"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Becoming Nothing

As far back as I can remember, parents and mentors have encouraged me to "make something of myself." It is one of those things people say without thinking through the implications.  Of course, the well-intended statement was supposed to challenge me to set some goals and achieve them. In so doing, it was implied, I would become "something" as opposed to "nothing." We all do it. I frequently ask kids questions like, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" How would we react if the person we are asking said, "Thanks for asking. When I grow up, I want to become nothing."

Having just exhorted us to have the same attitude as Christ, who was God in his nature, Paul elaborates on the attitude we are to imitate. In spite of his Godhood, Jesus made himself "nothing." Of course, this is meant to point to the status of God-Creator in comparison with man-servant-human. Jesus willingly stepped down from the throne of heaven to become a man, a servant in the likeness of a human being:

"Who (Jesus), being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Philippians 2:6-7

Interestingly, Paul repeats the phrase "very nature" to reflect the contrast of Jesus Christ being in very nature God...taking the very nature of a servant. This theological phenomenon is known as the kenosis of Christ, using the Greek word here translated "made himself nothing" and meaning, literally, to empty oneself. Like many other theological ideas, there are more questions than answers here about exactly what that might mean. Was Jesus then, as a human, only human? When he forgave sin and commanded the wind and waves, was he doing so as a man, as God, or as God-man? Interesting as these questions are, to follow their threads too far is to stray from the meaning and implications of what Paul is teaching us.

Apparently the Philippians, like the rest of us, were aware of status and social-climbing (or the religious version of it) and needed to be reminded to follow the example of Christ who slept in the fields, washed the disciple's feet, and obeyed the will of God the Father--all the way to the cross. In our very nature, we compare ourselves to others and compete to come out on top. We are driven to "make something of ourselves." We are saved by grace, adopted children of the King, indwelt by the very Spirit of God, yet we live as those who have something to prove, something to earn.

What if we took Paul's admonition to heart and imitated the attitude of Christ by "becoming nothing?" We all have a part in the Kingdom; each person has a role. It is people who assign more prestige to some parts than others. Apart from Christ, we are indeed nothing. United to Christ we can bear abnndant fruit, not because we are something, but because we branches are grafted into the Vine, Christ. What if we viewed the exercise of our gifts, whatever they are, as acts of a servant--a servant of the King and a servant of others for the sake of the Kingdom? There would certainly be less room for prideful or envious comparisons. Guess what, I am nothing, and so are you. Rather than competing to be gods (little "g") lets embrace our nothingness together, and be found in our very nature servants. It's what pleases the King and, ironically, it is in becoming nothing that we find our identity and our home in Him.

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