8.3 Philippians -- Kenosis
The Greek word is "kenosis", to empty or make void. Such as in Romans 4:14:
For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless (Rom 4:14).
Here, kenosis is translated as "has no value."
Jesus, in whom all the fullness of God dwelt, who had authority to rule over all mankind and creation, voluntarily set aside his own nature and will to accomplish the saving purpose of God. It was not just that he offered himself to save his friends ("greater love has no man than this..."), but that he did so to save his enemies, those who conspired in his death. This is what it meant to be the sacrificial lamb -- for the death of the lamb (or goat) removed the sins of the very ones who killed it, whose blood was on their hands. If they had spared the lamb, their sins would have remained. If Jesus had not died, the New Covenant could not have been ratified. But in one way, Jesus was not like the OldTestament offering for, unlike the lamb, Jesus gave his consent. The lamb did not practice kenosis -- it was chosen by men. But the only way Jesus could become "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29)" was by his own choice, his act of kenosis.
Our focus is not on the theological implications of this term -- and neither was Paul's in this passage. He was using Jesus' act as an example for believers to imitate. This is an impossibly high standard; how does it translate into race relations? Because of the polarization of racial attitudes in modern societies, it is often difficult for members of one race to interact with humility. We are taught to be promoters of our own ethnicity, quick to note any slight against us or infringement of our rights. Meekness is taken to be weakness. What does kenosis look like in real life?
One example is Paul's own life. He gave up everything, all that he had been raised to count as holy, noble, righteous -- for the sake of a despised and ignorant world of pagans. And it wasn't a "job" to him, a career ministry from which he could retire to the hills of Judea. It was his passion, one might even say obsession. He did not live among them as one above them, apart from them -- he framed the Gospel in terms they could understand and, just as radical an innovation, he sat at table with them. He was abused both by his own countrymen, and as often by the very people he was trying to reach. He even uses kenotic language:
But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you (Phi 2:17).
But isn't this going overboard? Who were these people anyway? Some tinpot Gentiles on the outskirts of the Empire, whose fellow-citizens left a pattern of permanent welts on Paul's backside.
In race relations, we often find that the people on the other side are "unworthy" for various reasons -- they have a history of persecution of our side, they compete with us for political power and economic advancement, they encroach on our neighborhoods. Are these the people we are supposed to "count better than" ourselves, whose interests we are to look out for instead of our own? The Kingdom of God begins to look a bit more difficult than we might have first thought.