By Eusebio Tanicala, Ph.D.
Some preachers think that the phrases “form of a servant” and “form of God” are parallel and provide them a sound argument in proving the deity of Christ. This is the line of reasoning: Christ took the form of a servant– he was truly a servant; Christ was in the form of God– he was truly God. In a Q & A procedure, it is like this: (1) When Christ took the form of a servant, was he truly a servant or not? (2) When Christ was in the form of God, was he truly God or not?
Presumptions in the above are wrong. First, the discussion or proposition is about the deity of Christ. Not the form of deity. Deity refers to essential nature. Likas na kalagayan. His substance, his essence. Essence or substance is what makes God truly God. Essence or substance cannot be parted with, could not be separated from the person of God. Just as a man’s humanity could not be removed from a human being. A man cannot part or empty himself of his humanity. You and I will always be human. Christ has been and will always be deity or God.
Philippians 2:7 says, “but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” (ASV) To some, this emptying is laying aside and it refers to Christ’s laying aside his deity (iwaksi in Iloco or itabi in Tagalog). Far from it. Verse 7 is not talking about Christ’s emptying Himself of his being God. Both KJV & NKJV renders the clause as “made himself of no reputation” instead of “emptied himself” of the ASV.
I would like to refer to you Daniel 4:19-33. This is an example, although not a perfect example, of emptying or condescending. God in the person of Christ condescended by taking the form of a human being. The distance between the eternal glorious majesty of God and the defiled/mortal nature of man is so far apart. The distance between the glory-majesty-wealth-honor of a King in the Babylonian Palace and a cow is also great. Both happened. King Nebuchanezzar was earlier in the form of a King (appearance of a King) with honor, despotic rights and power, privileges, majestic glory and high authority. But in a period of 12 months the kingdom and the outward power and glitter of his person as a king was discarded or laid aside (v. 31) while he had the behavior of a cow. His behavior as a beast tied down in the open field was even lower than the taong grasa in some Philippine streets. But after his chastisement his reason came back and was restored to the dignity and level of royalty (v. 36). Governors, military commanders, diplomats, allied kings and courtesans returned to his court with fawning loyalty.
This 12 months of King Nebuchadnezzar’s beastly behavior which may be called “the form of a beast” is equivalent to the 33 years of Christ’s being in the “form of a servant” This is the period of His emptying of his honor, reputation, majesty, glory and authority as deity. When possessing an awesome, majestic, glorious, fearsome, splendored and honorable personality worthy of worship by the innumerable angels, Christ was in the form of God. This outward appearance was what He emptied Himself of. So the form refers to the external attributes, not the inherent essence of deity. Attributes that are emptiable but refillable. Attributes that are switchable off and switchable on so to speak.
As a human being at the level of a servant he was an ordinary boy growing up in an ordinary town of Nazareth. Not in the royal palace of King David, his father. He walked the dusty roads of Galilee and Judah. Not riding on the golden chariots of King Solomon nor flew the wings of seraphim. As a servant, he did not have a house and a pillow. As a servant he produced wine for the feast at Cana. He was baptized by John the Baptist. He washed the feet of the 12 apostles. Isaiah 53 gives an extensive picture of his human personality.
Philippians 2:9-11 describes the restoration of Christ’s awesomeness, glorious majesty, splendor, power, authority, divine dignity. He again ascended to the top worshipped by cherubim, seraphim, angels, human and all visible and invisible powers. That’s what Christ mentioned in John 17:5 about the glory he had before the foundation of the universe to be restored. Such glorious majesty wrapped with intense brilliance of light more radiant than the noon day sun was momentarily witnessed by the apostles Peter, James and John in Matthew 17:1-5. The same was also experienced by Saul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:1-9.
My suggestion is for preachers to analyze very well Philippians 2:6-7 and be careful about equating form of God with essence of God. ###