[The following sermon is taken from volume VII:169-180
of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids,
MI). It was originally published in 1909 in english by The Luther Press
(Minneapolis, MN), as Luther's Epistle Sermons, vol. 2. This e-text
was scanned and edited by Richard Bucher, it is in the public domain and
it may be copied and distributed without restriction.]
1. Here Paul again presents to us
as a powerful example of the celestial and eternal fire, the love of Christ,
for the purpose of persuading us to exercise a loving concern for one
another. The apostle employs fine words and precious admonitions, having
perceived the indolence and negligence displayed by Christians in this
matter of loving. For this the flesh is responsible. The flesh continually
resists the willing spirit, seeking its own interest and causing sects and
factions. Although a sermon on this same text went forth in my name a few
years ago, entitled "The Twofold Righteousness," the text was not exhausted;
therefore we will now examine it word by word.
"Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."
2. You are Christians; you have Christ, and in him and through him all
fullness of comfort for time and eternity: therefore nothing should appeal
to your thought, your judgment, your pleasure, but that which was in the
mind of Christ concerning you as the source of your welfare. For his motive
throughout was not his own advantage; everything he did was done for your
sake and in your interest. Let men therefore, in accord with his example,
work every good thing for one another's benefit.
"Who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality
with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of
["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."]
3. If Christ, who was true God by nature, has humbled himself to become
servant of all, how much more should such action befit us who are of no
worth, and are by nature children of sin, death and the devil! Were we
similarly to humble ourselves, and even to go beyond Christ in humility
-- a thing, however, impossible -- we should do nothing extraordinary.
Our humility would still reek of sin in comparison with his. Suppose Christ
was to humble himself in the least degree -- but a hair's breadth, so to
speak -- below the most exalted angels; and suppose we were to humble ourselves
to a position a thousand times more abased than that of the devils in hell;
yet our humility would not compare in the least with that of Christ. For
he is an infinite blessing -- God himself -- and we are but miserable creatures
whose existence and life are not for one moment secure.
4. What terrible judgment must come upon those who fail to imitate the
ineffable example of Christ; who do not humble themselves below their neighbors
and serve them, but rather exalt themselves above them! Indeed, the example
of Christ may well terrify the exalted, and those high in authority; and
still more the self-exalted. Who would not shrink from occupying the uppermost
seat and from lording it over others when he sees the Son of God humble
and eliminate himself?
5. The phrase "form of God" does not receive the same interpretation
from all. Some understand Paul to refer to the divine essence and nature
in Christ; meaning that Christ, though true God, humbled himself. While
Christ is indeed true God, Paul is not speaking here of his divine essence,
which is concealed. The word he uses --"morphe," or "forma' --he employs
again where he tells of Christ taking upon himself the form of a servant.
"Form of a servant" certainly cannot signify "essence of a real servant"-possessing
by nature the qualities of a servant. For Christ is not our servant by
nature; he has become our servant from good will and favor toward us. For
the same reason "divine form" cannot properly mean "divine essence"; for
divine essence is not visible, while the divine form was truly seen. Very
well; then let us use the vernacular, and thus make the apostle's meaning
6. "Form of God," then, means the assumption of a divine attitude and
bearing, or the manifestation of divinity in port and presence; and this
not privately, but before others, who witness such form and bearing. To
speak in the clearest possible manner: Divine bearing and attitude are
in evidence when one manifests in word and deed that which pertains peculiarly
to God and suggests divinity. Accordingly, "the form of a servant" implies
the assumption of the attitude and bearing of a servant in relation to
others. It might be better to render "Morphe tu dulu," by "the bearing
of a servant," that means, manners of such character that whoever sees
the person must take him for a servant. This should make it clear that
the passage in question does not refer to the manifestation of divinity
or servility as such, but to the characteristics and the expression of
the same. For, as previously stated, the essence is concealed, but its
manifestation is public. The essence implies a condition, while its expression
7. As regards these forms, or manifestations, a threefold aspect is
suggested by the words of Paul. The essence may exist without the manifestation;
there may be a manifestation without the corresponding essence; and finally,
we may find the essence together with its proper manifestation. For instance,
when God conceals himself and gives no indication of his presence, there
is divinity, albeit not manifest. This is the case when he is grieved and
withdraws his grace. On the other hand, when he discloses his grace, there
is both the essence and its manifestation. But the third aspect is inconceivable
for God, namely, a manifestation of divinity without the essence. This
is rather a trick of the devil and his servants, who usurp the place of
God and act as God, though they are anything but divine. An illustration
of this we find in Ezekiel 28, 2, where the king of Tyre is recorded as
representing his heart, which was certainly decidedly human, as that of
8. Similarly, the form, or bearing, of a servant may be considered from
a threefold aspect. One may be a servant and not deport himself as such,
but as a lord, or as God; as in the instance just mentioned. Of such a
one Solomon speaks (Prov 29, 21), saying: "He that delicately bringeth
up his servant from a child shall have him become a son at the last." Such
are all the children of Adam. We who are rightly God's servants would be
God himself. This is what the devil taught Eve when he said, "Ye shall
be as God." Gen 3, 5. Again, one may be a servant and conduct himself as
one, as all just and faithful servants behave before the world; and as
all true Christians conduct themselves in God's sight, being subject to
him and serving all men. Thirdly, one may be not a servant and yet behave
as one. For instance, a king might minister to his servants before the
world. Before God, however, all men being servants, this situation is impossible
with men; no one has so done but Christ. He says at the supper (Jn 13,
13-14): "Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am,"
and yet I am among you as a servant. And in another place (Mt 20, 28),
"The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister."
