Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ Live Life in Light of the Humiliation and Exaltation of Christ: Phil 2.12-13

Paul has started the center section of this book with a huge exhortation: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” He illustrates that call in 2:5-11 with a picture of Jesus’ humble, obedient service in His humiliation and exaltation.

And then, here in verse 12, he says “Therefore….” He’s about to tell you to live your life as a Christian in light of what he’s been discussing about Christ.

This is one of the most important passages about sanctification: growth in Christian maturity.

The New Testament describes sanctification in different ways. For instance, it will talk about sanctification in terms of becoming more Christ-like, imitating Jesus, following Jesus.

The New Testament talks about sanctification in terms of our being reshaped in the image of God. In Genesis 1, we’re told that God made humanity in His image. But because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion that image was marred and caused to not bear the beauty that God had originally intended. And in sanctification, God is addressing that marring, and healing it and restoring it to its former glory so that we would be what He intended us to be in the first place: the very image and likeness of God Almighty.

Now, when God saves us, He does at least three things for us:
1. God accepts us.
God pardons us and forgives us, and He accepts us as righteous – not because we are justification. He accepts us not for anything in us, but for Christ alone.

2. God adopts us.
Our Father welcomes us into His own family, makes us to be His children, and makes us inheritors of His estate and brothers and sisters of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

3. God changes us.
He changes us, because the Lord God desires that we would not only be pardoned for our sin and welcomed into His family, but that we would begin to look in our character like His children, because the heavenly Father would have us to fellowship with Him forever, yet He cannot fellowship with sin. And so He is in the business of eradicating sin. That will never be finished in this life, but He is transforming us.

Now, why am I going through all of these things that God does for us in our salvation? Because the second half of Philippians 2:12 is confusing. We’re reading about the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, and the next thing you know Paul is saying, “Work out your own salvation….” We must be crystal clear about what that means, and about what that doesn’t mean.
Does he mean that we must provide the basis of God’s accepting us by our doings?

No! Look at the whole context, anywhere from Philippians 1:27 to this point. Is Paul telling you how somebody is converted or justified or accepted? No. He’s talking about how Christians become more mature. He’s saying, now I want you to grow in grace. So what does Philippians 2:12 mean, then?

It means that we are to pursue godliness and holiness because God is at work in us for our godliness. We are to work to be more like Christ because God is at work in us that we might be more godly, because God is at work in us that we might be more like Christ.

Philippians 2:12-13, in other words, is an encouragement to you: that you can and you will make progress in driving sin from your life. Paul’s message is God accepts you; therefore change is now possible.

This is the most encouraging possible news, because every real Christian wrestles with this reality: “Lord, I know that You have accepted me not because of who I am, but because of Christ, but, Lord, there are sins in me that have a hold on me that make me wonder whether I really love You and trust in You.”

Let me just outline for you again what Paul is asserting, and we’ll look more closely at it on Thursday.

1. Continue to obey. He’s just shown you Jesus’ obedience – and then he calls on believers to obey. There is no idea in Paul’s teaching that obedience is not an essential part of the Christian life.

2. “Work out your salvation.” His message is not “save, justify, adopt yourself and get yourself accepted with God by your doing.” He is saying, ‘Be active in your sanctification in the Christian life. Work out your salvation.’

3. “With fear and trembling.” Paul is simply telling you there that you are to continue to obey in reverent humility of the living God. Why does this make so much sense? Because he’s been talking about Jesus being humble.

4. “…Because God is at work in you.” He says do this all of this because God himself is at work in you already, so that you will want to do it, and so that you will do it for His good pleasure in you. That’s incredible. But more than that, he says this in the present tense. He doesn’t say it in the past tense. He doesn’t say I want you to work out your sanctification in reverent humility, because God has changed you. Now that’s true, because God has changed you. But Paul doesn’t say keep on obeying, keep on pursuing Christian maturity in humble service to others because you’ve already been changed; he says because God is at work in you now to change you, God is not finished with you yet. I cannot imagine a more comforting and encouraging thing to know in the pursuit of godliness in the Christian life than that my God is not done yet.

