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, (vv. 5-8)
We now come to consider one of the most sublime and wonderful mysteries in all Scripture: what has been called by theologians, “The Doctrine of the Kenosis.” The title comes from the Greek expression rendered in our King James Version, “made Himself of no reputation”—an expression which really means “emptied Himself” or “divested Himself.” Its full force will come before us as we proceed with our study.
It is a noticeable thing that doctrines are never presented in Scripture merely as dogmas to be accepted by the faithful on pain of expulsion from the Christian company. The most important doctrines are brought in by the Holy Spirit in what we might call an exceedingly natural way. I do not use the word natural here in contrast to spiritual, but rather in the sense simply of sequence to the subject, introduced without special emphasis. In this particular instance before us, the doctrine of our Lord’s self-emptying comes in simply as the supreme illustration of that lowliness of mind which should characterize all who profess to be followers of the Savior. It follows naturally upon the exhortation of the fourth verse, which we have already considered.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” is the way the subject is introduced. This mind is the lowly mind, as it is written, “Even Christ pleased not himself.” And the exemplification of this is at once abruptly introduced. He existed from all eternity in the form of God. It is a declaration of His true Deity. No creature could exist in the form of God. Lucifer aspired to this, and for his impiety was hurled down from the archangel’s throne. Our Lord Jesus Christ was in the full enjoyment of this by right, because He was the eternal Son. He thought equality with God not a thing to be grasped or held on to. Equal with God He was, but He chose to take the place of subjection and lowliness. He chose to step down from that sublime height that belonged to Him, even “the glory which [He] had with [the Father] before the world was,” and took the servant’s form to do the Father’s will.
The first man aspired to be as God and fell. The second man, the Lord from heaven, came, as we sometimes sing,
From Godhead’s fullest glory,
Down to Calvary’s depth of woe.
He would not retain the outward semblance of Deity. He relinquished His rightful position to become the Savior of sinners. In order to do this He emptied Himself, or divested Himself, of His divine prerogatives.
Let there be no mistake as to this. While we reverently put off our shoes from our feet, and draw near to behold this great sight, let us not fear to accept the declaration of Holy Scripture in all its fullness. He divested Himself of something—but of what? Not of His Deity, for that could not be. He was ever the Son of the Father, and, as such, a divine person. He could take manhood into union with Deity, but He could not cease to be Divine. Of what, then, did He divest Himself? Surely of His rights as God the Son. He chose to come to earth to take a place of subjection. He took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men.
Observe the distinction brought out in these two verses. He existed from all eternity in the form of God. He came here to take the form of a servant. Angels are servants, but “He took not hold of angels,” we are told in the epistle to the Hebrews (2:16 darby). He became in the likeness of men. It was all voluntary on His part. And, as a man on earth, He chose to be guided by the Holy Spirit. He daily received from the Father, through the Word of God, the instruction which it became Him, as a Man, to receive. His mighty works of power were not wrought by His own divine omnipotence alone. He chose that they should be wrought in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the precious and important doctrine of the Kenosis as revealed in Scripture in contrast with the false teaching of men.
Men have added to this what Scripture does not say. They have declared that when He came to earth He ceased to be God, that He became but an ignorant Galilean peasant. Hence His knowledge of divine mysteries was no greater than what might have been expected of any other good man of His day and generation. Therefore His testimony as to the inspiration of Scripture has no real weight. He did not know more than others of His day knew. He was not competent to speak as to the authors of the Old Testament books. He thought Daniel wrote the book that bears his name and that Moses penned the Pentateuch. But the wiseacres of today do not hesitate to declare that He was wrong, and they base their declaration on the position above taken. He emptied Himself of His divine knowledge they say, therefore He could not speak with authority.