Notes from Tim Keller’s sermon “Incarnation”


My notes on Tim Keller’s sermon on Phil 2 as part of a series on the Apostle’s Creed on Oct 25 2015

The Infinite God became a human being in Jesus Christ. The implications are vast and many. Paul doesn’t get it out just to teach it but because of a problem in the church. Paul is saying “I want unity here” because there were divisions in the church. They were fighting.

He lists the things of the first verses of Phil 2

Philippians 2:1–2 (NET)

1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy,2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose.

These are what they have but these are not keeping them from fighting.

The two most common things that keep people from fighting are common blood and common faith. But there IS fighting in families and fighting in faith. There is something in our hearts that inclines us to fighting and even the strongest things in our hearts don’t stop it.

Paul takes a basic, practice, human problem of fighting and brings the incarnation to bear on it.

  • The heart that fights
  • The heart that makes peace
  • How to get the heart that makes peace

The Heart that Fights

What is the cause of the fighting? Vain conceit. The english equivalent of the Greek that literally means to be “glory empty” What does it mean to be glory empty?

Among other things it means to be starved of validation and approval. To be starved of respect. To be cosmically insecure. I don’t matter and I don’t count.

The Bible says that this is the case of ALL human beings and Paul says this is why we fight. Why we have dis-unity. This is our natural human condition.

We’re not sure of our own significance so we go get it and that leads to fighting.

Harriet Ruben Success and Excess

In Fast company.


Achievement, Bell begins, is the alcohol of our time. These days, the best people don’t abuse alcohol. They abuse their lives. “People brag to me that they’re working 80 hours a week, giving their lives to the company store,” Bell says. “It’s heartbreaking. Those people are prime candidates for self-destruction.” The reason is simple: “Our bodies will produce the pain we need to get our drugs.”

The demon success has three faces, Bell explains: “euphoria,” “normal,” and “pain.” On a sheet of paper, she draws a chart showing these three terms arranged from top to bottom: “euphoria” above, “normal” in the middle, “pain” below. “You’re successful, so good things happen,” Bell says. “You complete a project, and you feel dynamite, so you move up to euphoria. That feeling doesn’t last forever, and you slide back to normal. You think, ‘I’ve got to start a new project’ – which is still normal. But you love the feeling of euphoria, so you’ve got to have it again. The problem is, you can’t stay on that high. A new car is good for six trips around the block, and then it’s a used car. The euphoria is gone.”

And then there are the events that drop you down to the pain level. “Say you’re working on a deal and it doesn’t get approved,” Bell says. “This time, you don’t stop at normal – you fall all the way to pain. Your self-esteem is on the line, because you’ve been gathering your self-worth externally. Eventually, in this cycle, you drop to the pain level more and more often. The highs don’t seem quite so high. You may win a deal that’s even bigger than the one that got away, but somehow that deal doesn’t take you to euphoria. Next time, you don’t even get back to normal, because you’re so desperate about clinching the next deal.”

An “achievement addict” is no different from any other kind of addict, Bell suggests. In either case, the individual still must choose between bondage and freedom. “Can you live without your junk? I ask CEOs that question all the time,” Bell says. “Can you live without the deals that you make just to reach the fantasy state of euphoria? Can you stop trying to please the boss or the board, rather than yourself? Who owns you? Do you own you – or do your projects own you?”

You get diminishing returns until you get to the place when you’re driven to destructive levels of use.

If it is true that we glory starved we see it all over the place, crime, politics, terrorism. It isn’t about money, it’s about respect. There is a hunger for respect. The violence is a response not because the people are assured of their worth, but because they’re not.

Human beings want attention. Even anger is better than being ignored. We’re starved for attention. Why?

Why at the end of Amadeus the old composer Salieri is in a living hell? Why, not because his music is disliked, it’s been forgotten. CS Lewis says the nature of hell is not fire. Hell is being eternally and utterly ignored.

The dominant response in our culture

“these are people with low self-esteem. Only you can bestow significance on yourself. You don’t get validation from others. It only matters what you think of yourself.”

Every philosopher, psychologist, sociologist commenting on this narrative says it’s impossible. If everyone in the world thinks you’re a horrible monster you can’t say “It doesn’t matter I love myself”. That’s not going to work. We’re relational and social.

Only if you get love, approval and esteem from someone you esteem will you ever get self-esteem.

