Tuesday, 3 January 2017
…but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:7
Paul continues with his astonishing description of what Christ did in the Incarnation, beginning with “but.” He is making a contrast to the words of the previous verse –
“…who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God…”
In contrast to that, He “made Himself of no reputation.” Scholars generally agree that this translation is lacking. The word is kenóō , and it means “properly, to empty out, render void; (passive) be emptied – hence, without recognition, perceived as valueless” (HELPES Word Studies).
Christ emptied Himself of His divine glory by taking on a different outward appearance. Being God, He never stopped being God, but the divine nature was obscured in order for us to be able to perceive Him as only a Man. When the sun is obscured by the clouds, it does not stop being the sun. If a laser beam is hidden within a chamber, the laser beam doesn’t cease to exist. In like manner, the presentation of Christ’s glory was cloaked away, or emptied from view, so that we could only see a different form. As Vincent’s Word Studies states it, “He was not unable to assert equality with God. He was able not to assert it.”
In this state, He took on a different form by “taking on the form of a bondservant.” These words are set in contrast to “being in the form of God” of the previous verse. Christ, who bore all of the divine glory of God for all of eternity, stripped Himself of this glory in order to take “the form of a bondservant.”
The idea here is that He became the lowliest of all humanity, performing the functions of one who is below all others in the social strata. This is not, as some scholars state, that He became a servant of God. A servant of God can be any position in any realm. The high priest of Israel could be called a servant of God. The Archangel Michael is a servant of God. And so on. However, Christ took on the form of a bondservant of men. He humbled himself to the point that He was dependent on “certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, 3 and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance” (Luke 8:2, 3)
In other words, He made Himself dependent on even the females of Israel to support Him. He, who knew the infinite glory of God, revealed that glory to us in the most humble and lowly manner of all, and He pursued this state throughout His earthly ministry. He didn’t start at the bottom and work His way to the top. If He had done this, His example would have been that we should do what it takes to succeed in business. He didn’t start as a private and work up to being a general, showing us that we should take on military challenges. Rather, He came as a Servant, He lived out this life as a Servant, and He continued this way to the end, dying on a cross for us; serving us with the very blood of His earthly existence.
Paul finishes this verse with, “…and coming in the likeness of men.” Care needs to be used when considering these words. In Romans 8:3, it says that Christ was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” There was a likeness to us, but it is clear that He was without sin, as is seen in Hebrews 4:15. Thus, to be “in the likeness of men” shows a similarity, but yet a contrast. Though He was in the likeness of men, He never stopped being fully God. Thus, the magnitude of the Incarnation is seen and understood. God, infinitely glorious and majestic, united with human flesh, obscuring His glory. He came in the likeness of men and took on the form of a servant in this state.
Again, Vincent’s Word Studies, carefully explains this state –
“Humanly He was like men, but regarded with reference to His whole self, He was not identical with man, because there was an element of His personality which did not dwell in them – equality with God. Hence the statement of His human manifestation is necessarily limited by this fact, and is confined to likeness and does not extend to identity. ‘To affirm likeness is at once to assert similarity and to deny sameness’ (Dickson).”
John personally beheld this marvel and he wrote about it for us to consider –
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you.” 1 John 1:1-3
Life application: In considering today’s verse, we can then know what it means to be “Christ-like.” Regardless of our earthly station – whether we are born into nobility or into poverty, whether we are wealthy or we are poor, we are to be servants of others. We are to set aside ourselves and become like those around us in order to serve them. The “pope” from time to time has a foot-washing ceremony for migrants or other lowly groups of people. It is a time of photos and applause. But the “pope” doesn’t obscure his “popiness.” He comes out in full pomp in order to impress the masses. This is the polar opposite of what Christ did. He so obscured His glory, that it was completely unknown and unseen to those around Him. This is how we are to be to those around us. Let our servanthood be true servanthood, so that when others find out who we truly are, they are all the more grateful for our Christ-like attitude.
Lord God Almighty, when Christ Jesus came and walked among us, nobody knew His true identity. Even unto the last night before His cross, they still did not realize the true nature of the Man. Are we that willing to set aside whatever station we possess and to tend to our fellow man on his level? What good is it to wash another’s feet when we bear garments of majesty, showing that we are better than those whose feet we wash? Help us to look at those around us with the eyes of Christ, and the heart of true servants. To Your glory alone, O God. Amen.