Part 1: Why It’s Important | Part 2: Why It’s OK to Moralize, This Time | Part 3: Aligning Your Values | Part 4: Aligning Your Focus | Part 5: Letting Go
If the first exemplary action Christ took was to divest himself of something valuable (more on that in a moment), the second action was to humble himself (Php 2.7); as the NASB puts it, he “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”
As I noted last time, the theology gets a little complicated here. Paul says that Christ “emptied himself.” Emptied himself of what? What did he throw overboard on the way from heaven to earth?
Did he give up his equality with God—his deity?
Well, we know that can’t be right, for several reasons. As a visible, corporeal human being, he said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8.58). He perfectly revealed the Father (Jn 14.9; Col 1.15; Heb 1.3). The fullness of the Godhead was in him bodily (Col 2.9). He was God with us (Mt 1.23). One of his disciples called him God, and he didn’t correct him (Jn 20.28). He forgave sins (Mk 2.7). He offered an infinite sacrifice, sufficient for all the sins of all the humans who have ever lived.
Only God could do those things.
So how did he empty himself? What did he throw overboard?
Our passage doesn’t actually say that he threw anything overboard; it says that “he emptied himself” by “taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Php. 2.7). He didn’t lose anything he had; he added something burdensome.
Perhaps you’ve had the experience of running a three-legged race. (I’ll bet it was at a church picnic, wasn’t it?).
How was your time in the 40 in that race? Better or worse than usual?
Worse?! How could that be? You had an extra leg, didn’t you?
In this case, having an extra leg doesn’t make you faster. It’s an added burden.
I said last time that no metaphors about God work perfectly, and the three-legged race is deficient as well—Jesus’ act of bearing both human and divine natures simultaneously was (and is) not clumsy or comical—but it serves well enough for our purpose. He took on a human nature, and that weighed him down in some sense. As Darrell Bock has observed, the incarnation “was subtraction by humble addition”; and as we learned in elementary school, subtraction is simply the addition of a negative number.
So Christ, valuing our need more than himself, refused to view his equality with God as something he had to hold and protect, but took the drastic step of becoming a man, becoming in form like a slave. That step had eternal ramifications for him as well as us. He is still a man, with a body, apparently forever bearing the scars (Jn 20.27) of his corporeal humiliation. That move did not cost him his equality with God, but it did cost him a lifetime of humiliation, disgust, and pain.
If you’re a believer, sacrificing yourself for others is not going to cost you anything eternal; you’ll still be God’s child, and you’ll still be secure in his love. But it will cost you other things, including your own will and your own way. It’ll probably cost you some respect, and it may even cost you some money. For some, it has even cost them their life. But if you take Jesus’ view, you won’t value those things, certainly not more than following his example.
Get low. Humble yourself. Set aside things you care too much about. Rest in the confidence of God’s plan and care for you, and take some risks.
Part 7: Sacrificing Yourself | Part 8: Closing Thoughts