The Cruciform God: Introduction and Chapter One, The Self-Emptying God, Part 3

We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God.

Husbands and wives

I need to mention another example of the importance of this understanding of the nature of God. It’s has to do with marriage and the role of women.

(Eph 4:24 ESV)  and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

(Eph 5:1 ESV) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.

The theme of the concluding sections of Ephesians is that we’ve been created (re-created, really) so that we can be like God. Therefore, the following instructions must be understood as lessons on how to be like God. We could profitably work through each of the passages that follow and consider God’s character in their light, but for now, we skip to —

(Eph 5:18-21 ESV) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Here the instruction is to be “filled with the Spirit.” After all, what better way to be like God than to be filled with his indwelling presence? If we do this, what happens? Well, we sing to one another, give thanks to God, and submit to one another. And submission culminates this section of Ephesians because it most clearly shows what it’s like to be like God — because Jesus is like God.

The next chapter and a half is commentary on “be filled with the Spirit … submitting to one another” as applied to marriage, parenthood, and master/slave relationships.

(Eph 5:25-28 ESV) Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.

In marriage, Christ is the model of the perfect husband. But it’s not every aspect of the Christ. It’s his kenosis — his self-emptying — that Paul refers to, because this is the definitive characteristic of God as revealed in Jesus. Thus, Paul emphasizes how Jesus “gave himself up” for the church out of love. It’s impossible to exegete “gave himself up” other than in terms of the crucifixion. Paul used the same words earlier, saying —

(Eph 5:2) And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The husband’s role in marriage is to be like the crucified Christ, surrendering himself for his wife. And this is not an incidental comment. It’s the essential explanation of the essence of Jesus.

(To fully exegete the passage, we have to also sort through the meaning of “head,” of course.) Selfishness is not allowed to husbands. And we husbands no more get our way than Jesus got his way in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Leadership

It’s often been argued that the husband’s role is to be the “spiritual leader” of the family. Jesus explains the meaning of spiritual leadership in kenotic (self-emptying) terms–

(Mat 20:25-28)  Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Notice, that Jesus denies the power to “lord it over” or even to “exercise authority” over others. Rather, the essence of leadership is is to be like Jesus — that means being a servant or even a slave — even to the point of giving up your life. It’s much the same thought that Paul expresses regarding husbands.

Jesus later said,

(Mat 23:11-12)  “The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

It all fits.

Love

(John 13:34-35)  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

What makes the command new? The phrase “as I have loved you.” What does this mean?

(1 John 3:16-18)  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

John sees the connection. It’s about laying our lives down for each other. It’s giving ourselves up. It’s kenotic.

Now, there are those who argue that true love is obeying God’s commands, and of course it is. But the command is to love one another.

(1 John 3:21-23)  Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

What would Jesus do?

It’s fashionable to train young Christians to make ethical decisions by asking, “What would Jesus do?” The trouble with this is that we rarely incorporate into this instruction a serious understanding of Jesus. And so WWJD becomes a slightly idealized version of ourselves. But we know, at least in principle, what Jesus would do.

As pointed out by John Howard Yoder in The Politics of Jesus, pp. 130-131,

[T]here is no general concept of living like Jesus in the New Testament. According to universal tradition, Jesus was not married; yet when the apostle Paul, advocate par excellence of the life “in Christ,” argues at length for celibacy or for a widow’s not remarrying (1 Cor. 7), it never occurs to him to appeal to Jesus’ example, even as one of many arguments. … [T]here have been efforts to imitate his prayer life or his forty days in the desert: but never in the New Testament.

There is thus but one realm in which the concept of imitation holds – but there it holds in every strand of the New Testament literature and all the more strikingly by virtue of the absence of parallels in other realms. This is at the point of the concrete social meaning of the cross in its relation to enmity and power. Servanthood replaces dominion, forgiveness absorbs hostility. Thus – and only thus – are we bound by New Testament thought to “be like Jesus.”

(emphasis added.) This is big. And it’s right. Yoder quotes numerous passages each of which urges us to be like Jesus in his suffering, servanthood, and submission. None urge us to exercise authority or power as Jesus does.

