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True Christmas Spirit

Philippians 2:5-8 - Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!

Getting the Christmas spirit means different things to different people. To some it is that beautiful warm feeling of "no place like home for the holidays". To others it is the excitement of shopping for gifts and wrapping them by the tree. To the student, the Christmas spirit is getting away from school and studies for a while. In other words, to get psyched up for the good things to come at Christmas is to catch the proverbial spirit of Christmas.

But what about Christ? Isn't He part of the Christmas spirit? Not really! Except for a few token nativity scenes, our society has pretty much removed the Lord Jesus from Christmas. Christmas has become so secularized within our culture that a person can fully catch the Christmas spirit without a single meaningful thought of Jesus.

The true spirit of Christmas, of course, gives Christ His rightful place. This does not mean more manger scenes and sacred carols--it means more of the mind and attitude of Christ. To catch the true Christmas spirit is to be characterized by the self-giving spirit of our Lord. This is hardly possible for a non-believing, non-Christian world--even at Christmas-time. But it is possible for the growing Christian because the life of Christ is there, and this life is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Philippians 2:5-8 tells us that it is the Christian's responsibility to let the mind or attitude of the Lord Jesus be reproduced in us and characterize us. To have the attitude of self-denial and self-sacrifice is to have the mind of Christ. This is the true and biblical Christmas spirit.

The reason for the writing of this great doctrinal passage of Scripture was a common problem in the early Church. Many of the Philippians were being selfish and proud and looking out only for themselves (2:3-4). Sound familiar? The Philippian problem is a contemporary problem. Self always seems to be our top priority. No wonder God chose to include the letter of the apostle Paul to the Philippians as part of His Holy Word. This is the word of the Lord to us today as much as it was to the Philippian believers. Let us hear what He says to us!

We are to exhibit more togetherness and love for one another (2:2). To do our own thing and be independent from the other believers of the fellowship is not scriptural. We are to look out for the interests of our brothers and sisters (2:3-4). To ignore or put down other members of the Christian community is not scriptural. We are to reach out and love brothers and sisters with whom we find it hard to get along (2:2; see also 4:2). We are to strive for unity of mind and spirit and purpose with those fellow believers who do not see everything our way (2:2; see also 1:27). This is not easy, but it is scriptural. The true spirit of Christmas involves a lot of self-denying and self-sacrificing and self-giving.

The supreme illustration of what it means to give of oneself in the interests of others is the example of the eternal Son of God. He gave up the glory and majesty of heaven--for us (v6). He identified with the human predicament by becoming Man--for us (v7). He voluntarily gave up his hold on life and died--for us (v8). Every step of the path of our Lord was a further surrender of what was His by right. This is the mind or attitude that is to characterize the Christian. How can I push for my own "rights" after reading such a Scripture? To have the true spirit of Christ is a far cry from having the Christmas spirit!

As mentioned above, this portion of the Word of God has great doctrinal significance. Contained in these few short verses is the doctrine of the incarnation. That God became Man is surely the story of Christmas. Because this Scripture has often been misunderstood, it is important that we examine these verses closely. The first phrase of verse 6 tells us that Jesus did not begin being God at Bethlehem, and He did not stop being God at Bethlehem. "Being in very nature God" conveys the idea of always being God. As an illustration, we could say of Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion: "Jenner, being in very nature an athlete, won the gold medal at Montreal." Jenner did not become an athlete at Montreal: he was an athlete long before, and he still is an athlete--in his very nature or "essence."

Because the eternal Son was God in the very essence of His being, He had all the external manifestations or effects or "equalities" of Deity. There was no glory or majesty of God that was not His. The second phrase of verse 6 begins to show us His marvelous self-giving attitude. The eternal Son did not consider these external manifestations of Deity something He had to grasp or hold onto like a treasure. He put aside these glories (but not His essence!) in order to come to us! The word "equality" in the phrase "equality with God" is really the plural, "equalities". It means the outward signs or manifestations of being equal with God. The insignia of Deity were voluntarily laid aside by the Son of God when He came to earth.

He emptied Himself (v7). The eternal Son never emptied Himself of His Deity, but only of the outward manifestations of that Deity. Coming to this planet, He stripped Himself of His heavenly glory and majesty. There was no Christmas card halo around the head of that perfect Baby in Bethlehem's manger. But what about His divine attributes--His being omnipotent (having all power), omniscient (having all knowledge), and omnipresent (being present in all places)? Did the Son of God empty Himself of these qualities when He came into this world? No! These attributes are inherent in the very nature and essence of God, and in no way did the eternal Son stop being God at the incarnation. The Lord Jesus voluntarily gave up the use of His divine attributes for Himself, but He did not empty Himself of them.

Throughout the Gospel record we catch glimpses of our Lord using His divine attributes in the interest of others. His omnipotence is seen in His power over disease when He healed the sick, over death when He raised the dead to life, over the demonic when He exorcised demons, and over disaster when He calmed the sea. (See Luke 8 for all four in one chapter.) Our Lord's omniscience is seen, for example, in His foreknowledge of the exact details that were to take place in His future--His suffering, His rejection, His death, His resurrection (Mark 8:31). He knew who would betray him (Matthew 26:21-25). He knew Peter would deny Him exactly three times before dawn (Mark 14:29-30). He knew His death would be by crucifixion (John 12:32-33). He knew his ascension would follow his resurrection (John 14:28-29).

What about the Lord's omnipresence while He was here on earth? Although this concept stretches our finite minds, the Scripture indicates that even this attribute was not given up at the incarnation. Take, for example, Matthew 18:20 where Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst." Although this statement is usually applied to His presence among us now, let us remember that He said it in the present tense then--while he was here - bodily - on earth. Of course the body of our Lord was in only one place at a time, as is His resurrected body now. If we strip the Son of God of His omnipresence because he took on a body at the incarnation, we deny Him an essential part of His Deity forever--because Jesus lives today, bodily! We will see our Lord Jesus in Person some day, and yet He is in our midst now. He is omnipresent. The eternal Son has always been omnipresent. The Christian doctrine of the omnipresence of God is: all of God in all places at all times.

Verse 7 indicates that at the incarnation the Son of God took the "very nature of a servant and was made in human likeness." The point here is that God took on Manhood. Notice the link with the beginning of verse 6. He always had the very nature of God (v6) but He took on the very nature of man (v7). The idea is not that He gave up one nature to take on another nature, but rather that He took on the nature of man in addition to His being God. Jesus was, and is, fully God and fully Man. He is not 50% God and 50% Man; He is 100% God and 100% Man! The Son took on "the very nature of a servant" and surrendered Himself totally to the will of the Father (Matthew 20:28). "Being made in human likeness" means that He was a real and genuine Man with all the essential attributes of humanity--except for the sinful nature, of course (see 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5; 1 Peter 2:22). But the expression "human likeness" further implies that He was not simply and merely man--it safeguards His continued Deity; He was the incarnate Son of God.

There was nothing unusual about our Lord's appearance when He walked on this planet. "Being found in appearance as a man" (v8) means that He ate and spoke and dressed like the men of that generation and culture. He was like a king who takes off his royal robes temporarily, and puts on the clothes of a peasant to identify and empathize with his people. The Lord's glory and majesty and kingship were veiled.

As the perfect Man and Servant, Jesus gave obediently of Himself for others to the point of death by crucifixion (v8). This is the mind or attitude that is to characterize the growing Christian. This is the true Christmas spirit.
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