Thursday, May 05, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ The Emptying of Christ: Phil 2.7

In this study we have seen Paul write about the Christian Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding and today, looking at the subject of the emptying of Christ.

I want to draw your attention to two things that are part of Christ’s emptying: Jesus’ self-emptying and yours. This passage tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ emptied himself, and I want us to look and understand what it means and what it doesn’t mean. And then I want us to look and understand what Paul means by saying that we too ought to empty ourselves. Paul is saying something quite extraordinary here: he’s saying Jesus’ self-emptying is our pattern for life.

Paul is talking to people who have been changed by the Holy Spirit, who have been transformed by the grace of God, who realize that their good is not good enough and only Jesus Christ can save them from their sins. And now Paul is telling them how God intends for them to live, and he’s saying that Jesus’ pattern of self-emptying is our pattern for life as believers.
So let’s look at those two things: Jesus’ self-emptying and ours.

I. Jesus’ self-emptying.
I want you to see here is what Jesus’ self-emptying did not entail, and what it did entail, what it means and doesn’t mean.

Many people have come to this passage and they have decided that what Paul is saying is that Jesus somehow emptied himself of His deity. He somehow set aside essential attributes of His person. Very often this view is held by those who want to get rid of the deity of Christ so that they don’t have to believe what He teaches about the Bible. And you can say, well, Jesus set aside His deity, so He didn’t understand everything, and therefore some of the things that He said were wrong, and that means that some of the opinions that He held about the Bible were wrong, and we can come to our own conclusions – conclusions different from and contradictory to His. But whatever their motivations, this misses the point. It obviously misses the point of what the Apostle Paul is saying here, first of all because he has just said that Jesus exists in the very form of God, that all that is essential to deity (verse 6) is in Christ. It’s what Paul is affirming in Ephesians 2:6, so he’s clearly not saying when he says that Jesus emptied himself, when he says that Jesus made himself nothing, that He divested himself of His divinity, that He evacuated himself of deity – that He ceased to be the divine person that He was.

And the second way you can see this in verse 7 this: “He made himself nothing, taking….” Jesus’ self-emptying, Jesus’ making himself nothing, Jesus’ emptying of himself, is not a matter of subtracting something from His person, but taking onto himself servanthood. This was not a subtraction of His person; it was subtraction by addition.

The church fathers used to say of Jesus, speaking of His divinity and His humanity all in one person, “He became what He was not, without ceasing to be what He was.” Paul is saying that the emptying that Jesus did was not an evacuating of the attributes of His person, it was the taking on of this servitude, this role, this form, this practice, this attitude, this posture of a servant: “He emptied himself, taking….” There was an addition to what He was, by which He manifest true humility.

That has very important ramifications for understanding what it means for us to follow Jesus’ pattern. If Jesus’ self-emptying did not entail His setting aside the essential attributes of His person, but consisted in His taking on this servitude, this form of a servant, for our sake and for our salvation, what does our self-emptying entail and what does it not entail?
II. Our self-emptying.
It’s important for us to address this question, because many Christians, many fine Christians, get the heebie-jeebies when they start hearing the Apostle Paul make this kind of exhortation to servanthood. But it means that, confident in who you are in Christ and joyfully delighted in the knowledge of what God has made you for, and motivated by the life of your Savior, you refuse to live merely for the purpose of self-protection and self-advancement, and you serve others for God’s glory, for Christ’s sake, according to Christ’s example, looking out for their best interests, knowing that there is glory and reward to come.

Your motivation is entirely different from the in past and from those who are not Christians. In your relationships with everyone, your goal is not self-advancement and self-protection, because your advancement has already been planned from eternity past by your loving heavenly Father, and you will be exalted in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

And the Apostle Paul is saying to us that if we are going to manifest the mind of Christ, then in our life in this community, whether it’s in our work, in our lives together in our families, in our life together as a congregation, we are going to manifest this kind of strength in weakness, this kind of humble exercise of strength and power, for the well-being of others, in the imitation of Christ.

Now the implications and applications of that are radical and manifold, and we’ll address more of that next week on Monday as we look at the following verses to see this fleshed out in our daily lives. But I want to challenge you in the days to come to reflect on how God would have you empty yourself.

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