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Unpacking The Gift

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Philippians 2:5 ESV
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
Philippians 2:6 NIV
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
Philippians 2:7 ESV
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Emptying of Himself He abandoned a sovereign position. Go back to verse 6 and this identifies
His person, His nature, His character, His attributes in eternity before He came.
In a word, His sovereign position. It says in verse 6 that He existed in the form of God thus He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or seized.
We’re talking about Christ Jesus, who is identified at the end of verse 5. And this amazing statement captures His essential nature. Literally it reads this way, “He being in the form of God … He being in the form of God.” Just take the word “being” for a moment. Being denotes the person’s essential nature, essence, that which is inalienably unchangeably true about Him, that He possesses this nature as God. That’s His being, that is who He is. This refers to His innate, unchangeable, unalterable essence, His nature is that of God.
It describes that part of a person which we all understand, His very being. It describes that part of a person that can’t be changed, it is essential to His very existence and it always remains the same. For Jesus Christ, it is to say that He is in being God and that is unchangeable and unalterable. That is why we’re instructed in the gospel of Matthew that His name was to be Emanuel which in Hebrew means “God with us,” El being the name or the word for God. He is God with us. He was God, He is God, He will always be God. “In the beginning,” writes John, “was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.” That is unalterable, that is unchangeable. That’s why He said in , “Before Abraham, I am.” Before he ever existed, I was in existence. We had just, at the beginning of the service, heard Tom read that marvelous opening statement in the letter to the Hebrews in which it says, “Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature.
In , a similar testimony is given in verse 15, “He is the image of the invisible God.” That is to say He is a direct representation, a direct reflection of the invisible and eternal God. This is where you start with the person of Jesus Christ.
Now that’s the word “being,” but let’s just look again at this opening statement. It says, “Being in the form of God,” and that adds another component. That’s the Greek word morphe and it refers again to the characteristics or the qualities, or the attributes of someone. The English really doesn’t capture this word very well. The word “form” doesn’t work very well. The word “form” has the connotation of something on the outside, something changeable, something that can be altered. That’s not what this word means. It means the essential, abiding characteristics or attributes that belong to someone. It is translated in the New Testament “conformed,” or even “transformed.” In , “We being transformed into the image of Christ.” It doesn’t mean that we are physically, externally made to look like Him. It means we are internally, and by characteristic and attributes, being conformed into what He is. That’s the concept of morphe.
Paul even says, “I want to gain Christ. I want to be conformed to His death.” Literally, “I want to become like Him. I want to be like Him in terms of characteristics, attributes, attitudes, not exterior.
So we begin then with the fact that Christ Jesus as to being is eternal God. As to form, He possesses all the attributes, all the characteristics that belong to God. He is no less than God in the fullest sense. And you remember the Jews condemned Him in 5:18 because He was making Himself equal with God. There was no mistaking about that because that’s precisely what He was doing.
Now back to verse 6. Even though that is His essential nature and He possesses all the attributes and all the characteristics that belong to God, the next phrase says, “He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” That’s a very interesting statement and it can carry a couple of connotations. The verb “grasped” has a rather broad possibility of interpretation. It can mean to seize something, to snatch something, to take hold of it and pull it away. Or it can mean to hang on to something, to cling to something, to clutch something.
So let’s look at it both ways. There was in heaven a being by the name of Lucifer, right? Lucifer was the worship leader of heaven. He was the anointed cherub, he was the highest of angels. But that was not enough to satisfy him. And according to , he said, “I will be like the Most High. I will be like the Most High.”
What did he want? He wanted equality with God. He wanted equality with God so equality with God for Lucifer was something to be seized. It was something to be snatched and he tried to snatch it unsuccessfully, didn’t he? Tried to seize it and he was instantly cast out of heaven and turned in to the devil and Satan.
Jesus didn’t need to do that. For Him equality with God was not something He needed to snatch. It was not something He needed to seize. It was not something He needed to rip away from someone to whom it legitimately belonged because it was His by nature … by nature.
