Who, being in the form of God - This verse has been the subject of much criticism, and some controversy. Dr. Whitby has, perhaps, on the whole, spoken best on this point; but his arguments are too diffuse to be admitted here. Dr. Macknight has abridged the words of Dr. Whitby, and properly observes that, “As the apostle is speaking of what Christ was before he took the form of a servant, the form of God, of which he divested himself when he became man, cannot be any thing which he possessed during his incarnation or in his divested state; consequently neither the opinion of Erasmus, that the form of God consisted in those sparks of divinity by which Christ, during his incarnation, manifested his Godhead, nor the opinion of the Socinians, that it consisted in the power of working miracles, is well founded; for Christ did not divest himself either of one or the other, but possessed both all the time of his public ministry. In like manner, the opinion of those who, by the form of God understand the Divine nature and the government of the world, cannot be admitted; since Christ, when he became man, could not divest himself of the nature of God; and with respect to the government of the world, we are led, by what the apostle tells, Hebrews 1:3, to believe that he did not part with even that; but, in his divested state, still continued to uphold all things by the word of his power. By the form of God we are rather to understand that visible, glorious light in which the Deity is said to dwell, 1 Timothy 6:16, and by which he manifested himself to the patriarchs of old, Deuteronomy 5:22, Deuteronomy 5:24; which was commonly accompanied with a numerous retinue of angels, Psalms 68:17, and which in Scripture is called The Similitude, Numbers 12:8; The Face, Psalms 31:16: The Presence, Exodus 33:15; and The Shape of God, John 5:37. This interpretation is supported by the term μορφη , form, here used, which signifies a person‘s external shape or appearance, and not his nature or essence. Thus we are told, Mark 16:12, that Jesus appeared to his disciples in another μορφη , shape, or form. And, Matthew 17:2, μετεμορφωθη , he was transfigured before them - his outward appearance or form was changed. Farther this interpretation agrees with the fact: the form of God, that is, his visible glory, and the attendance of angels, as above described, the Son of God enjoyed with his Father before the world was, John 17:5; and on that as on other accounts he is the brightness of the Father‘s glory, Hebrews 1:3. Of this he divested himself when he became flesh; but, having resumed it after his ascension, he will come with it in the human nature to judge the world; so he told his disciples, Matthew 16:27: The Son of man will come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, etc,. Lastly, this sense of μορφη Θεου , is confirmed by the meaning of μορθη δουλου , Phlippians 2:7; which evidently denotes the appearance and behavior of a servant or bondman, and not the essence of such a person.” See Whitby and Macknight.
Thought it not robbery to be equal with God - If we take these words as they stand here, their meaning is, that, as he was from the beginning in the same infinite glory with the Father, to appear in time - during his humiliation, as God and equal with the Father, was no encroachment on the Divine prerogative; for, as he had an equality of nature, he had an equality of rights.
But the word ἁρπαγμον , which we translate robbery, has been supposed to imply a thing eagerly to be seized, coveted, or desired; and on this interpretation the passage has been translated: Who, being in the form of God, did not think it a matter to be earnestly desired to appear equal to God; but made himself of no reputation, etc. However the word be translated, it does not affect the eternal Deity of our Lord. Though he was from eternity in the form of God - possessed of the same glory, yet he thought it right to veil this glory, and not to appear with it among the children of men; and therefore he was made in the likeness of men, and took upon him the form or appearance of a servant: and, had he retained the appearance of this ineffable glory, it would, in many respects, have prevented him from accomplishing the work which God gave him to do; and his humiliation, as necessary to the salvation of men, could not have been complete. On this account I prefer this sense of the word ἁρπαγμον before that given in our text, which does not agree so well with the other expressions in the context. In this sense the word is used by Heliodorus, in his Ethiopics, lib. vii. cap. 19, etc., which passage Whitby has produced, and on which he has given a considerable paraphrase. The reader who wishes to examine this subject more particularly, may have recourse to Heliodorus as above, or to the notes of Dr. Whitby on the passage.