Question: "What does it mean that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Philippians 2:6)?"

Answer: Referring to Jesus, Philippians 2:6 says, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage.” The King James Version (KJV) puts the verse this way: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” The difference in wording here is due to the differing interpretations of the Greek word harpagmon, which can be literally translated as “robbery” or “plunder.” However, given Jesus’ deity, it’s probably better and more theologically accurate to understand the word as meaning “a thing to clutch” or “something to hang on to at all costs.”

What the apostle Paul is saying in Philippians 2:6 is that Jesus did not try to “hang on to” or “clutch” His uniquely divine status and role as the Son of God in His incarnation. Rather, He willingly let go of that and “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7, ESV) in order to fulfill His Father’s will in becoming human.

Philippians 2:6 is a part of a larger passage (Philippians 2:5–11) that highlights Jesus’ humility as He emptied Himself and became human. The passage has a rhythmic and poetic nature, and Bible scholars believe it to be an early hymn Christians used to confess and affirm Jesus’ divinity. Paul uses this poem as a call to believers to imitate Christ’s humility and service in their relationships with one another. In other words, Paul wanted them to act Christlike by being humble in their fellowship.

It is important to note that, while Jesus did not think it robbery to be equal with God in His incarnation, He did not cease being God. Jesus is fully God and one with the Father (John 8:58; 10:30). He has always existed from eternity past. In fact, Philippians 2:6 hints at Jesus’ eternal preexistence in saying that He always existed in the “form of God” (see also John 1:1, 14).

So, by not thinking it robbery to be equal with God, Jesus exhibited true humility and service as He emptied Himself and took on flesh. As Paul commands in Philippians 2:5, God wants each of us to exhibit the same humility in our relationships with one another. Like Christ, we should “not think it robbery” to intentionally empty ourselves of any special status or role as we serve and love one another. As we seek to live in true humility, we shouldn’t try to use our positions or powers to advantage ourselves and put others behind. In other words, instead of seeking to disadvantage others in order to advantage ourselves, we should seek to disadvantage ourselves in order to advantage others. In this, Christ led the way.