Bible Study

HOLY WEEK Bible Study

Jesus Christ- the Supreme Example of humility and self-denial


Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 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.

(Philippians 2:5-11)

This passage reflects Paul's attempt to come to terms with the tremendous work of redemption was accomplished through Jesus Christ. It is an eloquent tribute to the humility and obedience of the Son of God in bringing to conclusion a ministry that began in Galilee over a three year period and ended in Jerusalem on a cruel, rugged cross. Jerusalem was a place where Jesus had his final rendezvous with destiny. Paul showed that he fully understood what this meant for the person who sets out to follow the great example of his Lord.

In verses 1-4 it is clear that the apostle was concerned about certain attitudes that had emerged in the Philippian Church. It was a church that he loved and with which he had a special relationship. But he felt the need to speak honestly to them about what he had noticed or what might have been brought to his attention.

If they were to make complete his high regard for them then they needed to ensure that they work in one accord in accomplishing the tasks assigned to them; they should set aside selfish ambitions and any desire for vainglory. Furthermore, they should demonstrate humility in considering others better than themselves. They should not be preoccupied with their own interests but should have regard for the interests of others.

If there were any doubts about what any of this meant they only had to look to the supreme example in whom the virtues of humility, obedience and self-renunciation or self-denial came together, the Lord Jesus Christ. These were the hallmarks of his life and ministry and they should also become the hallmarks of the life of the disciple of Christ.

Humility. Throughout his ministry people had seen the power of Jesus in the miracles that he performed especially in the healing of many from various diseases. Yet it could never be said that he used his powers to advance a personal ambition or to exalt himself above others. In fact, as Mark is careful to point out (in what may be understood as the Messianic secret) Jesus sought to avoid any attempt by the crowds to exalt him or to make him a king. To use a hackneyed expression, he was comfortable in his own skin. His humility was born out of his self-understanding that he was a servant; he came to serve and not to be served (Matthew 20:28).

Obedience. Obedience is a necessary and important aspect of humility. Paul says that he became obedient unto death, even death upon the cross. From he began his ministry in Galilee, the cross beckoned. As he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday it was clear that Jerusalem meant pain, suffering and eventually death. Jesus tried to explain this to his disciples but they failed to understand what he meant by this, or if they did, they failed to grasp the significance of this event. It was only after they had seen the resurrected Lord that their eyes were truly open to the implications of his suffering and death, that, indeed, no greater love can be shown than that in which a person lays down his life for his friends (John 15: 13).

He would not allow himself to be distracted or dissuaded from the path that led to the cross. This obedience to his mission brought him in conflict with the religious and political authorities who in their ignorance crucified him. But this was the path that he had to tread; Gethsemane was the culminating point at which it became abundantly clear that the will of his heavenly father had to be carried out.

Self-renunciation or Self-denial. Humility and obedience can hardly be sustained without a desire for self-denial. On his way to the cross, Jesus had taught that the person who loves his life will lose it and the one who would give his life for his sake and the gospel's would save it ( Matthew 16:25). He also taught: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the modern martyrs of the church, once said that when God calls a man he bids him come and die. The call may not occasion physical death, but "death" to a number of things that one considers to be valuable but which may prevent the person from realizing his or her true purpose in life.

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