COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Phil 2:5-6. NKJV)
God sending His Son into the world remains one of the great mysteries of Scripture. While men are tempted to view it simplistically, we stand in wonder at the threshold of this truth. Our hearts sense we are considering something that is beyond our abilities of comprehension. As we ponder the incarnation, it is as though we are merely touching the border of its magnitude. Yet, right here we can be lifted out of ourselves into a higher realm, where God, Christ, and salvation come into fuller view. Here is a truth that must be comprehended spiritually rather than intellectually. It is something that is grasped more with the heart than it is with the mind. Here is confirmed the vastness of what was required to save a fallen race.
LET THIS MIND BE IN YOU
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (NRSV). In this section of Philippians, the Spirit is emphasizing humility. The previous verses have exhorted us to be lowly in mind, regarding others better than ourselves. Not only are we to look out for our own interests, but for those of others also. Now we are directed to a consideration of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is where we behold true humility. Being humble is not a manner of life, but a frame of mind–an attitude, or personal view of life. It is found preeminently in Jesus, because He is the apex of humanity–man brought to his highest. Any time we want to see the ideal of humanity in any of its aspects, we will be summoned to a consideration of the Lord Jesus.
Not a mere goal. The NRSV uses the phrase “same mind,” which, technically, is not in the text. It does, however, convey the sense of the text. We are not being asked to try and imitate the mind of Christ. His manner of thinking is not held out as a mere goal for which we are to strive. This is a reality to be embraced–something that is already in tact, so to speak. We are considering an aspect of the “Divine nature,” in which we participate by the grace of God (2 Pet 1:4). While there is a sense in which this “mind” is developed, or matured, in us, there is another sense in which it is obtained, or acquired. There is such a thing as “the mind of the Spirit” (Rom 8:27), “the mind of the Lord” (Rom 11:34), and “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). While we cannot expect to experience the fulness of the Divine mind (i.e., His judgments and ways, Rom 11:33), there are aspects of it that we can have. Here, the Spirit briefly discusses what is available to us.
The expression “LET this mind . . . ” suggests this mind is available to us if we will only receive it. We allow it to be in us by subduing the temptation to be “otherwise minded.” This is a work of faith, and it is imperative that we consider how different it is from the world’s way of thinking. In the world, goals are set before men, and they attempt to reach them through self-discipline. This is precisely the manner in which the Law, which “is not of faith” (Gal 3:12), operated. Faith, on the other hand, embraces something that is offered. Thus, by faith we “receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal 3:14), “understand” creation (Heb 11:3), and are “kept by the power of God” (1 Pet 1:5). The “mind” in our text is obtained in the same way–by faith. It is our faith that allows “this same mind” to be in us.
It is important to note that this is the ONLY mind that is acceptable to God. No other pattern of thought is appropriate or recognized by our Lord. If we do NOT have “the mind of Christ,” we have an unacceptable mind. Among other things, Jesus lived out acceptable thinking when He dwelt among us. He did not show us merely HOW to live, but exposed us to the manner in which the Divine mind functions in this world. When the “fulness of the Godhead” dwelt bodily in Jesus (Col 2:9), that “fulness” thought in a certain way. No other way is acceptable. Jesus could not fulfill His mission by thinking any other way, and we cannot fulfill ours by adopting a variant form of thinking. When our hearts accept this, we at once become aware of our deep need of the Lord, and His working within us.
JESUS CHRIST . . . IN THE FORM OF GOD
“ . . . Who, being in the form of God” (KJV). In a single verse, the Spirit calls upon us to survey both time and eternity–to see Jesus before He entered into the world, and after He became a man. Prior to being “made flesh” (John 1:14), our Savior not only existed, but “existed in the form of God” (NASB). By saying “form,” the Spirit is not suggesting God has a body, as some suppose. The word “form” comes from a word meaning appearance, or nature. It is something that is apparent. The verse is stating that Jesus possessed all of the attributes of God, and was so recognized in heaven. In the words of John, He “was God” (John 1:1). As such, before He entered into the world, our Lord was NOT a created being, as some sects suggest. One of the aspects of the God is eternality (Deut 33:27; Rom 16:26).