(John 13:3 ESV) Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”

7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”

8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

Notice how the story begins. Jesus washed the apostles’ feet because he knew God had given all things to him. This knowledge led to the sort of service only a slave would perform. Peter saw it as an embarrassment, unworthy of the Messiah, but Jesus said,

(John 13:12 ESV) When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”

If Jesus is compelled to wash feet because of his position, we who are in far lower positions must surely be compelled to do the same. Nothing else is to be like Jesus.

Conclusion

I think Gorman has it right. The essence of being like Jesus is self-emptying, that is, kenosis. We see it stated in different words and different ways many times, but over and over, we see that Christian ethics are based on being Christ-like, and to be Christ-like is to pick up  a cross and follow Jesus, because if you don’t have a cross, you aren’t following him.

Some may object that Jesus was sometimes not so humble. Sometimes he took a whip and cleared the temple courts or pronounced judgment against the Pharisees in the most severe terms. But we are not called to be like Jesus in every respect — only in his self-emptying. Unlike Jesus, we are not the judges of the world, and God does not exercise his vengeance through us. Rather, God has a very clear plan. He wants those who see the church to see the kenosis of Jesus lived in us — and so be drawn to it.

It’s not nearly enough to be right on doctrine or worship. It’s not nearly enough to be organized correctly. Rather, it won’t be until we look like the Suffering Servant who gave himself for the sins of the world that we’ll truly be Christ-like — and that is the real mark of the church.

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17 Responses

  1. Jay, I read your words “and to be Christ-like is to pick up a cross and follow Jesus, because if you don’t have a cross, you aren’t following him.”

    I am assuming that you are using the word “cross” as a figure of speech and not literally (If I am wrong in this assumption, please tell me). I don’t understand what you mean by this figure of speech. Please explain.

  2. Jay,

    Good post – I was expecting you to go further with Yoder’s application though; I assume his pacifism derives from the same line of thinking?

    Some may object that Jesus was sometimes not so humble. Sometimes he took a whip and cleared the temple courts or pronounced judgment against the Pharisees in the most severe terms. But we are not called to be like Jesus in every respect

    Jesus’ temple action is IMO too much seen as an angry outburst. Mark tells us that Jesus scoped out the temple the night before the action (then went out to Bethany before returning the following morning). I think it’s better viewed as a carefully-planned event directed as the strongest symbolism towards the chief priests; it had the expected result and they determined to kill him.

    Likewise, the “woe to you” can be translated as an exclamation of grief – “oh, Pharisees, you’ve missed it!”

    Either way, both scenarios tell us that Jesus holds authority – I agree that the church shouldn’t try to imitate that authority but should imitate the self-emptying (until the time when the saints will share in the kingdom reign, that is).

  3. And just to provide an example of the impact of self-emptying…

    My buddy Steve wanted to proclaim Christ into a local community of indigenous people who are alcohol-dependent and, as victims of racial injustice, tend to also display racial aggression.

    Steve walked into a dark park and sat with these guys, who were intensely hostile with him. He overlooked the hostility and bought them pizza. Eventually they asked who he was, where he lived. When they found he had a house with a wife and child at home and that he was acting sacrificially to sit in a cold dark park with angry alcoholics because he saw Christ as having acted toward him in that way, one of the guys was intensely moved and quite overcome.

    Anyway, just sharing that because we need to keep putting flesh on the theories…

  4. Dwayne,

    It is because we do not understand this figure that we do not really understand what it means to be like Jesus.

    I blogged about this here.

    Jerry

  5. Mick

    Your buddy Steve proclaimed Christ to the lowly by emptying himself and becoming one of them. A great example on how to reach these children of God who are in need of a friend. The same for the addicted.

    The only way Christ can be there is through us. You have to share their plight by seeing their hopelessness turn to hope of a better life.

    One of my fears is how will the local church receive these people when you bring them to class or worship ? Some are very indifferent, few accepting.

    Bob

  6. Jerry

    I read your blog and you state our need to empty our self just as Christ stated in Philippians 2 . Even Paul wrote that he was Dulos or a slave to Christ.

    i suppose our Cross is self denial and giving up self reliance. That has been hard for me as i have always been goal oriented and have counted on my own ability to achieve. That does not work in his Kingdom as we are solely dependent on the Holy Spirit.
    The cross Jesus bore was our sin.

    Thanks for you service and you have a lovely wife as is mine. Fifty three years and going strong.

