When Christ Emptied Himself

What did it mean for Jesus to “empty” Himself in order to become human (Phil.2)? I don’t want to enter the theological debates about what could or could not be true of the God-Man. I just want to know why it matters.

If “emptying” simply means that He humbled himself, I think we miss what Paul is trying to convey here. More likely, the humility was an aspect of whatever else He was doing, not the sum total of His action. Humility is not a form of humiliation, it is simply acknowledging our smallness. Being human is a lot smaller than being Spirit. So to become a person would necessarily be humbling. But Jesus’ primary aim in that act was not to humble Himself, it was to become human. Humility came with it, and did not stop Him from doing it. In the spirit of Paul’s context, Jesus’ incarnation then presents an example for us, not to let the smallness of an act keep us from doing something good. We do not need to be lauded for our generosity or sacrifices.

Clearly, He must have laid aside some of His godly attributes, such as the ability to be everywhere at once. But an even more intriguing element of Jesus emptying Himself comes to light when we ask, “What did He have left after He had emptied Himself?

Above all, He still had His relationship with His Father! In fact, that might be virtually all He had left. Yet it was enough to change the world! And I think this is one of the most important truths we can take away from this passage. Our relationship with God is paramount. As Paul goes on to say in the next chapter, “Knowing Christ” was the most important thing He could possibly pursue. Anything else was a distant second. I think He got this right. When we learn how to build a relationship with God that we actually experience, when we can hear Him speak into our life, when we discover His healing presence and become changed because of His love, then we can honestly say with Paul, that emptying ourselves of our self and drinking in the life of Christ is the most wonderful exchange we could imagine. If that is humility, then I’m in!

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