“He made himself nothing”

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:5-8

A few words about humility.
It is true this passage is rich with Christological precepts and teaches us a great deal about the Incarnation of God in Jesus. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that Paul’s primary goal is pastoral not academic. God is more concerned about “your attitude” than your knowledge (though the former depends upon the latter). It is essential to understand what God is teaching us here, viz., that there is a vital relationship between what was accomplished for us by God Incarnate and our behavior toward others. To miss this aspect is to miss the entire teaching of 2:1-11!
Regarding Christ’s Humiliation (2:5-8)
  • Verse 5: Paul links the previous exhortations to unity through humility by introducing Christ Jesus as our supreme example. This is the first instance of modeling (see 3:17; 4:9).
  • Verse 6: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”
    • This clearly points to the pre-existence of Christ with God (see, Jn. 17:5 where Jesus explicitly states that he shared the glory of God “before the world began.” See also, Heb. 1:3).
    • We cannot fully appreciate the last phrase “did not consider . . .” until we’ve acknowledged the magnitude of the first: Jesus the Man was truly God and as God he did not use his divine powers for personal advantage.
    • Equality with God did not mean “getting” but “giving.” In fact, being equal with God uniquely qualified Jesus for the humiliating task of suffering and the glorious redemption that followed.
    • Similarly, we share in the divine nature (2 Pt. 1:3-4), which makes us uniquely qualified and divinely equipped to humbly put others ahead of ourselves.
  • Verse 7: “but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
    • The expression “but made himself nothing” (in Greek, kenosis ἐκένωσεν) literally means “he emptied himself.” However, this emptying does not mean that some/all of God’s attributes were removed or subtracted in order for Jesus to make room for becoming human.
    • Rather, “he emptied” himself is an idiomatic expression meaning Jesus voluntarily chose not to have the continuous use of all the divine attributes while being clothed in humanity. He selectively exercised the attributes of deity while here on earth in accordance with his Father’s will. This is the very essence of humility!
    • Bear in mind that being a “servant” (better “slave”) was repugnant to the Philippian community who prided itself on their Roman citizenship. This is Paul’s way of saying that “If being a slave is good enough for the Lord Who endured the cross for you, then it has to be good enough for you to assume the same attitude of humility toward one another!” (cf., Jn. 13:3-5).
  • Verse 8: “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
    • Christ Jesus reached the utter extremity of humiliation: Death.
    • That God Himself would become a nobody and endure the utter shame of public crucifixion for us who deserved to be in His place is humiliation beyond imagination!
    • The word “cross” was considered obscene amidst “polite” Roman society. Today we wear it as an adornment of jewelry, yet only when we view it as an instrument of death and humility does it have any real power or significance as we “lose our life” in order to save it (Lk 9:23-24).

2 thoughts on ““He made himself nothing””

  1. Great breakdown of one of the richest passages in the bible. Can’t revisit enough. EGO (edging God out) has a tendency to rebuild, and this passage is key to dismantling. Repeatedly. ;)

    1. Could not agree more. We need saturation of these words in our minds and lives. I’m humbled by this each time I meditate on it or rehearse it as a memory passage.

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