Philippians 2:5-18 (CSB) Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. 9 For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. 14 Do everything without grumbling and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world, 16 by holding firm to the word of life. Then I can boast in the day of Christ that I didn’t run or labor for nothing. 17 But even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrificial service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 In the same way you should also be glad and rejoice with me.
The setting here is mankind’s fall from the likeness of God in the Garden of Eden. God’s redemptive response to mankind’s fall from his likeness was to take on the likeness of humanity in order to redeem us and reconcile us back unto himself so that through Christ’s redemption we might be conformed to the likeness of Christ and adopt in ourselves the same attitude which he demonstrated when he became like us in human flesh.
Verses six and seven express two of the clearest and most important statements of the nature of Christ in the New Testament:
“…who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity.”
Jesus is God himself in very essence (μορφή – morphe), who has eternally been with the very being of God and is himself the One who created all things – both seen and unseen (John 1:1ff) – but he did not take advantage of his divine nature, but instead, he stopped using his divine privileges and took upon himself the lowly form of mankind and became like us; this is God temporarily refusing to take advantage of his divine privileges and exchanging them for the infirmities and frailties of human mortality! The parallel statements “in the form of God” and “the form of a servant” express the nature of divinity being clothed in the nature of mortality, as it is written, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15, NIV).
Verse eight reveals one of the most profound realities about humility. We learn that humility is not properly learned from sin or error, but rather, by obedience. The Lamb of God – who was in very essence God himself – humbled himself by becoming obedient to the will of God that reigns on his heavenly throne. Therefore, proper humility is not gained by sin but by the submission of obedience to the One you acknowledge as superior to yourself. This point is perfectly demonstrated to us by Christ who acknowledged the superiority of his heavenly glory – which dwells in unapproachable light and upon which no man can look and live – and walked in perfect submission to that heavenly glory!
Verses nine through eleven sing the song of Christ’s exaltation and his irresistible return in glory. Because he is God and has taken our humanity upon himself to redeem the lost with hope and mercy, he possesses the name of glory that everyone on earth will confess to be true – some for everlasting life through faith, and others to everlasting condemnation through the defeat of their disobedience.
Verses twelve through eighteen places all Christian ethics, fellowship, and ministry in light of the nature of God himself. We can no more divorce Christian ethics, fellowship, and ministry from the nature of Christ than we can separate life on earth from the sun above. In much the same way that “the law brings about wrath” (Rom. 4:15), “suffering brings about perseverance” (Rom. 5:3), and “the world’s light momentary afflictions bring about an eternal weight of glory” (2 Co. 4:17), so also “fear and trembling” bring about salvation (Greek: katergazomai – κατεργάζομαι, is the same word in each of these cases and means “to bring about, produce.”). This “fear and trembling” is the result of knowing that it is God himself at work in us; to know that it is God who is working and not stand with fear and trembling is sheer arrogance and folly! Our response to these things, then, ought to be to run the Christian race without grumbling or arguing so that we can be blameless and pure children of God. These two sins are particularly devastating to Christian holiness because our “thanksgiving” is bears an eternal weight of glory (2 Co. 4:15, 17) that is defiled by grumbling and the supreme Christian ethic of love is sacrificed on the altars of Baal by bitter arguments among brethren!
Verse sixteen is the apex of the Christian response to the incarnate glory of God in Christ; we shine the light of Christ in this world like the stars of heaven by holding firm to the word of life. We are the light of the world when we become living testimonies to the zoetic word of God!