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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Getting to the Top by Going through the Bottom – Philippians 2:1-11

How do you get to the top by going through the bottom? Doesn’t that go completely against everything we were taught by our parents about standing up for ourselves? We were told to not let people run over us. Be assertive! Take charge!

Let me tell you the story of a fellow from my previous church where I was the pastor many years ago. Don was a sort of “special” person. He was exceedingly nice and kind … and also odd and eccentric in many ways. I don’t think he had actual mental deficiencies, though it may have looked that way to many people. Having been a professional musician in earlier life before coming to know Christ, he may well have burned out some of his brain on substance abuse. Whatever his background, there was no doubt that Don deeply LOVED everyone in the church.

He worked diligently to know every person, and he had a genuine concern for each and every individual. In fact, whenever anyone from the church was in the hospital, he would visit with them each day they were admitted.  Yes, he was a little strange and some of those visits were a bit awkward, but there was no doubt that Don was a guy who simply loved you and believed when he prayed for you, God was going to help you!

One day, Don had a medical emergency – I forget if it was a gall bladder surgery or a ruptured appendicitis – but it was something that had him admitted for a series of days. And even long before the era of the immediacy of emails and Facebook communications, the word spread like wildfire through the church family that Don was in the hospital. And people started to visit him. Dozens of people would show up at the same time, and over the initial two or three days there were more than 150 people wanting to visit. They were continuously overflowing the hospital’s waiting area in the lobby. After a while, the hospital administration called the church office to appeal to us to make some church-wide effort to call off the visitation.

The application of this story to today’s reading is clearly obvious. The story of Don and our passage today from Philippians both illustrate the principle as stated in the words of Jesus Christ:  “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It is clear from the letter to the Philippians that there was discord among certain people and factions in the church family in that city. The Apostle Paul reminds them in the first four verses of all the assets they possessed through faith and relationship with Christ Jesus. And he tells them that it would make his own joy complete if they would stop thinking of themselves and rather imitate Christ in humbly serving one another.

This great theological passage that defines the combination of Christ’s humanity and deity is given by Paul to remind his readers of the incredible humility of Christ – who set aside his personal rights in glory to condescend to earth, become human, and die the most awful of deaths. Surely the story of one who did something this amazing would goad the Philippians to faithfully follow that example in selfless service, one to another.

Christ was glorified to the highest level due to his humble sacrifice, and likewise, those who serve others will have their own needs met in abundance by the grace and supply of a faithful heavenly Father who sees all and judges with fairness and equity. When we serve at the bottom, God ultimately rewards us at the top. It seems crazy to the way of the world’s thinking, but that is how God works his math … and we’ll talk about this again on Friday.

Philippians 2:1-11 – Imitating Christ’s Humility

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, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

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

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

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.