9. From these explanations Paul's meaning must have become clear. His
thought is: Christ was in the form of God; that is, both the essence and
the bearing of Deity were his. He did not assume the divine form as he
did that of a servant. He was, I repeat it; he was in the form of a God.
The little word "was" expresses that divinity was his both in essence and
form. The meaning is: Many assume and display an appearance of divinity,
but are not themselves actually divine; the devil, for instance, and Antichrist
and Adam's children. This is sacrilege- the assumption of divinity by an
act of robbery. See Rom 2, 22. Though the offender does not look upon such
conduct as robbery, it is none the less robbing divine honor, and is so
regarded by God and angels and saints, and even by his own conscience.
But Christ, who had not come by divinity through arrogating it to himself,
but was divine by nature according to his very essence, did not deem his
divinity a thing he had grasped; nor could he, knowing divinity to be his
very birthright, and holding it as his own natural possession from eternity.
10. So Paul's words commend Christ's essential divinity and his love
toward us, and at the same time correct all who falsely assume a divine
form. Such are we all so long as we are the devil's members. The thought
is: The devil's members all would be God, would rob the divinity they do
not possess; and they must admit their action to be robbery, for conscience
testifies, indeed must testify, that they are not God. Though they may
despise the testimony of conscience and fail to heed it, yet the testimony
stands, steadfastly maintaining the act as not right-as a malicious robbery.
But the one man, Christ, who did not assume the divine form but was
in it by right and had a claim upon it from eternity; who did not and could
not hold it robbery to be equal with God; this man humbled himself, taking
upon him the form of a servant -- not his rightful form -- that he by the
power of his winning example, might induce them to assume the bearing of
servants who possessed the form and character of servants, but who, refusing
to own them, appropriated the appearance of divinity upon which they had
no claim, since the essence of divinity was forever beyond them.
11. That some fail to understand readily this great text, is due to
the fact that they do not accept Paul's words as spoken, but substitute
their own ideas of what he should have said, namely: Christ was born true
God and did not rob divinity, etc. The expression "who, existing in the
form of God" sounds, in the Greek and Latin, almost as if Christ had merely
borne himself as God, unless particular regard be given to the words "existing
in," which Paul contrasts with the phrase "took upon him." Christ took
upon himself the form of a servant, it is true, but in that form was no
real servant. just so, while dispensing with a divine appearance, behind
the appearance chosen was God. And we likewise take upon ourselves the
divine form, but in the form we are not divine; and we spurn the form of
servants, though that is what we are irrespective of appearance. Christ
disrobes himself of the divine form wherein he existed, to assume that
of a servant, which did not express his essential character; but we lay
aside the servant form of our real being and take upon ourselves, or arrogate
to ourselves, the form of God to which we are not fitted by what we are
12. They are startled by this expression also: "Christ thought it not
robbery to be equal with God." Now, at first sight these words do not seem
to refer solely to Christ, since even the devil and his own, who continually
aspire to equality with God, do not think their action robbery in spite
of the testimony of their conscience to the contrary. But with Paul the
little word "think," or "regard," possesses a powerful significance, having
the force of "perfect assurance." Similarly he says (Rom 3, 28), "We reckon
therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the
law"; and (1 Cor 7, 40), "I think [deem] that I also have the spirit of
God." But the wicked cannot boast it no robbery when they dare take upon
themselves the form of God; for they know, they are satisfied in themselves,
that they are not God. Christ, however, did not, nor could he think himself
not equal to God; in other words, he was confident of his equality with
God, and knew he had not stolen the honor.
