Our home church in Howick began preaching through Paul’s letter to the Philippians through lockdown. Reading it through, I’ve been struck afresh at how often Paul talks about form, likeness and imitation as part and parcel of the Christian life.

In particular, there’s a beautiful thread that emerges when you follow where the lexeme (word root) morphē (Gk: μορφή) pops up throughout the letter. Have a look.

“…In Christ Jesus, who existing in the form (Gk: μορφῇ) of God,
did not count equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied Himself,
by taking on the form (Gk: μορφὴν) of a servant…”

Philippians 2:5-7

The good news of Jesus is that He is fully like his Father, yet he chooses to give up his exalted place to take on the form of a servant, and to suffer death on a cross (Phil 2:8). We’re made right with God (justified) because Christ took the shape of a servant for us.

“My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to share the same form (Gk: μορφιζόμενος) in His death.”

Philippians 3:10

Now that we’ve gained a righteousness that’s not our own (Phil 3:9), our aim is to be like him — or more literally, to share the same form as him in his death. You and I mature into Christ’s likeness (sanctified) by becoming moulded into His cross shaped death. Jesus laid down his life, so should I in this life.

“For our citizenship (or commonwealth) exists in heaven, and from there we also await a saviour – the Lord Jesus Christ – who will transform our humble body [to the] same likeness (Gk: σύμμορφον) of His glorious body, according to the power by which he is able to subject to himself all things.”

Philippians 3:21

What a day that will be — when our Saviour Jesus returns and transforms our broken bodies into the very shape of His!

So by dropping in echoes of morphē throughout, Paul’s actually given us a neat summary of the Christian life — it is shaped by Christ from start to finish!

  1. We’re justified because Christ took the shape/likeness of a servant.
  2. We’re sanctified as our lives are moulded into the shape/likeness of Christ’s death.
  3. We’ll be glorified when Christ returns and transforms us into His shape/likeness.

How hard yet wonderful it is to be shaped by Christ, into Christ, for Christ. That’s worth rejoicing in friends!