L AST MONTH, Chuck Feeney’s foundation ran out of money. The foundation was first set up in 1982. Billionaire Chuck Feeney, age 89, reached his goal of wanting to give away his entire $8 billion fortune.
He has been making secret donations to charities, universities, and institutions worldwide under his foundation for decades. Feeney is known for living a very frugal lifestyle, not owning a car, and only one pair of shoes. He and his wife live in a rental apartment in San Francisco.
From billionaire to nothing. Well, not quite. You see, Feeney told Forbes Magazine in 2012 that he had set aside around $2 million for his retirement plans. So, it’s not like he’s living in poverty. He did say he hopes to lose the rest of his fortune before his life ends.
Something to almost nothing.
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I THOUGHT ABOUT Mr. Feeney and his generosity when I was focusing on this great hymn of the early church found in Philippians 2. It, too, is the story of sacrifice. Jesus gave up his fortune to become nothing.
Jesus “being in very nature God … .” That does not just mean that Jesus had the outward form of God or he had some kind of glory of God. He was actually God. Not a junior-varsity God, not part God. Or as the Nicene Creed states, “true God from true God.”
Here’s the next phrase: “He — Jesus — did not count equality with God a thing to be used for his own advantage.” That word can be translated grasped — to get something that you’re entitled to. You have certain privileges so go for it, grab it.
Jesus didn’t cling to his privilege. He emptied himself. He poured himself out. He gave everything he had. I like the way the NIV translates this. He became nothing. Think about that.
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YOU MIGHT UNDERSTAND giving everything you have. In athletics, when you “leave everything on the field” … you have nothing left to give. When you are a parent, perhaps taking care of children but also taking care of your own mother or father … you reach the point of being empty. You’ve poured yourself out.
Jesus gave everything for us. He didn’t empty himself of Godness. When Jesus became a human being, he didn’t become less God — just 50 percent God instead of 100 percent God.
He’s still fully God. Jesus didn’t just pour himself out for one game, one match, one day. His whole life was a pouring himself out for others, and his whole existence still is pouring himself out.
Jesus poured himself out. Emptied himself and became nothing. We use “nothing” in reference to people who have no value to us. No value. Lowest of the low. Jesus poured himself into a human being, but not a remarkable human being or a rich human being or a powerful human being or a privileged human being or a beautiful human being.
He poured himself into a less-than-ordinary human. A servant, a slave.
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SO JESUS POURS HIMSELF OUT for the sake of others. My life for yours. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death … even death on a cross.” Now, you may know there was no place lower than death on a cross.
In those days, people didn’t walk around wearing crosses as a piece of jewelry. A cross was reserved for thugs, it was reserved for rejects and rebels. Jewish people said that anybody that hangs on a cross is accursed.
And yet there he is, hanging on the cross, even death on a cross.
God is demonstrating in Jesus that there is no place too low for God to go, to go down and reach a flawed and human, rebellious human, broken human. There is no place too low. You can’t go any lower than Jesus went. You can’t start any higher; you can’t go any lower.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
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THIS IS VINDICATION. This is the deepest story at the heart of the Bible’s message — God overflows with self-giving love. God says, “My life for yours.”
That’s the gospel story: my life for yours. The point is not for us to just be inspired, to be moved emotionally. But to be like Christ. So committed that we want to pour out our lives in sacrifice for others.
Paul front-loads the takeaway from this great early church hymn. “Do nothing from selfish ambition.”
Ambition is not a bad thing. Selfish ambition is. When life becomes all about us, we can wreck people around us. “Do nothing from selfish ambition” — because of who Christ is, because of who you are in him.
Do nothing from conceit. We all crave glory. We want to be affirmed; we want people to tell us how great we are. We want glory. We’re famished for recognition, and we never get enough. But unfortunately, it becomes like a never-ending quest.
“Look not only to your own interests … .”
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ON OCT. 1, 2017, as a shooter was spraying the field where concertgoers were attending a country music concert in Las Vegas, there was an off-duty firefighter named Dean McAuley who was there with two of his friends.
Initially, McAuley and his two friends, as the bullets were sort of spraying the ground, said, “We’ve got to get out of here.” But McAuley hesitated and his friends said, “Hey, you’ve got to come.” McAuley said, “No, I’ve got some work to do. I’ve got to go back.”
He found his way to the medical tent where he found some medical gloves and he put them on. He was able to rescue two young women and get them to safety. Then he went back and he found another young woman, a 17-year-old girl named Natalia, who was literally bleeding out. He found something to use as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, and he hooked her up to an IV, got her into a car, and they took her to the hospital. Natalia lived and is OK.
A story of a real-life sacrifice — somebody putting their life on the line for someone else, for another group of people — really moves me. I have a file and I collect these stories because they always show up in traumatic situations like this.
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SOMEBODY IS WILLING to put their life on the line. Somebody is willing to say, “My life for yours.” Not just my life for me, or my life for me and a little group of friends that I happen to like, but my life for yours.
That is the essence of sacrifice.
Look to Jesus, receive from Jesus, ask Jesus to make you more like him. May he make us people that are truly able to live lives where we are free to sacrifice.