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He Emptied Himself PDF Print E-mail

*This paper in .doc format may be found here.
*An audio sermon of this teaching available here.

He Emptied Himself

By Joshua Nielsen

The precious gift from our King and Savior Jesus Christ was not just an inheritance, an eternal habitation, and a place in the kingdom of God but exceeding and upholding all such promises and realities is the fact that Christ gave himself for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8, 15). This gift called for the most extreme of sacrifices, borne out of a faithful obedience unto death, for the sake of Jesus fulfilling his Father’s will that he should die for the sins of the world. Because of Christ’s perfect obedience the Father raised him up and seated him at his right hand that he may receive all honor and glory, and that in the end all enemies shall be placed under his feet and that he shall have everlasting dominion in heaven and earth. Yet what a wondrous and mysterious way God chose for Jesus to be glorified above all. We are told of him, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him(Hebrews 5:8-9). Christ suffered according to the will of his Father that through his perfect obedience he might become the author of our salvation. This Christ we are told is, “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God(Hebrews 12:2). Though he was shamed and put through the agony of the cross, for the joy and hope set before him, he endured it all and has been glorified.
        Like Christ we are called to follow in his footsteps and suffer shame for his name on earth, yet though we be reviled for Christ’s sake great will our reward be in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12). We too are comforted and given strength to endure by the hope that is ever set before us, but we cannot escape the sacrifice demanded of us to deny ourselves and take up the cross of Christ. This does not mean we live a life of misery but rather that at all possible opportunities we would give of ourselves for Christ’s sake. If it be giving to the poor, then in finances. If it be in training and correction, may it be in humbleness. If it be in empathizing with someone’s circumstances, may it be in our emotions. If it be becoming an object of scorn for Christ’s sake, may it be in our reputation among men (knowing that our reputation before God is blameless). Yet in the midst of this giving which is required of us, Christ, by his Spirit, has given to us all riches in grace and power to be able stewards of the new covenant and of the gospel (2 Corinthians 3:5-6; Ephesians 3:16). Christ in fact gave all that we might have such riches in God as it says in the Scripture, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich(2 Corinthians 8:9). Let us then follow in Christ’s footsteps, walking by faith and trusting in his provision, while being faithful to present ourselves as a living sacrifice which is holy and acceptable to God in all our conduct (Romans 12:1)
        Such a foundation of the truths of suffering and endurance for the sake of, and by the power of, Christ is indeed rich and expansive. So great in fact that these but few words could not capture it all, yet I have set out to take this basic understanding of that foundation and apply it to how we can - in the present world - practically walk in such a manner that gives of ourselves and fulfills the law of Christ. Paul in his letter to the Galatians tells us to, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Christ also tells us what the two greatest commandments are: to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the whole purpose for which Christ would have us base our lives upon, and even to suffer for, in that we honor God and demonstrate good works among men for the glory of the Father and the salvation of those who see and hear. We should reach out so that not one soul be lost, not one dejected soul left uncomforted, that we pray for the broken hearted, weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12). It is okay to weep and grieve for the sake of others who are suffering if we lay it down at the feet of our merciful Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is not despair but hope and power and glory and who desires to be gracious to you and show you compassion (Isaiah 30:18). Intercede in the name of Christ for others and give thanks for his provisions for this is God’s will for us on earth in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). Cast your burdens upon the Lord for he cares for you.
        Now, it is clear from John’s epistles that loving God and our brothers and sisters in Christ go hand in hand. Love however is not just a feeling but also takes action, and what is in our heart will work itself outward. In a sense love is not something that you alone do as if it were a meritorious work that we are always prepared and able to perform, because our heart must first be right before God and is the precedent to working out good works. If we have unrepented sin in our life then our heart in some measure may be handicapped to working out good works toward others, but a heart in which Christ reigns and the Holy Spirit has filled the compelling drive to love and do good works will flow not solely from ourselves but preeminently as Christ through us to other people. Thus we are told in 1 Peter 3:15 sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts”, and then Peter tells us why: “always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence”. In this context Peter is especially speaking about witnessing to others about our faith, and indeed sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts will amply supply us with the ability through God’s grace to do that, but also sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts will allow us to readily bear good fruit and do good deeds of love toward others. And even in witnessing to others love is not absent for it says “yet with gentleness and reverence,” both of which are virtues of love. 
