In our previous discussion we looked at some of the questions involving the doctrine of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and what it meant for Jesus Christ to be able to be tempted. Today I would like to examine the first of the passages discussed as to the full humanity of Jesus Christ, and I would like to expand the passage viewed form Philippians 2:5-8, as was the case in the discussion, and to look at Philippians 2:1-11 in a larger context: “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 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, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
In this familiar passage we see a tension between matters of form and nature. Paul begins this passage by urging the brethren of Philippi to take on the nature of Christ. We are not dealing here with external form, but rather internal nature. We begin with Paul discussing the consolation we should have in Christ, the comfort of love, the fellowship of the Spirit with fellow believers and the affection and mercy we should receive from God and give and receive with others. These qualities are meant to encourage unity among brethren, the same sort of unity that exists between God the Father and Jesus Christ. Moreover, Paul enjoins the brethren to avoid self-ambition or conceit, qualities many of us (myself definitely included, sadly) have in abundance as part of our nature. It is in this light that Paul then comments that the behavior of Christ was precisely the sort of humility that we should adopt in our own lives. After all, we are merely mortal human beings. What do we have to be proud or conceited about compared to one half of the duo that created the entire universe and everything that is in it. Compared to that, the beauty and intellect and strength and accomplishments that we tout ourselves for and that lead us to look down on others does not count for very much.
Yet it is striking as well to note the comparison when it comes to what Jesus Christ acquired of humanity in the second half of the passage. While we are to acquire internal qualities as part of the nature of Christ, Jesus Christ acquired external qualities dealing with humankind. He took on the form of a bondservant. He came in the likeness of men. He was found in the appearance of mankind and humbled himself accordingly and obeyed the will of God to the point of the death of the cross. In none of these statements does Paul ever imply that Jesus Christ had within him the sort of fallen human nature that leads people to sin and transgress. Indeed, the language used is striking. In using the term morphēn to describe his form as a servant and homoiōmati to discuss being in the likeness of man and schēmati to discuss being in the appearance of humanity, Paul is using very deliberate vocabulary. The word schēmati only occurs here in Philippians 2;8, and it relates to the word schematic that describes the sort of industrial drawings we make to aid in construction. The word homoiōmati occurs five times in scripture, the other four times in Romans, and it means likeness and similitude, again, a word focused on exterior appearance. Finally, morphēn, a word not too unlike the expression for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, is a word that means form and it appears only here in the Bible. In all the cases, Paul is making it obvious that Jesus Christ took on only the exterior form of the human being, and was very deliberate in expressions that meant this.
Why was Paul’s language so deliberate here? It is obvious that in acquiring the physical form of humanity, even to the point where he was able to suffer death, that Jesus did not take on all of the aspects of our lives that we face as human beings. Very deliberately, as Bible Hub notes: “4976 sxma – properly, exterior shape (form); (figuratively) the outer “shape” (manner, appearance). 4976/sxēma (“outward, visible form”) is used of Jesus’ earthly body (Phil 2:7,8). Christ incarnated into a genuine physical body, which was not an “exact match with typical humanity” because His body was never touched or tainted by sin (even original sin).” We will not at this time draw out all of the implications of this. Although we will have occasion to speak later about the problem of original sin, this commentary does a good job in noting that the language used by Paul is significant in that the exterior form of humanity does not make him an exact match with humanity because he was lacking that part of humanity that was corrupt and fallen. Jesus Christ was never an unredeemed man whose thoughts and behavior was shaped by the fall of mankind, and Paul’s language in Philippians 2 makes it clear that even though Jesus took on our exterior form so that He could serve as the perfect sacrifice for our sins so that the way to salvation for sinful, mortal man might be opened, we must acquire his deeper nature before we will be raised incorruptible. Our moral corruption must be resolved before we can enjoy physical incorruption, and it is possible only because Jesus Christ was able to dwell in a human form without suffering the moral corruption that fills the lives of most humanity. And that itself suggests that the only temptation that Jesus Christ was able to deal with was external temptation, coming from fallen beings, rather than the internal temptation that comes from being fallen oneself.