Secondly, you can interpret it this way, that having equality with God was not something He clung to. The fullness of that equality with God is described in John as proston theon, a Greek phrase that means face-to-face. It’s talking about absolute equality and fullness. He possessed equality with God but He was willing to let go of it.
So on the one hand, it wasn’t something He had to snatch because it didn’t belong to Him. And on the other hand, it did belong to Him but it was not something that He clutched with a death grip, if you will. He was willing to give it up. So willing that verse 7 says, “He emptied Himself … He emptied Himself.” That is just a powerful statement. The Greek verb means to pour out until it’s all gone, to pour out until it’s all gone.
Just exactly of what did He empty Himself? Well some people might think He emptied Himself of His deity but He didn’t because He couldn’t. That’s His nature … that’s His being … that’s His essence. And some might think He divested Himself of the form of God and became only a man. That’s not possible because the very essence of God’s nature is manifest inseparably from its characteristics and attributes. So He didn’t give up His nature as God and He didn’t give up His attributes as God.
Well what did He give up? Of what did He empty Himself?
Well the New Testament lays it out for us. He remained fully God but, for example, He said, “Father, give Me back the glory I had with You before the world began.” He emptied Himself of His glory, His divine glory. His glory in this world was veiled. On the Mount of Transfiguration, He pulled His flesh back and gave them a little glimpse of His glory, you remember? But He veiled His glory when He came into this world. He set His glory aside and gave up His honor. According to , there was no beauty in Him that men would desire Him. He was despised, He was rejected. And we know that unfolds in the New Testament. He was hated. He was treated with scorn. He was shamed. He was spit on. He was beaten. He gave up His honor, gave up His riches.
says He was rich, but for our sakes He became poor. It doesn’t mean He was earthly poor, it means He divested Himself of all the treasures of heaven and came down and lived in a humble village and ate with the rest of the people in His family and walked the dusty streets and lived divested of incomprehensible limitless heavenly treasures. He even … he even gave up the independent exercise of His own will. He said, “I came not to do My will but he will of Him that sent Me,” . He said, “I only do what the Father tells Me to do. I only do what the Father says. I only do what I see the Father do. I do what pleases My Father.”
So He gave up His own personal authority, His own independent exercise of that authority. He gave up the use of His omniscience. He said, “I don’t even know when the Second Coming is going to happen. No one knows but the Father, not even the Son of Man.”
He gave up the use of His omnipotence. He could have called a legion of angels to defend Him, but He did not do that.
So He gave up His glory, His honor, His riches, the independent exercise of His will. He even gave up a favorable relationship with His Father eventually because He was hanging on the cross, made sin for us and He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Those are the things that He emptied Himself of. It’s a deep mystery of wisdom and power, but it’s true. This is the nature of His humiliation. This is the nature of His love.
Just as a footnote to that. Say it this way, “He gave up His privileges … gave up His privileges.” It’s hard to do. Willingness to do that, even on a human level, of course, is a very, very difficult thing. If you want to find out what a person is really like, if you want to do a test of leadership, if you want to do a test of character, give somebody privileges, give him privileges. And the more privileges you give them, the more they will reveal their character.
If you give somebody responsibilities, they will do them if you pay them. Right? If you pay them, they’ll do them. That doesn’t give you any indication of character. People want money and so they do what they’re responsible to do. Give them privileges and you’ll find out whether they have character. A noble person will use his privileges to help others. A noble person will somehow take those privileges and spend them on other people. A lesser person will use his privileges to separate him from other people, to elevate himself.
Jesus had all the privileges of being God and He chose to set those privileges aside to serve sinners in the Father’s will. So He’s like a king and takes off His crown, and takes off His majestic robe and puts on the rags of a slave and comes out of the palace to help the poor, destitute paupers survive.
So the story of Christmas begins with the Son of God abandoning a sovereign position.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You.
Phil
Philippians 2:7 ESV
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Voluntary Enlisting into Slavery
Philippians 2:7 ESV
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
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