WHAT WAS the FORM of a SERVANT?
BY: JONATHAN MITCHELL
In Philippians Chapter Two we read:
5. You see, this way of thinking (this attitude and disposition) is continuously within and among you folks (or, as an imperative: So let this minding be habitually within you folks) – which [is] also within Christ Jesus,
6. Who, starting and continuing as inherently existing (or: beginning under; subsisting) within God’s form (or: an outward mold which is God), He does not consider the [situation] to be equals in God a plunder (or: a pillaging; a robbery; a snatching; or: a thing or situation seized and held), (or: Who, [although] constantly humbly and supportively ruling in union with an external shape and an outward appearance from God, did not give consideration to a seizure: the [situation] to continuously exist being the same thing as God, even on the same levels in God, or equal [things; aspects] to God,)
7. But to the contrary, He empties Himself (or: removed the contents of Himself; made Himself empty), receiving (or: taking; accepting) a slave’s form (external shape; outward mold), coming to be (or: birthing Himself) within humanity’s (mankind’s; peoples’) likeness.
8. And so, being found in a present condition and outward appearance (or: fashion) as a human (a person; a man), He lowers Himself (or: humbled Himself; made Himself low; degrades Himself; levels Himself off), coming to be (or: birthing Himself) a submissive, obedient One (one who gives the ear and listens) as far as (or: to the point of; until) death – but death of a cross (torture stake)!
There is much to ponder and consider in this passage, but I want to focus on the phrase “a slave’s form,” or, as the KJV reads, “the form of a servant.” My question is: Was this an ontological statement referring to His incarnation, or was it a functional statement referring to social status and realm of operation?
When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples He was doing the work of a slave (John 13:4-17). In Lu. 22:27, Jesus said, “Yet I Myself am in your midst as the person constantly giving attending service.”
Yet in John 13:13 Jesus said “You address me ‘The Teacher,’ and ‘The Lord (Master; Owner),’ and you folks are speaking ideally, for thus I am (exist being).” So if He was existing being Lord, Master, Owner, was He existing being – was His ontological existence – a slave?
The social and relational existence of humanity was “dominion” and of being a subjector – Gen. 1:28. And then there is Ps. 8:5-6, “… crowned him with glory and honor and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things under his feet.” So for Jesus to become human, via incarnation, was not necessarily to “take the form of a slave.” To what, then, did this phrase refer, in regard to Jesus and His life here on earth?
Did it mean that He was in a place of less glory when living as Jesus? From what He said about His former glory with the Father (John 17:5), and what He asked His Father to give Him (vs. 1, 5), and from what was seen in Him as the resurrected Christ, then I would say yes, prior to resurrection He lived having less glory than before and after that incarnation. But in vs. 22 He also said that He had given to the disciples the same “glory which You gave to Me.” So this was not necessarily a factor of His ontological existence – as differing from the rest of humanity.
So to what was Paul referring, about a slave’s form, in our opening passage?
In Gal. 4:25, Paul says, “Now this Hagar is (= represents) Mount Sinai, within Arabia, and she continuously stands in the same line (row; rank; = corresponds to; or: is habitually rudimentary together) with the present Jerusalem, for she continues in slavery (or: bondage) with her children.”
Mt. Sinai is a figure for “the Law.” Those who lived under the Law were “slaves,” according to what Paul has just said here, and he used the “present Jerusalem” as a figure for those under the Law.
Since Paul goes on to say in vs. 31, “Wherefore, brothers (= fellow believers; family), we are not (we do not exist being) children of the slave-girl (the servant girl; the maid), but, to the contrary, of the freewoman,” it is evident that the freedom versus the slavery is not in reference to the inherent humanity of people, but to a situation and condition under which humanity exists. Paul had been the offspring of the “present Jerusalem,” i.e., of the Law, but since his conversion he was now a “child of the freewoman” – the Jerusalem which is above (vs. 26).
Paul further clarifies this by saying that the two women in his allegory represented the two covenants (vs. 24). So, to be a part of the 1st covenant was to be a slave. He had made this analogy in the first part of this chapter when he compared being a child to being like a slave (vs. 1), and then says in vs. 7, “So that, you are (you exist being) no longer a slave, but rather, a son, and since a son, also an heir (a possessor and an enjoyer of the distributed allotment) through God [other MSS: God’s heir through Christ].”
What he is saying regarding sonship (here, meaning maturity and adulthood) is the same as his later analogy of belonging to the freewoman, in vs. 31. Now considering our opening question about the form of a slave, consider vs. 4-5 in this chapter that has reference to Jesus,
4. Yet when the fullness of the time came (or: that which was filled up by time reached full term), forth from out of a mission (or: from out of the midst of [Himself]), God sent-off His Son as an emissary (envoy; representative), being Himself come to be born from out of a woman, being Himself come to be born under [the rules, authority and influence of] Law,
5. To the end that He could (or: would) buy out (ransom; redeem; reclaim [from slavery]) those under [the] Law – so that we could (or: would) receive and take away into possession the placement as a son (an adult child placed with rights and responsibility within the household; the conferred sonship).