You can’t validate yourself, but if you’re trying to get it from others you feel like a squirrel on a cage. The Bible says we have the answer for this. We were made for God. Because we’ve turned away from God there is an infinite vacuum in us that needs to be filled the smile of the infinite God, to be filled with his love. If you turn away from God and he’s not the center of your life then you’ve got an infinite sized vacuum in your soul and you try to fill it with approval and money and awards you are always cosmically insecure. You’re touchy and your irritable always not getting what you deserve and so you fight. This is the heart that fights.

What’s the heart that makes peace?

Philippians 2:3–4 (NET)

3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.

On the one hand in Greek “humility” means “gentle and modest” but Paul gives content to this word. Humility is counter to “glory-starved”. It is an inner fullness.

Whatever makes you fight is an inner emptiness. Humility must be an inner fullness. Humility and pride is being determined by what you habitually look at. If you’re empty you habitually look at yourself. If you’re full you have the ability to see others. There is a fullness there.

When you’re hungry you think about food, when you’re full you just walk by.

Jonathan Edwards Charity and Its Fruits

Has a chapter on humility. There are four things that humility is opposed to. To the degree that you have humility, the fullness, there are traits.

  1. it is opposed to self-consciousness
  2. willfullness
  3. scornfullness
  4. drivenness.


It’s one thing to work hard, it’s another to work hard habitually. It’s a response to inner emptiness not to inner fullness.


If your habit is to be scorning and disdaining. You are putting people below you. Courtesy and gentleness is not just a sign of being nice, it’s a sign of being full.


A willful person is always right. Often wrong but never in doubt. Doesn’t listen. Can’t take advice. This is always a mark of inner emptiness. I’ve gotta be right, you’ve gotta be wrong. You’re always trying to assure yourself of your validation.


To hate yourself. To be shy. To beat yourself up all the time. To be always noticing that you’re not this or that. You’re totally self absorbed. If you are full, you are not thinking about yourself all the time.

CS Lewis in Mere Christianity in the chapter of “The Great Sin”. Humility is not to think less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. Because you’re full.

How do you get a heart that full?

The doctrine of the incarnation. It is not a psychological move on yourself. You need doctrine. You need to believe, rejoice in, and constantly remind yourself of everything in verses 6 through 11. It’s the story of Jesus. It’s his trajectory, his career.

Philippians 2:5–11 (NET)

5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death —even death on a cross! 9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow —in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Where he was? He was equal to God. He didn’t hold onto it. Equal to the Father.

Then he made himself nothing and took on another nature. By taking the nature not just of an aristocrat, but of a servant. Simple, poor, vulnerable. He want to the cross.

Because of what he did he’s got more honor and more glory than he had before.

You’ve got to use that on yourself.

You have to see what happened outside you and use it inside you

Verse 7, you’re glory starved. He emptied himself. “Kenosis”

You and I are killing each other and killing ourselves trying to fill ourselves with glory.

Jesus was full and he voluntarily emptied himself of glory.

We can’t comprehend how beautiful, full and glorious he was. He was full and emptied himself.

He lost all his glory and went to the cross. “my God my God why have you forsaken me”

He was eternally and utterly ignored. He was cut off. He embraced our worst nightmare, to be eternally and utterly ignored.

He took what we deserve on the cross.

We don’t center our lives on God. We’ve turned away from him and what we deserve is for him to turn away from us. For him to turn away from us means for us to turn to dust and blow away.

Jesus Christ on the cross got what we deserve. He got our justice.

“The Father turned his face away.”

Jesus experienced that so that when you go to God because of what Jesus did the Bible says God puts our sin on him and gives us his righteousness, as he deserved. “We are his treasured possession” 1 Peter.

Take that into your heart and that fills it.

That’s what happened outside you. Now take it inside. You can’t validate yourself.

“The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.”

There cannot be possible any greater basis for your identity than God’s approval. You not only have his smile but you can’t lose it. It’s not based on you.

Everyone else’s esteem is based on your performance. It is up and down and will never satisfy.

If you know it you can start to live like Jesus Christ lived. The greatest glory is a person who gives up his glory to save us. The greatest strength is to become weak to save us. Now you go do it. You know it will work.

The way up is down. To be rich is to give your money away. To have power and influence is not to domineer but to sacrifice for other people. The way to be happy is to stop thinking about your own happiness but to help others to be happy. The way to rule is to serve.

You can’t just say “yes I’ve got to do that”. You’ve got to have inside the smile of God and the light of God. He became so small so we could become big in the eyes of God.

“The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Success won’t open that door. Lashing out won’t open that door. Telling myself “oh I love myself” won’t open that door. This will.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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