There are frequent references to our Savior in His pre-incarnate existence. They all confirm His Deity. Micah, foretelling of the coming of the Messiah, affirmed His origin was “from of old, from everlasting” (Mic 5:2). In His High priestly prayer, the Lord Jesus spoke with His Father about His pre-existence. “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). That “glory”is the “form” referred to in our text.
In another expression of this truth, Jesus told His enemies, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). Notice, He did not say I was, but “I AM.” The expression is one of eternality. It affirms there never was a time when He was NOT. You may recall this is how God revealed Himself to Moses, and how He told Moses to make Him known to Pharaoh. “And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’ (Ex 3:14, NASB). Every major translation says precisely the same thing: “I AM has sent me...” (KJV, ASV, RSV, NIV). It is another way of saying, “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life” (Heb 7:3).
This is the “FORM” of reference in our text–the “form of God.” It was in this “form” that our Savior created the worlds. As it is written, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. . . the world was made through Him . . . one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things . . . God who created all things through Jesus Christ . . . For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him . . . through whom also He made the worlds” (John 1:3,10; 1 Cor 8:6; Eph 3:9; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2). Such glorious things cannot be ascribed to anyone created. Only one “in the form of God,” possessing Divine qualities, and Himself God, could do this.
This is not a mere point of doctrine, and ought not to be so approached. Too frequently men affirm this teaching without the life and vitality it is meant to convey. The Spirit will now begin to show us something of the involvements of considering others above ourselves.
DID NOT CONSIDER IT ROBBERY
“ . . . did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (NKJV). Beyond all question, this is one of the most profound utterances in all of Scripture. It is the description of the “mind” we are to allow to dwell within us. On the surface, the phraseology may appear difficult. It is NOT saying Jesus did not consider being equal with God a detraction from God Himself–a sort of robbing God of His glory. Other versions read as follows. “did not regard (consider, count) equality with God a thing to be grasped” (NASB, RSV, NIV). The NRSV reads, “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” But all of that does not seem to clarify the matter.
The idea being expressed is not that of aspiration–i.e., wanting to take hold of Divine attributes. Rather, it affirms something Jesus was willing to relinquish, or let go of. “Grasped,” in this case, means hold on to, or keep grasping. “Robbery,” means Jesus did not consider Himself to have been robbed when asked to give up His former glory. The text is affirming that Jesus let go of equality with God to enter into the world. When asked to do so, He did not consider Himself to have been exploited or taken advantage of. Rather, He viewed the will of God as preeminent and right. He considered it best and preferable to step down in order that we might step up.
More detail of this is provided in the tenth chapter of Hebrews. “Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come; In the volume of the book it is written of Me; To do Your will, O God.’ Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God’” (Heb 10:5-9).
In order for us to be saved, Jesus had to forfeit His equality with God–the“form of God.” He had to lay his glory aside, so that He did not appear to be God. He was required to enter into a body–a created body–and be subject to restriction. He would have to become obedient, and do so willingly. He would have to become totally dependent upon the Father, live by faith, be tempted in all points as we are, suffer, and die. He could NOT do this “in the form of God,” but only as a Man. He could choose to hold on to “equality with God,”or let it go. He could choose to remain “in the form of God,” or let it go. He chose to let it go! He did not consider Himself robbed in doing that. He did not think the loss of humanity was worth maintaining His grasp on Divine equality. That is the solemn declaration of this verse.
Remember, this is an exposition of humility–humility that we are exhorted to embrace. It is opening up “the mind of Christ,” showing us how our Savior thought. That manner of thinking is the mode of the Kingdom. No other mind-set is acceptable.
If we imagine that considering others “better” than ourselves, and considering the interests of others as well as our own, too difficult an assignment, let us consider Jesus. More than that, let us allow His mind to be in us. To conduct our lives in any other manner is to exalt ourselves. In such a case, God will surely abase us. If, on the other hand, we choose to let this mind be in us, our God will exalt us in due time.