Plato’s Forms & Paul’s Forms
Updated: Oct 22, 2020
I don’t normally start these entries with a Scripture reading. I also don’t usually try to turn sermons into articles. Oh, and one more thing: I don’t usually re-preach sermons. In this case I’m doing all three.
Slowly read Philippians 2:5-10. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
What is the form of God? It is His nature; His “shape.” But, His form is a spiritual form, not physical. We do use the Greek word “form” from Philippians 2 in English, actually. We use the transliterated word morph (and metamorphosis). The word morph has to do with shape; resemblance. Having a pattern that is recognizable.
If I could morph into a fox, then obviously I would have to change form and you would say, “Wow, he looks like a fox now,” because you know what a fox looks like; you would recognize that form.
Now, I’m no great student of philosophy, but I listened to a message by W. A Criswell recently in which he talked quite a bit about the ancient philosopher Plato and his way of thinking. He spoke of how significant Plato’s observations on reality really are. But, rather than give you a history lesson, let me run right to the conclusion that Criswell drew from Plato’s perspectives.
You and I have ideas. Some of them originate in us naturally. Many of them are a result of us combining various experiences and concepts that we have encountered and coming up with an idea from those external ingredients. But in the plethora of ideas that men have, good and bad; true and false, there are also ideals (with an L). In other words, perfect ideas. Perfect ideas (and theoretically, physical things that are perfect) are said to be ideal. This is where Plato’s reasonings reflect spiritual reality.
Reality, of course, is the nature of things divine and all that extends forth from the divine. Fantasy includes all things that are lies; things that do not and can not exist in truth.
Just to make sure you are following me here: what is the ideal car? A limousine? Better, what is the ideal sports car? A Corvette? Ferrari? Lamborghini? Maserati? Aston Martin? How about none of the above! Those are all physical copies of the ideas that their manufacturers had. Why would I say that? Because every year they change something in the design of these vehicles. They always try to improve them. They are actually aiming at an ideal sports car, but always coming up somewhat short.
So, what does this have to do with us? Well, I’m so glad you asked. Let me tell you.
Paul is challenging us in Philippians 2 to have the mind of Christ. Christ was willing to humble Himself in order to serve us. He was in the FORM of the Father… they looked the same. Then, He took on the FORM of a man… now we look the same (I mean - you, me, and Jesus).
Now, Jesus doesn’t just look like the Father - He is the express image of the Father. Hebrews 1:3 (speaking of Jesus) reads, “Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high…”
Colossians 1:15 says of Him, “[He] is the image of the invisible God, [and] the firstborn of every creature…”
Jesus said to Philip (while standing before him in human form), “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” And so, He is co-equal with the Father, and yet He is the Son of Man; the last Adam. This is the hypostatic union. He was made of a woman (Galatians 4:4). He became one of us!
Now in this sense, Jesus is the ideal. Both in our minds and in the concrete created world. But not JUST there. In actual eternal reality - He is the ideal. In every way, at all times, Jesus is the perfect form. We look to Him for salvation, for sure. But it doesn’t end there. He is our example: John 13:15, “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you...” (in washing the feet of His followers).
Again, He is our example: 1st Peter 2:21, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps…”
So, what is it about Christ that we must see clearly in our minds eye so that we can replicate it? 1st Peter 1:8 says (concerning Christ), “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory…” Hebrews 11:27 says of Moses that “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.” So what do we see?
There are surely MANY things we see in Christ, but here are 5 of them:
His service (John 13:15)
His suffering (1st Peter 2:21)
His submission (Hebrews 5:8, “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience…”
His separation/holiness (Hebrews 7:26 says, “For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens…”
His spirituality - There are many angles to consider here. The Spirit abode on Him and His Spirit dwells in us. (2nd Corinthians 3:17-18, “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” The things Christ did, He did “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). And we are called to do the same!
I plan to expand on those 5 things this Sunday night at 5:30 in a sermon entitled, “Nice Form!”
For now, allow me close with this: in Galatians 4:19 Paul wrote, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…” Oh! Yes, ’til Christ be formed in you!
You and I need a vision of Christ. We need to see Him clearly. We need to see Him humble and meek; we need to see Him dying and weak; we need to see Him exalted and coming again in power and glory. And as we see Him clearly, that ideal can then be copied out into our material and spiritual existence... and in that way we will truly match the title that has been given to us - Christian; like Christ!
We must not settle for anything less. He said, if I be lifted up I will draw all men unto Me. A clear vision of Christ the Savior is what saves souls. And after salvation, now we live by faith (according to Hebrews 12), “Looking unto Jesus!” And we live in anticipation of the moment when we will be like Him fully, for we shall see Him as He is! Not just our idea of Him, but the full revelation of the ideal; the perfect lovely Lord of heaven and earth.
Until then, let us yield fully - as soft clay in the hand of the potter - and let Him work on us to produce the shape and form that pleases Him. If we do that, His work will be recognizable in us and He will get the glory.