Calvary Road Baptist Church


Philippians 2.5-8

This evening our text is Philippians 2.5-8, surely one of the most difficult passages in the entire Bible to fully understand and to do justice to when attempting to explain its meaning to others. There are two reasons for this difficulty: The first has to do with what we call the literal grammatical approach to interpreting God’s Word. In short, those of us who embrace a high view of the Bible, believing it to be of supernatural origin, inspired of God, and infallible, place a very high premium on seeking to understand what was meant by the human author of scripture at the time he wrote it. The difficulty with that, of course, is that the impressions certain words and phrases had on the original readers or hearers of scripture are hardly the same in our day. Allow me to provide a single example, written by the late F. F. Bruce:

It is difficult for us, after so many Christian centuries during which the cross has been venerated as a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and disgust that the mention or indeed the very thought of the cross provoked. By the Jewish law anyone who was crucified died under the curse of God (Gal. 3:13, quoting Deut. 21:23). In polite Roman society the word “cross” was an obscenity, not to be uttered in conversation. Even when a man was being sentenced to death by crucifixion, an archaic formula was used that avoided the pronouncing of this four-letter word— as it was in Latin (crux).[1]

Things are so different in our day. Not only did that cruel instrument of torture become the Christian’s greatest boast in the years immediately following our Lord’s crucifixion, but crosses have now become virtually meaningless in society by virtue of their use as ornamentation and jewelry. No longer rough and bloodstained in their ugliness, they are now polished silver and gold and quite beautiful.

The other reason for the difficulty of explaining the passage we have yet to turn to is a much greater obstacle than mere language, culture, and passage of time. It has to do with the difficulty of fitting considerations of profound and incomprehensible spirituality into these devices and tools we know as words. Here, as much as any other passage in the Bible, we find ourselves challenged by words that are stretched to the limits of their capacity to convey truth about things that are utterly foreign to us.

My message will not be complex. I will not burden you with issues theologians and Greek scholars write about. Just understand that there is far more to these verses we are about to read than I will ever be able to convey to you. If you want to begin a rewarding investigation of what the Lord Jesus Christ did when He did what He did, let me know and I will point you in the right direction. However, you will have to do that on your own. It is way too much for us to attempt in a church service. In an effort to be a blessing to you and not overburden you with explanations, as I find that I sometimes do, I am relying on W. Graham Scroggie’s outline of the passage we are about to read, with the actual message that I will hang on Scroggie’s outline being my own.[2]

Trusting you have made your way to Philippians 2.5 by now, stand for the reading of God’s Word:

5      Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

6      Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7      But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8      And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

In his effort to persuade the Philippian congregation to embrace the mindset that will lead to the Spirit of God giving them unity as a congregation, which matters we dealt with thoroughly in messages with Philippians 2.1-4 as their texts, Paul now urges his readers to follow the lead of the greatest example of them all, the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Paul then unfolds for us his declaration of the humiliation of the Son of God, in three parts:


Verse 6: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”

Concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, verse 6 makes two assertions:

First, His divine nature is rehearsed: “Who, being in the form of God.” We learn two things about the Lord Jesus Christ’s divine nature from this phrase: First, He subsisted in the Form of God from eternity past, the meaning of this word translated being.[3] That is, the Son of God has always been in essence divine. Consider what the Apostle John declares along this line, in John 1.1-2:

1      In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2      The same was in the beginning with God.

The writer to the Hebrews emphasizes the same point in Hebrews 1.3 as he refers to the Lord Jesus Christ: “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power.” As well, He was on an Equality with God. That is, He and God share the same attributes, the meaning of this word translated form.[4] What does it mean for Christ to be “in the form of God”? It means “to be equal with God,” not in the sense that the two phrases are identical, but that both point to the same reality.[5] This is what our Lord meant when He said, “I and my Father are one,”[6] and when He said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”[7]

Then, His redemptive resolve is revealed: “Who . . . thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” Consider all the prerogatives of deity the Lord Jesus Christ enjoyed in His pre-existence. I am reminded of John 12.41, where we read of Christ, “These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.” Where did the prophet Isaiah see and speak of Christ’s glory? In Isaiah 6.1-3:

1      In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

2      Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

3      And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

What is meant in our text by this phrase Paul writes, “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”? Is Paul suggesting in our text that the Lord Jesus Christ in eternity was never like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eve, aspiring to be like God? Some have suggested this allusion to the Garden of Eden.[8] What is surely meant here is that the Lord Jesus Christ did not insist on His prerogatives, did not cling to His rights as the eternal Son of the living God. Quite the contrary, His resolve as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world was a gracious surrender to His heavenly Father’s will.[9] What a contrast to the Roman conception of deity, with their petty, contentious, and grasping pantheon. While pagan conceptions of deity seem always to be taking from those who have nothing to give, the God of heaven, and the Christ of the Bible, ever display grace and generosity. It has ever been so.


Verse 7-8a:   7      But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8      And being found in fashion as a man . . . .

There are two important observations to consider at this point:

First, the Virgin born Son of God’s Condescending Act: “But made himself of no reputation.” This is one of the places where heresies have been made in centuries past, with some misinterpreting this phrase to suggest that in leaving heaven’s glory to be born of a virgin the Lord Jesus Christ forfeited some of His divine attributes. That is certainly not what is meant here by Paul, who elsewhere attests to Christ’s deity even after His birth.[10] What the Apostle here advances is the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ, by leaving heaven’s glory and becoming a man, what we refer to as the incarnation, did not empty Himself of anything; He simply emptied Himself, poured Himself out.[11] Second Corinthians 8.9 provides us with another take on what is meant by this phrase: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” What can be said about our Lord emptying Himself, making Himself of no reputation? It was complete, it was decisive, and it was voluntary.

