Let Christ Jesus be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. —Philippians 2:5-8, JB Phillips (the apostle Paul writing).
Paul’s language is forceful and rich, resulting in a variety of ideas about how best to capture in English what he has written in Greek. Let me quote a couple of other translations:
He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! —Philippians 2:6,7, The Message
… although [Christ] existed in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. —Philippians 2:6,7, NASB
As we near the celebration of Christmas and the birth of Christ, this passage reveals what was happening behind the scenes, in the house of God, nine months before Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem.
We see in this passage the working out of the Trinity, at least in two of its three parts: Christ and God are said to be equal in status; they are equal in nature; they have the same form. The Greek word form is morphe, which refers to the outer shape and appearance of a thing. “To morph” became a verb a few years back with movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where the liquid-metal T-1000 could morph itself into anything it touched, becoming a floor in one instance, taking on the appearance of several different humans in others. But whatever shape the T-1000 adopted, it remained (in its essence) the same machine with the same nature and the same mission.
Christ, who as God has the dazzling, pure-white brilliance of God, morphed himself into the form of a human being and entered the world as every human does, as a newborn.
Christ, who as God has the right to be worshipped as God, humbled himself, emptied himself of all privilege, embraced humility, poverty and submission and lived from the vantage point of the least of all human beings.
But this Christ was living in disguise. He was in fact the Very True God, and his words and miracles attest to that, just as his resurrection and transformation after his death remove any doubt as to his true identity.
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.”
Jesus replied, “Philip, don’t you even yet know who I am, even after all the time I have been with you? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking to see him? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of what you have seen me do.” —John 14:8-11, NLT
It may seem weird to think of a God who disguised himself as a human. It may seem undignified, or beneath him to think of a God who lived in poverty and allowed himself to be subjected to the indignities of human life, not to mention the horrors of the cross. Perhaps it seems so because we can’t imagine doing such a thing ourselves.
Which is where Paul, who never shied away from meddling in the lives of his churches, turns up the heat on those of us who would call ourselves Christians.
Let Christ Jesus be your example as to what your attitude should be. —Philippians 2:5, JB Phillips
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. —Ephesians 5:1,2, The Message
We can’t morph ourselves. But following the example of Jesus Christ, we who call ourselves Christians are to empty ourselves in imitation of his extravagant love, and love others—just as he bent down from heaven and loved us.