We continue, now, looking through the lens of Philippians 3:10-11 to see how it further applies to the spiritual life of the Church. This series began with a look at the individual’s spiritual life in relation to this passage. This was followed by the previous post in this series where we explored the first two dynamics drawn out of Philippians 3:10-11, “revelation” and “impartation”, as they apply to the corporate life of the Church. [I ask that you please read those posts prior to this one, if you have not already, as this is the continuation and conclusion of them. (Complete 3-post-series PDF available here, if you prefer.) Thanks!]
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“and, TOGETHER, WE may know the fellowship of His sufferings”
“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) The Church is called into a fellowship, a joint-participation, with Christ in His earthly mission. As in the individual Christian life, so in the Church, this mission is diametrically opposed to the nature and ways of the sinful flesh, the fallen world, and the powers of darkness. And as in the individual Christian, these enemies of the Kingdom of God not only have their strongholds and forces arrayed outside of the Church, but have their roots and tentacles within it as well.
This means that the Church is called into a titanic, carnal, and cosmic conflict filled with struggle, opposition, persecution, suffering, and the like, both within and without. Those assemblies who are established by and according to the heavenly revelation of Christ, and are continually receiving the impartation of “the power of His resurrection”, are sent into this battle, even as Christ was sent into it by the Father. As the Church engages in this joint-participation with Christ in His mission, She inevitably enters into a joint-participation with Him in the sufferings that are associated with it.
In this conflict, a three-pronged offensive is needed to defeat the three-fold enemy forces of sin, the world, and Satan. When Christ launched His three-pronged offensive into the earthly theater of this conflict, His mission, and, therefore, His sufferings began with what is known by the Greek word, κένωσις (kénōsis), which means, “the act of self-emptying.” This word is the nounal form of the Greek verb used in Philippians 2:7, κενόω (kenóō) “to empty”, and is variously translated: “emptied Himself” (NAS), “made Himself nothing” (NIV), and “made Himself of no reputation.”(KJV) The context is the classic passage, Philippians 2:5-11:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (NKJV)
Not only was this degree of humility and obedience in keeping with the absolute holiness of Christ’s nature, it was also the highest-level tactical move against His three-fold enemy. At the very heart and core of sin, the world, and Satan, is the Luciferic spirit of “I will ascend.” (Is. 14:12-14) Therefore, the ultimate counter to that is, “I will descend”, the spirit of “kenosis.”
The sufferings of Christ that ensued as He personally engaged with and ultimately conquered His three-fold enemy would be too numerous to detail here, but the ground of His victory over all three was His willingness to self-empty in obedience to and unreserved trust in His heavenly Father. This is how sin, the world, and Satan are ultimately conquered and overthrown.
As we contemplate, therefore, the Church’s participation in the mission and subsequent sufferings of Christ, we must realize that the first arena that the Church is called to press the mission of Christ forward in, and, therefore, the first theater of this conflict, is within Her. Before She is able to successfully engage with and push back the enemies without, She must engage with and defeat the enemies within.
“For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God;” (1 Peter 4:17)
The calling of the Church, then, is to begin Her participation with Christ by aligning Herself with His supreme strategy and ultimate ground of victory. If sin, the world, and Satan are to be defeated first within the Church, and then pushed back and defeated outside of Her, She must begin Her entry into this battle the same way Her Lord did with what may rightly be called, “corporate kenosis.”
“Corporate kenosis” deals radically with the “collective self” that develops within all groups of people as the individual member’s self-lives merge into a single entity and develop a collective identity, persona, and self-interest. Because of the indwelling sin, worldliness, and even demonic inroads within its members, this “collective self” invariably, manifests some form of a collective “I will ascend” spirit, the antithesis of the Kingdom of God. When this spirit invades the Church, the enemy has his ground with which to subvert the mission of Christ within and through His people.
