Kenosis: The Practice of Self-Emptying Love

by Britt Hester, Minister of Youth and Christian Education


This summer our students and I participated in a Bible studies series called “Shake n’ Study.” Over the course of four sessions we met to study the book of Philippians together, and during our study we would bring our favorite ice cream flavors to make milkshakes to sip on while we discussed each chapter of Philippians. Our time together was rich and meaningful, and we learned a lot about the church at Philippi and Paul’s relationship to their community. One of the things that emerged from our study was this beautiful image of Christ’s love for us and the call for us to embrace and practice this same type of love.


In Philippians chapter 2 verses 1-11, Paul instructs the Philippians to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (verses 3-5, NRSV). I like the NIV translation of verse 5 the best: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Paul goes on to explain in the following verses that Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” The Greek word used for “emptied himself” is kenosis.


The term literally means Christ emptied himself of all glory and power to become receptive to God’s divine will. The term kenosis is our youth ministry theme for the 2019-2020 year. Each year we have a theme that provides vision for our ministry and programming. This year’s theme inspires and challenges us to consider how Christ emptied himself on our behalf, but it also demands something of us. It calls us to be participants in Christ’s model of selfemptying love. The kingdom of God is predicated on followers of The Way bearing witness to work of Christ in their lives. We can be certain that when we profess Jesus as Lord, we are professing our desire to live into his will and way in the world. And we hope through this theme we will be moved to empty ourselves and allow God’s love and grace to fill our lives.