    Because of a Cross

    Bob

  7. Jay,
    I mostly follow you. I started with part 3 and thought I’d better go back and read 1 and 2 before “jumping to conclusions”.
    I’m really having a hard time trying to express my feelings about this series in words. I guess I would best say that I understand there to be a lot more subtlety to being like Jesus, to being self-emptying than what I see your post. Maybe its just hard for me to swallow?
    I guess the pacifist implications concern me. “We are not called to be like Jesus in every respect.” This statement seems to be too simplified to me. Self emptying without discernment is dangerous. I think you agree, but I see your post as suggesting otherwise.
    The hardest for me to swallow is in the husband/wife relationship. This is really where the subtleties are for me. I still believe my role is “spiritual leader” in the home. But the way many traditional CofC baby boomers or older might see it, is probably much different than the way I see it. My view rarely, if ever involves “lording”. (I’m generalizing here I guess and I shouldn’t for I’ve seen many great examples of male spirtual leaders in this age group)
    Perhaps, I’m rambling. Because you grew up in a culture that glorified “masculinity” and my and my childrens’ does the opposite, I worry that the church swing too far to make amends for past mistakes.
    Regardless, I love your conclusion statement: “It’s not nearly enough to be right on doctrine or worship. It’s not nearly enough to be organized correctly. Rather, it won’t be until we look like the Suffering Servant who gave himself for the sins of the world that we’ll truly be Christ-like — and that is the real mark of the church.”
    With that statment I wholeheartedly agree.

    Love ya bro,
    Donald Newton

  8. Dwayne,

    Yes, it’s a figure of speech — unless like Peter you had to be crucified to be faithful to Christ, and then it was quite literal.

    There are lots of posts to go in this series, and I’ll try to hang some literality on the figurativity. (Not real words, I’m sure.)

  9. Mick,

    More posts to go re Yoder’s point. Just trying to sort through the implications 1000 words at a time.

    Ray Vander Laan points out that the selling of animals and exchanging of money was taking place in the Court of the Gentiles — the outer court dedicated to Gentile worship. The Jewish authorities so despised the Gentiles that they engaged in noisy bargaining over animals and money exchange rates where the Gentiles had been invited to pray! They could have set up shop outside the temple courts, but chose to do so in the Gentile court.

    Jesus declares that the temple is a “house of prayer” quoting from Isaiah —

    (Isa 56:6-7) And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant– 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

    You see, we rarely turn back to check the context of text Jesus was quoting, and so we miss the point. God said the temple was to be a house of prayer for foreigners, too! And Jesus was in the process of inaugurating the age when the Gentiles would be invited in. Therefore, he was defending the right of Gentiles to come to God.

  10. Donald

    I think we self empty and fill the void with Jesus.

    In our drug counseling we tell our students, when you throw your past criminal life, bad habits, immoral living and drugs you have to fill the void. You can work all the time, get a hobby or anything to replace the past desires.
    The only way to be successful is to make up your mind that you want to change and do it. But the best way is to fill the void with Christ and let the Holy Spirit take over.

    Donna has no problem with me being the “head of the household”. She has said repeatedly I will follow when you lead. I allow her a very wide path to make up her own mind and to speak freely to the preacher, elders and anyone else. In bible class she has her own ideas many of which are contrary to mine and she is free to express that and to publicly disagree with me.
    When we move, and being in the oil business that has been too often, we both agree on the congregation that we will visit or worship with. She raised five to six, sometime seven children, most of the time I when was over seas.

    I would have no problem with her testifying in the public assembly. She can go to Walmart or Sam’s and talk on a gut level with anyone in a ,matter minutes.
    We have always described ourselves as “followers of Christ” and try not to attach ourselves in name to any other except Christ. We are hid bond servants.

    Best all

    Bob

  11. Mick,

    Thanks for sharing the story. Very helpful to the point I’m trying to make.

  12. Donald,

    Let’s see —

    Yes, the pacifistic implications concern me, too. Yoder and Gorman both build cases for pacificism from their studies. I disagree for reasons for stated in the earlier series on Pacificism (and I really don’t want to start a thread on pacificism). But they’ve taught me to respect that viewpoint. The case for pacificism is strong and goes back a long, long way.