The sovereignty of God in our salvation and in our sanctification is not permission for us to be passive; it is a reason for hope, because change is possible.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ The Obedience of the Death of Christ: Phil 2.8

We are still in the “hymn to Christ” section of this great letter from Philippians 2:5-11, which celebrates Christ’s humiliation and His exaltation.

Paul, in Philippians 1:27, has opened the whole middle section of this letter up with an exhortation that we would live a life that fits the gospel. And he elaborates and deepens on that in this section, especially to emulate Jesus’ humility and selfless love manifest in His humanity and servanthood.

Today we’ll examine the humility of Christ manifest in His obedience in death, even the death of the cross as we look at four different ways that Paul shows us how Jesus humbled himself for us.

I. Jesus humbled himself by obeying His whole life long for us.
Paul emphasizes that in the words of Philippians 2:8, “He was obedient to the point of death, indicating that Jesus was obedient over the whole course of His life. Paul’s point here is that Jesus obeyed His whole life long for us, all the way up to the point of death.

Paul is stressing that Jesus’ obedience involves the whole course of His life and ministry, all the way up to the cross.

Do we appreciate that Jesus’ obedience for us was not just on the cross of Calvary, but includes the whole course of His life? And it is not just that Jesus was obedient to the law of God, though He was. He kept the law of God in a way that no human being before or since Him has kept or will keep the law of God, until we are made perfect in glory.

But not only did He do that, He did more. He did something that none of us are able to do in our obedience: none of us are able to undertake a plan whereby we can save a multitude that no man can number. Paul is saying, ‘Christian, you need to celebrate the humility of Christ in embracing this kind of lifelong obedience; obedience to a course of suffering, obedience to a course of humiliation. And He did it because of His love for you and His desire for your salvation.’

II. Jesus humbled himself by embracing the humiliation of the cross.
Paul’s emphasis is not simply that Jesus willingly died for us, but that He embraced the painful, shameful, cursed, humiliating death of the Roman crucifix for us, the most shameful, humiliating death conceivable in both the Gentile and the Jewish world.

Crucifixion was reserved for those criminals who were non-citizens and deemed the vilest of human beings. Moses also tells us that “cursed is he who hangs on a tree.” Jesus not only embraced a death that was shameful in the eyes of the Gentile Romans, but He embraced the death that was shameful in the eyes of Jews. The Jews knew that one who was hung upon a tree was being given a sentence and a punishment that indicated that that person was outside of the believing community, cut off from the promises of God, unloved by any in the family of God’s people, cut off from the inheritance promised to God’s people. In death He embraced the humiliation of the cross that involved pain and shame and curse.

But there’s not only pain, there was shame. Hebrews 12:2 states, “Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…despising the shame.” He knew that by bearing the cross He was inviting shame, but He did it anyway.

And Christ embraced humiliation. Paul is pointing to the Jesus who served us in humility, in His obedience all His life long, and in the Jesus who humbled himself by embracing even the pain, shame, curse, and humiliation of the cross.

III. He obeyed for our sanctification so that we could be made holy
It’s so important for you to understand that it is not only your justification that is by grace, but your sanctification is by grace.

God is at work, Paul will say in verse 13, both to will and to do his work in you. Jesus humbled himself in His humanity all along the whole course of His life and ministry by embracing obedience to the will of His heavenly Father, an obedience that entailed personal pain and incalculable suffering, shame, curse, and humiliation for your sanctification. Not only did He do this so that you would be justified, but He did this so that you would be made like Him, so that on the last day He would stand in the assembly of His brethren and He would say, ‘These are my brethren, and they are without spot or blemish or wrinkle. They are perfect.’ So that on the last day when the accuser points his finger and says, ‘But that man, that woman, is a sinner!’ Jesus will say, ‘Not any more.’ His work not only forgives us, but it sanctifies us.

IV. Jesus’ humility is manifested by obediently dying, by agreeing to die
Paul is saying that Jesus’ obedience involved His voluntarily giving up His own life. This is like nothing that we’ve ever seen in this world. We have seen brave people who were willing to rescue others at the cost of their own lives, but Paul is not just saying that Jesus voluntarily gave up His life in order that we might live, he is saying that Jesus voluntarily chose to give something that nobody could have taken away from Him.