The Divine strategy of kenosis is fully known and feared by the enemy, especially now following Christ’s supreme victory in and through the cross. It is, therefore, Satan’s supreme strategy to, in every way and by every means possible, tempt and deceive the Church into casting off a spirit of “corporate kenosis” and to develop a strong “collective self” instead, energized by a corporate version of “I will ascend.” This is Satan’s greatest hope for minimizing his defeats and mounting his Enemy’s casualties in this carnal, cosmic conflict.
It should also be recognized that two of the greatest weapons in Satan’s arsenal to accomplish these ends are 1. pragmatism (the ends justify the means; i.e. the future dictates the present) which is what he employed in the Garden of Eden, and 2. traditionalism (the means justify the ends; i.e. the past dictates the present) which is what he primarily employed during the time of Christ and the early church. These are still his most powerful and successful weapons against the Church today to keep her from embracing “corporate kenosis”, his ultimate nemesis.
Much more could be said about the Church’s participation in the mission and subsequent sufferings of Christ as She engages with sin, the world, and Satan, not to mention those sufferings that God sovereignly orchestrates by His own hand for Her perfecting and ultimate good. Let it suffice, however, for us to begin where Christ began, with a radical denial of self, which for the Church is on both an individual and a corporate level. If we, as His Body, don’t get on the “highway” of God’s mission by taking the same downward “on ramp” that Christ took and paved for us, there’s a good chance we’ve taken the upward one that Lucifer pioneered and paved for all he would deceive, and we are, therefore, heading in the wrong direction down the pike.
Paul’s exhortation to the entire Philippian church was, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5) And to the church in Ephesus he implored: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation by which ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering…” (Ephesians 4:1-2 WEB) This is the call to participation with Christ in His mission, and in its inherent sufferings, which is the third dynamic of the corporate spiritual life of the Church.
“being made conformable unto His death,”
Participation naturally and inevitably leads to conformation. Likewise, kenosis (the emptying of self) naturally and inevitably leads to the cross (the death of self).
“Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
When an individual takes up their cross, they are, in essence, “being made conformable unto His death”. In this inward work of the cross, there is an operation of the Spirit that applies a killing power to the roots of the self-life. Selfish ambition, self-interest, self-sufficiency, self-conceit, self-determination, self-preservation, self-promotion, and the like are all dealt a death-blow leaving one humbled and wholly dependent on God in all respects.
When an assembly, likewise, takes up their cross in a collective way, being made “conformable unto His death”, there is an inward work of the Spirit that applies a killing power to the roots of their collective “self-life.” Their collective selfish ambition, self-interest, self-sufficiency, self-conceit, self-determination, self-preservation, self-promotion, and the like are all dealt a death-blow leaving the assembly humbled and wholly dependent on God in all respects.
This may seem completely counter-intuitive and corporately counter-productive, but, as with the individual, that which is put to death through this collective, inward work of the cross is only that which is death-producing within it. The cross is the death of death, leaving behind only the life of Life, i.e the indwelling impartation of “the power of His resurrection.” Unless a corporate body of believers is willing to deny itself, (“corporate kenosis”), take up its cross daily (die to its collective self-life), it will never be able to follow Jesus into the attaining of its collective resurrection out from the dead. This is God’s ultimate desire and objective for the Church and is the only path to the ultimate ground of victory in Christ over sin, the world, and Satan, both within and without Her.
The self-life of a person is the greatest obstacle God has to His kingdom being established within them, and the corporate “self-life” of a collective is the greatest obstacle God has to His kingdom being established within them. God’s remedy for both is this process laid out in Philippians 3:10-11 of revelation, impartation, participation, and conformation. Any short-cutting of this process only short-circuits the work of God. When these are progressively embraced and embodied, however, the next dynamic immediately becomes operative in the spiritual life of the Ekklesia.
“That if by any means WE, TOGETHER, may attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”
God’s intention and desire is to get everything concerning His people onto resurrection ground. That alone is the exalted, unassailable ground of Christ’s victory and of the enemy’s sure defeat. Only that which passes through death, however, can be resurrected, whether on the individual or collective level.
