That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow - The knee should bow, or bend, in token of honor, or worship; that is, all people should adore Him. This cannot mean merely that at the mention of the Name of Jesses we should bow; nor is there any evidence that God requires this. Why should we bow at the mention of that Name, rather than at any of the other titles of the Redeemer? Is there any special sacredness or honor in it above the other names which He bears? And why should we how at His Name rather than at the Name of the Father!
Besides, if any special homage is to be paid to the Name of the Savior under the authority of this passage - and this is the only one on which the authority of this custom is based - it should be by bowing the knee, not the head. But the truth is, this authorizes and requires neither; and the custom of bowing at the Name of Jesus, in some churches, has arisen entirely from a misinterpretation of this passage. There is no other place in the Bible to which an appeal is made to authorize the custom.
The meaning here is, not that a special act of respect or adoration should be shown wherever the name "Jesus" occurs in reading the Scriptures, or whenever it is mentioned, but that He was so exalted that it would be proper that all in heaven and on earth should worship Him, and that the time would come when He would be thus everywhere acknowledged as Lord. The bowing of the knee properly expresses homage, respect, adoration (compare Romans 11:4); and it cannot be done to the Savior by those who are in heaven, unless He is Divine.
Of things in heaven - ἐπουρανίων epouraniōn - of beings in heaven, the word "things" being improperly supplied by our translators. The word may be in the neuter plural; but it may be also in the masculine plural, and denote beings rather than things. Things do not bow the knee; and the reference here is undoubtedly to angels, and to the "spirits of the just made perfect" in heaven. If Jesus is worshipped there, He is Divine; for there is no idolatry in heaven.
In this whole passage there is probably an allusion to Isaiah 45:23. In the great divisions here specified - of those in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth - the apostle intends, doubtless, to denote the universe. The same mode of designating the universe occurs in Revelation 5:13; Exodus 20:4; compare Psalm 96:11-12. This mode of expression is equivalent to saying, "all that is above, around, and beneath us," and arises from what appears to us. The division is natural and obvious - that which is above us in the heavens, that which is on the earth where we dwell, and all that is beneath us.
And things in earth - Rather, "beings on earth," people; for they only are capable of rendering homage.
And things under the earth - Beings under the earth. The whole universe shall confess that He is Lord. This embraces, doubtless, those who have departed from this life, and perhaps includes also fallen angels. The meaning is, that all acknowledge Him as universal Lord; all bow to His sovereign will; all be subject to His control; all recognize Him as Divine. The fallen and the lost will do this; for they will be constrained to yield an unwilling homage to Him by submitting to the sentence from His lips that shall consign them to woe; and thus the whole universe shall acknowledge the exalted dignity of the Son of God. But this does not mean that they will all be saved, for the guilty and the lost may be compelled to acknowledge His power, and submit to His decree as the Sovereign of the universe.
There is the free and cheerful homage of the heart which they who worship Him in heaven will render; and there is the unwilling homage which they must yield who are compelled to acknowledge His authority.
And that every tongue should confess - Everyone should acknowledge Him. On the duty and importance of confessing Christ, see Romans 10:9-10.
That Jesus Christ is Lord - The word "Lord," here, is used in its primitive and proper sense, as denoting owner, ruler, and sovereign; compare Romans 14:9. The meaning is that all should acknowledge Him as the universal Sovereign.
To the glory of God the Father - Such a universal confession would honor God the Father; see John 5:23, where this sentiment is explained.