Tag Archives: Christian living

Life in the shape (μορφή) of Christ

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: συμμορφιζόμενος) 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] 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!

Birdwatching and the freedom of self-forgetfulness

As the hatchback hurtled towards the airport, I asked a most unnatural question to the man in the front passenger seat: “So are you a birdwatcher?”

A few people know me well enough to be able to see and point out a specific way that my proud heart shows itself. When talking with people, I have a tendency to insert myself into the conversation. I’ve done it too many times to count.

“Oh, you’re from Sydney? I was there 3 months ago, and I did this and this and met so and so, and I think this about Sydney even though it’s not relevant to you. I love Sydney, what a beautiful city.”

Sorry dude, your friendly conversation starter just got hijacked by my ego.

If your conversations with others seem to always steer towards topics you want to talk about, you probably have the same self-aggrandising tendency as I have.

True gospel-humility

It was from reading Tim Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” with Cheryl earlier this year (best $2 we’ve spent all year) that God switched on a light bulb to my problem, and the solution.

Tim Keller writes:

“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself: it is thinking of myself less.”


“True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself.”

The ultimate self-forgetter

So the problem essentially is that I think about myself too much. The solution is not to think less of myself (“Oh I’m so terrible, I must tell you that” – a false show of self-pity, and really just another expression of selfishness), but to think of myself less.

It’s immensely difficult to change this consciously, especially if you’ve spent your whole life thinking about yours truly, and talking about yourself and what interests you. Blogs and Twitter/Facebook feeds aren’t the problem, they merely amplify the narcissism already in my heart. I’ve been a self-promoter since my youth.

But with the strength of Jesus — the ultimate self-forgetter, advocate and example in true gospel-humility (Phil) — I’ve been given grace to work on dying to myself.

I’ve been practising trying to listen better in conversations with friends or strangers, asking questions and adding responses to encourage the other person, and resisting the temptation to assert my points of interest.

Biting my tongue

So instead of asking Don and Joy what they thought of worship music trends, debating the recent Christian trends, or over-inflating my understanding of Don’s bibliography, I just bit my tongue.

I listened to them retrace where they went on their holiday, excite me with descriptions of the various birds they encountered (Australian birds, I’ve learned, are much more raucous than New Zealand species – perhaps a parable of two nations’ temperaments). I laughed with them upon their discovery of the ubiquitous pukeko (or “water chickens”, as I told them).

“So are you a birdwatcher?”

“Oh, not in a professional sense. But I’m familiar with the different types of birds in our area, local and migratory.”

I’m not there yet. Please tell me, then forgive me the next time I “convojack” you.

And by God’s grace, let’s journey together towards self-forgetfulness.