This is pictured for us in the history of Israel as they came through the wilderness, passed through the Jordan river, and entered the promised land of Canaan to possess it. The wilderness brought them a form of suffering that stripped down their individual and collective self-life (self-reliance, self-determination, self-satisfaction, etc.) and worked to get “Egypt” (the “world”) out of them.
The Jordan river, however, was symbolic of a deeper death, the inward, experiential death of the cross. The Jordan river (lit.,“the Descender”), which flowed through a town called “Adam”, forms a valley leading into the Dead Sea that is the lowest physical depression on earth. (Stop for a minute and consider the richness of that sovereign symbolism.) It was at “harvest” time, with the river at “flood stage”, when the Israelites arrived to cross over it. As the priests carrying the ark of the covenant (symbolic of the Lord Jesus Christ) stepped into the river, however, the powerful flood waters stopped flowing and piled up in heap a great distance away in “Adam.” This was, in essence, a cutting off of the death (i.e. “the death of death”) that flowed from “Adam”, i.e the work of the cross.
Apart from all of Israel coming through the wilderness, descending to Jordan, the lowest place on earth (think, “the fellowship of His sufferings”/”kenosis”) and stepping into the place where death flowed, yet was cut off by the presence and power of the ark (think, “being made conformable unto His death”), they never would have been able to make it into and possess the land of their inheritance and drive out the inhabitants thereof (think, “That if by any means WE, TOGETHER, may attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”)
God laid out His infallible, immutable ways for His Church, in order for Her to possess Her collective inheritance, in living example and colorful “shadow” through His people Israel. We are now called to walk in the spiritual reality of these types and shadows in order for us, His Church, to come onto the high, holy, victorious ground of “the resurrection.” This is the present, inward, corporate reality that is the end objective of all of God’s workings collectively within His people through the five dynamics laid out in Philippians 3:10-11.
As was shared in the initial post in this series, these dynamics are progressive and cyclical in nature, leading us ever higher and further on in our spiritual growth and development as we continually and repeatedly follow and yield to them. As such,
Revelation leads to Impartation
Impartation leads to Participation
Participation leads to Conformation
Conformation leads to Transformation
Transformation leads to….
What this will look like in each individual expression of His Church will vary and be creatively unique by the hand of the Lord, yet the spiritual principles and corporate dynamics are universal, inviolable, and effectual. Wherever, and to whatever degree they are embraced collectively, healthy spiritual growth and development ensues. Wherever, and to whatever degree they are resisted and/or rejected collectively, spiritual growth and development is thwarted, distorted, and/or ceases to progress. May we humbly learn and unreservedly give ourselves to God’s high, holy, and triumphant ways for His people that we may fully possess our inheritance in Him, and He may fully possess His inheritance in us!
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“That TOGETHER WE may know Him, and the power of His resurrection,
and, TOGETHER, WE may know the fellowship of His sufferings,
being made conformable unto His death;
If by any means, TOGETHER, WE might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”
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I pray that these truths may be especially poignant as we contemplate and celebrate our Lord’s sufferings, death, and resurrection during these next few days. May all of you have a blessed Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday,
however you may be celebrating them this year!
Five Dynamics of the Spiritual Life (Three-post series complete – PDF)
Five Dynamics of the Spiritual Life (initial post)
Five Dynamics of the Corporate Spiritual Life – Part 1: Revelation and Impartation (second post)
The Cross – The Unlevel Playing Field of Satan’s Defeat (Christ’s conquering His enemies through “kenosis”)
“Corporate UN-Anothering”: It’s Root and Remedy (Part 2 of chain blog post) (“corporate kenosis” explored more fully)
“We’re Going Up” – lyrics by David Bolton (shadow and fulfillment of “possessing the land” – original ballad – listen below)