This morning I was listening to that wonderful hymn of Charles Wesley’s, ‘And can it be’, and I heard again, but as if for the first time, that wonderful line He ‘emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race’. I felt so moved by that line, and it made me think about how we handle all our relationships in life, especially the more challenging ones.
We’ve probably all read the verses, ‘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 made Himself nothing, 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’. Philippians 2:5-8.
I guess I knew the ‘truth’ that is encapsulated here, and understood about the ‘servanthood’ and the ‘laying down of life’ that we are called to emulate, in attitude and behavior, but there was something else that I ‘saw’ this morning through that phrase, ‘He emptied Himself of all but Love’. Wow! Now that takes some pondering.
Jesus emptied Himself of the right to defend Himself, protest His innocence, to justify His actions and words, to argue His case. He emptied Himself of any self importance, any need to be acknowledged, any need for affirmation and honour. He emptied Himself of any right to ‘kick back’, to call down judgement on His tormentors, or to demand for deliverance from their violence against His person. And when we read that ‘He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.’ Isaiah 53:7, we realise that He also emptied Himself of the need to cry out at the injustice He was suffering.
Recently I have been challenged afresh about how I do relationships, and how I respond in different situations. I remember hearing many years ago, as an illustration of ourselves and our reactions, the picture of a glass of liquid. When that glass is knocked, whatever liquid is inside will spill over. If you knock a glass of apple juice, you won’t get anything but apple juice spilling out, likewise you won’t get any apple juice spilling out if you knock a glass full of sulphuric acid. The point was simple, when we are ‘knocked’ by life or, more importantly by others in our lives, what spills out will be a clear indication of what is inside.
When we are hurt, challenged, or have our nose put out of joint in any way by an accusation, a snub, a criticism, felt or implied, we can find ourselves reacting in our own defense with self justification, a counter snub, anger, or worse. The reason is that although Christ is in us, we still can resort to our ‘old man’ behaviours when we are caught out, and the more we give in to the old the less chance we have of reacting from the new.
On the other hand, the more that we are filled with our ‘new life’, and the more we reckon on the ‘old me ‘ being dead, the more, when I am knocked, I will respond with the fruit of the spirit and less with the old works of the flesh. Galatians 5:19-23. I can find myself thinking ‘Was that completely loving, or was there some self preservation in that?’ So what am preserving anyway? If the ‘old me’ is dead, I should be reacting from the ‘new me’ which is Christ in me, filled with the Holy Spirit.
After Paul has listed the ‘fruit of the Spirit’, he writes this, ‘Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.’ Galatians 5:23-25. So how do I do that? How do I empty myself of all but love in these instances? How do I empty myself of all that self preservation that causes me to react?
Now just a little aside here. This doesn’t mean that I am just going to bury all my feelings, or that I am avoiding/denying what is coming at me, it is rather about letting His life flow freely through me. It is also not about becoming a passive doormat. Jesus often spoke up and challenged people. When He did however it was usually for their sake not His. If I, like Jesus, with the absolutely necessary help of the Holy Spirit, choose to ‘empty myself of all but love’, then when I am ‘knocked’ it will be His love and life that ’spills’ out.
When I feel ‘jostled’ by someone’s words or behavior towards me, the natural me will probably tense up ready to defend myself. Or I can, by thanking the Lord for this great opportunity to let His life flow, relax and hinder that reaction. I thank the Lord that He is in me. I thank the Lord that I am completely, and unreservedly loved by Him, and that the same loving Holy Spirit is filling me and spilling over in love for the person who is currently ‘in my face’.
Thanksgiving helps me to allow His life to flow unexpectedly and freely through my personality. I may even surprise myself at what comes from me – from my mouth, from my demeanor, and from my actions.