Commentary on Philippians, 2:5-9 (Emptying Ourselves)

“2 make my joy full, that you be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
“3 Do nothing for selfish gain or through vanity, but in humility of mind regard one another more highly than yourselves;”
“4 each of you looking not only to your own interests, but each of you also to the interests of others.
5 Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus,”

(Application follows verse 9)

“mind”  (Gr. phroneo – 5426)

Mind, mind-set, attitude, way of thinking.

To direct one’s mind toward, to set one’s mind on, to think the same way, to be devoted to, attitude of one’s mind, disposition of one’s mind.

“6 who, existing in the form of God, did not count equality with God as something to cling to,”

“form of God”

“form”  (Gr. morphe – 3444)

Unchangable form – essence.

Refers to His divine nature, His very essence. This verse provides one of the clearest statements of the deity of Christ in the New Testament, that He is God.

“cling to”  (Gr. harpagmos – 725)

Grasp, hold fast to, clutch, embrace.


“Who though He was subsisting in the essential form of God, yet did not regard His being on an equality of glory and majesty with God as a prize and a treasure to be held fast, but emptied Himself thereof.”

“7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men;”

“form of a slave”

“form”  (Gr. morphe – 3444)


“The same word for form as in the phrase form of God, and with the same sense. The mode of expression of a slave’s being is indeed apprehensible, and is associated with human shape, but it is not this side of the fact which paul is developing. It is that Christ assumed that mode of being which answered to, and was the complete and characteristic expression of, the slave’s being. The mode itself is not defined. This is appropriately inserted here as bringing out the contrast with counted not equality with God, etc. What Christ grasped at in His incarnation was not divine sovereignty, but service.”

“emptied”  (Gr. kenoo – 2758)

Only here in the New Testament.

To empty, to lay aside, to make void, to deprive of force.

Paul is not saying that Jesus emptied Himself of deity, but is referring to His humility. He emptied Himself of His own will, that is, He chose to follow the will of His Father, rather than His own will.

“8 and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the extent of death, even death on a cross.”

“appearance”  (Gr. schema – 4976)

Human form, fashion, figure.


Morphe contrasts with “schema” (Phil 2:8) which denotes the outward which changes from time to time and from circumstance to circumstance.

For example, morphe of any human being is his or her humanity and this never changes. On the other hand, his or her schema is continually changing (no, you are aren’t getting any younger!). A baby, a child, a boy, a youth, a man of middle age, an old man always have the morphe of humanity, but the outward schema changes all the time. The morphe never alters; the schema continually does.  Does this help you understand this important distinction?

Paul in using morphe is clearly teaching that Jesus Christ in His preincarnate state Christ possessed all the attributes of God and so appeared to those in heaven who saw Him. Thus morphe refers to the outward display of the divinity of the preexistent Christ.”


(Regarding morphe) “We must here dismiss from our minds the idea of shape. The word is used in its philosophic sense, to denote that expression of being which carries in itself the distinctive nature and character of the being to whom it pertains, and is thus permanently identified with that nature and character.

Thus it is distinguished from schema = fashion, comprising that which appeals to the senses and which is changeable.

Morphe or form is identified with the essence of a person or thing:

Schema = fashion is an accident which may change without affecting the form…As applied here to God, the word is intended to describe that mode in which the essential being of God expresses itself.

We have no word which can convey this meaning, nor is it possible for us to formulate the reality.

Form inevitably carries with it to us the idea of shape. It is conceivable that the essential personality of God may express itself in a mode apprehensible by the perception of pure spiritual intelligences; but the mode itself is neither apprehensible nor conceivable by human minds. This mode of expression, this setting of the divine essence, is not identical with the essence itself, but is identified with it, as its natural and appropriate expression, answering to it in every particular. It is the perfect expression of a perfect essence. It is not something imposed from without, but something which proceeds from the very depth of the perfect being, and into which that being perfectly unfolds, as light from fire.