Paul's words are chosen, not as an apology for Christ, but as a severe
rebuke for those who arrogate to themselves the form of God against the
protest of conscience that it is not their own but stolen. The apostle
would show how infinitely Christ differs from them, and that the divine
for they would take by theft is Christ's by right.
13. Paul does not use this expression, however, when he refers to Christ's
assumption of the servant form which his, not by nature, but by assumption.
The words produce the impression that Christ took by force something not
his own. Paul should be expected to say: "He held it not robbery to assume
the form of a servant." Why should he rather have chosen that form of expression
in the first instance, since Christ did not assume the divine form, but
possessed it as his very own -- yes, laid it aside and assumed a form foreign
to his nature? The substance of the matter is that he who becomes a servant
does not and cannot assume anything, but only gives, giving even himself.
Hence there is no warrant here to speak of robbery or of a disposition
to look upon the matter in this light.
On the other hand, assumption of the divine form necessarily involves
taking, and altogether precludes giving. Hence there is warrant to speak
of robbery in this connection, and of men who so view it. But this charge
cannot be brought against Christ. He does not render himself guilty of
robbery, nor does he so view his relation, as all others must do. Divinity
is his by right, and so is its appropriate form a birthright.
14. Thus, it seems to me, this text very clearly teaches that to have
divine form is simply to assume in regard to others, in word and deed,
the bearing of God and Lord; that Christ meets this test in the miraculous
signs and life-giving words, as the Gospels contend. He does not rank with
the saints who lack the divine essence; he has, in addition to divine form,
the divine essence and nature. On the other hand, the servant, or servile,
form implies acting toward others, in word and deed, like a servant. Thus
Christ did when he served the disciples and gave himself for us. But he
served not as the saints, who are servants by nature. Service was, with
him, something assumed for our benefit and as an example for us to follow,
teaching us to act in like manner toward others, to disrobe ourselves of
the appearance of divinity as he did, as we shall see.
15. Unquestionably, then, Paul proclaims Christ true God. Had he been
mere man, what would have been the occasion for saying that he became like
a man and was found in the fashion of other men? And that he assumed the
form of a servant though he was in form divine? Where would be the sense
in my saying to you, "You are like a man, are made in the fashion of a
man, and take upon yourself the form of a servant"? You would think I was
mocking you, and might appropriately reply: "I am glad you regard me as
a man; I was wondering if I were an ox or a wolf. Are you mad or foolish?"
Would not that be the natural rejoinder to such a foolish statement? Now,
Paul not being foolish, nor being guilty of foolish speech, there truly
must have been something exalted and divine about Christ. For when the
apostle declares that he was made like unto other men, though the fact
of his being human is undisputed, he simply means that the man Christ was
God, and could, even in his humanity, have borne himself as divine. But
this is precisely what he did not do; he refrained; he disrobed himself
of his divinity and bore himself as a mere man like others.
16. What follows concerning Christ, now that we understand the meaning
or "form of God" and "form of a servant," is surely plain. In fact, Paul
himself tells us what he means by "form of a servant." First: He makes
the explanation that Christ disrobed, or divested himself; that is, appeared
to lay aside his divinity in that he divested himself of its benefit and
glory. Not that he did, or could, divest himself of his divine nature;
but that he laid aside the form of divine majesty-did not act as the God
he truly was. Nor did he divest himself of the divine form to the extent
of making it felt and invisible; in that case there would have been no
divine form left. He simply did not affect a divine appearance and dazzle
us by its splendor; rather he served us with that divinity. He performed
miracles. And during his suffering on the cross he, with divine power,
gave to the murderer the promise of Paradise. Lk. 23, 43. And in the garden,
similarly, he repelled the multitude by a word. Jn 18, 6.
Hence Paul does not say that Christ was divested by some outside power;
he says Christ "made himself" of no repute. Just so the wise man does not
in a literal way lay aside wisdom and the appearance of wisdom, but discards
them for the purpose of serving the simple- minded who might fittingly
serve him. Such man makes himself of no reputation when he divests himself
of his wisdom and the appearance of wisdom.
17. Second: Christ assumed the form of a servant, even while remaining
God and having the form of God; he was God, and his divine words and works
were spoken and wrought for our benefit. As a servant, he served us with
these. He did not require us to serve him in compensation for them, as
in the capacity of a Lord he had a just right to do. He sought not honor
or profit thereby, but our benefit and salvation. It was a willing service
and gratuitously performed, for the good of men. It was a service unspeakably
great, because of the ineffable greatness of the minister and servant --
God eternal, whom all angels and creatures serve. He who is not by this
example heartily constrained to serve his fellows, is justly condemned.
