(1Pe 2:21-1 ESV) 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
How do we return to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls? By following the example of Jesus. And what example did he set? He suffered an unjust death for our sake. He sacrificed himself for the undeserving.
Paul, of course, teaches the same lesson —
(Phi 2:1-4 ESV) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Paul begins with his conclusion; that is, he gives the rationale for this passage in the following verses.
It’s plain from his language that this teaching is of the highest importance. He urges unity, humility, and submission. Why should we act this way?
(Phi 2:5-7 ESV) 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Jesus is our example, of course, and the example he set includes his decision to give up heaven for the sake of the undeserving — us.
Paul says Jesus “emptied himself.” The NIV says “made himself nothing.” The Greek word is kenosis. And so kenosis is the path to theosis. We become like God by following Jesus’ example of emptying himself. How do we do that?
Well, we give up privilege and position, no matter how much we deserve it. And we take Paul’s instructions at the beginning of the chapter very, very seriously. You see, these commands come from the heart of the gospel.
(Phi 2:8 ESV) 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Humility is the key here — not low self-esteem or self-effacement. Rather, choosing to submit when you don’t have to, sometimes even when you’re plainly right.
Notice that Paul characterizes the Messiah’s human state as that of a servant (or slave!), having the “likeness” of man (surely a play on Gen 1:26, describing man as in the likeness of God). In heaven, of course, Jesus was part of the Trinity and the ruler of the universe. To become human was to descend from glory to subservience, from Creator to creature.
And this is our example. In fact, Paul is quite plain in saying that this how Christians should behave toward each other. (It’s a hard lesson.)
Similar is —
(2Co 5:14-15 ESV) 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Because Jesus died for us, Paul say, we no longer live for ourselves. If not for ourselves, for whom? Three chapters later, Paul concludes,
(2Co 8:9-14 ESV) 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.
In short, because Jesus died for you, be generous in giving to those in need. Sacrifice, serve, and submit.
So let’s pause a moment and reflect on where we are. God created the heavens and earth, made man — male and female — in his image and likeness, and sin entered the world, separating man from God and God from his creation.
Ever since then, God endeavored to reconcile man and God by calling mankind toward a new relationship in which sin is forgiven and man is restored to God’s image.
Forgiveness is an essential first step, of course, because man must be clean to be close to God. The relationship must be healed.
But man cannot bridge the gap alone. He needs divine help to be restored to God’s image. Some of that help comes from the fullness of God’s self-revelation in Jesus. We can only see how a human might live as God through Jesus, who is both man and God.
And some of that help comes in the form of the Spirit, who helps, strengthens, and empowers us to live more and more like Jesus, transforming us into his image as we cooperate with his work in our hearts.
Therefore, for us to actually achieve God’s purposes in his dealings with man, in his redemptive work among us, we must always hold up the example of Jesus — not merely as a teacher and scholar and not merely as a man of Bible study and prayer, but as the ultimate example of service, submission, sacrifice, and even suffering for the sake of becoming like God himself.
And this changes everything. It changes how we preach and teach in church; it changes how we treat each other; it changes how we relate to other congregations; it changes how we behave as retirees; it changes how we do benevolence and evangelism; it changes how we evaluate ourselves; it changes how we relate to politics — it changes every single thing about church and Christianity.