by J. Randal Matheny, editor
In the practical and ethical section of his letter to the Romans, Paul lists the many marks of the true Christian. He starts with this phrase, “Love must be without hypocrisy” (Romans 12:9, NET). All the rest, as they say, is commentary.
At one point he writes, “do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:16b). Love means leaving self to the side and dropping one’s own interests and desires, in order to serve one’s neighbor.
Human ambition wants to scale the ladder of importance in the opinion of peers. Divine ambition descends to another’s need, ignoring and discounting exaltation.
“And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand” (1 Peter 5:5b-6).
Christ’s example outshines all the others. He gave up the heavenly glories in order to become human and bring salvation to humanity. His action was necessary to demonstrate God’s love.
“By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him” (1 John 4:9).
“Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father” (John 1:14).
John affirms that God’s glory is seen in him who left heaven and set up his tent –- his life -– as the meeting point between us and God.
Man’s invented gods, besides being stronger and greater than he, were remote and distant, often disinterested. In Sophocles’ “Oedipus at Colonus,” the king says that “the gods are slow, though they are sure,in visitation, when men scorn godliness, and turn to frenzy” (BGB 5:128).
The chorus in “Helen,” by Euripides, asks, “What mortal claims, by searching to the utmost limit, to have found out the nature of God…?” (BGB 5:308).
The true God, however, has always been near those who seek him. This was his trademark among Israel. In Leviticus, he appealed to Israel to be holy so that he could remain among them.
“I will walk among you, and I will be your God and you will be my people” (Leviticus 26:12).
But for exceptional moments, God did not take a human form in the Old Testament. Some scholars believe Jesus Christ appeared in temporary human form as the angel of the Lord, since he receives honor from men. Whether by Christ or the Father, they were brief appearances to individuals for specific purposes.
In Euripedes’ “The Bacchantes,” Dionysus opens by saying, “I have put off the god and taken human shape” (BGB 5:340). George Theodoridis translates it as, “Yes, I have taken the guise of a common man, me the god, Dionysos.” And a guise it is, since he uses his divine powers to take revenge on his family.
The true God became man, not as a temporary disguise to get the best of his creation, but to share his condition and rescue him from slighting his Maker.
In Philippians 2, Paul uses Christ’s incarnation (his coming to earth in human form) as an example of humility among Christians.
“Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well” (Philippians 2: 3-4).
To give extra punch to the commandment, he says,
“You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8).
I am a Christian because God came down in human form. He made himself a man in every way, in order to show his love. Such a love as this deserves our purest and complete devotion.