Sometimes life is a boxing match. The jabs, the right hook, the sucker punch all take their toll, but then comes the unexpected knock-out punch. And we go down. Recently the punches have just kept on coming in my life and I began to wonder: when we have “gone down for the count,” how do we get back up? A boxer relies on his training, the people in his “corner,” and his “heart.” And so do we. But I’m understanding that, as often is the case, the best defense is a good offense. And our offense against the struggles of life is a continual “emptying” of ourselves.
The Scripture’s terminology of “emptying” comes from Philippians 2: 7 in which Jesus is said to have “emptied himself.” Theologians have a lot to say about this term. In this post, I am using the context of self-renunciation. Jesus did not cease to be God, but he did set aside his heavenly glory, as well as his independent authority, completely submitting himself to the will of his father.
Here is how the Amplified Bible puts Paul’s direction to us in Philippians 2: 5-7:
Have this same attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus [look to Him as your example in selfless humility], who, although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God [as One with Him, possessing the fullness of all the divine attributes—the entire nature of deity], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]; but emptied Himself [without renouncing or diminishing His deity, but only temporarily giving up the outward expression of divine equality and His rightful dignity] by assuming the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [He became completely human but was without sin, being fully God and fully man].
It is here, in this self-renunciation and submission to the will of God, that we can live as Apprentices of Christ by continually imitating his act of emptying himself. John the Baptist displayed this attitude when he said, “He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).
Let’s look at this somewhat whimsically. Imagine a large and dingy basement room. You have already removed the broken furniture and piles of past treasures you no longer want (false narratives, wrong perspectives about God, legalistic religion). But there is still a lot of cleaning to do. So you begin by sweeping out the dust of anger. You scrape bitterness off the walls. You pull down the cobwebs of self-pity. You attack the corners where piles of resentment still seethe. You wash windows clouded by despair. You even sweep the ceiling to eliminate hidden wishes for revenge. You poke into nooks and crannies to purge jealousy, pride, impatience, judgmentalism, and ‘holier than thou” attitudes. You carry out beaten up boxes full of greed.
Then you sit down to take stock of what you have done. You see the Light shining through the newly cleaned windows. You open the door to the outside to let the fresh air of the Holy Spirit blow through the entire space. You feel so revived that you decide to leave the door open, even though the room may become uncomfortable at times.
Viewing the newly purged room, you tie on even tighter your attitude of surrender and vow to take up this cleaning process everyday – even if the room seems sparkling clean. You renounce your own clingy perspectives and desires and vow to submit to the will of God. Like John the Baptist, you are undertaking the process of making Jesus greater and yourself less. By emptying yourself, you are creating a soul-space where God is free to work . . . and you are free to obey.