Philippians 2:1-11 – Why God Became Man


Text: Philippians 2:1-11
Title: Why God Became Man
Date: December 25th, 2022
Location: Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, Washington

If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


Father, Your Word says, that the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen You at any time; but the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. And so give us now ears to hear your declaration of grace and truth in the name of Jesus, Amen.


In God’s providence we arrive at Philippians 2:6-11 on Christmas Day. This passage is a locus classicus on the Incarnation, and one of the most important proof texts for establishing that Jesus is fully God and fully man.

  • I say without exaggeration that this doctrine, together with who God is as Trinity, is the single most important doctrine there is.
  • Our entire faith stands or falls based on who Jesus Christ is. Is he God or is He is not? Is he man, or is He some kind of superman? If you answer those questions wrong, if you make a mistake here, there will be major downstream consequences and errors that result.
    • And so I want to warn you up front that this sermon is going to be a bit more theological than usual, but I make no apologies for this, because doing this kind of theology is the highest act of your intellect, and without it, you cannot actually know who you are worshipping.
    • And so carefully doing theology like this is part of how we keep ourselves from idolatry, and from false ideas about who God is.
  • There are many people who claim the name of Christian, who profess to know God, it still says on American dollars bills, “in God we trust.”
    • And yet the God that many people claim to know, the Jesus that many people claim to follow, is not the same God or same Christ that we find in the Scriptures. They might go by the same name, they might say the name “Jesus” a lot, but the Jesus that many people know is no Jesus at all.
    • And what they actually are worshipping is a construct of their own imagination, a projected composite of ideas, some of them from the Bible, but many of them not.
  • And more than likely, we have some of these false ideas in our mind as well.
  • And so the only safe way to proceed if you want to know and worship the true and living God, is to open the Scriptures and submit yourself wholly unto them.
  • As Christians, we take as a first principle of faith, that God wrote this book and He does not lie. And so everything we find here is inspired, authentic, and without contradiction.
  • The work then of the theologian, the work of our intellect as we read the Bible, is to hold all of these verses together, allowing the whole Bible to speak at the same time (not pressing mute on a single verse), and receiving that symphony of Holy Scripture as one song that tells of the glory of God.
    • In this sense, theology is the work of getting in tune with reality, of coming to believe that things are, and then understanding how they are so. Theology is how we know God as he is, not as we imagine him to be.
    • That is what we are seeking to do this morning. How shall we proceed?

The way I want to arrange this sermon is by answering 4 questions that naturally arise from this text, and all 4 questions are questions of meaning, “what does this phrase mean?”

The four questions that we will ask and answer are as follows:

  1. What does “being in the form of God” mean in verse 6?
  2. What does “thought it not robbery to be equal with God?” mean in verse 6?
  3. What does “made himself of no reputation” (or “emptied himself” as the ESV has it) mean in verse 7?
  4. What does “being found in fashion as a man” mean in verse 8?

#1 – What does “being in the form of God” mean? (ὃς ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ ὑπάρχων)

I’ll read again verses 5-6, Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”