        What then are some of the practical examples given to us in Scripture for how we should love others? If we are to follow in the example of Christ we must be ready to give of ourselves to others when in need. While this giving is not necessarily always material in nature it certainly extends to that, and the Bible has much to say on the subject of how to be good stewards of our material possessions and about giving. I will summarize the primary ways in which we can give of ourselves by dividing it into three different though related categories: (1) monetary/material support, (2) emotional support, and (3) spiritual support. These will be explained below. 
        The first thing we should realize is that God created humans to be in relationship with each other, not to be in isolation, and so there is need for someone to come along side us in life to help. Here we see the principle from Proverbs, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another(Proverbs 27:17). Our kindness and assistance to people close to us and especially to strangers fulfills God’s will for us on earth, while always pointing to Christ as the source of our sufficiency and ability to press on. The word translated ‘hospitality’ in the New Testament is the Greek word philoxenos (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; 1 Peter 4:9), which literally means “love of strangers,” which is the heart of hospitality: showing kindness to someone you do not know.
        In terms of material possessions we are always encouraged in the Bible to give to the needy what they lack materially so that they may be supplied with what they need to live. James stated this rather plainly in a rhetorical question when he asked, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?(James 2:15-16). The answer is it is no use at all! Some things are beyond our capability to change in terms of someone’s material livelihood, and we (for example) are not responsible for trying to pay anyone else’s debt, but if we sense a need and it is in our means to give to go toward a good cause how can we say that we truly have cared and loved someone if we do not give? I will gladly give when I am able to help someone in a tough financial or material situation, both when I am asked and even when I am not asked and feel compelled to give anyway. If my act of compassion can cause someone to cry thankful tears of joy in the knowledge that I gave out of the overflowing of the love of Christ in me and glorifies God because of it then I have given and received a priceless treasure which will be everlasting. 
        We are even told by Jesus to gain friends for ourselves by using our money, which will not ultimately last, and form the bonds of friendship - not by some sort of bribery but by genuine love and concern for others which compels us to give. Jesus said in Luke 16:9,And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings”, the mammon of unrighteousness being the financial possessions of this world. When we do so our reward will be eternal. How far would you go to win someone over to the love of Christ in the giving of your material possessions? Sow with what is temporary (material possessions) so that you may reap what is eternal, and in so doing bring along those to whom you sowed with you in the pursuit of God.
        Material possessions alone however cannot console or help the most desperate soul, for all things ultimately come from God who is the giver of all things and can supply them to the soul who is in need, but there is a deeper need for companionship with God and men on both an emotional (mental) and spiritual level. Emotions are given to us by God as natural responses to situations which we experience, but only with a proper hope in God can our emotions be in balance with God’s will for us and His desire to bless us. For those in despair and depression being apart from God and not knowing of His ever-present help in time of need is the worst possible place to be, where they are vulnerable and subject to deceptive outlooks on life and where the enemy loves to attack. If you by the sincere and pure love of Christ can sympathize or empathize with another person’s emotions and responses in their circumstance and point a person to God as provider in all circumstances, then you too can bring someone to Christ so that they may cast their burdens upon Him. Whether a believer or unbeliever, pointing them to Christ may bring salvation and change in their present circumstance because coming to Christ is a necessity in all circumstances. 
        James tells us that the pure religion of God is to “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world(James 1:27). Visiting and coming along side someone in a difficult circumstance to encourage them may be in itself a major blessing to them. With believers especially, Satan loves to beat up on those who become isolated and in fact drives for that isolation to occur so that there can be no communion with other believers or God and they become discouraged and disillusioned. Merely stopping by to see someone when they are going through a trying time may be a godsend to encourage them and let them know you care. That is the pure religion of God: not performing rituals or memorizing ethical commandments, but showing love toward others. 
