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. — Philippians 2:6,7
At this time of the year, believers all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. His birth is one of the greatest miracles that has ever occurred, for it was a moment when God Almighty laid aside His glory and appeared on earth as a man. How wonderful, how marvelous to think that God would temporarily shed His divine appearance and actually take on the flesh of man! Yet this is precisely what happened the day Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
In Philippians 2:6 and 7, Paul wrote, “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.”
Paul begins by describing the preexistence of Jesus before He came to the earth as a man, saying, “Who, being in the form of God.…” The word “being” is a translation of the Greek word huparcho, a compound of the words hupo and arche. In this case, the word hupo means from, and the word arche means the first, original, or ancient. When it becomes the word huparcho, it depicts something that has always existed.
By using this key word that means to eternally exist, Paul is declaring that Jesus had no beginning but always existed. This also explains Jesus’ statement when He declared, “…Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Thus, Philippians 2:6 could be translated, “Who, eternally existing in the form of God.…” In other words, Jesus’ human birth in Bethlehem was not His beginning but merely His manifestation to man, a brief appearance in His eternal existence.
Paul writes that Jesus always existed in the “form” of God. The word “form” is the Greek word morphe. This word describes an outward form, which means that in Jesus’ preexistence, He looked just like God. He was not just a component of God, nor a symbol of God; in reality, He was God. And as the eternal God Himself, Jesus possessed the very shape and outward appearance of God — a form that includes great splendor, glory, power, and a Presence so strong that no flesh can endure it.
God existed in glory more wonderful than the human mind can comprehend and more powerful than human flesh can endure. Yet He desired to come to earth to purchase redemption for man. Therefore, God had no choice but to reclothe Himself in a manner that could be tolerated by man. This is why He “…made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” This is the true story of Christmas!
The phrase “made himself of no reputation” comes from the Greek word kenos, which means to make empty, to evacuate, to vacate, to deprive, to divest, or to relinquish. Because it was impossible for God to appear to man as God, He had to change His outward form. The only way He could make this limited appearance as a man was to willfully, deliberately, and temporarily let go of all the attributes we usually think of when we consider the characteristics of God. For thirty-three years on this earth, God divested Himself of all His heavenly glory and “…took upon him the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:7).
The phrase “took upon him” perfectly describes that marvelous moment when God reached out to lay hold of human flesh and take it upon Himself so that He might appear as a man on the earth. The words “took upon him” are from the Greek word lambano, which means to take, to seize, to catch, to latch on to, to clutch, or to grasp. This word lets us know that God literally reached out from His eternal existence, reached into the material world He had created, and took human flesh upon Himself in “the form of a servant.”
The word “form” in this phrase is exactly the same word that describes Jesus being in the form of God. It is the Greek word morphe. This means that just as Jesus in His preexistent form had all the outward appearance of God, now Jesus existed in the exact form of a man — appearing and living on this earth in exactly the same way as any other man. For a brief time in His eternal existence, Jesus emptied Himself of His divinity and literally became a man in every way.
Not only did God become man, but He took upon Himself the form of a “servant.” This is the Greek word doulos, which refers to a slave. Paul now uses this word to picture the vast difference between Jesus’ preexistent state and His earthly life.
Paul goes on to say that Jesus “…was made in the likeness of men.” The phrase “was made” is the Greek word ginomai, which means to become, indicating that this was not Jesus’ original form but it became His new form. This clearly describes the miracle that occurred when God became a man. Jesus had always existed in the form of God, not the form of man. But taking upon Himself human flesh, He was formed in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became a man.
God literally took upon Himself the “likeness” of a man. The word “likeness” is the Greek word homoioma, which refers to a form or resemblance. This refers not only to Jesus’ being made in the visible likeness of men, but also in the human likeness of men. In other words, when Jesus appeared on this earth, He came in the actual form of a man and was just like man in every way.
Jesus was so completely made in the “likeness” of men that Hebrews 4:15 declares He was even tempted in every way that men are tempted. It says, “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
So we see that when God the Father sent His Son into the world, Jesus left His heavenly home and took upon Himself human flesh. And because of this great exchange, He has stood in our place; He has felt what we feel; He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities; and He intercedes for us with great compassion as our High Priest.
At this time of the year, we are prone to think of Jesus as a little baby in a manger in a Bethlehem stable. Certainly this is true, but we should never forget that Bethlehem was not Jesus’ beginning. It was merely a brief appearance in His eternal existence.
Out of His deep love for you and me, Jesus was willing to leave His majestic realms of glory to enter the realm of humanity. Shedding all His visible attributes that were too much for man’s flesh to endure, He dressed Himself in the clothing of a human being and was manifested in the flesh. That little baby in Bethlehem was the eternal, ever-existent God Almighty, who dressed Himself in human flesh so that He could dwell among men and purchase our salvation.
God’s great love for us drove Him to come down to our level so He could understand us better and later become an effective High Priest on our behalf. Think how wonderful it is that God loves us to such an extent!
When Paul started this text on God becoming a man, he started by saying, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). You see, God wants us to have the same mind or attitude that was demonstrated in Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus was willing to go this incredible distance to reach us, to love us, and to redeem us, we should desire to do the same for others!
This, then, is one of the primary messages of Christmas: We should be willing to divest ourselves of our privileges, such as the convenience and comfort of self-consumed living, and do whatever we can to reach out and help people. This is what Jesus did for us, so shouldn’t we do the same for others?
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I thank You for loving me so much that You would leave Your realms of majestic glory to come dwell among men. If it had not been for Your great love that compelled You to come and redeem me, today I would still be lost in sin. Because You loved me so much, You were willing to come to this earth and purchase my salvation. You were born as a baby in Bethlehem, yet You always existed, and You came here with a definite plan to save me from an eternity separated from You. Thank You so much for coming, Lord. Thank You for loving me enough to temporarily shed Your glory and become a man so You could pay for my sin and save me to the uttermost!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh! Before He was ever born as a baby in Bethlehem, Jesus always existed, for He is God Almighty. His birth in Bethlehem proves how vast His love is for me. He so desired to have me as His child that He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. And because He dressed Himself in flesh and lived as a man for thirty-three years, He understands everything I face and every temptation that comes my way. Oh, how wonderful it is to know that Jesus loves me!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. When you think of Christmas and the birth of Jesus, do you ever think of how He existed before He was born in Bethlehem?
2. What do you think it was like for God to shed His glorious appearance and to take upon Himself the flesh of a human being?
3. How does this revelation of Jesus’ act of ultimate humility affect you personally?