He Humbled Himself

Christ’s submission to a shameful death on the Cross is the paradigm for Christian service and conduct

Paul presented the self-denying obedience of Jesus as the pattern for Christian conduct towards others, the model that we must emulate if we wish to be his disciple. Moreover, his elevation to reign over all things resulted from his “
obedience even unto death.” His exaltation to God’s “right hand” did not precede his death. It followed it - [Cross Photo by Hugo Fergusson on Unsplash].

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle summoned believers to conduct themselves properly in a hostile culture, and that began by “standing fast in one spirit, with one soul, joining for the combat along with the faith of the gospel, and not being frightened in anything by the opposers.”

But he also called for concord among believers by appealing to the example of Jesus. Anyone who would follow him must follow his example, “thinking the same thing” that he did by giving priority to the needs of others over ow own.

Paul elaborated on this by comparing Christ’s obedience with the disobedience of Adam, then highlighted how he, instead, fulfilled the role of the “Suffering Servant” prophesied by Isaiah:
  • (Philippians 2:5-11) - “Be thinking this among you, that even in Christ Jesus. Who, commencing in form of God, considered being like God something not to be seized, but he poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of men; and having been found in fashion as man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Therefore, also, God highly exalted him and granted him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of beings heavenly and earthly and under the earth, and every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father, even God.
Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to seize “likeness” with God, and instead, he “humbled himself” by submitting to an unjust death. For that very reason, he was “highly exalted” by His Father. Adam was created in the image of God, but he grasped at divine “likeness” when he ate the forbidden fruit. In contrast, Jesus obeyed God and suffered the consequences.

Jesus did not “consider being like God as something for plunder.” The Greek adjective isos rendered “like” is in the dative case and means just that, “like.” The clause alludes to the story of the “serpent” tempting Adam:
  • (Genesis 3:5) - “For God knows that in the day you eat thereof your eyes will be opened and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.”
Adam chose disobedience and thereby attempted to “seize” the likeness of God. To the Philippians, Paul contrasted the failure of Adam with the refusal of Jesus to grasp at that same “likeness.” He succeeded where Adam failed.

He was “being in the form of God.” The clause corresponds to the creation account when “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him”. Likewise, Jesus was in the “image” or “form” of God. In Greek literature, the two nouns are used synonymously. The term “being” represents the Greek present tense participle huparchō, which means “to commence, begin, start.” In other words, Jesus “commenced” or began in the image of God, just as Adam did. However, he did not fail when tempted with disobedience.

The Greek noun rendered “seize” means “plunder, booty,” something that is seized by force. Unlike Adam, Jesus did not attempt to seize likeness with God, and instead:
  • He poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of men. And having been found in fashion as man, he humbled himself becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”
This verse echoes the “Suffering Servant” described by Isaiah, the messianic figure who “poured out HIS SOUL to death, and with transgressors let himself be numbered… Hard-pressed, yet he humbled himself, and opened not his mouth as a lamb is led to the slaughter” - (Isaiah 53:7-12).

Like the “Suffering Servant,” rather than grasp at “likeness” with God, Jesus “humbled himself” to the point of unjust death, and that is how “he poured himself out.” Paul completed the picture by utilizing allusions to two more passages from Isaiah:
  • (Isaiah 52:13) - “Behold, my Servant prospers, he rises and is lifted up and becomes very high.”
  • (Isaiah 45:23) - “By myself have I sworn, gone forth out of my mouth is righteousness as a decree and shall not turn back, that unto myself shall bow every knee shall swear every tongue.”
The self-denying example of Jesus illustrates Paul’s exhortation for us to defer to others. And Jesus died the death of a “slave,” an image he drew from the Greco-Roman culture.  Crucifixion was considered the most shameful form of death imaginable, and its most horrific aspect was the public humiliation attached to crucifixion.

The Apostle Peter made a very similar point when appealing for Christians to endure unjust suffering patiently, also alluding to the example of the “Suffering Servant”:
  • For what glory is it, if, when you sin and are buffeted for it, you take it patiently? But if when you do well and suffer for it, you shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For hereunto were you called; because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps, who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, who, when reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously” - (1 Peter 2:20-23).
Disciples of Jesus are called to have this same mind, to seek nothing out of self-interest or for “empty glory.” They are to emulate the Messiah who did not seek to exalt himself, and instead, “poured himself out” in humble obedience to God. To be his disciple, the believer must conduct himself in “humility” in the very same way – “Let this mind be in you!

And the pattern set by Jesus Christ means that exaltation follows obedience and humility. It does not precede submission and self-denial. If the very Son of God “humbled himself” even when doing so meant a most shameful death, then we ought to do likewise. And this is what it means to deny oneself, to take up the cross, and to follow Jesus “wherever he goes.”



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