In Philippians 2, Paul gives us the image of Jesus practicing kenosis―pouring himself out, divesting himself of all privilege associated with his status as God, and freely choosing to become completely human. Not only that, but once human, Jesus continues in the practice of pouring himself out once again, willingly submitting to a horrific, shameful death on a cross.
We often think of what God did in Jesus, the self-emptying, kenotic self-giving, as just that―a thing God did. A what. An event in time to bring about our salvation. But what if what God did in Jesus, the self-emptying, kenotic self-giving, is also the how. What if God wasn’t just acting on our behalf, but showing us how to act?
What if God wasn’t exclusively pouring out his very self on our behalf, but also showing us how to pour ourselves out for our beloved congregations, even when―or maybe especially when―we are treated unjustly? How might we live unto this call to kenotic ministry, pouring ourselves out for the flock with which we have been entrusted? There are three principles we must put into practice.
1. Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.
Let’s be honest. Swipes at our integrity hurt. The wounds hurt more deeply and last longer when our ego is wrapped up in others’ opinions of us to an unhealthy degree. It’s more difficult to walk in humility and forgive the wrongdoer when we are preoccupied with an insult made against us. Women in particular seem to be susceptible to this addictive drug―the approval of others. Perhaps this makes us more vulnerable to the temptation to harness our ego to the unpredictable machine that is the opinions of others about us.
Be reminded that Jesus―even though he was God―did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing. So, let’s stop grasping at power, respect, and a great name for ourselves. Such concerns lead us to respond to the wounds inflicted upon us in very un-kenotic ways, and instead spin us toward grasping behaviors. Alternatively, we should develop a trusting relationship with someone who will speak truth into our lives, someone who has permission to say the hard things we need to hear. Loving truth-tellers who have our best interest in mind can help protect us from thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought.
2. Surrender the need to defend yourself, and become obedient to death.
How hard it is to resist the temptation to defend yourself against the unjust―and even inaccurate―accusations made by angry church members! The level of self-control it takes to struggle against the enticement of sending an email to everyone you know itemizing how the accusations are unfair and incorrect is great indeed. Perhaps there is a time to speak, to defend one’s self. I, however, have come to see that the urgent, pressing, all-consuming need to explain myself is most often rooted in feelings of being personally wronged, embarrassed, or threatened rather than in a genuine concern for the truth or for the health of the church body.