When Paul instructed us to have “the mind of Christ” he had something in his mind and in Philippians 2:7 he explained what that was. Jesus did something that we all should ponder seriously if we want to learn to be like Jesus. This verse begins with the main idea of the sentence. It says that Jesus “emptied Himself.” These two words have been the basis of many arguments throughout history. The Greek word for “emptied” is used to form a new English word “kenosis.” Understanding all the theories related to Christ’s Kenosis is extremely complex and I want to be humble when I try to explain exactly what Jesus emptied Himself of.
In his commentary on this passage Jim Wilson says, “I know that you are expecting an answer to the question, ‘what did Jesus empty Himself of’ in this paragraph, and I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t know. Some questions don’t need to be answered; they just needed to be pondered. Though I don’t know what He gave up to become man—I know that He did it willingly, and I know that one of the reasons I am filled with hope today, is because He emptied Himself then. Take a minute to think about it. God became man and dwelt among us. Knowing what He gave up to do so isn’t as important as knowing that He did it-knowing that He did it for you. And me!”
I’m not real happy with that. I think we can wrestle with the idea biblically a little without being too dogmatic. The second phrase in the sentence says that the way Jesus empties himself was by “taking on the form of a servant.” He even said that of Himself in John 13. To me it means that as God, Jesus came to earth as a servant even though he had the right, the power, and the authority to come to earth as the sovereign Lord of all. Further, Paul adds another way that Jesus emptied Himself and that was by “being born in likeness of men.” Max Anders explains, “He did not come to earth in a human rent-a-body that He used for thirty some years and then discarded, He did not come as the Angel of the Lord, He did not come as some unique celestial being. But He became a man, born of a woman, with a permanent, fully human body. Finally, He humbled Himself and played out the role which God the Father chose for Him.” Max goes on and concludes, “He voluntarily veiled His divine glory, and He did not use some of His attributes some of the time. Instead, He took on human form, humbled Himself to the plan of God the Father, and died on the Cross for our sins. What a beautiful person He is! What kindness! What sacrifice! What unfathomable love!”
Paul challenges us to think the way Christ thinks, or to have the same attitude Christ had. Philippians 2:6 begins Paul’s description of Christ’s attitude. The first thing about Christ he wanted us to know was that Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Jesus did not use his deity, His position in the Godhead, to His own advantage. He willingly set aside the majestic glory of being the eternal, divine Son of God, and took upon himself the lowly likeness of a human. The picture of Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples still captures the humility of Christ in spite of his exalted reality. While James and John want honor at the right and left hand of Christ, Jesus is setting aside His rightful glory and taking the form of a servant.
I like the way Robert Raines speaks of James and John in his poem. We can truly see ourselves easily in these words, but they mean even more when we contrast them with the “attitude” of Jesus towards glory and personal gain at the expense of others. Raines writes, “I am like James and John Lord, I size up other people in terms of what they can do for me; how they can further my program, feed my ego, satisfy my needs, give me strategic advantage. I exploit people, ostensibly for your sake, but really for my own sake. Lord, I turn to you to get the inside track and obtain special favors, your direction for my schemes, your power for my projects, your sanction for my ambitions, your blank checks for whatever I want. I am like James and John.”
I’m sorry to say that I’m much more like James and John than I am like Jesus. “But the upward call of God” is to become more and more like Jesus and less and less like James and John. I am and James and John are children of Adam. Adam used his role as man created in the image of God to “snatch” equality with God by eating of the Fruit. Adam lost his “lordship” over the world by attempting to become more than God intended. He wanted to be equal with God while Jesus on the other hand who was truly equal to God surrendered that glory and refused to use it to His advantage upon becoming man but humbled Himself to the consequences of Adam’s sin; death! Thus as Bruce puts it, “Christ achieved universal lordship through his renunciation.” Richison says, “In eternity past Jesus had a thought pattern to disengage from the voluntary use of the glory of his deity to become a man. If Jesus valued the sacrifice of humility for the sake of others as a value which transcended his own interests, should not we do the same?”
Paul talked about us putting other’s needs first in our lives, even above our own, then in Philippians 2:5 he begins the focus on how Jesus is the ultimate example for us to follow in living our lives together. No one puts others ahead of themselves like Jesus did. So Paul calls us all to have the same mind or to think the same way or to have the same attitude as Jesus had.
I like to point out that in many ways the church has taken Jesus as an example and not as a savior. Whereas they may readily accept the value Jesus brought in living a sacrificial life they reject the supernatural element of His death on the cross for our sins, his literal burial and resurrection from the dead and how through faith in this we too can find eternal life. Jesus was simply a good person, a great teacher, and a wonderful moral example for us to follow. Islam even teaches that Jesus was a great example. Jesus is believed to be another of the old prophets who was an example of how to live in a good way. However, if one looks at Jesus’ own statements about himself, you found he was much more than simply a good example. In John 3:16-18 we read, ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Then in 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” Jesus is more than an example, he is the Savior! One writer said if you’re drowning in the ocean, you don’t need someone to stand on the shore and make swimming motions with his arms while yelling, “go like this!” No we need someone to jump in, like Jesus did, and save us!
