A few days ago I realized something pretty astounding about Philippians 2 that I had never seen before.
In my younger days, I always read this passage about how Christ “being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” as if God is “up there”, exalted, high above the world and creation, full of power and might and perhaps even wrath mingled with a hint of disgust. But as I’ve started to deconstruct those ideas about who God is what God is like [patterned after what we see in the life and character of Jesus who said “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” and “I only do what I see the Father doing”], this verse suddenly hit me a totally different way.
First of all, the idea of God being “up there” and full of infinite power and wrath is part of what I believe Jesus came to correct for us. God is not too Holy to look upon sin, or too perfect to be in the presence of sinners. To be like God is NOT to be like the Pharisees who wouldn’t dare eat with prostitutes or the sick or [God forbid] a Gentile or a Samaritan. Far from it! God is more like Jesus who spent most of his time with those people the religious elite wouldn’t bother with.
Simply put, the key to understanding Philippians 2 [I believe] is found in starting with how you view God. If you assume God is exalted above the Creation, full of infinite power and fearsome judgment, then you will tend to read the passage as I was always taught to read it: as if Christ stepped down, away from that glorious power and moved closer to being like us [a human being] by becoming nothing and taking on the form of a servant.
But, what if being equal to God is the same as being found in the form of a servant? I mean, didn’t Jesus come to serve and not to be served? If Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing, then isn’t God [the Father] also humble? Isn’t being “like God” expressed in how low we can go, not how high and mighty we can be?
If we start by seeing God as one who is like Christ – humble, serving, self-giving and filled with mercy, love and compassion – then we will see that when Jesus “made himself nothing” and took on “the very nature of a servant” he was actually moving closer to what it means to be “equal with God” and “being in very nature God.”
Ultimately it’s an answer to the question: What is God like?
If God is distant, aloof, too Holy to look upon sin and too majestic to wash feet, then what Christ did in Philippians 2 was to move away from being like God and closer to being an insignificant human.
However, if we see that God is near, connected to humanity, closer than a brother, filled with a love that transcends knowledge, determined to express that love in terms that can never be broken or changed, then we maybe we can see that Christ’s descent into humility and servanthood was a move deeper into the nature of God, not away from it.
This is why Paul says that our attitudes should be the same as Christ’s attitude here: Because it’s also what God is like!
To be like Christ is to be like God. They are not opposites. They are not separate. Becoming humble, serving others, loving until it hurts, all of that is to be exactly like God, not to be unlike God.
So, the next time you read Philippians 2, I would encourage you to notice that it is because Jesus was already equal with God that he humbled himself and took on the form of a servant who – in becoming nothing – was, at the very same time, being the very nature of God.
No, go and do likewise.
Ground Zero: Academy – March 5-7, 2021
Register today for $19.99 HERE>
This 3-day event features fantastic conversations with 8 great theologians, including: David Bentley Hart, Dr. Christa McKirland, Elizabeth Schrader, Matthew Reeves Korpman, Dr. Scott Bartchy, Julie Ferwerda, Dr. Steve McVey and Father Kenneth Tanner.
Hosted by Keith Giles. Don’t miss it!
Keith Giles and his wife, Wendy, work with Peace Catalyst International to help build relationships between Christians and Muslims in El Paso, TX. Keith was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church over a decade ago to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today he is the author of the best-selling “Jesus Un” series of books, including “Jesus Unexpected: Ending The End Times To Become The Second Coming” which is available now on Amazon.