POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Thoughts on Philippians 2:1-11

The following are some additional notes which were given out along with the sermon "Making Nothing of Yourself" given at the Inversion Fellowship on October 5th 2006.

Life in Christian Community 

In the early part of Philippians chapter 2, we hear of a certain kind of community we should be. Paul uses an introduction which is in the form of a conditional question. He says, if there be—encouragement from Christ, comfort from love, participation in the Spirit, affection and sympathy—if this is who you are, then you ought to live a certain way. The conditional “If” is used here as a rhetorical device by Paul. He is not “doubting” that these things are experienced by the Philippian church. John Chrysostom, a man who was fluent in ancient Greek perceives this in Paul’s choice of language:

See how earnestly, how vehemently, with how much sympathy he speaks, “If there be therefore any comfort in Christ, that is, if ye have any comfort in Christ, as if he had said, If thou makest any account of me, if thou hast any care of me, if thou hast ever received good at my hands, do this. 1

Knowing Paul’s already stated affections for the Philippians we know that this is an appeal to people he is in relationship with and is not meant to cast doubt on their standing with God, but rather to intensify his plea to them. The construction of the first verse also displays the Trinitarian nature of the Christian community. All the persons of the Godhead are involved in our lives, and our love in community reflects his care for us. Gordon Fee summarizes what is going on here for us:

Thus the basis of the appeal is first of all the Philippians’ own relationship to the triune God, which he and they share together, and second, his and their relationship to each other, brought about by their common relationship to the Trinity. 2

There are many exhortations in the Bible to live together in humble community. Jesus’ sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7), Paul’s exhortation to the Christians in ancient Ephesus (Ephesians 4-6), and Jesus’ servanthood and exhortation to love in the upper room discourse (John 13) come quickly to mind. We should simmer our souls in these passages and ask God for the grace to live in like manner.

Finally, German author Dietrich Bonheoffer, a man who lived under Nazi oppression in the early 20th century wrote a little gem of a book about living in Christian community. The book is titled, Life Together,3 and I highly recommend it. In the latter part of the book he lists several things which are of much value to us today and reflect well the Biblical ideal of community. The following summary comes from Frank Thielman who recounts these principles as ways of eradicating selfish ambition from Christian community. I have added some scriptural references for your study. Christians should:

  1. Hold their tongues; refusing to speak uncharitably about a Christian brother [James 3, Ephesians 4:29]
  2. Cultivate the humility that comes from understanding that they, like Paul, are the greatest of sinners and can only live in God’s sight by his grace. [1 Timothy 1:15]
  3. Listen “long and patiently” so that they will understand their fellow Christian’s need; [James 1:19, 20]
  4. Refuse to consider their time and calling so valuable that they cannot be interrupted to help with unexpected needs, no matter how small or menial.
  5. Bear the burden of their brothers and sisters in the Lord, both by preserving their freedom and by forgiving their sinful abuse of that freedom [1 Corinthians 8, Romans 14, Galatians 6:1-10]
  6. Declare God’s word to their fellow believers when they need to hear it [Colossians 3:1-17, 1 Timothy 4:11-13]
  7. Understand that Christian authority is characterized by service and does not call attention to the person who performs the service. [Mark 10:45; Matthew 23:11, 12]4

Bonheoffer summarizes well the functioning of Christian Community:

Each member of the community is given his particular place, but this Is no longer the place in which he can most successfully assert himself, but the place we he can best perform his service.5

Each plays his part and desires the best for the other, this is the exhortation of our Lord. We will fail one another on this path, but with confession, repentance and faith, God can transform us into a community which reflects his humility, grace and love to a dying world. And Jesus is our model and means...to him we turn.

Making Himself Nothing and the Glory of the Incarnation

Much has been written regarding Philippians 2:6,7—that Jesus who in the very form of God did not count equality a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing (or emptied himself) taking the form of a man. Over the years debates have raged over the precise nature of Jesus’ incarnation, the Son of God becoming flesh. Much of the debate has centered upon the words heautou (ἑαυτοῦ, himself) and keno (κενόω, to empty or make void, make nothing). Scholars have wrestled with what it means for Jesus to empty himself or make himself nothing in regards to his divinity. Let me explain.