Paul is elaborating on John 10:17-18, that Jesus, in dying for us, chose to give up something that no one could have taken from Him. He is the only man in the history of the world for which the phrase “chose to die” makes sense. All of us in this fallen world will die one day, unless the Lord Jesus comes back before. But Christ chose to die for us.

Paul puts these things before us in order to move us to have this same attitude of selfless love and serving humility which was in our matchless Savior, and which is ours by grace.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ Humanity of Christ: Phil 2.7-8 (Part II)

Yesterday, we began to lay out five ways Jesus manifests humility in His humanity and draw out ways for us to emulate that.

Today, I want to consider a fifth and final aspect of Christ’s humility in bearing humanity.

V. Jesus in His humanity lived as a servant.
Fifth, Jesus in His humanity lived as a servant. Think of Jesus in Matthew 14:13-21. His cousin, the one person in the world who understood Him, who He was, and what His mission was – John the Baptist – has just been beheaded. When His disciples came and told Jesus this, He was in the midst of five thousand hungry people. Yet, Jesus fed them all. If ever there was a time when Jesus could have said, ‘You know, I just need this time to myself right now,’ it was then, but He forgot himself, and He fed five thousand hungry people.

Or, do you remember in the upper room? The disciples on the way to the upper room had been arguing about…“Which one of us is the greatest.” And while they were still arguing. The greatest of them stripped down to His waist and started washing their feet, and He even washes Judas’ feet too. In the beginning of John 13, Jesus has already said that He knows who is going to betray Him. He’s already told the disciples that He knows who is going to betray Him, but He washes Judas’ feet. Calvin says of that passage that Jesus is once more opening the gate of repentance to Judas, but Judas will not heed his offer. It’s His humility opening the gate of repentance to His betrayer.

Or do you remember the way He encouraged the disciples that night? You know what He says to them in John 14:1, after the Lord’s table, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” In fact, the Gospels tell us that that night in the Garden of Gethsemane His heart was troubled, even as John tells us that when He came into the city of Jerusalem that week that His heart was deeply troubled; and yet He’s there in the upper room saying, ‘My dear disciples, I’m so concerned that you not be discouraged, because tomorrow’s going to be really hard for you….’ But He’s taken on this humble humanity and He’s taken on the form of a servant, His focus is always on His disciples, even when it could have rightly been on himself.

Or think of Him while He’s in the house of the high priest, being tried by a kangaroo court. His feckless disciple, Peter, is out in the courtyard denying Him three times – which he had emphatically told Him he would not do. And the third time that Peter denies Him, Luke tells us that at that very instance Jesus’ and Peter’s eyes met B.B. Warfield says about that moment:
“There He stood in the judgment hall of Annas, offering himself a victim for the saving of the whole world, and yet He had the time to turn a significant glance upon Peter as he stood denying Him before the courtyard fire, and thus saved His poor repentant follower in the saving of the world.”

Warfield is saying the difference between Peter and Judas was Jesus’ pastoral care in that one look. If ever a man had a right to be saying, ‘You know, I’ve got my own problems to deal with right now. I can’t think about my disciples,’ it was Jesus. But He’s thinking about the everlasting welfare of the eternal soul of His weak and unfaithful disciple Peter.

Or think of Him on the cross, he prayed for His murderers: “Father, forgive them.” Or speaking to that thief in Matthew 27 and Luke 23, when you look there, you’ll find out that both the thieves on the cross at the beginning of the day were mocking Jesus, but at the end of the day, one was not, but said to Him, ‘Please, Lord, remember me when You enter into Your kingdom.’ The Lord Jesus Christ, while bearing the sins of the world, turns to that man who had been mocking Him at the beginning of the day, and He says, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” And then a few moments later He will cry His cry of final anguish and death, but before that He’s looking down at His mother and His dearest friend, John, and He asks John to take care of His mother.

This serving, this servanthood, is not some blip on the screen. This is who Jesus is! And Paul’s saying to you, Christian, “Have this mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus.”

If you’re not trusting in Jesus Christ, trying to be like Christ is not the way for you to be saved. That is the way to be eternally frustrated. Instead, you come to Jesus, like you are, with nothing in your hand: no claims, no excuses, nothing to offer, and you say, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” And He will receive you.


