What We Believe: Foundations
Philippians 2: 1–11
We’re going to look at a fundamental belief of the Christian faith, a doctrine, called the doctrine of the incarnation.
It’s a belief that’s unique to the Christian faith, that the eternal, infinite God became a human being in Jesus Christ, a physical, limited, vulnerable, mortal being in history.
The implications of this doctrine are vast and many, but what I love about this particular place in Philippians, chapter 2, which in some ways is maybe the classic statement of this high doctrine … It’s just astounding.
It’s a high philosophical principal doctrine.
Yet what Paul is doing is he’s not getting it out just to teach it. He’s getting it out because of a problem in the church. He says,
“1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind..”
What he’s saying is, “I want unity here,” and the reason he’s saying,
As you go on in the rest of Philippians, you’ll see that there were divisions in the church, that there were some key figures who were pushing on each other. There was conflict. In other words, they were fighting. What’s great here … ““1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit …” Those are powerful things.
Paul doesn’t expound on what they are, and I’m not either, but those are powerful things, and yet they’re not enough to keep them from fighting. He says, “Even though you have all these things, you’re still fighting. You have all these things, so keep these things in mind, and stop fighting.” That’s what he’s saying.
There’s something in the human heart so strongly inclining us to fighting that even these powerful bonds that should be pulling us together aren’t enough to stop us fighting.
Common faith and common blood are maybe the two strongest bonds that can hold people together.
Common blood. You’re in the same family.
Common faith. We’re in the same church.
There is fighting in families. There is some deadly fighting in families. There is fighting in the church. In other words, there’s something in our hearts that inclines us to fighting that even the strongest resources toward unity are not enough to stop the fighting.
What Paul does is he takes this basic practical human problem, the problem of fighting, and he brings to bear on it the doctrine of the incarnation.
He’s not doing a little psychological move here.
He’s saying, “You need to understand the incarnation.”
He’s solving the problem with the incarnation. That’s amazing.
So let’s see how he does it this way. If you just take a look at these few verses, you’re going to see, first of all,
he describes the heart that fights, and then
he describes the heart that makes peace, and then
he shows us how to get that kind of peaceful heart.
The heart that fights.
He says, “I want you to be one in spirit and one mind,” and then it says, “3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
First of all, what is the cause of the fighting? Vain conceit (NIV). Vain conceit is an English translation of a particular Greek word. It’s one word. The Greek word is kenodoxia, and it literally means … Kenos means to empty. Doxa is glory. It means to be glory empty. What does it mean to be glory empty? Among other things,
It means to be starved for validation and approval.
It means to be not assured of your significance and value.
It means to be starving for respect and honor.
It means to be cosmically insecure.
It means to feel like, “I don’t matter, and I don’t count.”
The Bible actually says this is the case of all human beings. Paul is pointing out that this is the reason you fight. It’s because of this. “Have unity rather than have this, because this is what causes the disunity.”
If that’s the case (and it is) that this is a natural human condition … There’s a kind of vacuum in us, and we feel like we don’t have respect, we don’t have honor. We need to go get it. We’re not “sure of our own significance, our own value. We’re not sure of our own worth. We have to go get it. That leads, according to this, to fighting.
Now if that’s true, that explains a lot of things. First of all, it explains our culture of success.
Harriet Rubin some years ago wrote a great article in Fast Company called “Success Excess.” In it she basically says, “We believe that success and its cousin money will make us secure, important, and happy, but it’s time to tell the truth about the high numbers of people who have used all their means to achieve money, power, and glory and then self-destruct.”
Then she says, “Maybe it’s because when they got to the place, they didn’t like what they saw.” She says success is our way of dealing with the glory hunger, but then, in the end, it doesn’t satisfy. It doesn’t give us the glory we want. Later on in the article (to me the greatest thing about the article) she interviews a counselor, and the counselor says that success for us today in our contemporary culture is the new drug. It’s the new alcohol.
