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.
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.
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.