Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
How should the Incarnation of Jesus impact our behavior in the Christian community? What does the fact that the divine Son became human tell us about how we should live? We find answers to these questions in what might be one of the very oldest Christians hymns, in Philippians 2:1-11.
For the most part, the Philippian church was a healthy one, a strong partner in Paul’s ministry. But some of their leaders were not getting along well (4:2-3). No doubt it was easy for others to get caught up in divisive and hurtful arguments. So in the first verses of Philippians 2, Paul calls his flock to get along with each other, loving one another and working together in the Gospel (2:2). He urges not to be “selfish,” but rather to be “humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (2:3). In sum, the Philippians “must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (2:5, literally, they are to have the thinking of Christ).
And how are we to know the attitude of Christ? Paul answers this question by including what most biblical scholars believe to be an early Christian hymn. Some think Paul wrote it. Others believe he borrowed a piece of early Christian worship. Either way, this hymn focuses on the self-giving sacrifice and humility of Christ. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appears in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (2:6-8). Christ was humbled twice: first, in becoming human, and then in crucifixion. Notice that this hymn begins by underscoring the humility of the Incarnation. For one who was fully God to become human was, indeed, a demonstration of stunning humility.
Thus, the Incarnation becomes a model for us. Even as Christ chose the way of humility, so should we. Even as he opted for the path of self-sacrifice, so should we in our relationships in the church. When we begin to think too much of ourselves, when we value our opinions so much that we don’t care what others think, we need to remember and model our lives upon the Incarnation. (Photo: A painting by Dirck van Baburen, “Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet,” c. 1616.)
Living Christmasly means letting the Incarnation of Christ teach us how to live together as the people of God. It means choosing the way of humility and servanthood, knowing that our imitation of Christ honors him even as it strengthens the church, which is the body of Christ.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When do you find it hard to follow the counsel of Philippians 2:1-5? Do you ever reflect on the Incarnation as a model and motivation for your behavior? In which relationships could you begin today to imitate the Incarnation of Christ?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, how we honor you today for your willingness to become human. You chose to give up your divine privileges for a season, becoming a human being. Your humility, dear Lord, paved the way for our salvation. All praise be to you!
And it also teaches us how to live today. It’s not easy to imitate you, Lord. We would much rather be people of importance. None of us naturally aspires to servanthood. Yet this is our calling and privilege in imitation of you.
May your Incarnation continue to be a model for me. As I reflect on your self-giving humility, may I choose to be like you. Help me, Lord, by your Spirit, to count others as better than myself, to serve them even and especially when I am their leader. May I be more and more like Jesus each and every day. Amen.
Today’s post is one of the Daily Reflections that I write for The High Calling of Our Daily Work (www.thehighcalling.org), a wonderful website about work and God. You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace.