What he gave up

I think the greatest motivation for living how we ought to live is contained in these three verses.

Read them slowly, carefully, reflectively.

. . . Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).

They’re beautiful, aren’t they?

Scholars argue about the meaning of some of the words—a testimony to the depth of meaning present—but most agree that they form the lyrics of an early church hymn.

Picture a group of first-century Christians sitting on the floor of one of their homes in Philippi, singing a song about Jesus. I wish we knew the melody so we could sing it today.

The essence of the song is this: Jesus gave up something incredibly significant.

He was “in very nature God”—he didn’t give up his deity—but maybe he gave up the appearance of deity while he was a man.

“He emptied himself,” which probably just refers to the incarnation: the God of all creation became a human being.

But what kind of human being did he become? A king? A nobleman? A baron?

Instead, he was born in a barnyard in Bethlehem to poor parents and grew up to die the accursed death of crucifixion.

But why?

So you and I could be saved.

The last couple of days we’ve thought about biblical commands to put others before ourselves, to be less selfish, more compassionate.

We struggle with that, and we’ll probably continue to struggle as long as we’re in the flesh.

But in these verses Paul quotes a hymn that gives us the motivation we need.

If God himself could give up the glory of heaven and put my needs before his own, can’t I do the same with the people around me?

If he could draw me to himself even as I so often disappoint him . . . if he could be patient with my weaknesses and failures and foibles . . . if he could forgive me.

Then can’t I try to imitate him in his self-sacrifice and in some feeble way reflect him to the people around me?

That’s what Paul was singing about.

So let’s pray and sing about that today too.

Jesus emptied himself and became a slave so that we would have an example to follow.

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