The Gospel as the Supreme Example of Love and Care
It has been said that every good story borrows from the gospel. If you have ever found yourself in tears at the close of a book or witnessed an eruption of applause in a movie theater, you have tasted gospel seasoning in the drama. The self-sacrificing hero, victory from the clutches of defeat, or the sudden reappearance of a character thought to be dead all borrow their glory from the greatest story ever told. These tales are often woven around central characters who give of themselves for the good of others. Mr. Darcy, Frodo Baggins, Atticus Finch, and Penny Baxter are endearing precisely because they look a little something like Jesus. But nothing compares to the real thing. Our favorite stories only are pencil sketches of the gospel diamond. The true gem glints and glitters with the radiant reality of a selfless Savior who sets a supreme example of love and care and gifts us with grace to grow.
The Battle for Significance
What is so appealing about the selflessness of a protagonist? I think the answer lies in our struggles. Acts of love and care are hard for selfish people. This difficulty is nothing new. Urging the church at Philippi toward love-born unity, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Love requires humility, and humility involves a fierce insistence that others are more important than you are. If this kind of humility does not feel radical, I want to invite you to try it. Whose importance do you fight for when you are caught in traffic? When you feel your temper rising at your spouse or kids, whose significance is tipping the scales in your heart? God’s command in Philippians 2:3 cuts to the very heart of our lack of love and care. We struggle to care for others because we genuinely believe that our importance is greater than those around us, and we believe that our significance comes with rights. You work hard all day and deserve to take it easy when you get home. Why should you have to clean the dishes when you labored to prepare the meal? Your boss can compile this report; why is he asking you to do it? You got through the parenting years and worked hard for this retirement; your kids can find childcare elsewhere. We are tempted daily to live out of the grandeur of our own perceived importance.
The Hero and His Humility
Amidst the mud of our selfishness, Paul holds up the gleaming gem of the gospel and proclaims:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
The brilliance and magnitude of this passage are hard to overstate because the reality it describes is unfathomable. The church has examined this jewel for two thousand years, and we still marvel at its facets and colors. When we think of God the Son, we gravitate toward the incarnate Christ, whose birth we celebrate every Christmas. But to begin to grasp the vast humility of Jesus, this passage invites us to think about him before his birth. He was “in the form of God.” The second person of the Trinity has always existed as the uncreated Son. He is “The only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made” (Nicene Creed). As God, the Son had the form (appearance) of unmatched majesty, blinding glory, and transcendent beauty. He looked like what he is. The sovereign maker of the sun dims the brightest star with the smallest illumination of his glory. Writing on this subject, theologian Donald Macleod says:
“He was adored by his Father and worshipped by the angels. He was invulnerable to pain, frustration, and embarrassment. He existed in unclouded serenity. His supremacy was total, his satisfaction complete, his blessedness perfect. Such a condition was not something he had secured by effort. It was the way things were, and had always been; and there was no reason why they should change” (The Person of Christ, p. 213).
Unlike us, Jesus holds the preeminent status of unequaled importance. But the Hero of the greatest story did not insist on his significance. He veiled his greatness and became an ordinary-looking man. He did not give up his equality with God, but the one with the right to be served became a servant. Jesus lived his earthly life aimed at the good of others. He refused to exercise his divine power for his own benefit but freely used it to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the dead. Day after day, he gave of himself; moment by moment, he walked in trusting faithfulness to his Father. The crescendo of the Hero’s love was in his obedience at the cross. The faithful Son suffered the curse of sin. The filthy record of our sinful debt was pinned to the righteous One. The Author of life hung limply from the nails in his hands and feet. This is the clearest picture of humility– the supreme example of love and care.
The Living Gift
Luther once wrote, “Before you take Christ as an example, you [must] accept and recognize him as a gift.” We cannot get this out of order. If Jesus is only your example, the gospel diamond is locked behind a glass case. The Son of God was crucified and was raised from the dead so that you could receive him as a free gift of grace. When you repent of your sins and set your trust in Jesus, the Spirit of Christ gives you a new heart and lives in you. As a gift, he gives you the strength you need to follow his supreme example. The gem of Christ is yours, and the more you gaze at his glory, the more you become like him. So don’t be content with the sketches that you find in books, songs, shows, and movies. Think about the greatest Hero on your way home and walk in the door considering the needs of your family. Clean the dishes with joy as you meditate on the selflessness of your Savior. Radiate Christ in your workplace as you think about the importance of your boss and co-workers. Work hard as a grandparent as you enjoy Jesus more than your retirement. Take up the gospel diamond and get caught in the great adventure of counting others as more significant than yourself.
On Sunday nights at the Downtown Campus, we are in a Bible Study series entitled Reclaiming Love: People of Compassion in a World Full of Hate. You can listen to my sermon in the series from Philippians 2 concerning The Gospel as the Supreme Example of Love and Care here.
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