What is “Advantage” For?
[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!
The Incarnation Speaks God’s Nature to Us.
What was it in God that moved Him to dwell among us as the Incarnate Jesus Christ? Why would the infinitely powerful, infinitely happy, infinitely satisfied Creator God pour Himself out for His creation? Why would He empty Himself? Take on Humanity? Make Himself nothing? Fantastically, this passage tells us exactly why. He did it because He was God, and it is the nature of God to act this way.
The Greek word for “being” in verse 6 is a participle and can be (and arguably, should be) translated as the logical ground for what follows. That is to say, it could be translated:
“Because He was in very nature God, He did not consider…”
What Paul seems to be saying here is that, precisely because He was and is GOD, the Son emptied Himself and became a servant to His enemies so that they might become His people. It was quintessentially God-like for Jesus to refuse to use His status as God for His own advantage, and rather to leverage that power for the sake of creaturly rebels wallowing in the ashes of their sin. In His descent from glory to shame, from splendor to suffering, from Master to Servant, Jesus was not just bringing us to God, He was showing us who God – who YHWH – is (John 1:18).
YHWH is the one who wields infinite power for the good of the infinitely weak. YHWH is the one who leverages His advantage to lift up the disadvantaged. YHWH is the one who dwells in a high and holy place and yet also with those who are crushed in spirit. YHWH is the one who – because He is God – makes Himself nothing, becomes a servant, obeys the Father unto death and in doing so saves His people and reveals Himself to be beautiful beyond all imagining.
The incarnation teaches us that it is God-like to wield advantage for the sake of the disadvantaged.
Why Does Advantage Exist?
And, because all things exist from, through, and to God (Rom 11:36), if we have seen something true of God, we have seen something true of reality itself. In this case, I believe we have been shown the purpose for the reality of “advantage.”
Why did God create a universe in which imbalance exists? Why are all people not equally strong or skilled or intelligent or attractive? Why did He create a universe in which some countries have more money than others? In which some children are born blind or lame or mentally hampered while others seem to be athletes and scholars from the womb? Why do advantage and disadvantage exist?
The incarnation tells us why. At least one reason that advantage exists is so that it might serve disadvantage. Advantage exists so that – in myriad ways – humanity might participate in the God-like work of getting under the disadvantaged and lifting them up. To serve, to heal, to out pour for the good of others is not merely “good” or “compassionate” or “kind,” it is a reflection of the infinite character of our Creator.
Serving Without Boasting
Now, what keeps these acts of service that I am calling “God-like” from becoming “God complexes”? Isn’t this just a reflection of Western superiority trying to bring light to the poor helpless “others”? No – resoundingly no – for at least two reasons.
First of all, every act of human service must be carried out in the context of our own recognized helplessness. Every human being – from the most advantaged to the most disadvantaged – is utterly helpless and in need of God’s grace in Christ. In order for the kind of service I’m talking about to be a humble reflection of God and not a prideful replacement of God, it needs to be done in a spirit of utter dependence on God through Christ (1 Peter 4:11).
Secondly, the one who leverages their advantage in order to lift up someone who is disadvantaged must remember that – in some way – they themselves are the disadvantaged and the one they are helping is the advantaged. All of us are weak in areas that others are strong. You will never meet someone who is not better than you at something, and it is imperative to keep this in mind as we seek to reflect the heart of God in the wielding of our particular strengths for the good of others. Unlike God, we serve our peers, keeping this in mind will help to guard us from ill-motivated service.
It is God’s nature to pour Himself out, and in Christ, we see this nature exerted beautifully for our eternal joy. May we, who have been lifted from the ashes by our condescending God, learn to wield whatever advantages He may have given us for the sake of the disadvantaged around us; and in so doing, may we proclaim the heart of our Triune God to the watching world.