We all need a savior, but let’s not forget that Jesus did come to set an example for us to follow after we have come to faith in Him as our Savior. He even said as much after washing the disciple’s feet in the upper room before the last supper. He said, “I have set an example for you to follow” (John 13:15). Christ’s example for us was not only in washing the disciple’s feet but it was His entire life. We are to do what he did, but we’re also to think like he thought. The word “mind” here does not mean mental activity or intellectual process. It means attitude. The most important way to maintain the unity of relationships, whether in marriage, family, or church is to have the same attitude that Christ had. As everyone knows sacrifice is fundamental to unity. Everyone cannot always have their own way. Someone has to give. Richison writes, “Jesus was willing to spend and be spent for us. He qualifies as the greatest example of lowliness of mind. He followed the path of utter selflessness. He gave himself to the greatest of degradations—a criminal’s death. … If Jesus regarded no sacrifice too great, no humiliation too painful, should not we have this sacrificial attitude toward fellow Christians?”
Paul turns the tables on the worldly ideas of getting every done “my way” or having it all “my way.” He says we shouldn’t do anything from selfish ambition. We should never focus our energy on promoting ourselves above others. We should not be conceited. We should think of ourselves with clear minds and not over estimate our value. It’s not “me first” in Christ’s perspective. It’s love God first and foremost. Love others next, then love of self will find its rightful place in your life. Paul says to consider others as more important than yourselves. As mentioned yesterday, too much self-esteem exaggerates our view of ourselves while depreciating our opinion of others.
Markus Bockmuehl writes: “Instead of pursuing their own prestige, that strangely addictive and debasing cocktail of vanity and public opinion, the Philippians are called to humility, the ‘lowliness of heart’ which agrees to treat and think of others preferentially.… The biblical view of humility is precisely not feigned or groveling, nor a sanctimonious or pathetic lack of self-esteem, but rather a mark of moral strength and integrity. It involves an unadorned acknowledgement of one’s own creaturely inadequacies, and entrusting one’s fortunes to God rather than to one’s own abilities or resources.”
After exhorting us to think of others as “more important” than ourselves, he then says we should also focus our attention not only on our own needs but also on the needs of others. In Philippians 2:4, we read “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Most of you will remember the great hail storm of 2014. I heard story after story of people stepping in to help others whenever they could. Having an injured arm, I was not able to do a lot to put boards over broken windows! We lost 12 windows. 11 of them were shattered through both panes! We had glass and water everywhere. A couple in our church called to see if we needed help. We did! Along with my son, they boarded up the windows, put plastic where it was needed and cleaned up glass and water. We were so grateful for the help. There were others who also called to see if they could help as well. We heard many accounts of people helping others throughout the week. It was a real life example of Paul’s exhortation for believers to look out for each other.
Philippians 2:3 is a very rich little verse. First it instructs us not do anything from “selfish ambition or conceit.” Then these two negative attributes are countered by the positive attitude of humility. The verse continues, “…but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Conceit says “I’m better than you.” Selfish ambition drives me to prove myself to be better than you. But God always reverses the world’s values. The opposite of conceit is humility and that’s what God wants us to be. The opposite of promoting myself is the promotion of others. Things work differently than the world thinks. It says seeing myself better will make me happy. But truthfully it will do just the opposite. Striving to prove myself better than others is a miserable unhappy way to live.
The priorities in the life of those controlled by the flesh principle, is me first! You are second, and God is last. Grammatically speaking it makes perfect sense. We even call “I,” “Me” and “us” the first person. We call “You” and “You all” the second person and we call “him or her” and “them” the third person. But God teaches us to reverse that order. The third person, God, is to be first in our lives. The second person, you, is to be second in our lives, and the first person, I and me, are to be third in my life. Jesus established this order Himself in the Gospels when he said “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” This flies in the face of our “self-esteem” oriented world. The psycho-babel jargon of today preaches the message of self-esteem. Of course we must recognize our value as unique individuals in God’s eyes, but when self-esteem promotes the idea that we’re better than others it exaggerates our value at the expense of others. We’re called to celebrate the value of others or to consider their worth before our own. J O Y really is found in putting Jesus first, others second, and yourself last!
Joseph Boren of the University of Virginia says, “Studies suggest that too much self-esteem is a lot worse than too little.” It suggests that the individual pursuit of self-esteem in our society may very well end up doing much more harm than good. Boren says, “You’ve got a lot of people running around with seriously inflated egos who come crashing to earth all the time.” He goes on to add, “The study found aggressive, violent and hostile people—such as neo-Nazis, wife-beaters and members of the Ku Klux Klan—”consistently express favorable views of themselves.” The study goes on, “These people are often violent precisely because they already believe themselves to be superior beings.” One responder to this study said, “Perhaps it would be better to try instilling modesty and humility.” Hmmm, now that’s a thought.