Form of God and Form of a Servant

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. ###


One thought on “Form of God and Form of a Servant

  1. RALD

    Genesis 1:20-24; 10:1-5
    1 Cor. 12:27-30

    Imagine a world where everyone talks alike, thinks alike, moves alike, dresses alike, and even looks alike. That would be boring to death. Don’t you think so?

    Immediate members of a family may have similarities in ways, habits, tastes,
    and physical features. But they are not exactly alike. Even identical twins have distinguishing features.

    If your neighbor who is not in any way related to you looks almost like you, you should be alarmed.

    Why? Because there is a big difference between heredity and environment. “What is the difference?” you may be asking. Someone told me, when you look like your father that is heredity. But when you look like your neighbor’s father that is environment.

    If we look at both creation and the Church it appears that God delights in diversity. Let us look at God’s creation.


    God created a wide variety of creatures on land, air, and water.

    The Good News Bible highlights this in Genesis 1:20-21:
    Then God commanded, “Let the water be filled with many kinds of living beings, and let the air be filled with birds.”  So God created the great sea monsters, all kinds of creatures that live in the water, and all kinds of birds. And God was pleased with what he saw.

    God’s world is full of many colors, shapes, functions, purposes, and textures, and this is precisely what makes the world so amazingly and breathtakingly beautiful!

    Yes, there are general groups of life forms and they have distinctive similarities among them. But there is also an infinite profusion of variation within a particular life form.

    Some 1000 scientists in 70 countries are participating in the 10-year Census of Marine Life project to discover new marine species in the world’s oceans.

    So far, scientists have discovered 15,482 marine fish species. And they are discovering two new species a week. They have identified a total of 254,000 life forms – including animal and plants in the world’s oceans. Scientists are expecting to find 1.98 million species of sea life forms by the end of the project.1 And we are only talking about marine life forms here. We have not yet touched fresh water life!

    How about creatures on land? Believe it or not there are more than 950,000 known species of insects alone. No one knows for sure how many species of animals exist on Earth. In fact, over 1.9 million species are already described and some 10,000 species of animals are discovered each year. Projections for the total number of species on Earth range from 2 million to 50 million. 2 Scientist Rosenzweig of the Society for Conservation of Biology estimated that there may even be as much as 100 million species.3

    Dutch Theologian Abraham Kuyper states it beautifully. He writes,
    In God’s creation you find an “infinite diversity, and inexhaustible profusion of variations that strikes and fascinates you in every domain of nature, in the ever-varying shape of a snowflake as well as in the endlessly differentiated form of flower and leaf. Where in God’s entire creation do you encounter life that does not display the unmistakable hallmark of life precisely in the multiplicity of colors and dimensions in the capriciousness of its ever-changing forms? 4

    The wide variety and vast diversity in creation is a reflection of the infinite majesty of the Creator who made all these. God’s creativity is inexhaustible and his wisdom is beyond measure. Truly the God who created the universe is a majestically awesome God.

    God does not only delight in variety, He also wants variety and diversity in his world to be preserved by us human beings.

    You will recall that according to the book of Genesis before the Great Flood God instructed Noah to build an ark and bring pairs of all the animals into the big ark.
    Whether the ark should be interpreted literally or symbolically is beside the point.
    It appears that the thrust of God’s command is for Noah to preserve the creatures in their diversity.

    Promoting the uniformity in creation in any way is a violation God’s original design. Doing so brings with it negative repercussions.

    With cloning science can now produce genetically identical organisms – exact copies of the original parent organism. Some of us are familiar with Dolly, the first successfully cloned sheep. They have successfully cloned other life forms since.

    New research, however, suggests that even seemingly healthy animal clones have subtle genetic abnormalities with unknown consequences. 5

    Her keepers at the Roslin Institute in Scotland recently disclosed that Dolly has arthritis and age faster. Cloned mice, for example, have problems with their immune system. They have liver failure, tumors, severe pneumonia and are prone to spontaneous abortion.6 Most clones live only one third of their normal life span.