Monday, May 09, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ Humanity of Christ: Phil 2.7-8

We said last week that Jesus’ self-emptying wasn’t Him laying aside His deity, but taking onto himself the fullness of our humanity. Moreover, He added to Himself the role, position, nature, and status of a servant—a human servant: He took on our flesh forever.

So When Paul says that the Messiah, Jesus, made himself nothing, he is summing up the whole of Jesus’ descent from the heights of glory to the lowest depths of degradation and deprivation and dereliction. But in this passage, especially in verses 7-8, when he says,
“He made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,”

Paul is drawing your attention to two things, both of which show Jesus’ humility: the servanthood of Jesus and the humanity of Jesus.

Paul wants us to look closely at the humanity of Jesus and learn about humility from Jesus’ humanity. In fact, he wants to point us to the humility of Jesus’ humanity; that is to say that when Jesus took on the fullness of our humanity, it entailed for Him a voluntary, vicarious humiliation; when He took on our humanity in this fallen world, He was willingly in our place bearing all manner of humiliation. And there too we see His humility, the humility that Paul wants us to emulate in the Christian life.

Over the next two days, we’ll look at five ways in which Jesus manifests His humility in His humanity and in His servanthood, as a way of encouraging us to emulate His humility.
I. Jesus’ human appearance and His public reputation were unremarkable.
Do you know how hard that must have been for the heavenly Father? The Father would have wanted the whole world to be attracted to His Son, to esteem His Son as His Son deserved, and yet Isaiah tells us 600 years before Jesus is born that “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” There was nothing about His visage, there was nothing about His outward appearance that caused men to be attracted to Him. He was common, easily overlooked and He never received the credit He deserved.

One of the ways that we manifest gospel humility is a willingness to serve without credit or applause. Christ lived His whole life, and He never ever once got all the credit that He deserved. Shouldn’t we be ready and willing to serve one another and all men without our first concern being getting the credit, getting the applause, getting the appreciation, getting the respect?
II. Secondly, Jesus’ humanity was completely perfect, but nevertheless He bore the consequences of sin the whole of His life for us.
Jesus is the only human being ever to keep the Law perfectly, and yet He lived from birth to death bearing the penalty and the consequences of a Law that He had never broken himself—for you, in your place. Do you even begin to imagine just the psychological effect of that? Have you ever had the privilege to walk with a friend in a season of life when that friend has been treated unfairly? And have you ever seen the oftentimes crippling effect of that on a person? That was Jesus’ constant experience when He embraced our humanity. Though He was perfect himself, though He himself was without sin, He lived in a world under its effects. He was not born into a world like Adam was born into. This is what Paul is saying in Galatians 4:4-5 when he says that He was “born under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law.” This is why Hebrews 5:8 says that “although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.”

Jesus never ever once got what He deserved in this life. And you and I never get what we deserve in this life. He never got what He deserved in this life, so that you would never get what you deserve in this life or in the life to come: condemnation.

One way we will manifest gospel humility if we understand that is shown in our response to and our attitude toward the hardest things that we have to deal with in this life.
III. Jesus willingly divested himself of His rightful and infinite riches and in His humanity dwells in modesty and poverty for us and for our salvation.
That’s why Paul said in II Corinthians 8:9,
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich.”

And at the very least, this calls for us to have a radically different view of wealth and possessions in our affluent and consumeristic, self-indulgent and narcissistic culture. Because one way that we will manifest gospel humility is that we will realize that whatever we have comes from God’s gracious hand, the gift of a gracious God. We should have a radically different view of wealth and possessions and money, and the way we use it will show it.
IV. Jesus’ humanity veiled His glory.
John 1 tells us that He was with God, and He was God, and He was in the beginning with God, and all things were made through Him, and in Him was life, and He was the true life of all mankind, and He shared in God’s glory – glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. But John also tells you: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, but the world did not know Him.”

It gets worse: He came to His own, and His own people didn’t receive Him. He was so consumed with the interest of God’s glory that He willingly forgot His own, and His glory was veiled. And that’s our pattern. One way we manifest gospel humility is showing a zeal for His glory, and not our own. If we get no glory, praise God! He didn’t get the glory that He deserved.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at one final application of Christ’s human humility.


