Anyone who has ever been a child or had a child who, after being asked to do something he or she does not want to do, finally stomps away saying, “Fine! Fine! Fine! I’ll do it” knows the difference between begrudging obedience and adoring acquiescence. Getting your child or your sluggish self to obey is not nearly as hard as getting your child or your self to obey with a happy heart.
Acquiescence means compliance, agreement or consent without objection. And while I am familiar with the word, I am not as familiar with the natural practice in my own heart or home.
Humanity is naturally self-protecting, quickly claiming our rights for fear of being injured, harmed, forgotten, or overtaken. And that makes sense because we live in broken bodies within broken families within broken societies within a broken world. I am not saying that we and the world are all evil, just that every good in us and around us is tainted and vulnerable.
Reading the Bible can often be encouraging and uplifting, but the flip side to that coin is that reading the Bible can also be disconcerting and uncomfortable. There are time when what the Bible is saying can be received smooth as silk, soft to the touch and application. But there are also times when what we read goes against the grain of our tendencies and culture, leaving us with little splinters under our skin. These splinters of truth that were not welcome or invited have a way of lodging themselves in us, bothering us, trying to get our attention.
I was splintered by Philippans 2 this week. In this section of his letter, Paul talks about concepts that come with strong negative connotations in our culture: submission, laying down rights, and emptying ourselves.
Paul writes to his friends, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”
That sounds like pretty poetry, a beautiful thing for a card or a print to hang on your wall; however, when I think about actually modeling, practicing, and applying these concepts in real life with messy people, I cringe.
It seems that Paul is saying to us, “The core of the Christian’s existence is Jesus. And Jesus’ mode of operation was to lay down His rights, not claim them.” And if anyone had rights to claim on earth, it was Jesus. After all, He spoke the words that created and swirled the blue seas and the green land masses into the familiar form of planet Earth. He had “friends in high places.” But Paul said that Jesus, though being coequal with God in essential nature, did not consider that status, those rights something to be wielded like a sword. The Greek word translated “grasped” is harpagmos, which means “to seize by an open display of power or force” and as a noun is translated spoil or plunder (think pirate’s booty, not the tasty semi-organic snack, the actual stolen treasure).
Jesus had every right to seize, claim and use his power and position, yet the thrust of His life was to empty Himself. The Greek word for empty, kenoo, means to render void, to empty, to be without recognition,
Again, it sounds so pretty and poetic, but when reading with an eye toward application, it sounds excruciating and unnatural. A text like this begs the questions, “How did Jesus do that? Why did He do that? How in the world am I expected to do that?”
Jesus wasn’t doing this simply to be self-effacing; he didn’t obey in a begrudging manner. He was submitting Himself into the hands and plans of a Perfect Father whom He trusted entirely. His heart was set on adoring acquiescence to His dad who He knew had a plan and the power to fulfill that plan.
The Bible is quite clear that the Christian life is one marked by the laying down of rights, not in an ascetic way, but in a way that trusts a loving Father to do the protecting and providing. It is simple, but it is not easy.
Everyday I am faced, we are faced with opportunities, both large and small and commonplace and dramatic, to either seize our rights or submit to our Father in trust. The only way that we will ever make any traction in learning to lay down our rights rather than claiming them is to know the heart of the Father to whom we are submitting.
The first step is to know how deep and high and wide and long is the love of this Father who promises to protect and provide for us. The only starting place is His abounding love. As our hearts are filled with this unconditional love, we naturally seek to empty them.