‘He emptied Himself…
Philippians 2:5-11 [Part 4]
‘Greed is good,’ proclaimed Gordon Gekko, the rapacious financier in the 1987 film Wall Street. Indeed, we oftentimes can be tempted to think that grasping, self-serving exploitation is a fundamental human trait. The response of so many to recent traumatic events, however, show that those committed to the unselfish motives of compassion and brotherhood are also alive and well.
Such people are akin to Christ Himself, as St. Paul tells us in the hymn in Philippians.
Who, though He was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied Himself
To understand the glorious extent of the work of Christ for our sake and our salvation, we must first note the phrase ‘He emptied Himself.’ The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:16). This was a voluntary act of sacrificial love, an act of condescension by which Christ eclipsed His own entitlement of glory as the divine image or icon of God.
There are several important aspects to this act, the hymn tells us, each with an important lesson we do well to heed. To begin with, we find Christ
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness
Taking the latter verse first, ‘born in human likeness,’ as we saw in our last discussion, means that Christ became the New Adam, teaching us to replace our pride andgrasping with a spirit of humility and obedience. More than that, unlike our first parent, a ‘man of dust,’ Christ bore our image and likeness so that we could be empowered to bear His as the ‘man from heaven’ in whom the ikon of true humanity can be seen.
Beyond that, His manhood was manifested in the form of a slave, to show us that real leadership is expressed in service to others.
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
‘Taking the form of a slave,’ moreover, does not simply demonstrate a life of service. Christ’s humanity in the form of a slave indicates His willingness to share in our sense of oppression in the face of human sin, injustice, violence, and death. The poet A.E. Houseman describes our sense of spiritual alienation in a fallen world this way:
I, a stranger and afraid,
In a world I never made
The Creator of the world undertakes to share in the sufferings of His creation. As we consider His descent from His pre-existent glory to our fallen state, we must remember that He came not simply to share in it, but to redeem it. We will consider this next time.