Philippians 2:5-“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Jesus was in very nature God. More literally, Paul says that Jesus was in the form of God. In other words, he is emphasizing that Jesus had all the things that make God God. God is almighty. Jesus is almighty. God knows all things. Jesus knows all things. God is present everywhere. Jesus is present everywhere. God is full of divine glory. Jesus is full of divine glory. All the advantages that God enjoys, Jesus enjoyed. It all adds up to Jesus being equal to God. None if this would be possible if Jesus were not God himself.
Think about that for a moment. Many of us dream of reaching the top in our chosen fields or interests. If you enjoy sports, you probably dream of championships. If you are in school, perhaps you set your sights on graduating first in the class. TV shows like American Idol reflect how desperately those who can play or sing covet super stardom. In business, the competition to become president, or board member, or even owner sometimes sinks to the pathetic.
What about being God himself? It’s the oldest temptation there is. “You will be like god,” Satan tempted Eve in the garden of Eden. But that level of power and prestige would certainly come in handy for achieving all our dreams and solving all our problems.
For Jesus, this was not a reach or a position to which he rose. This was where he started. He was in very nature God. He literally had it all, and the whole universe was at his beck and call.
Then what did Jesus do? “He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Some of you may remember the King James Version on this verse, “He thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” In the Greek, Paul’s words suggest the picture of someone who holds the spoils of war in his hands. Spoils of war are things that soldiers seize and guard closely. Maybe they even show them off as a sort of trophy. I remember my best friend’s father, when I was growing up, showing off some of the spoils he had taken as soldier in World War II. Or picture the way that little children rush in when a piñata is broken, and they clutch the candy in their fists, and then they triumphantly hold their fists up in the air to show what they got.
This was not how Jesus regarded his privileges as God. For him it was not a prize to be closely guarded or put on display. He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Jesus gave up more than anyone else ever has. He didn’t cease to be God. He didn’t lose his powers, as we see them sprinkled so often throughout his miracles of mercy during his earthly ministry. But he no longer used them to his own advantage. He no longer enjoyed the instant recognition that he was God or the unceasing worship due his divinity.
In its place, Paul says, Jesus took the nature or form of a servant. Now, everything that a servant is, Jesus was. This is not the kind of dignified butler you might think of when you hear the word “servant,” dressed in a starched white shirt and tails, carrying himself like he is more at home in high society than you are. This is a slave, someone who has no will of his own, someone who occupies the next to lowest position on the human social scale. Jesus put himself entirely under the heavenly Father’s will while he was here on earth. Even more amazing, he became a slave to us, entirely giving up his life to the service of you and me.
In that slavery to our needs Jesus sank to the lowest position possible. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” Only the lowest criminals died on crosses. Even ordinary citizens who committed cold-blooded, premeditated murder could not be crucified. This is Jesus at his most un-godlike. The gap between the glory he once enjoyed in heaven and the shame he endured on the cross is the greatest difference, the greatest descent possible for any sentient being. In Jesus’ case it was literally a journey from heaven to hell. This is what Jesus would do to save us: He gave up more than anyone else ever has. Love led him to forsake heaven and endure hell to save us from sin and death.