Jesus is clearly shown in the gospels to be the pre-existent divine Son of God, the third person of the Trinity. Many biblical passages bear this out (See John 1:1-3, 14; Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:3, John 8:58, John 10:30, John 14:8-11, Mark 2:1-7). Jesus is indeed God. Yet Paul tells us here in Philippians 2 in relation to Jesus’ divinity that he emptied himself to become a human being. Many questions have been asked and many explanations have been put forth to understand the deep mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God. In theological circles these theories usually run under the title of “Theories of the Kenosis” or “Kenotic Theories.” We will first look at one incorrect view and then present an understanding which is faithful to the Scripture and the historic teaching of Christian doctrine

View #1—Jesus laid aside, or emptied, his divine nature and attributes in order to become man

This theory takes the position that in order to become a human being Jesus had tom in some way, take off his “God suit”. He had to empty out his divine attributes to really become man. Using a mathematical analogy, we might call this theory addition by subtraction - that is, to add humanity to the Son, the deity had to be taken away. The following equation helps to illustrate:

Equation 1: Eternal Son of God — Deity = The Incarnate “man” Jesus

This is very problematic for several reasons. First, it denies the clear teaching that Jesus was, is and remained God while incarnate. He is the eternal Son of God—and God cannot become “not God.” This is a principle known as the law of identity...as I am teaching my little girls: “Something is what something is.” Now normal things can undergo change and become other things. Trees become lumber, newspapers, and toilet paper. Yet God can in no way “become” anything. He is a different sort of being, by his very nature he does not change. Wayne Grudem, in following Louis Berkhof, summarizes this well: God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.6 So Jesus could no more become “not God” than a Mormon could become a god. The Scriptures bear a robust witness to this truth about God—For I the Lord do not change, Malachi 3:6.

Additionally, from the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, the church has univocally held that Christ was one person with two natures; humanity and divinity united in one person. To have Jesus empty his “God-ness” would be contrary to orthodox doctrine. Is there another way to understand this?

View #2—A more biblical understanding—Jesus took on human nature in addition to his divine nature

Other theologians, in keeping with the Scriptures, have described an emptying which happens by taking on human nature in addition to Jesus’ divine nature. Perhaps revisiting another mathematical analogy will help with the distinction. Whereas View #1 could be seen as addition by subtraction, the Biblical view we might call subtraction by addition. In other words, because of the addition of human nature to Jesus the Son, the deity of Jesus was veiled or covered or concealed in a way in which it was not in eternity past. Another equation will again be helpful:

Equation 2: Eternal Son of God + Human Nature = The Incarnate “god-man” Jesus

Theologian Bruce Ware provides a good example of subtraction by addition. Say you go to test drive a brand new car, a Hummer 2. It is pristine, shiny and tricked out. It has all the attributes of “Hummer2-ness”. Yet if you took it for a spin in the mud then brought it back, it would have a different appearance. Would it still have all the attributes of “Hummer2-ness?” Yes, it is only veiled – this is subtraction by addition but nothing has changed essentially to the car. All the luster and beauty are there and not removed, the mud simply hides what would otherwise “be displayed.”

With Christ, he remains fully God, but the fullness of God cannot be completely manifested in finite human nature. He cannot be fully displayed – it is a limitation “taken on” by Jesus in addition to his divine nature. So in taking on human nature it necessarily restricts the manifestation, use, or showing forth of many of the divine qualities (omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.) He cannot experience them in his personhood due to the taking on of real human nature. The attributes are not limited, but their use is limited. He laid aside his right to use the divine attributes that remained fully his, in order to live life on earth as a real human being. John Calvin says this well in his commentary on Philippians:

Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.7

The incarnation of the Son of God—God becoming a human, is a marvelous, wonderful truth which provides great hope. He indeed understands what we experience as people. He can sympathize with our weakness, and in his body, he took the beating for our sins. In his incarnation, God the Son took the wrath of God the Father, so that we might be fully free to receive the Fathers love and mercy. In the incarnation and in the cross, we see the love of God triumph over the wrath of God for all that believe...and we are set free from guilt and condemnation. Romans 8:1 reminds us, there is NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Why? The wrath of God is satisfied by the self giving, obedient, death of the Son on a cross for us. Have you worshipped Jesus today? Do not skip this—bow a knee now, thank him, love him, wonder at his amazing love. This is why we pray in the name of Jesus, for it is by him, and through him alone are we brought to the Father. I will close with the words of a song: I’m forgiven, because you were forsaken, I’m accepted, you were condemned, I’m alive and well you Spirit lives within me, because you died and rose again...Amazing Love, How Can it be? That you my KING should die for ME?

Worship, Worship, Worship!

Soli Deo Gloria and Blessings in Jesus,


  1. Philip Schaff, Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon accessed October 4 2006; Available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf113.html.
  2. Gordon D Fee, Philippians The Ivp New Testament Commentary Series ; 11. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999, 86.
  3. Dietrich Bonheoffer, Life Together. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1954.
  4. Frank Thielman, Philippians The Niv Application Commentary, ed. Terry Muck. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995,107. Scripture References added.
  5.  Bonheoffer, 93, 94.
  6. We highly recommend Dr. Grudem’s treatment of immutability, God’s unchangeableness, in Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 163.
  7. John Calvin, Commentary on Commentary on Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 1509-1564. Commentary on this passage available online—http://www.ccel.org/c/calvin/comment3/comm_vol42/htm/iv.ii.iv.htm. Accessed 10/4/2006.