Question Box: Christ "in the form of God"?

Question or Topic Scripture
Christ "in the form of God"? Philippians 2:6

In Philippians 2:6 we read concerning Christ: "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God". These words are always confusing to me. How should they be understood?


Before we can really begin to understand this verse, (especially as it appears in the King James Version), it may be well to consider what there is about the verse that troubles us. Is it because of the implication that Jesus and God are co-equal? We know that any conclusion along these lines would not be sound. It would be in contradiction with other scripture, such as: "my Father is greater than I" (John 14:28).

When we look at other translations of Phillipians 2:6, the NRSV reads: "who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited". Perhaps the best alternate translation is the Diaglott which reads: "who, though being in God's Form, yet did not meditate a Usurpation to be like God". Unfortunately, none of these translations are very clear.

In the Image of God

There are two key points being expressed in this verse. The first is that Christ is said to be in the "form of God". Any difficulty created in this statement should be cleared up when we consider that the word "form" is from the Greek morphe {mor-fay'} which can simply mean "shape". We know that men "are made after the similitude of God" (James 3:9). All men, including Jesus therefore, can be said to be in the form of God. There is also nothing in this statement that in any way implies that Jesus was God.

Jesus, as the son of God, had even more reason to be in the specific image of his Father. In any natural family it is common for the son to look like his father. Therefore, it would be logical that Jesus resembled his Father. Then again, who would know? Who would tell him that he looked just like his Father? We can be thankful that there is no attempt in scripture to provide any detail of the physical characteristics of God.

We know that as early as the age of twelve, Jesus knew exactly who his Father was and that it was his task in life to "be about his Father's business" (Luke 2:49). He was determined to fulfill all of the requirements of his mission as "Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matthew 1:23).

On one occasion, Jesus told Philip: "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father" (John 14:9)? It would be important for Philip to understand that Jesus was talking about his actions and his words, not his physical appearance. His entire life was dedicated to being a manifestation of the characteristics of his Father.

We are further told concerning Jesus: "Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). Both of the key words in this verse, (express and image), are taken from the same Greek word. It is interesting that this word is charakter {khar-ak-tare'}; which means (by implication) engraving, "character", or representation. The emphasis is therefore on his conduct, rather than on his appearance.

Our Lord and Master

Jesus would have had every reason to glory in the special position that he both received at his birth and also enhanced throughout his life of obedience to the Father's will. Instead, he was able to rise above the desire for self exaltation. This leads us to the second key point in the verse in question. We are told that he "thought it not robbery to be equal with God".

The word "equal" is misleading. It comes from the Greek isos {ee'-sos} which means to be alike or similar. It does not refer to being similar in substance or nature, but rather to be alike in position and power. Jesus was born with the potential for power and position . He knew however, that until he had submitted to death, it would be inappropriate for him to assume that role.

It is not at all uncommon for men to take full advantage of any clout that they may possess from their "connections". These may be either as a coincidence of their birth, or as the result of their associations. Jesus was in a very special position but he reacted to his prominence differently than most men would. Even though he had every right to take full advantage of his role as the Master, he refused to do so. He could have usurped the role of "Lord and Master", but instead, he "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant ... And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phillipians 2:7-8).

Our Example

He told his disciples:

  1. John 13:13-15
  2. Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
  3. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
  4. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.

We are called to be a "royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:9). We are told that in the age to come, "the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called" (Acts 15:17). Those who bear his name faithfully will be "the Lord" to the residue of men on this earth. When we contemplate our own potential for position and power, are we able to reflect the example of our master?

The context that leads up to the verse in question helps to prepare us for our challenge. If we consider these preceding verses, we will understand that the confusing statement in verse 6 was actually written for our benefit. The humility that Christ displayed, in spite of his lofty position, becomes our example. We read:

  1. Phillipians 2:2-5
  2. Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
  3. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
  4. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
  5. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.

We have the potential to be co-rulers with Christ in the Kingdom. This is a high calling, and one that will place us into a position of power and authority. Jesus, when confronted with the potential for his lofty calling, "did not meditate a Usurpation to be like God". He chose rather to humble himself, as an example for his brethren. Let us be certain that we never attempt to elevate our own potential for power. We must not usurp authority in any way, especially over our own brethren.

We conclude our thoughts on this question with an attempt at a paraphrase of the key thoughts that are being expressed in Philippians 2:5-7:

'Brethren, you should have the same attitude that Christ did. He was the son of God. He not only resembled his Father, but more importantly, he acted like him. He had every right to take full advantage of his role as our Lord and Master. However, he knew that he was exactly like his brethren in nature. For our sake, he was obedient even to death. His humility should demonstrate the way that we should treat one other.'


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