Incarnation and Kenosis (Philippians 2:1-11)

We preachers like to think that from time to time we come up with a word picture about a biblical concept that so perfectly nails it, we call such a thing a “killer illustration.”  When you’ve got one of these, Saturday night cannot turn over fast enough until Sunday when you can deliver it!

Hey, while I’m letting you behind the curtain of “pastor world” here by that confession above, let me tell you something else that goes on inside us church shepherds. There are times when in a church family you have two people who are really good folks – good workers, dependable, etc.  But they don’t get along well with each other. They just see differently about the way certain things should be done. And along the way you see a few other people gravitating behind each of these folks. In a way, you hate to say anything, because as a pastor you really appreciate the good side of the two leaders; so you end up enduring the negatives to not upset the positives. But invariably a day comes when you’ve got to say something to try to get the situation toward a better place. That is difficult. It can backfire “bigly.”e92l8pwchd4-ben-white

It seems that Paul had such a situation going on in Philippi. He was hearing about it from a distance. There is a hint of the problem in 2:14 where he writes, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing…”  And then finally it all comes spewing out in the final chapter (4:2,3) where he says, I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

Boom!  Nothing like getting your names written in the Scriptures because you were having a junior high girl fight! I’d like to know how it turned out. But it might have worked out well, and that is because prior to confronting them in the text, Paul had the greatest “killer illustration” of them all…

2:1 — Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

So there is the set-up … or what we call in Bible study the “context.”  Paul is saying that if you’ve got anything good going on at all in your life in relation to the Spirit working within, then be of one mind, one spirit, loving, forgetting ambition or personal interest, and in humility placing a greater value upon the values of others than upon yourself. Nice words, but what does such a thing look like?  Paul says to model the mindset of Jesus Christ …

6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

The humiliation of Christ in his incarnation was so much bigger than any preferring of others that ought to be going on in Philippi … or Phillipsburg … or even Hagerstown!  There is simply no greater voluntary condescension than the attitude and action of Jesus. Check out the downward path >> Though totally God, he didn’t tenaciously hang onto that exalted position >> he became like a servant and took on human flesh >> he allowed himself to be so fully human as to even experience death >> but it was not just an easy natural death, but the worst imaginable – that of a cross.

This passage is called “kenosis” (from the verb ‘kenao’ in the passage) because it speaks of how Jesus emptied himself of the full use of his divine attributes in coming to earth.  This meant that he no longer exercised his omnipotence or other divine powers—except through the power of the Spirit, like when it says that Jesus was “led by” or “full of” the Holy Spirit. So, Jesus was fully God, but while living on earth he voluntarily limited himself to that which the Spirit could do through him.

Christ is an example of how to live and walk by the Spirit. And this “illustration” passage also teaches the great truth of the true humanity of Jesus Christ. He was not some sort of phantom spirit of a higher order than mankind. He was fully human, yet without sin.

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I’ll pause for a moment while you try to think of a more beautiful passage in the Scripture than is this one … … … OK, yes, didn’t think you could come up with anything.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

4 thoughts on “Incarnation and Kenosis (Philippians 2:1-11)

  1. Clara and I have enjoyed the last two days of sevotuons. Be encouraged that they are worth the ffort and helpbus our walk with Christ

    • Thank you so much for sharing this. We are pleased for such feedback, hoping indeed that these writings (now numbering a total of 853) are practical and helpful for those who read them. (Randy)

  2. I was trying to remember the word “kenosis” from Sunday’s sermon as I was reading Phillipians lsst night. Was hoping it would be in the devotionals this week and walaaa…there it is! Thanks for reminding my forgetful brain!

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