        Scripture tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15)
. For those who are sad and who weep, do not turn a cold shoulder to their circumstance and rather weep with them while encouraging them in the Lord. We can be assured that Paul himself must have done this uncountable times, since his passion was to be all things to all people in order to draw them to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20) and we know that he endured many hardships and cared deeply for the people which he evangelized to. Paul was not ashamed to weep when it was appropriate and an understandable response to circumstances. But also we are told to “rejoice with those who rejoice,” and when God blesses in a circumstance we should be quick to give thanksgiving not only when we are blessed but when others are blessed as well. We should be encouragers in all circumstances though, keeping our eyes steadfast on Christ and drawing others to do so as well.
        Lastly, we should also give of ourselves to others through spiritual support, especially praying for them and interceding on their behalf and watching out for their spiritual welfare. Jesus ultimately is the author and finisher of our salvation, and a man cannot save another or even himself apart from Christ, but we can be ambassadors for Christ as Paul said, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God(2 Corinthians 5:20). We can act on Christ’s behalf to reconcile men to God and to save souls through our testimony and sharing the gospel. James tells us this, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins(James 5:19-20). James says we need to know this, because this is important! What could be more precious and priceless than saving a soul from destruction and turning someone to the one true source of life-everlasting: Jesus Christ? This is something that giving of our material possessions cannot buy and is ultimately only something God can do, but would it not be worth it even if it is difficult and requires our time and even our emotional and material support to take the opportunity to show to someone the truth that could save their soul? Perhaps it is slow, starting off with you first showing a benevolent spirit toward others that then develops trust between you and someone else which may then one day hopefully open up the opportunity to tell someone truth in God’s Word that could save their soul. 
        Both Moses and Paul were so adamant about the salvation of Israel, in particular, that they expressed willingness to be cut off from among their people and the promised inheritance given them that they might be saved. Moses pleaded with God at mount Sinai, “But now, please forgive their sin--but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written(Exodus 32:32), and Paul said speaking of Israel, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh(Romans 9:3). So concerned were they for others’ welfare they would almost give their lives to see them be saved. Do we have the same driving passion and compelling love for others? Paul said that he and his fellow evangelists would gladly be beside themselves and appear crazy even for others’ sake. Why? Paul answers: “for the love of Christ compels us(2 Corinthians 5:1). The love of Christ should drive and compel us to look out for others’ spiritual wellbeing. 
        Let us then visit one more time what all of this is rooted in and how we can be made able and have sufficiency to accomplish these things. The power of the love of Christ, made real in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit, is rooted in Christ’s indisputable defeat of sin, death, and the grave and his incomparable sacrifice which he made to accomplish it. Because Christ humbled and emptied himself in obedience to the Father so should we empty ourselves as well. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men(Philippians 2:5-7). Paul bases a practical call to action to “have this attitude in yourselves” on Christ’s humility, obedience, and emptying himself. Paul in the same letter portrayed himself as being poured out and emptied in his ministering to those believers, saying “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all(Philippians 2:17). And yet even though Paul and Moses were willing it seems to be cut off from their people so that they may be saved, it was truly Christ who was cut off for all men’s sake (Daniel 9:26). And it was done out of God’s love for us while we were still yet sinners and very much undeserving of God’s grace. Because of that sacrifice and that love, we too should sacrifice and love in order that we may fulfill the commandment love God and love our neighbors as ourself to bring them to God. In the end God himself is love and the source of true love (in Greek: agape). He has bestowed His love upon us by forgiving us and now has also put His love in us that others may be saved and that He ultimately may be glorified.
        I will close with these wonderful words of truth about the true love from God which is now in those who believe:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)




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