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21st Century Reformation Commentary


                               Philippians  2:5-8

Choose another verse5  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,

6  who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  

7  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

8  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (NASB*)


by J. Dan Gill

This passage is one of the most debated in the New Testament.  Famed British theologian F. F. Bruce said of it, "The diversity of opinion prevailing among interpreters in regard to the meaning of this passage is enough to fill the student with despair, and to afflict him with intellectual paralysis." (Bruce, The Humiliation of Christ, p. 11.)

While the passage has been widely debated by translators and interpreters, there is much that we can understand about these Scriptures if we approach them without prejudice and allow them to speak to us in their context.


A. What Phillipians 2:5-8 is saying:

The Context

Paul's alpha point in these verses concerns the minds and lives of believers at Philippi. Note verses 3 and 4: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."

In the next four verses, Paul draws a mental picture of what "regarding others as more important" than themselves and looking out "for the interests of others" would ideally look like. The  illustration he gives them is from the attitude and life of Jesus. Shortly after that, Paul will also write about his co-worker Timothy whose attitude in service was uniquely one of seeking the interests of others (Philippians 2:20-21).

Jesus - Paul's Example

Verse 5 – "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus."

Jesus was the perfect example of a man who regarded others as more important than himself and looked out for the interests of others.

Verse 6a – "Who though he existed in the form of God..."

Jesus was the only begotten son of God (John 3:16). By a miracle in a virgin, this man was literally God's human son (Luke 1:35). Thus, from his birth, Jesus had a station that was far greater than the rest of us. 

As God's human son, he was uniquely in the likeness and image of God. Just as Adam was in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), so was Jesus (2 Cor. 4:4). Paul goes on to write that Jesus:

Verse 6b –  "did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped."

Adam failed when he was being tempted by the thought that he could "be like God" (Genesis 3:5). He was not an example of humility and obedience that Paul could point out to the Philippians. Jesus, on the other hand, did not regard "equality with God a thing to be grasped." Jesus was the perfect example for the Philippians. He succeeded where Adam failed.

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"For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:5 (NAS95) that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV)

So God created man in his own image. Genesis 1:27  (NIV)

The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.   
Luke 1:35 (NAS95)

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son." John 3:16 (NAS95)

I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.  All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.  
Phil. 2:20, 21(NRSV)

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