Bible Reference: Philippians 2:3-11

I heard Tim Keller say once that if the Bible were a mountain range, Philippians 2:3-11 would be one of its highest peaks.

In this passage, Paul encourages his readers to be what we can call “becoming nothing” Christians, showing how if we truly want to be Christ-like then we have to learn Jesus’ way of humility, sacrifice, and (ultimately) becoming nothing for the glory of God.

What “Becoming Nothing” Means

Philippians 2:3-11 comes to us on the heals of Philippians 1, wherein Paul has famously concluded that he can face anything that comes his way because he has learned to understand the great mystery of life—“to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21).

The Bible says that before any person becomes a Christian, they are naturally self-centered, blind, spiritually dead, and so on. One of the amazing aspects of Christianity, however, is that once God graciously reveals a person’s need for renewal (accessed only through Christ), God begins the miraculous reversal of these natural tendencies.

Though we were once blind, we now begin to see. Though we were once ignorant, we now begin to understand. Though we were once spiritually dead, we become spiritually alive. And, most relevantly to Philippians 2:3-11, though we were once completely self-centered, we now begin the long, ongoing, painful, and absolutely freeing process of “becoming nothing” to ourselves and, instead, becoming Jesus- and others-centered.

Looking at Paul’s language in verses 3-4 (when he speaks against “selfish ambition” and “conceit” in the Christian’s life and encourages “counting others more important than oneself” and “looking to the interest of others”), we see the heart of Paul’s “becoming nothing” challenge—if you want to be a Christian, you must submit yourself to the ongoing realization that life is not about me, but about Christ and others.

The Barriers

The thing that prevents the Christian from entering into this ongoing lifestyle of becoming nothing is a reverting back to the overwhelmingly powerful desire to become something, a desire that is, unfortunately, imprisoned in our DNA apart from Christ. Our inherent ambitions to be a Something (seen in verses 3-4 and mentioned below) are shackling barriers to the self-forgetting, becoming-nothing lifestyle of Christ:

  1. Rivalry (2:3) – I want to be a Something and I only become that if I am better than you.
  2. Conceit (2:3) – I want to be a Something and I only become that if I think highly of myself.
  3. Looking only to self-interest (2:4) – I want to be a Something and I only become that if I stop thinking about how I can help others and spend my time thinking about how to help myself.

Wanting to be a Something, to be known or recognized or acknowledged, can seem so natural to most of the world, but for the Christian, seeking to become something will barricade the path to Christ-likeness and becoming nothing.

The Motivation

Since the longing to become something is so powerful in all people, in order for the Christian to enter into the becoming nothing life, there must be a source of strength that is even greater. This is exactly what Paul points to starting in verse six. It is here that Paul begins to, in essence, say, “Look at Jesus. He was the Something of Somethings, in a class of his own, who willingly gave up his Something status and entered into the lowest realm of becoming nothing—death itself. And He did all of this for you.”

Jesus was the only one who was willing, by nature, to enter into the ultimate place of becoming nothing. Believing and resting our souls in the reality of Jesus’ incarnation, sacrifice on the Cross, and exaltation by God possesses a greater power than the natural man’s desire to be a something and, therefore, serves as the strength the Christian needs to enter into the becoming nothing life.

Our motivation is this—if Jesus was willing to become nothing (sacrificing far greater recognition and glory than I ever will) for me that I might gain everything, how could I not spend my few and short moments on earth doing the same for Him and others.

The Process

At the end of the passage, Paul shows his readers the practical way the Christian enters into the becoming nothing life. Once someone has seen the call of the becoming nothing life and repented of the barriers that have kept them from it, they will become nothing as they continually acknowledge that only Christ is worthy of being Something and they, in turn, will freely forgo their own pursuit to be a something because of it (2:10-11).

When you think of Christ, if you regard Him as the highest Something that ever was, is, and will be, then your knee will go low, your mouth will proclaim, and you will be on the path of “becoming nothing for the glory of God.”

Zach Fallon

Zach is on the pastoral staff at College Church in Wheaton, IL. He is married to Christine and they have three children: Kade, Owen, & Vienna. You can follow him on twitter @zcfallon.