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.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ The Ungrasped Equality of Christ: Phil 2.5-6

We are preparing to study the “song of Christ.” Monday, we reminded ourselves that the song is an illustration of Christ’s humiliation, in which Paul tells us that those who want the joy spoken of in verses 9-11 must embrace the way of Christ, even His humility and His humiliation. And then there is the motivation, and the motivation is seen in verses 9-11 in the exaltation of Christ, and the glory and the joy, and the love and the peace, and the contentment that are experienced by Him and by all who trust in Him.

Now Paul will move from the deity of Christ to Christ’s equality with God and the implications that has for us. There are four things in particular in this very short but powerful and important phrase.

I. Christ has always been and continues to be God.

Paul is telling you that Jesus is fully divine. What he is talking about in this passage is not His divesting himself of deity: He couldn’t do it if he wanted to. The Apostle Paul is stressing to us that Christ has always been and He continues to be God by His very nature. But in spite of that fact, and even because of that fact, for our salvation He does not insist upon the manifestation of the majesty of His deity.

II. Christ did not insist upon the manifestation of His majesty.

In expounding this passage, John Calvin liked to use the word veiling: that when Jesus took upon himself our poor flesh and our poor blood, He did not divest himself of deity, but He veiled His deity in the flesh, and we sing about that at Christmastime:

“Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;

Hail the incarnate deity;

Pleased as man with men to dwell,

Jesus, our Emanuel.”

It is not that He is any less God, yet the One who was very God was laid in a manger, and His divinity was veiled to our eyes. Even when He was on the cross, men looked up and what did they see? They saw a condemned criminal. They saw a lunatic. His glory was veiled. Only a few times in His earthly ministry did that glory shine forth, like at the Mount of Transfiguration when Moses and Elijah conversed with Him and something of His transfigured glory shined through; and Peter doesn’t want to leave, because he’s seen a glimpse of Christ as He is.

III. Christ did not claim His privileges and prerogatives.

Everything in this world belongs to God, He could have claimed everything for himself when He first appeared, because in fact we do belong to Him! Everything does belong to Him! He is Lord. He is our Maker. And yet when He came into this world, He did not claim His privileges and prerogatives. The way in which Jesus accomplished our salvation was not to stand on His privileges and prerogatives, but to give them away, to veil His majesty, to deny himself the rightful privileges and prerogatives that were His.

IV. Christ did not cling to His equality with God.

He did not claim His rights, but He poured himself out for others and He took upon himself the role of a slave. He voluntarily set aside His rights for the salvation of His people for their eternal well-being. Paul is saying ‘Christian, that is how you ought to live, in that kind of radical and self-giving in the context of the congregation.’

This kind of Christ-like, other-worldly, self-giving love is to be manifest in the body of believers tangibly as a witness to the grace work that God has done in the hearts of His people.

I hasten to say quickly that Paul is not telling you the way to be saved here. If the way to be saved is to give yourself away in Christ-like love to one another, we’re all going to hell. God is showing here what Christ did to save you. (And by the way, in the very showing of what Christ has done to save you, He’s showing you that you can’t save yourself.) Having been saved by trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, then Paul says ‘The way you know the joy of Christ in this fallen world is by following the way of Christ.’

So, what does this mean for us today?

Let’s look first at how this plays out in the Christian community. Though we want to be loved and we want to be understood, and we want to be comforted, and we want to be esteemed and thought highly of, and though we want to be ministered to – we will have as our mindset and attitude that says, ‘I am not here to be served, but to serve, because that was the way of my Master who saved me by grace.’ And though, yes, we do want to be loved and understood and comforted and esteemed, following Jesus means that we adopt His mind; and that our first order of business becomes not to be loved, but to love. You see how radical this is.

This is how the joy comes in! When you give yourself away, and you decide, ‘OK, life is not about me being served; life is about me giving myself away in service,’ what happens when the church collectively decides to do that?

What about the world? We are surrounded on all sides – religious and secular – by a self-centered culture. The world looks at both secular and religious manifestations of self-centeredness and says, ‘You know, they’re all just saying the same thing.’ But what if we were to say, ‘How could we stand aside from the claims to our rights and privileges and seek your well-being? To love you, to care for you?’ The world would have no answer for that. Because there is no answer to love. There’s no argument against love.

May God grant that we show to one another and to the watching world this kind of self-denying, self-giving love.