Note Paul’s terms here, “born from out of a woman” and “born under Law.” This latter made Him a slave. I suspect that when Paul made reference to the birth from a woman, here, he was setting the stage for his following analogy of the birth metaphor which begins in vs. 19 and continues through the rest of the chapter. In vs. 21 he addresses those “constantly wanting or intending to be under Law (or: exist [controlled] by a legalistic custom or system).” Thus, in vs. 19, the “progressing, again, in childbirth labor (travail; labor pains), until Christ may be suddenly formed (= until the Anointing would be at some point birthed) within you folks” would refer to their being birthed from out of the Law and into the new covenant, or, to being born (again; from above – John 3:3) from the free Jerusalem which is above.
So from Gal. Ch. 4 we see that Paul regarded the Law, the 1st covenant, as slavery. And from our passage in Phil., above, we see that Christ was under this form of slavery until – to the extent of – “lowering Himself” to the death of a cross. This was because the Jewish authorities said, “We, ourselves, are continuously holding (or: having) a Law, and corresponding (or: according) to the Law, he continues bound (indebted; obliged) to be dying away.“ (John 19:7)
He took on the form of a slave (the structure of the Law), and as that structure’s Lamb, He became the outcome, the goal, the inescapable end of the Law: a sacrifice. He took the form, or role, of being Yahweh’s Servant (also means: slave) as we see prophesied in Isa. 52:13-53:12. He subjected Himself to a “form of godliness” (2 Tim. 3:5) that had only the power of death (Rom. 7:9-10) so that Christ, and the new covenant/kingdom, could be “formed” in us.
He took on the outward form of a religious system (the Law) which was the form of a slave/servant, in order to put an end to outward religious form and bring us into the freedom (set free by the Son – John 8:36) of spirit and truth (John 4:23), “the freedom of the glory and splendor of God’s children (or: into the liberty of the manifestation of that which calls forth praise and a good opinion, which pertain to God’s born-ones)” – Rom. 8:21.
Paul also said in Rom. 8:2, “For the principle and law of, and which is, the spirit of ‘The Life within Christ Jesus’ (or: For you see, the Law of Life’s spirit, joined with [the] Anointing of Jesus; or: For the Spirit’s law of life within Christ Jesus; or: the Law of the Breath-effect, which is Life in union with [the] Anointed Jesus) frees you away from the Law of the Sin (or: the principle of failure and the missing of the target; the code of behavior that produces error; the principle of deviation from the goal) and the Death (or: immediately set you [other MSS: me] free for the law that deals with and has the character of sin and death).”
Freedom ends slavery. We were enslaved to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was exemplified by the Law. The spirit and truth of “The Life within Christ Jesus” freed us from this slavery. He took on this form, the form of the servant/slave, to do this for us. So Paul ends Gal. 4 and moves on to the glorious conclusion in Ch. 5:
1. For the [aforementioned] freedom, Christ immediately set us free (or: [The] Anointed One at once frees us in, to, for and with freedom)! Keep on standing firm, therefore, and do not again be habitually held within a yoke of slavery (or: a cross-lever [of a pair of scales] whose sphere is bondage) (or: Continuously stand firm, then, in the freedom [to which the] Anointing sets us free, and let not yourselves be progressively confined again by a yoke pertaining to servitude)!
Christ’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light – it is the yoke of spirit/breath and reality. But to do this He Himself had to become a submissive One, One that was obedient to the Law, taking on “the form of a Servant.” And so we read in Rom. 15,
8. For I am saying [that] Christ has been birthed and remains a Servant (an Attendant; a Helper; a Minister) of and pertaining to Circumcision (= God’s covenant people), over God’s truthfulness (or: Circumcision’s Servant for the sake of a truth from and about God, and a reality which is God), into the standing to confirm (stabilize; make good; cause to stand by stepping in place on a good footing; or: to guarantee the validity of) the promises which pertain to and belong to the fathers (the patriarchal promises),
9. and on the other hand [to place on good footing and confirm the standing of] the ethnic multitudes (the nations; the non-Israelites; the pagans), over mercy (for the sake of mercy), [are] to glorify God (to enhance the reputation of and the opinion about God), just as it has been written, “Because of this I will openly profess and acclaim You (speak out of the same word for and to You; agree and promise) within ethnic multitudes (among nations that are pagans and Gentiles), and I will play music (strike the string; make melody; sing with musical accompaniment) to, for and in Your Name.” [2 Sam. 22:50; Ps. 18:50]
10. And again he is saying, “Be of a good frame of mind (Be merry and glad; Have thoughts of wellness), you ethnic multitudes (non-Jews), together with His people.” [Deut. 32:43].
WHAT WAS the FORM of a SERVANT [Jonathan Mitchell] 1