    Re husbands and wives, I think you have to give due consideration to Eph 5:21, which says we submit to one another. Wives submit to their husbands as suitable helpers, per Gen 2, but “helper” in the Hebrew carries no sense of inferiority at all. It almost always refers to God as Israel’s helper, whereas in English “helper” generally notes a subordinate status (I’m the plumber and here’s my helper.)

    The wife has to be supportive and help make up what’s lacking in her husband. She can’t be in rebellion or undermine him, because this is not what helpers do. (I prefer to translate “complement”.)

    Gen 2 doesn’t say what Adam’s duties to Eve were, other than to point out their unity and “one flesh” relationship. And so Paul turns to Jesus as the husband of the church (modeled on the Prophets’ image as God as Israel’s husband) as the model for the Christian husband — and explicitly refers to his crucifixion and sacrifice for his bride, the church. That’s self-emptying.

    A complementarian would find leadership in the word “head” and argue that a leader who is truly self-emptying would be a delight to follow. An egalitarian would argue that “head” simply doesn’t mean leader and instead refers to being a sustainer and the source of unity. The difference in practice is not great, in my experience. Both approaches would greatly improve our marriages.

    The big mistake to avoid is the paternalist notion that the husband gets to break all ties — that is, gets his way. That’s the opposite of being like Jesus.

  13. Bob,

    One of my fears is how will the local church receive these people when you bring them to class or worship ? Some are very indifferent, few accepting.

    Yes, it’s an issue; the culture of some churches can be intimidating to people from the margins, and the people from the margins can intimidate. But if Christians are indifferent or not accepting, there’s major work to be done to shape their thinking by the gospel. Jesus’ interactions with those in the margins are hard to miss in Luke’s Gospel account!

    It’s one reason that some people involved in street ministry end up establishing new kinds of churches. I’m part of a fairly new church and looking at establishing a ministry in a very poor part of town; we will have the same problem, but we’ll have to keep applying the gospel to it.

  14. Jay,

    You said:

    “A complementarian would find leadership in the word “head” and argue that a leader who is truly self-emptying would be a delight to follow. An egalitarian would argue that “head” simply doesn’t mean leader and instead refers to being a sustainer and the source of unity. The difference in practice is not great, in my experience. Both approaches would greatly improve our marriages.

    The big mistake to avoid is the paternalist notion that the husband gets to break all ties — that is, gets his way. That’s the opposite of being like Jesus”

    Just wanted to say i really appreciate your words here. Not all complementarians are out to keep women chained up or something. But seems like they’re sometimes painted as masogynists no matter what.

    –Guy

  15. Mick

    It is fortunate that you love the really lost, that isif you can put a relative term on lost. I have told the addicted ex cons that the real world does not like you and distrust you, but you have to somehow get past that and think about your salvation. Fill your lives with Christ.
    I grieve for them because they need much more support and encouragement than we, or normal people do.

    God will bless you especially when you leave a comfortable area and go into the a zone of discomfort.
    I heard a Mexican evangelist several years ago telling the church Sunday morning that they were selling their building and moving into the slums. He said “we are leaving our secure zone of comfort” and building in the slums. After the sermon I heard several comments…that was the most boring sermon I ever heard.

    So you will probably be tested for sanity but I can assure you there will be and maybe only one friend with you. That will be Jesus Christ because that is where he went, and would want us to go.

    When you show these folks you love them they will respond with more love than any of your nice friends have ever shown.

    Who loves me the most….He has more sin.

    Bless you Mick

    Bob

  16. […] very brief email refers to this post, where I wrote, The essence of being like Jesus is self-emptying, that is, kenosis. We see it […]

  17. Jay,

    I’m a little behind on my blog reading. Sorry for the late comment.

    As I was reading this post, a thought occurred to me. I wonder if there is an element of this kenosis – self-emptying – in the fulfillment of all righteousness as Jesus’ baptism.

    When Jesus comes to John, John insists that he should be baptized by Jesus rather than baptizing Jesus. But Jesus says, no, this is the way this needs to be done. He humbles himself and submits to John’s baptism passively allowing himself to be dipped under the water by John.

    He easily could have said, “John, you’re right. I am without sin. I have nothing to repent of and I there is no one to which I will submit.”

    In a way, his baptism was a foreshadowing of his death. Without crime, he should not have been sentenced to die by the government. Without sin, he did not have to submit to death. But he did. He emptied himself.

    So to fulfill righteousness, we must deny ourselves and submit for the sake of others.

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