Monday, May 02, 2011

Gleanings in Philippians ~ The Divinity of Christ: Phil 2.5-6

Last week, we outlined this whole section that runs from Philippians 2:5-11. Today, we’ll look more closely at the first two verses of this “song of Christ” that deal with his divinity and our humility.

How do you go about counting others as more significant than yourself, when you don’t think they’re more significant than you?

Paul’s way to humility is not in your denying the native giftings and abilities and talents and capacities that you possess. Yes, of course we should always recognize that all those things come from God, but it is interesting that that is not the tack that Paul wants to take here in order to help us count others as more significant than ourselves. He takes a more radical tack. He asks us to consider who we are in light of who Christ is. That’s why this passage starts with a consideration of the divinity of Christ.

Humility consists in a right estimation of who we are. That begins with being disabused of a false high estimation of ourselves, but it is not corrected by having a low estimation of ourselves, but by seeing ourselves in light of God—His holiness, in light of our sinfulness, in light of Christ. We measure ourselves against the Lord Jesus Christ, and suddenly we realize that our task in humility cannot compare to His task in humility.

So often we look out when we are called to count others as more significant than ourselves, and we’re faced with the realization that we may know more than the person that we’re called to be humble before, or we may be more upstanding than the person that we’re called to show humility in the presence of; or, we may be more righteous than the person whom we have been called to count as more significant than ourselves. But when approach with that kind of attitude, we’re measuring ourselves against the weakness of our brother and sister, and we’re providing an argument as to why we don’t have to do what God has told us to do in His word. Paul starts responding to this saying, “Count others as more significant than yourselves” – and then: Consider…Christ. He’s smarter than you. He knows more than you. He works harder than you. He’s better than you. In fact, He is perfect in every way. And yet He has humbled himself for you.

You know, it is a humbling thing to realize that even if you stoop to serve, to humble yourself before, and to count as more significant than yourself someone who is far, far below you in some way, that you will never ever in this world or any other serve someone lower than yourself than Christ humbled himself in serving you.

And what does Paul say in verses 5-6? He says that Jesus is the very form of God. He is equal with God. And what is he saying when he’s saying that?

In the Old Testament, the people of God go way out of their way to make it clear that God does not have a body like man. He manifests Himself in the Old Testament in glory, the Shekinah glory cloud comes down upon the tabernacle, and then the temple; and God manifests the form of His glory, for in Ezekiel 1 and 2, a passage in which the glory of God is described and which was considered so holy that the rabbis suggested that no one be allowed to read it before they were thirty years old. And here is Paul saying, ‘Consider Jesus, because He is the glory; He is the very form of God; He is the Shekinah in the flesh; and He counted you as more significant than himself.’ And you will never ever be able to account someone as more significant than yourself who is comparatively lower in relation to you than you are in relation to Him, because He is God—in the flesh!

And so Paul bids you begin your journey of humility by looking to Jesus. That means two things.

First, we need to become zealous students of the Scripture, to span all of the pages, from Genesis to Revelation to learn of our Savior; to become students of our Savior; to know what He is like, to know what He does, to know His works, to know His will, to know His ways. Not so we’ll know more stuff than other people, but so that we will have a right estimation of ourselves in comparison to the glory that He is. Because until we see our greatness in light of His greatness, we will not see our smallness. And we will not be able to serve people that we think of as small, until our smallness has been humbled in the presence of His greatness. So we need to become students of Christ in His word, looking to know everything that we can possibly know about our Savior so that our mind would be conformed to His.

Second, this very exhortation shows you why you need the gospel. Because if Paul said this: “Be humble like Christ, and God will forgive and save you,” do you know where we would be going? Straight to hell. The glory of the gospel is that it says you are so focused on yourself, and you are so prideful that the only One in the universe who deserved to say “I stand on My rights, and on My merits and on My deserving,” abdicated all of that and humbled himself to save you from your pride. Because you couldn’t have done it!

You see, the gospel is God giving His Son, who has humbled himself in your place. And because He has done that, and because you have rested and trusted in Him alone for salvation, now here’s how you live life: Humble yourself like Jesus, so that His glory, the glory of His humility, is manifested in you. And the world can see that humility did not come from earth; it came from heavenly grace.