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The Person and Work of Christ: An Analysis of Philippians 2:2-11

Lesson ▪ 2001
Tags: Philippians 2:2-11; Jesus Christ; Preexistence; Incarnation; Exaltation
Related Resources: The Deity of Jesus Christ: Three Witnesses The Birth of Jesus—What Difference Has It Made?


Today’s text is one of the most significant of the New Testament. Verses 5-11 in particular have been the subject of much theological discussion. This passage helps us to understand who Jesus Christ was, what he accomplished, and what all of this means for us today. Without question this is a vital subject.

2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9 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.

The Preexistence of Christ (v. 6)

Christ’s life did not begin when he was conceived in Mary’s womb. Rather, he always was with God the Father (cf. John 1:1-2). Paul states here that he was “in the form of God.” The Greek word translated “form” is morphe; it conveys the idea that Christ possessed all the attributes of God in eternity past. Theologians refer to this as Christ’s preexistence.

“Paul begins [. . .] by remarking that Jesus, because he existed in the form of God, did not consider this high position as a prize to be held on to, but rather to be surrendered in order that he might serve [. . .]” (Hawthorne 79).

Paul states that Christ “thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” Theologians debate the precise meaning of this phrase. It most likely means that in his preexistent state, Christ did not assert his right to equality with God. He did not assert his own worthiness. He did not grasp for the glory that was due him. Rather, he was willing to come to glory through a process of humble obedience to his Father’s will.

This should not be understood to diminish Christ’s identity as God the Son. We may have a hard time affirming the deity of someone who does not seem interested in defending his claim to it. Contrary to our own expectations, Paul seems to say here that Christ did not defend his equality with God precisely because he was in the form of God (Hawthorne 85). Paradoxical, isn’t it!

The Incarnation of Christ (v. 7)

Verse 7 discusses the miracle that we celebrate at Christmas: the Incarnation--God taking on flesh. The phrase “made himself of no reputation” literally means “emptied himself.” Whether this is to be understood literally or figuratively is a matter of debate. Suffice it to say that it was no small step down for Christ to take on human flesh.

We are told that he “took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” Paul here uses the word morphe to describe Jesus’ human nature. Just as Christ had all the traits of deity before his Incarnation, he had all the attributes of humanity after it. He took on the form of a servant--a doulos, a slave. He relinquished his freedom and assumed the limitations inherent in being a member of the human race. Think of it: He who was in essence God, who had created all things, wrapped himself up in human flesh. He was deity in bodily form (cf. John 1:3, 14; Col. 1:15ff; 2:9; Heb. 1:1-3).

The Obedience of Christ (v. 8)

Not only did Christ stoop down and dwell in a human body, he further humbled himself. Not only did he become a slave, he experienced death. And not just any death: He who was equal with God was crucified--executed in a manner befitting a slave! This he did out of obedience--a fact we can hardly comprehend (cf. Rom 5:19; Heb. 5:8). His cross is the central message of Christianity, yet the Jews find it offensive and the Gentiles consider it foolish (1 Cor. 1:23).

The passage clearly says that Christ became not merely a man but a slave and that he died the dreaded death of a slave. This does not mean, of course, that he literally was one of the millions of slaves that peopled the Roman empire in the first century. But it probably does carry connotations of his low social station. He was part of a conquered and oppressed people, and within that people was so poor that he had no place to put his head [. . .] and had to be supported in his work by the kindness of others [. . .]. As remarkable as it may seem, Paul affirms that such a lowly position was not incompatible with Christ’s divinity but was in some way a manifestation of it. (Thielman 127)

The Exaltation of Christ (vv. 9-11)

Paul concludes this passage with a declaration of Christ’s exalted glory. He has received a name that is above all others. One day every living being will reverently acknowledge Jesus to be who he really is: Lord of all.


Four implications follow from this study of the person and work of Christ. Three implications are stated clearly at the beginning of the passage (vv. 2-4), and a fourth is implied toward the end (vv. 10-11).
  • Seeking unity in the local church (v. 2)
  • Practicing humility toward fellow Christians (v. 3)
  • Seeking the welfare of others (v. 4)
  • Confessing Jesus Christ as Lord (vv. 10-11)
Christ’s voluntary humiliation should motivate us to carry out each of these actions. In regards to the first three we should be motivated by his example of humble service (v. 5); in relation to the last, by the effect of his humility.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Gerald F. Philippians. Word Biblical Commentary 43. Waco, TX: Word, 1983.
Thielman, Frank. Philippians. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

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Teacher's notes (3 pages)   71k v. 5 Sep 26, 2011, 8:47 PM Greg Smith