Next, we observe the Virgin-born Son of God’s Conditioning Means:

Verse 7b-8a:    7b     . . . and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8      And being found in fashion as a man . . . .

There are three phrases here: Notice the phrase that reads, “and took upon him the form of a servant.” The King of kings and Lord of lords walks among men for thirty-three years, but not as ruler or potentate. He came to serve, as He said in Matthew 10.28, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Next, we read, “and was made in the likeness of men.” “Christ in his incarnation fully identified himself with humanity.”[12] He really was one of us, yet without sin.[13] Thereby was He qualified to not only be our Sin-Bearer, but after He laid His life down for our sins and raised from the dead to serve as our compassionate Great High Priest. Finally, we read, “And being found in fashion as a man.” Consider what the Savior did by means of His incarnation. From the throne room in heaven where His might and majesty were on full display, where He was worshiped and served by powerful and obedient angels, He took the decisive and voluntary step of somehow assuming a second nature, the nature of a man. Therefore, He became what He was not before, from eternity being God, He was now the God-Man, fully God and also fully man. Let me remind you how the young virgin named Mary was informed of her role in these momentous events, Luke 1.26-35:

26     And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27     To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28     And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29     And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30     And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31     And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

32     He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33     And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34     Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35     And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.


Our text begins with the pre-existent Christ, His divine nature and essence from eternity past. It proceeds through His incarnation, the miracle of God becoming a man. We conclude with the humiliation of Christ by looking at the second, third, and fourth parts of verse 8:

“. . . he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

Noticed the course He pursued. “He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death.” As if it was not enough for Him to empty Himself by becoming a man, taking upon Himself the nature of one of His creatures, He additionally humbled Himself. How did He humble Himself? When He was born He submitted to His earthly parents. He submitted to national and religious authority. Imagine the Law Giver submitting to those imperfect men whose calling it was to administer the rites and ordinances of the Mosaic Law. Astonishing that He would attend synagogue and sit under the teaching of rabbis. Yet He went far beyond that, did He not? They tried to take Him captive earlier, but He would not allow it for it was not time. However, when it came time, even though He had refuted them and proven them all wrong again and again in the Temple when they confronted Him on that last Tuesday, He allowed them to take Him in the Garden of Gethsemane late Thursday night, was silent through three separate and illegal mockeries of justice call trials, was passive during brutal beatings, and offered no resistance when they nailed Him to a cruel Roman cross. We know why the Lord Jesus Christ humbled Himself in that way, though Paul makes no direct mention of the reason for it in this text. From other sources, we know that He became sin for us who knew no sin, paid the penalty for our sins, and fulfilled the purpose for which He came, which was to redeem sinful men from their sins.[14]

This brings us to the death He accepted. Keep in mind that Jesus Christ is the author of life.[15] Keep also in mind that death is a consequence of sin, with sin being that which is most greatly opposed to the nature of God’s holiness. Yet, the Lord Jesus Christ took upon Himself our sins and suffered death in our place.[16] Did He do any of those things to improve His position? No. Did He do any of those things to enhance His power? No. Did He do any of those things for anything like selfish reasons? No. He left heaven’s glory, became a man, as a man humbled Himself even unto the death of so degraded and despised a torture as crucifixion, to please His heavenly Father and to save sinful wretches like you and me.

What an astonishing display of grace and mercy for the undeserving. Such a thing has never before or since been done by anyone for anyone. No wonder we sing, “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe.” Yet Paul’s primary purpose in writing this passage was not to evangelize lost people, at least not directly. His primarily purpose was to so influence that beloved congregation in Philippi that they would follow their Lord Jesus Christ’s example.

We live so often by claiming our rights. I have a right to take time off. I have a right to me time. I have a right to rest. I have a right to vacation. I have a right to the rewards of my labors. I have a right to be happy. I have a right to be satisfied and fulfilled. Yet the greatest display of godliness that ever was came about by the Lord Jesus Christ not claiming His rights and prerogatives enjoyed in the throne room of heaven. Our greatest benefit came about as the direct result of Jesus Christ giving up what He had undeniable rights to claiming; worship, comfort, adoration, leisure, and glory for self-denial, hardship, misunderstanding, persecution, humiliation, and even forfeiture of His life for us.

“Is Jesus Christ important to you?” Paul says to the Philippians in so many words. Then follow the example of Jesus Christ. Can we ever exactly do what He did? No. However, we can do what we can do, yielding some of our prerogatives for the gospel’s sake. My, oh my, what God will do with us then.

[1] F. F. Bruce, Philippians - NIBC, (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), page 71.

[2] W. Graham Scroggie, The Unfolding Drama Of Redemption: The Bible As A Whole (Three volumes in one), (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), Volume III, pages 209-210.

[3] J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle To The Philippians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1953), pages 110-111.

[4] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter To The Philippians - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), page 204.

[5] Ibid., page 207.

[6] John 10.30; 17.22

[7] John 14.9

[8] Peter T. O’Brian, The Epistle To The Philippians - NIGTC, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), page 213, and Fee, page 209.

[9] John 8.29; Revelation 13.8

[10] Colossians 1.12-29

[11] Fee, page 210.

[12] O’Brian, page 227.

[13] Hebrews 4.15

[14] 2 Corinthians 5.21; Romans 5.6-10; Titus 2.14

[15] John 1.4

[16] Isaiah 53.4-10

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