He is harder than stone, darker than hell and utterly without excuse.
18. Third: "Being made in the likeness of men." Born of Mary,
Christ's nature became human. But even in that humanity he might have exalted
himself above all men and served none. But he forbore and became as other
And by "likeness of men" we must understand just ordinary humanity
without special privilege whatever. Now, without special privilege there
is no disparity among men. Understand, then, Paul says in effect: Christ
was made as any other man who has neither riches, honor, power nor advantage
above his fellows; for many inherit power, honor and property by birth.
So lowly did Christ become, and with such humility did he conduct himself,
that no mortal is too lowly to be his equal, even servants and the poor.
At the same time, Christ was sound, without bodily infirmities, as man
in his natural condition might be expected to be.
19. Fourth. "And being found in fashion as a man." That is, he
followed the customs and habits of men, eating and drinking, sleeping and
waking, walking and standing, hungering and thirsting, enduring cold and
heat, knowing labor and weariness, needing clothing and shelter, feeling
the necessity of prayer, and having the same experience as any other man
in his relation to God and the world. - He had power to avoid these conditions;
as God he might have demeaned and borne himself quite differently. But
in becoming man, as above stated, he fared as a human being, and he accepted
the necessities of ordinary mortals while all the time he manifested the
divine form which expressed his true self.
20. Fifth: "He humbled himself," or debased himself. In addition
to manifesting his servant form in becoming man and faring as an ordinary
human being, he went farther and made himself lower than any man. He abased
himself to serve all men with the supreme service -- the gift of his life
in our behalf.
21. Sixth: He not only made himself subject to men, but also to sin,
death and the devil, and bore it all for us. He accepted the most ignominious
death, the death on the cross, dying not as a man but as a worm (Ps 22,
6); yes as an arch-knave, a knave above all knaves, in that he lost even
what favor, recognition and honor were due to the assumed servant form
in which he had revealed himself, and perished altogether.
22. Seventh: All this Christ surely did not do because we were worthy
of it. Who could be worthy such service from such a one? Obedience to the
Father moved him. Here Paul with one word unlocks heaven and permits us
look into the unfathomable abyss of divine majesty and behold the ineffable
love of the Fatherly heart toward us -- his gracious will for us. He shows
us how from eternity it has been God's pleasure that Christ, the glorious
one who has wrought all this, should do it for us. What human heart would
not melt at the joy-inspiring thought? Who would not love, praise and thank
God and in return for his goodness, not only be ready to serve the world,
but gladly to embrace the extremity of humility? Who would not so do when
he is aware that God himself has such precious regard for him, and points
to the obedience of his Son as the pouring out and evidence of his Fatherly
will. Oh, the significance of the words Paul here uses! such words as he
uses in no other place! He must certainly have burned with joy and cheer.
To gain such a glimpse of God -- surely this must be coming to the Father
through Christ. Here is truly illustrated the truth that no one comes to
Christ except the Father draw him; and with what power, what delicious
sweetness, the Father allures! How many are the preachers of the faith
who imagine they know it all, when they have received not even an odor
or taste of these things! How soon are they become masters who have never
been disciples! Not having tasted God's love, they cannot impart it; hence
they remain unprofitable babblers.
"Wherefore also God highly exalted him."
23. As Christ was cast to the lowest depths and subjected to all devils,
in obeying God and serving us, so has God exalted him Lord over all angels
and creatures, and over death and hell. Christ now has completely divested
himself of the servant form -- laid it aside. Henceforth he exists in the
divine form, glorified, proclaimed, confessed, honored and recognized as
While it is not wholly apparent to us that "all things are put in subjection"
to Christ, as Paul says (I Cor 15, 27), the trouble is merely with our
perception of the fact. It is true that Christ is thus exalted in person
and seated on high in the fullness of power and might, executing everywhere
his will; though few believe the order of events is for the sake of Christ.
Freely the events order themselves, and the Lord sits enthroned free from
all restrictions. But our eyes are as yet blinded. We do not perceive him
there nor recognize that all things obey his will. The last day, however,
will reveal it. Then we shall comprehend present mysteries; how Christ
laid aside his divine form, was made man, and so on; how he also laid aside
the form of a servant and resumed the divine likeness; how as God he appeared
in glory; and how he is now Lord of life and death, and the King of Glory.
This must suffice on the text. For how we, too, should come down from
our eminence and serve others has been sufficiently treated of in other
postils. Remember, God desires us to serve one another with body, property,
honor, spirit and soul, even as his Son served us.