Due to inclement weather, the 9 a.m. service for Sunday, Jan. 20 has been cancelled. We will have one morning service at 10:45 a.m. as road conditions improve.

The One Who ...

by Jeremy Shaffer

Fireworks, gathering with family, outdoor concerts, and good food have always been the ingredients to a proper celebration of America’s birthday. This July, the United States will celebrate that 246 years ago she broke away from England to become an independent nation. Becoming an independent nation, however, came with a high cost. Countless men and women fought for and continue to fight for the freedoms that we often take for granted. These men and women are all characterized by one unifying trait: selflessness. It was and continues to be the selfless actions of the many that ensure our freedoms are protected. However, the moment when “the many” don’t act in a selfless fashion, the freedoms that we enjoy will be slowly stripped away – and some Americans feel this is already taking place. America is an independent nation that is dependent on its citizens to create its identity, and we know that not every citizen agrees as to how America should look and act. Fortunately, for believers who populate these great United States, our identity is not wrapped up in the selfless actions of “the many”, but in the selfless acts of the One named Jesus.

The premier example of what it means to be selfless comes from the example of Jesus. In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul cites the incarnation of the Son as the defining achievement of what it means to be selfless. Listen to his word in the following passage. Philippians 2:5-8 (NKJV) says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”  

The mystery of the incarnation was a major point of debate in the early church and I guarantee that it is still being discussed today in a plethora of venues all across the globe. However, as odd as it sounds (and don’t accuse me of being heretical either), the point of the passage is not so much a discussion of the deity of Christ as it is to highlight His selfless nature that was demonstrated through the incarnation. The key to this entire passage is found in the very first phrase, “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” The mind that is selfless and solely concerned about the welfare of others is what is meant by the phrase ‘mind of Christ’. Older generations will remember the popular Christian bracelets WWJD (what would Jesus do), but that illustration is far from complete. The mind of Christ is both thinking and acting. It’s not enough to just think selfless thoughts; there comes a time when those selfless thoughts should be turned into actions of love, compassion, and grace. We often focus on the death of Christ on the Cross as the epitome of Christ’s selfless action for us, but Paul reminds us not to forget about the incarnation. In other words, if Christ had never taken on human flesh (incarnation) then He could not have died as a man for the sins of mankind. Think of it this way: the incarnation of Christ was the first selfless act that Christ took on our behalf.  

Let’s take a closer look at a few specific phrases in verses 6-8 that highlight the significance of the selfless action of the incarnation. The first phrase, “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” A literal rendering of the Greek text says, “did not consider it an advantage to exploit to be equal to God.” While He conducted His ministry on earth, Jesus was focused on the will of the Father and being in submission to His will. Of course, there were times when Christ did want to explain that “He and the Father were One” (John 10:30), but His focus was not to exploit it, promote it, or use it to His advantage. His brothers, on the other hand, didn’t see a problem with it, saying, “show yourself to the world” (John 7:4). His brothers, and likely many others, seem to have missed the lessons that Jesus taught on submission. The heroes and gods that the citizens of Philippi idolized were famous for exploiting their positions of power, often for their own selfish ends, but Paul reminds us that Jesus said no! Christ said no to the selfish exploitation of His unique position and power and He said yes to the form of a servant.

The second phrase, “made Himself of no reputation,” literally reads He emptied Himself. It does not come as a surprise that Paul’s choice of this verb has fueled centuries of debate, namely among those who have tried to argue that Christ gave up His deity. Christ did not lose anything at His incarnation. The best option is to let the text speak for itself because it’s the subsequent clauses in the next verse that must color our interpretation. These three clarifying phrases, “taking the form of a bondservant, coming in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man,” all relate to Jesus’ humanity. Unfortunately, the word “empty” can bring to mind some negative ideas like an empty gas tank, empty drawers, empty stomach, or empty bank account, but consider for a moment that empty does not need to be explained by subtraction. For Jesus, empty meant taking on (adding) human nature, not laying down His divinity; empty meant taking on (adding) the form of a servant, not losing the form of God; it meant taking on (adding) the sins of the world so that He could be poured out (emptied) as an offering (Isa.53:12). The resurrection that we celebrate every Sunday would not be possible without Christ taking on humanity.  

The third phrase says that Christ “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death.”  Such a simple phrase and yet such a powerful one; a phrase that ought to make all Christians weep! The One who had every right to claim the highest position in all of human history sought after the lowest position and submitted Himself to tremendous humiliation. The splendor and grace of Christ’s actions for all humanity are placed squarely on His willingness to do whatever was necessary for mankind’s redemption. He wasn’t forced or coerced. Bringing a sin sacrifice to the altar was no easy task for an Israelite because no sacrificial animal went willingly to their death; many animals, sensing and smelling death, tried to escape. The sacrificial system in the Old Testament was a placeholder until a perfect sacrifice could be offered, One that was not coerced and One that went willingly. Christ did not act against His will; He actively obeyed the Father’s plan all the way to death itself.

The final phrase, “even the death of the cross,” reminds us just how low Christ stooped to purchase mankind’s redemption. The last word in this passage is “cross.” Death on a cross was not courageous or honorable, but an appalling and disgraceful death, much like lethal injection or death by a firing squad. The cross evoked the lowest depths of human depravity; it was designed to show as much pain and subjugation as humanly possible. Roman laws reserved death on a cross for the most violent criminals. Furthermore, to the Jewish person, anyone who is hung on a tree is cursed (Deut.21:23; Gal.3:13). The contrast between the first and last lines of this passage shows the dramatic nature of the incarnation: Christ went from being in the form of God...to death on a Cross. The passage does not lift our eyes up to the wonders of heaven above, the millions of stars and galaxies, rather it takes us down, down, down to the deepest and darkest depths of humanity. When we gaze on the cross today, we see a symbol of good, we see a symbol of hope, and we see a powerful reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Take another look at the cross but this time look at it from the perspective of Christ Himself. Christ knew He would have to suffer the worst possible death ever recorded in all of time and eternity, so what does He do? He empties and humbles Himself for the task.  

The selfless sacrifices that we make in our lives will never come close to what Christ did for us, that is an obvious point from this passage. What Christ did for us in His incarnation, sacrifice, and resurrection will never be matched in all of human history and eternity for that matter. No human frame has ever experienced coming from the infinite height of glory into the infinite depths of hell. Everything that Christ has done for us is explicitly tied to his selfless nature. In the shadow of Christ and His cross, our sacrifices, our acts of unselfishness, and our sufferings can seem so very small, but the grandeur of our actions is not what Christ desires. Christ desires us to be selfless, just like Him. He desires us to be faithful servants, just like Him. He desires us to humble ourselves and submit ourselves to the Father’s plan for our lives, just like Him. He desires us not to simply think selfless thoughts but put them into actions and deeds. Remember what the very first part of the passage said, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who...”  Jesus is the One who emptied Himself and the One who humbled Himself. He demonstrated his selfless nature through acts of love, compassion, and grace; we must do the same.
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