“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” (Philippians 2:6 KJV)
The whole section where we find this verse is the most significant part of this epistle. Theological discussions on Christology would always refer to this passage’s statements about the Lord Jesus. Philippians 2 is popularly quoted to discuss the “humiliation of Christ” and “the example of Christ.” The chapter provides rich truths on Christ’s ultimate example of selflessness and humility. And whatever way people approach this topic, the “incarnation” of Christ usually comes up. This term means Christ’s coming in the flesh, or, his human birth.
There are two parts to Philippians 2:6. The first part, “being in the form of God,” refers to the nature of the Lord Jesus before His incarnation. The second part, “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” deals primarily with the attitude that the Lord had when He came in the flesh.
#1: The Nature of the Lord Jesus Christ
The phrase “being in the form of God” is quite clearly one of the most direct statements that prove that Christ is God. In referring to His nature before He became man, the verse plainly says that He existed as God. Contrary to how we may sometimes understand the word “form,” the Greek word used here actually means “essence.” It does not just refer to mere outward appearance but, more importantly, it includes the very inward being. This means that Jesus Christ, in His very essence, is God.
Paul’s assertion in this passage was exactly what Christ declared about Himself throughout His earthly ministry. And the Jews fully understood that Christ’s claim was a plain declaration that He is God (cf. John 5:18), that’s why those who did not want to believe Him challenged His statements and wanted to hurt Him (John 10:33).
It is also worth noting that the word “being” is in the present tense. This means that His being in essence fully God is continuing even when He took the essence of man (v.7). Some modern translations of verse 7 state that Christ “emptied Himself.” And some have erroneously thought that this refers to Christ stripping Himself of His nature as God. But this is far from what the passage is teaching us. While the word “emptied” is also an accurate translation, the KJV captures the actual thought being presented here. The word actually means to divest oneself of self-interests and dignity and become of “no reputation.” This truth is exactly what the next part of verse 6 is saying about Christ’s attitude, and it brings us to the next point here.
#2: The Attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ
The phrase “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” together with the first part of the verse, is one of the strongest assertions in the Bible that Christ is truly God. While that in itself is such an essential foundational truth, we also see here an important display of an aspect of Christ’s character.
We can better understand “thought it not robbery” as “not considering holding onto His divine attributes for His own advantage.” This means Christ willingly set aside the full use of His powers (divine attributes) and selflessly surrendered His self-interests and dignity as God. Being fully God and fully man while on earth, He had total access to His divine attributes. But He chose to humble Himself and become a servant, only making use of His powers to authenticate His message.
Many rightly refer to this passage as “the humiliation of Christ” because He did divest Himself of self-interest and dignity. And He did so, not because He needs it, but because we need Him to do it for us.
#3: The Example Set by the Lord Jesus Christ
The passage is an encouragement to practice selflessness and humility. As it states this purpose in verses 1-4, verse 5 then lays the foundation on the very example of the Lord Jesus Christ. This brings us to what verse 6 is saying: the example of Christ is our foundational basis for this practice.
Christ’s demonstration of selflessness and humility is the ultimate example for every Christian. Society teaches us to love ourselves and to focus on our self-interests. While living with a certain degree of this would be necessary to an extent, the problem lies with the overemphasis on this attitude that leads many to becoming self-centered.
We need to begin nurturing the same attitude as that of Christ. He selflessly allowed the humiliation that came with His becoming a man so that He can save us and grant us benefits we do not deserve.
To be self-centered is easier because that is in our nature as sinners. Selflessness and humility, on the other hand, require much strength and effort to cultivate. But Christ showed us a very clear path with regards to what we need to do.
Christ’s gracious example was founded on His love for us. 1 John 4:11 says we ought to love others as God loved us. And by immersing ourselves in His love, we learn to love others as well (1 John 4:19). It is only by letting God work in us that we are able to demonstrate grace and practice selflessness and humility (Phil.2:13).
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.