5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
How did the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrate the attribute and characteristic of humility? The Apostle Paul listed several significant ways in which our Lord demonstrated this fundamental character trait for the believer in Christ.
To begin with, Christ’s humility was in concert with the reality that He was in the form of God. Being in the form of God means that Jesus Christ possessed the internal nature of God and embodied this nature while on earth. The phrase “though He was” is not a throwaway line but rather points the reader to the fact that Jesus was, and is, presently and actively identical to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.
Hebrews 1:1-4 parallels this statement from Philippians 2:6. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
Secondly, Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” To count means to have an opinion. The opinion in this context is equality with God the Father. Equality (ἴσος; isos) means equal, the same or an equivalent of something of someone. Jesus’ perspective that He was the equivalent of God the Father was not something He sought to hold on to by force. The Greek word ἁρπαγμός; (harpagmos) means not only “to grasp something forcefully which one does not have but also to retain by force what one possesses.”
Dr. John Walvoord writes that, “In other words Christ did not hesitate to set aside His self-willed use of deity when He became a man. As God, He had all the rights of deity and yet during His incarnate state He surrendered His right to manifest Himself visibly as the God of all splendor and glory.”
Dr. Don Carson writes, “Jesus was truly God before he became a human person. Then, without ceasing to be God, he was willing to lay aside the glory of being equal with God. That was not something to be grasped (see note below on the precise meaning here). There is perhaps an intended contrast with Adam in Gen. 3 as the temptation to which he fell was wrongly to seize what he thought would make him ‘like God’.”
Dr. Carson continues by stating, “There are many ways in which the words of v 6 (he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped) have been understood. There are two main alternatives: either equality with God means the same as being in very nature God or it can be understood as speaking rather of the glory and honour of a position alongside God the Father, the title to lordship over the universe. Jesus ‘did not think to snatch at’ this (neb). It would, in fact, finally be his by the Father’s appointment, but beyond a human cradle and a human grave and the resurrection, and because he submitted to go the Father’s chosen way by humiliation to exaltation. If equality with God is understood as essentially the same as being in very nature God, indicating that the divine nature was inalienably his, then we can understand the apostle as saying either ‘he did not cling to’ those ‘prerogatives as God’s equal’ (Phillips); or he did not have to seize hold of them—it was not a matter of their being grasped; or equality with God was not something to be taken advantage of. Perhaps the last of these is the most probable, both because of the meaning of the Greek words used and because it fits in with the teaching of the whole paragraph. The way appointed by the Father was giving not getting, sacrifice and humiliation not taking the advantage of one’s position. This is the way Jesus went and the way we are called to follow him.”
May such humility be found in each of us. May our worship of the exalted Christ be even more fervent. More to come.
Soli deo Gloria!