She says now think about a drug addict for a minute. The first time that drug addict has that first high, the drug addict is trapped, because from then on, they’re going to need more and more and more of the substance to get to the same high. As time goes on, she says, you actually end up having to use more and more of the substance, and yet you get diminishing returns. That is, you have less and less pleasure from it until, finally, you get to the place where you’re driven to destructive levels of use, all the while experiencing increasing emptiness inside.
She says that’s exactly how success works. In the very beginning, success, money, the first big paycheck, whatever … It’s a high. “I want to get even more success.” But as time goes on, she says, it takes more and more success to get that high, and then you can’t get it back anymore, and you’re working yourself to death and getting less and less satisfaction and empty.
If it’s true that we’re all glory starved, that would explain the culture of success.
Example of my parenting: As I punished the child for the misbehavior, it didn’t seem to stop the misbehavior. In fact, the punishment almost seemed to increase the misbehavior … until you talk to a parent who knows something about child-rearing or a psychologist or something. They say, “Here’s the thing. The one thing human beings want more than anything else, including children, is attention, and even anger is better than being ignored.”
We need that attention. Why? We’re starved for attention.
C.S. Lewis says because of the nature of human beings, here’s what hell really would be. Fire isn’t the worst thing that could be imagined for human beings. Here’s hell. Hell is being eternally and utterly ignored.
The Bible has the right answer for why we are glory starved. It’s because we were made for God. We’ve turned away from God, and because we’ve turned away from God, there is an infinite-size vacuum in us
that was meant to be filled with the smile of the infinite God.
It was meant to be filled with the delight of the majestic and eternal God.
It was meant to be filled with his love.
If you turn away from God, if he’s not the center of your life and the source of all of your joy, you have this infinite-size vacuum in your soul, and you’re doing everything you can to fill it with other people’s approval and awards and maybe money and whatever.
It will never be full with that, so you’re always cosmically insecure, and you’re always touchy and irritable, and you feel like you’re not getting what you deserve, so we fight. That’s the heart that fights. Glory starved.
2. The heart that makes peace.
He says, “Don’t be glory starved.” “3 but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. ” On the one hand, the word humility … If you just look at the Greek word, it’s a simple word that means gentle and modest, but what is humility as Paul is talking about?
Well, first of all, it is counter to glory starved. “Don’t be “glory starved, but rather be humble.”
What that must mean is whatever humility is it means some kind of inner fullness.
If what makes you fight is an inner emptiness that you’re trying to fill with people’s approval, then humility must mean inner fullness.
That’s the reason it says, “3 but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Humility (and pride) is being defined and determined by what you habitually look at. If you’re empty, you habitually look at yourself. You’re always saying, “Am I getting mine? How am I doing? How do I look?” You’re focused on yourself. That’s what you’re habitually looking at if you’re empty.
If you’re full, you have the bandwidth to look away. You have the ability to look at other people. You’re not always thinking about yourself or caring about yourself, because there’s a fullness there.
For Example: Only when you’re hungry do you think about food. When you’re completely filled up, you can walk right by all that great stuff. If you’re hungry, it’s very hard to walk through the streets of Imphal. You all know that. If you’re full, you can get right to your destination. No distraction.
If you are full, you’re not thinking about yourself all the time. That’s the reason why that very, very famous place in C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, his very famous chapter called “The Great Sin …” It’s about pride. That’s where he says, Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” You don’t think about yourself. Why? Because you’re full.
It’s the reason why you walk down the street, and even though you might smell this or that, you’re on your way, because you’re full. You don’t care about everything else on the street. You don’t see all the stores. You don’t go buy from all the vendors. You just run by them. Why? Because you’re full. You’re not distracted. Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s not thinking that much of yourself, not thinking about yourself. Not thinking “I’m this” or “I’m that.” Just not worrying so much about it.