To say, then, that Christ was in the form of God, is to say that He existed as essentially one with God. The expression of deity through human nature (Phil 2:7) thus has its background in the expression of deity as deity in the eternal ages of God’s being.

Whatever the mode of this expression, it marked the being of Christ in the eternity before creation. As the form of God was identified with the being of God, so Christ, being in the form of God, was identified with the being, nature, and personality of God. This form, not being identical with the divine essence, but dependent upon it, and necessarily implying it, can be parted with or laid aside. Since Christ is one with God, and therefore pure being, absolute existence, He can exist without the form. This form of God Christ laid aside in His incarnation.”

“9 Therefore God also highly exalted Him, and gave to Him the name that is above every name;”

Paul is instructing the Philippian Christians to have the same way of Christ-like thinking that he just described in the previous verses (2-4). He elaborates on this in the verses that follow (5-9). This Christ-like thinking is to be personal, and it’s to be common among ourselves as we interact with one another.

Jesus is the ultimate and perfect example of humility. As the Son of God, He didn’t count equality with God as something to “cling to,” that is, as something to claim and hold fast to in order to remain in His glorious form as God in spirit (Jn 4:24), as the Second Person of the Trinity.

Think about this. Even before God created man, Jesus knew that He would have to leave His throne in Heaven and come to this earth and take on human form – giving up His glorious form as God in spirit – now existing in a resurrected body. No where in the Bible does it indicate that Jesus will ever return to His previous form, but will remain in this glorified body for all eternity. Furthermore, He knew beforehand that He would also suffer a horrible and painful death – death on cross – in order to provide the way of salvation for the human race.

That’s a humility, and a love, that we can’t even begin to comprehend. He fully identified with mankind by becoming as we are. However, He did not give up His deity. He became fully man while remaining fully God.

Jesus “emptied Himself” by completely denying Himself of His own will in order to fulfill the will of His Father. Furthermore, He denied Himself for the spiritual and eternal benefit of others by taking on the “form of a slave.” Although He is King of kings and Lord of lords, He became the ultimate servant, providing us with the ultimate example to follow (Jn 13:10-17).

No matter who we are, what our social status is, what level of education we have, what our occupation is, how athletic we are, or how good looking we happen to be, we must be willing, as Jesus was, to set aside all that, in order to be a servant before God and before our fellow man. This is important not only in the local assembly of believers, but also out in the world among unbelievers.

Jesus humbled Himself to the fullest extent, to the very point of death. And not simply death, but an excruciatingly painful death – death on a cross.

His humility unto death provides us with a vivid example to follow. As Jesus humbled Himself to the point of death, we too are to humble ourselves to the point of death. While physical death may be required, it’s the dying of ourselves that is required of us – every moment of every day. As followers of Christ, we’re to die to sin and to self and to the world, in order to fulfill the will of God….and for the purpose of making an eternal difference in other people’s lives. Walking in humility involves both or relationship with God and our relationship with others, as Paul discussed in verses 3 and 4.

At any given moment on any given day of our lives, our desire to please God must be greater than our desire to please ourselves. Pleasing God involves pleasing others – becoming a servant to others, as Jesus taught and demonstrated so clearly. We are not true followers of Christ until we become true servants of others.

The life of humility that Jesus lived, gained Him “the name that is above every name.” His name – and what His name represents –  has always been glorious, but it was proved and demonstrated by a life of faithfulness. He live an honorable life, and thus, received an honorable name for the world to behold.

In the same manner, if we live an honorable life – before God and man – it will gain us an honorable name. As Proverbs states, a good name is to be chosen over great riches (Prov 22:1).  When we live for the glory of God, we will make the right choices in life. It takes many years to gain an honorable name, but only one weak moment, one wrong decision, to lose it all. It takes many more years to regain what we lost. When we make dishonorable decisions, we dishonor the name of Christ. As we go through life there should be nothing more important to us than our testimony for Christ. It should always be our greatest desire, our greatest goal, to always live our lives in such a manner that Jesus is always represented in an honorable way.