the power of poetry and song (the Christ-kenosis/self-emptying hymn)

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

In Jeff Manion’s message to us this past weekend in the series “Choosing Joy Under Pressure,” through the book of Philippians, entitled “The Servant Mindset,” he touched on the power of song. Yes, most Bible scholars believe this was a hymn which Paul included in this letter. And that we do well to play that song again and again in our heads until it becomes the theme to which we live.

Notice that although it’s about Jesus, it is to be applied by us who are in Jesus in our individual lives, and in the context of the letter, especially in our relationships with each other. We are to take on ourselves the same humility and servant mindset that Jesus took on himself.

This doesn’t mean trying to perform great heroics. Of course what Jesus did in the eyes of the world was exactly the reverse of that. There was nothing more humbling than a cross, probably not much higher from ground level than one would stand, likely hung naked, and just outside the city where the populace could walk by, say anything they wanted to say, and spit in one’s face.

Jesus’s attitude was one of humility, service, and obedience. It ended up being great since he stooped to the greatest depths possible: God becoming human, and then subjecting himself as a man to the death of the cross, all out of love, as a servant. And for our salvation, but in this context specifically as the example we’re to follow. And therefore God raised Jesus to the highest heights, giving him the name above every name, so that all might bow the knee to him.

We do well to read both what precedes this poem, and what follows, the context, because this poem is followed by a “therefore” as well as the call to value others above ourselves.

But again, this needs to be the kind of song playing in our heads. Which acclimates us over time to grow in the depths of the life we’re to live in Jesus. Toward each other, and toward the world. In and through Jesus.

Jesus: God’s answer to our questions, and to the questions we need to ask

It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
    you crowned them with glory and honor
    and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 2

During Advent and Christmas time we celebrate the birth of Jesus which we believe is no less than God becoming human in the Person of the Son, Christ. And when we say human, we mean human. Not merely the appearance of human, but human through and through. A mystery how God could become human, because in that humanity, Godness is not diminished, Jesus having the fullness of Deity in his humanity, being the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of his being (Colossians and Hebrews).

We wonder just what significance humanity has, particularly when it seems that not only have we made a mess of things, but are all too often at each others’ throats. But that is part of the Christmas story, as well. Christ came to be fully human in signficant part to make purification for sin by the once for all sacrifice of himself, as he experienced death for us all.

I like the big questions, which can leave one puzzled and bewildered, the echoes of such we find in Bible books like Isaiah and Job. The universe (or universes, “worlds”) is so immense and so much beyond human compehension. There is so much to learn, and the more we learn, the more in wonder we are. Whatever else God is doing in the universe, in creation (“the secret things belong to God”- Deuteromomy 29), God has left the stamp of his love, even of his very nature- in Jesus, who is God with us. And through whom we can begin to share in that nature (2 Peter 1).

The marvel of it all is that we as humankind not only matter, but matter greatly to God. So much so that God, while not changing in Godness and essence of Deity, yet took upon God’s Self our humanity, even our broken humanity. So that we can be made whole and completely human as God intended in our creation. And so we can share in the very Life of God. Which begins even in this life. In the humility of all we are as humans, and all we go through. God is present with us in Jesus. Which began in that stable (or cave) in a feeding trough so many years ago.

what does God’s grace look like in our lives?

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2

When we think of God’s grace, we often think of experience, and to some extent rightly so, because even in the midst of suffering, God’s love is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:1-5). The peace with God through being justified, mentioned in this passage surely opens us up to the peace of God which surpasses, or transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).

Above anything else, God’s grace in Jesus for believers, enables us to live the new life in which we’re forgiven and cleansed from our former sins, with ongoing cleansing as we walk in the light, and regularly confess our sins. God’s grace in Jesus puts those who have faith in a new sphere. So that no matter what we’re going through, we approach life differently than before, with a new focus which puts everything else in a different perspective, of course on the one Lord through the Father by the Spirit.

God’s grace is at work in our lives, in and through Jesus, no matter what we’re going through. During hard, difficult times, it may seem to be lacking, and even absent, as a buoyancy is replaced with a heaviness, a rest with an unsettledness. There are those times of deepest darkness (Psalm 23), called “the dark night of the soul.” They are not easy to live in, much less maneuver through. Like Paul, whose experience is surely the extreme example of this, we may want to bail out, at least ask the Lord to remove it, as Paul did. It is interesting the prominent place God’s grace plays in that passage:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12

This is surely a passage to meditate on, in this regard. For me, being weighed down into depths of trouble seems to have been more or less the norm, particularly in earlier years as a Christian, but recently again. Those are not easy places to live, because it seems like the cushion to the heart is withdrawn, so that one is more sensitive to pain and trouble. But that’s where the different, perhaps revised understanding of God’s grace at work in our lives can make the difference, in this case the Lord’s grace being sufficient, since his strength is made perfect in our weakness.

God’s grace at work in our lives, is certainly about growing in holiness, in Christ-likeness, and in being zealous to do good works, as the Titus passage quoted above, tells us. It enables us to continue on, no matter what, giving us the help we need through the Spirit. Above all, it animates us to carry on in love. It is not about experience, but about living in love, doing good works out of love, acting and refusing to act and react, out of love.

It’s a new orientation, not welcomed by me. I would rather relatively feel good most of the time. I need to learn to live better in this new place, I suppose. Learning better the new way of living out God’s grace, even as I look forward to the day when every burden will be lifted, and the stress will be gone.

overrealized and underrealized eschatology

Gordon Fee in perhaps his magnum opus, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, criticizes his tradition, Pentecostalism for falling into the same error it is evident the Corinthian church fell into, the error of an overrealized eschatology. I think Fee makes the case well for that, clearly (enough) evident in the letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians.

Eschatology in the Christian sense, in the sense from the New Testament, is simply the future being in the present from God through Jesus by the Spirit. One way to put it: in this old creation, the new creation is present in Jesus, destined to continue on forever, when heaven and earth become one in Jesus.

The problem with the Corinthians, and dare I say with some on the Pentecostal side today, is the view that they somehow are beyond the humiliation our Lord lived in, somehow realizing more of the glorification of the future in the present. Certainly not true of all the Pentecostals. No, even though we are the resurrection people of God in the present, in and through Jesus, we live in the power of that resurrection so that we might live out nothing less than Jesus’ death in this world. We are to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

An overrealized eschatology might be expressed in an attitude of believing “we are Spirit-filled, our churches are Spirit-filled,” and other churches are by clear implication not. Or thinking one is beyond certain weaknesses of this life, for example sickness, or struggle in some other area in the weakness of our humanity.

Gordon Fee points out the truth that Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Weakness here is not about sin issues, though I think it would include our struggle against (and perhaps, even our repentance in working through and out of) sins (which hold us down). We certainly don’t arrive to sinless perfection in this life. But the weakness Paul was referring to is one in line with living in an existence in which the world, the flesh and the devil hold sway. But doing so in the power of the Spirit in the way of Jesus. Christ’s body is not yet glorified as the head is, in other words we await the resurrection to come.

On the other hand, we evangelicals can err in an underrealized eschatology, I’m supposing. Expecting too little from the Lord in this life. Indeed eschatology practically speaking seems to mean for many of us, simply waiting for the Lord to come back and fulfill the promises God has made. It certainly includes that, but the fulfillment begins in the here and now by the power of the Spirit. Not that all evangelicals fall into this error. And in spite of ourselves, God is faithfully at work to empower us in our lives and testimony as those bearing witness to Jesus to the world.

And so we go on, living something of the future in the present, the eternal life in this transitory life, together in Jesus for the world.