3. How to get a peaceful heart.
So how do you get a heart like that? How do you get a heart that full? How do you get this kind of spiritual humility? How do you get the heart that makes peace instead of always fighting?
The answer is the doctrine of the incarnation. I love this about Paul. I love this about the Bible. The answer is not a little psychological move on yourself. Oh no. You need doctrine. You need biblical doctrine.
What he’s really saying is you need to believe, you need to rejoice in, and you need to constantly remind yourself of everything that happens in verses 6–11. That’s why he says, “5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,…” What is that mind? This is the story, from verses 6–11 (it’s like a hymn, by the way), of everything Jesus Christ did. This is his career. It’s a trajectory. It’s where he was, where he went, and where he is now.
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Where he was?
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
He was in nature God. He had the being of God.
He had the same being, and he was equal, it says.
He didn’t hold onto his equality, but he had equality.
There was absolutely nothing illegitimate about it, but he didn’t hold onto it.
He was equal with the Father, equal in power, equal in omnipotence, equal in omniscience.
He was equal being with the Father.
So he had the nature of God, but then it says, in verse 7,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
He made himself nothing and took on another nature by taking the nature of not just a human being who was an aristocrat but a human being who was a servant. That is, not a wealthy, powerful human being but one who was simple, one who was actually poor, one who was very vulnerable and who didn’t just come down and become an ordinary human being and lose his glory in that way, but he went to the cross.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
As a result, God has highly exalted him to the highest place and given him the name which is above every name. He was this high and he came this low, and yet in some ways, because of what he did, if anything, he has more honor and more glory than he had before.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
That is the story of the incarnation. Here is what Paul is saying. You have to use that on ourself. How do you do that?
The key word is verse 7. He just said, “You’re empty of glory. That’s your problem. You’re glory starved.” Then in verse 7 it says … The English is “He made himself nothing,” but literally it says, “He emptied himself.” It’s the same word, kenosis.
Here’s what Paul is saying. You and I are killing each other and killing ourselves, desperately trying to fill ourselves with glory.
We feel empty and we’re filling ourselves with glory, but Jesus Christ was full and he voluntarily emptied himself of glory.
Do you know what kind of glory Jesus had? Do you know what kind of beauty Jesus had? The answer, by the way, is “No, you don’t.” I don’t either, but I can tell you this.
He was “beautiful beyond bearing.
He was glorious beyond our comprehension.
He was full, and he emptied himself.
We’re empty trying to fill ourselves. He was full and emptied himself voluntarily. He didn’t just come down and become an ordinary human being. Isaiah 53 says that. “He had no beauty or majesty that we should desire him.” He wasn’t an attractive human being. He lost all of his glory, but it wasn’t just that. He went to the cross, and on the cross, what did he say? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Do you know what’s happening there? He’s being eternally and utterly ignored. He’s being cut off. Jesus Christ is embracing our worst nightmare. What is that? To be eternally and utterly ignored. What is he doing on the cross? He’s taking what we deserve. We have turned away from God. What do we deserve? For God to turn away from us.
The Bible says God puts your sin on him, treats Jesus as you deserve, and God gives you his righteousness, meaning he treats you as he deserved.
It says in 1 Peter we are his treasured possession. That means now God looks at you and says, “In Jesus Christ, I find you more precious and beautiful than all the jewels that lie beneath the earth.” Take that into your heart, and that fills it. That’s what happened outside you. Do you believe it? Do you accept that? Do you embrace it by faith?
Our Father, thank you for showing us the solution to our problems. This is high doctrine. We thank you, Lord, that your Son Jesus Christ had this mindset. Now give us the same mindset. Give us the same frame of mind. Most of all, help us to rejoice in what your Son did for us until that painful self-awareness goes away, until we’re full.
Lord, we thank you that your Son emptied himself that we could be filled. Now make us people who understand this, and help us to eat the fruit of this wonderful doctrine through the power of your Spirit. We pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.”