  • You’ll remember the context here is Paul impressing upon the Philippians the need for love and humility in the church, and here in these verses He gives us the reason why, and it begins with Christ Jesus being in the form of God. What is this form?
  • When most people hear the word form, they tend to think of the shape or external appearance of a thing, and they think of that form as distinct from its material substance (what it actually is).
    • So maybe you are making cookies, you roll out the dough and the form is the cookie cutter. It’s the stamp or the outline and its separate from the substance that is the dough, that’s a kind of form.
    • Or to give you another example, around this time of year, many men take on the form of Santa Clause (they dress up as him), but they are not actually Santa Clause, they just have the form of Santa Clause.
    • So these are different ways we tend to think of the word form.
  • For those of you who might be more philosophical, when you hear the word “form,” you might think of Plato’s “World of Forms,” which is this realm outside of time and space that contains the real essences of things, and then everything here on earth is an imitation of it. For Plato, your senses cannot grasp these Forms, only your intellect can know them.
    • Aristotle famously rejected Plato’s “World of Forms” and argued that forms do not exist independently of their nature or substance. For Aristotle a form is the real nature of a thing.
    • So to give you an example, take this wood pulpit.
      • For Plato, there is an immaterial Form called Wood and Pulpit that only my intellect can apprehend, and I can’t actually know this wood pulpit from my physical senses.
      • For Aristotle, I can know the form or nature of this thing, and I can do that by empirical investigation: I can see the wood, I can feel it, I can use it as a pulpit, and my senses can genuinely deliver reality to me.
    • Now when we come to the Apostle Paul what kind of form is he talking about when he says, “Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God…” Is this a Platonic form, or Aristotelian form, or something else?
      • The correct answer as far as the wood pulpit goes is that Aristotle is right about reality and Plato is wrong, insofar as the wood pulpit is concerned.
      • And when it comes Paul’s usage of form here, he means not just the external appearance of a thing (like Santa Clause), or some spiritual ideal in the world of forms (he rejects Plato), what he means is something much closer to Aristotle which is that the form is the very nature and essence of a thing. The form is what the thing is.
    • For Christ to be in the form of God means that Christ has a fully divine nature, His form/essence is divine.
      • And whereas you and I are in the form of human, and we have a shared human nature, our existence is still distinct from our essence. I exist as a human, my essence is human nature, but I (Aaron) am not the sum total of human nature (there are other humans out there!). As a composite being, my existence is distinct from my essence.
      • Now in God there is no such distinction. God’s essence is His existence. The form of God and God himself are identical. In theological terms we say God is simple, that is God is not composed of parts.
      • And so Paul is saying that: All that God is, All that God reveals Himself to be in the Old Testament, Christ is. That is what “being in the form of God” means.
        • This is made more explicit in the next phrase which says, He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God?” To be in the form of God is to be equal with God (more on this in a moment).
      • In verse 6, we must also not overlook the sense of this little word “being,” when Paul says, “being in the form of God,” (present active participle), he forces us to conclude that Christ was God even prior to His incarnation. In other words, Christ never started to be God. He was always God, is presently God, and continues to be God. Being in the form of God he took on human flesh.
    • Certain key truths flow from this reality.
      • The first is that Christ is the eternal Son. According to His divine Nature, Christ always exists as God.
        • This is why Jesus can say in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
        • It is why Jesus can say to Nicodemus in John 3:13, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.”
          • Notice: Jesus is walking around on earth, having conversation with people, and yet according to His divine nature, He is at the same time, the Son of Man which is presently in heaven.
        • These verses forced the church to conclude that Jesus Christ is one person, who has two natures: one nature that is eternal, omnipresent, and divine, and another nature that is human and not divine (limited by time and space) that He added to himself when He was conceived in Mary by the Holy Ghost. Being in the form of God he took on human flesh.
      • The second key truth we must conclude is that Christ is equal to the Father in that both possess the divine nature equally.
        • The Father is God as font and source, and the Son as stream.
          • As Jesus says in John 5:26, “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.”
        • The Son is the Word from the Father, and the Image of His invisible form.
      • Christ is the one who reveals the Triunity of God. What was only gestured at in the Old Testament (Let us make man in our image), becomes explicit in the New. In Christ we come to a heightened revelation of the true nature of God: the plurality of the divine persons and their unity of nature. Christ is the doorway to the whole Trinity. He is the way to the Father, and the giver (with the Father) of the Holy Ghost.
  • So those are just some of the implications of this little phrase, “being in the form of God.” Let us continue on.

#2 – What does “thought it not robbery to be equal with God?” mean in verse 6?

  • To answer this, we should think of the converse: What would it look it for someone to rob God by thinking themselves equal to Him? Has anyone every done that? Has anyone ever aspired to be equal with God?
    • The prime examples of this would be the Devil, Adam & Eve, and you and I in our pride.
    • What was the original sin of the Devil?
      • We get hints of this in Isaiah 14, which says,
        • 12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
      • The original sin of Satan was to elevate himself above God. That is what we would call “robbery to be equal with God.” Someone or some created being thinking they could be equal with the Creator. That’s robbery.
    • This is the same sin that man commits in the garden.
      • The serpent tempts them by saying, “you shall be like God if you eat of this tree. You can be kings who judge what is good and evil.”
      • And so man grasps for equality with God, we seek to elevate ourselves, but instead we Fall.
  • And so when Paul says, Christ Jesus “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” He is saying that Jesus, unlike Satan, and unlike Adam, is actually God. And so it is not robbery for Christ to think Himself as such (because He is), and yet, if the One who was truly in that high and elevated position, humbled himself, how much more should we?
  • This brings us to question #3.

#3 – What does “made himself of no reputation” mean in verse 7?

  • The ESV and other translations say “emptied himself,” and this translation could suggest many heretical things, so we must be careful here.
  • This is one of those places where many evangelicals are heretical in their understanding of the Incarnation.
    • If you have ever heard of kenosis or kenotic theory, it comes from Greek word here in verse 7, ἐκένωσε, which means to make empty or to divest.
    • The question then is, what does Christ empty or divest Himself of?
  • The heretical answer is that Christ empties Himself of His divinity. He comes to earth and lays aside His divine nature and becomes just a man.
    • This is heretical for many reasons, I’ll give you just three:
      • 1. There are some things that God cannot do. And one of them is: God cannot stop being God. Just like God cannot lie, God cannot change. God cannot stop being God. And so if Jesus is God, He cannot empty himself of His Godness.
      • 2. If Jesus emptied himself of his divine nature, then it would actually be idolatry for the magi to follow the star to Bethlehem, fall down and worship Him (Luke 2:10-11).
        • What is the first commandment? Worship God and Him alone.
        • It would be idolatry for Thomas to see Jesus and say in John 20:28, “my Lord and my God.”
      • 3. If Jesus emptied himself of divinity, then Jesus was lying when he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
        • So Christ did not ever empty himself of His divine nature, that’s the heretical interpretation of kenosis.
    • The orthodox interpretation is that Christ emptied Himself by adding to His person a human nature.
      • For God who is the fullness of being, subtraction can only happen by addition. And so the emptying of the Eternal Son refers to His taking on the form/essence of a servant that is subject to the effects of sin.
      • Christ as God cannot die, but Christ in his human nature can. And so as the KJV translates ἐκένωσε, Christ “made himself of no reputation.” He became a nobody though He was God. Christ emptied Himself in that he became a servant to sinners.
      • As Isaiah 53:2-3 says, “He hath no form nor comeliness; And when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: And we hid as it were our faces from him; He was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
      • Christ made himself of no reputation, and as verse 7 continues, “took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.”

#4 – What does “being found in fashion as a man” mean in verse 8?

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

  • This simply means that Christ assumed a human nature that is just like ours, except without sin.
  • Christ was subject to sorrow and pain, hunger and thirst, he sweated, he had callouses on his hands, his body grew weary from his work as a carpenter. He had to sleep, He had to relieve himself just like everyone else.
    • He suffered the emotional pain of betrayal, of being rejected by his family and friends. Of being falsely accused. He was lied about, misrepresented, all He ever did was love and good works, and yet his reward was scorn. And he felt that.
    • This what it means to be “found in fashion as man.”
      • Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”


The reason that God took on human flesh, was so that He could die for you. Acts 20:28 says, the church of God was purchased with His own blood.

  • God is a spirit, and He has no body or blood, but according to Christ’s human nature “being found in fashion and form as a man” Scripture says, the church was purchased by the blood of God. The incarnation happened so that God could die for sinners.
  • This is what love looks like. And so I ask: Do you know the love of God?
    • Do you believe that Christ died and rose for sinners?
    • If so, then confess with your mouth, that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father, and you will be saved.
    • In the name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.