    God’s creation is intended to have variety. Let us celebrate the infinite variety
    and beauty of God’s creation! And let us keep it that way.

    God delights in diversity and yet in church we want uniformity. We want other people to think the way we do, to talk the way we do, to love the same kind of music we do.

    We have forgotten that the Church, the Body of Christ, is made up of people who are not the same.

    Let us look at the Church.


    The apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthian Christian (12:28-30):
    In the church God has put all in place: in the first place apostles, in the second place prophets, and in the third place teachers; then those who perform miracles, followed by those who are given the power to heal or to help others or to direct them or to speak in strange tongues. They are not all apostles or prophets or teachers. Not everyone has the power to work miracles or to heal diseases or to speak strange tongues or to explain what is said.

    There is a wide diversity within the Body of Christ. In fact, Christianity was birthed in a mixed atmosphere.

    The Twelve Disciples were a diverse bunch of people. Their trades were different: One was a tax-collector; four were fishermen.

    The Twelve were also different in character and personality. Peter was impulsive and confident. Thomas, on the other hand, was overly cautious.

    James and John were called Sons of Thunder because they were men of violent nature.
    One time they were rebuked by Jesus for suggesting that they order down fire from heaven to burn up a Samaritan village that refused and turned them away.

    Andrew, on the other hand, was a friendly individual. From among 5,000 men, not to mention the women and children, he was able to identify and effectively convinced a boy to give his five loaves and two fishes to Jesus.

    Their political orientations were also different. Matthew was a tax collector, a collaborator of the Romans – thus considered a traitor by the Jews. Simon the Zealot, was a member of the Jewish rebel movement – enemy of the Romans. Judas the Iscariot – was most likely a member of the assassination squad of the Zealots for scarii is an Aramaic word for dagger or knife.

    They are from the opposite ends of the political pole and yet they belonged to the same group. Their loyalty to Jesus Christ was probably their only commonality. But it was enough! In fact, it was more than enough.

    We generally prefer to hang around with those who have the same views, interests, and preferences as we do. There is nothing wrong with that. I myself do that.

    But we need to learn to embrace those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord but whose views, preferences, faith expression, or ways of worship may be totally different from ours. To do so is to be Christ-like.

    Somebody said, “We can be brothers and sisters without being twin brothers and sisters.”

    Embracing those who differ from us is not only Christ-like it will also widen our horizon and enrich our perspective and understanding of the Christian faith.

    Paul used the human body as an analogy to describe the Church. Each believer is a part the Body of Church and each part is important. Remove one part and the whole body suffers.

    Someone likened the Church to a jigsaw puzzle. Each of us is a piece and every piece has a place. If one piece is missing, the picture becomes incomplete.

    For instance, the Presbyterians’ strength is their emphasis on Biblical education and social involvement.

    The Baptists’ contribution to Christian spirituality is their emphasis on evangelism.

    The Charismatics’ contribution to Christian spirituality is their vibrant and dynamic form of worship.

    The Methodists’ tradition is strong on order and organizational system.

    The Mennonites and Amish Christians can teach us lessons on simple and communal living.

    The conservatives focus on the development of personal piety.

    The progressives emphasize the fight for truth, peace and justice.

    The traditionalists help us appreciate our rich heritage of psalms and hymns.

    The youth remind us that there is a “sing a new song to the Lord”

    Each of them has an important contribution
    toward a complete whole. Remove one and you will have an incomplete expression of the Christian faith. Overemphasize one and you will have an imbalance.

    Our faith is enriched by the variety of perspectives, views, and faith expressions within the Body of Christ. We need each other. None of us is a whole, independent, self-sufficient, all-powerful big time star.

    While it is true that others can learn from us, it also true that we can learn from others.
    We complement each other. That’s probably one of the reasons why God made us different from each other in the Body of Christ. Don’t you think so, too?


    Open our eyes, dear Lord, to see things from your perspective.

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