Foundations of Christian Wisdom: Embodiment

By Uli Chi

May 14, 2024

Scripture — John 1:14 (NIV)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.


The most astonishing claim of the Christian faith is that God, the Creator of the Universe, became a human being.


Adoration of the Shepherds (Caravaggio 1609)

In addition to personhood and community, a third foundational insight of Christian wisdom is the importance of embodiment. Or as it is referred to in Christian theology, incarnation.

Perhaps the most astonishing claim of the Christian faith is that God, the Creator of the Universe, became a human being. As I have alluded to before, that’s a remarkable affirmation of human dignity and the work human beings are called to do in stewarding the world. And it is also a remarkable act of identification with human beings. God expresses solidarity with God’s human creatures by becoming one of them.

So, what might we learn from that today?

For one, it reminds us that we must be willing to get our hands dirty alongside those we serve. I love Caravaggio’s painting of Jesus’ birth. Caravaggio paints an earthy realism that is often sanitized out of most depictions of the manger scene. God’s willingness to be born as a baby in a barn, surrounded by animal excrement, without the convenience of modern health care, pushes the boundaries of what I’m willing to do as a leader to identify with those I serve. And it challenges the contemporary conception of God as a distant deity, expressing divine displeasure at human folly and sin from a safe and comfortable distance from the realities of the world where human beings live. God knows what the real world is like because Jesus has lived through the worst of it. And the question for us as leaders is, are we willing to do the same? Are we ready to lead not just from a safe distance – either physically, emotionally, morally, or spiritually—but up close and personally?

For another, the importance of embodiment in Christian wisdom suggests that we must pay careful attention to our people’s actual contexts and circumstances. It’s easy to theorize (and to moralize) when we ignore the realities on the ground. As God demonstrated personally, leadership is always about the actual and not the abstract. It is about entering into the world of flesh and blood people doing real work in the real world, and paying attention to that world with care for the sake of the people who work there.

We all live and work in a particular place and time. The particularities and complexities of our circumstances matter a great deal. Wise leaders understand the importance of location and history. Rather than being naïve and simple-minded, they know the importance of creative flexibility and nuance. A Christian vision of wisdom requires—borrowing a phrase from the renowned biblical scholar N. T. Wright—that we are “both supple and subtle.”

A final insight from the Incarnation is that we need as leaders to learn the art of appreciating and embracing mystery. God becoming fully human is itself a profound mystery. If God willingly embraced the limitations of being human, so should we. As leaders, we are sometimes called upon to fulfill a godlike role. We assume (or others project on us) the obligation to be godlike in our knowledge and power. But our embodied state reminds us that, as human leaders, we have limitations. Jesus himself experienced and embraced this. There are things that we do not know. There are things that we cannot do. Our experience of human limitations brings us to the edge of mystery.

With Jesus, we need to learn to embrace it.


What do you find mysterious about your life and work? How does that sense of mystery feel to you? Do you see it as negative, neutral, or positive? How might you learn to embrace it?


In an appropriate way and setting, acknowledge your limits as a leader to those around you.


Lord Jesus Christ,

I so easily think of myself as being able to help every person and solve every problem. And when I cannot, I feel like I have somehow failed not only them but you.

Help me to learn the limits of being human. Help me learn the rhythms of grace, to enter into partnership with you in the work you have called me to do. And help me to know that where I end, you begin.

I ask in your name,


Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: In the Beginning Was the Word (John 1:1-18).

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Uli Chi

Board Member, Senior Fellow, Affiliate Professor

Dr. Uli Chi’s career is a testament to his unique approach to leadership. He has navigated the realms of for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, the theological academy, and the local church, gleaning a wealth of wisdom from each. As an award-winning technological entrepreneur, h...

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