It seems every child born into the world has programmed into their minds the idea that if someone does something mean or nasty to you, then you have the right, if not the responsibility, to do the same back to them. What parent has not learned that when Johnny hits his little sister and he is reprimanded for it, he will immediately say, “Well, she did it to me first.” That is, to Johnny’s mind, reason enough to hit his sister.
It is our duty as parents to teach our children that we are not always to imitate the behaviour of others in this life. The Bible does not say, “Do unto others what they have done unto you.” Rather it says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So then, imitation is not necessarily the right or necessary thing to do to others.
In our text we have the remarkable statement of Paul to the effect that the Lord of glory humbled Himself and took onto Himself the form of humankind. He who was the Creator of everything (Colossians 1:16) entered His own creation and submitted Himself to the laws He put in place to govern His creation. Not only did He submit to the physical laws of our world, He who will some day judge all creation, allowed people to sit in judgment on Him. He allowed those to whom He gave life to become those who would take away His physical life.
Such humility is unequalled in all of recorded history. His good reputation was soiled by lies. His earthly goods consisted only of the clothes on His back. He was mocked, flogged, denied His rights before the law courts, and then crucified, the most painful form of dying then known. Finally He was laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Could anyone be more humiliated than He was?
We know that Jesus did all of this out of love for sinners. He lived the perfect life we could not. He died the death we deserve. Then He rose the third day to prove the price for sin was fully paid. Now, for those who repent and trust in Him, there is everlasting life.
Paul, in our verse for today tells us to humble ourselves as Jesus did when He walked among us. Christians are people who do not demand what is rightfully theirs any more than Jesus demanded what was rightfully His. In our present society this is hard to swallow. We are taught by the world to “demand our rights”. If we do not get our rights, then sue for them.
So when Paul writes to the Philippian Christians he is telling them to look to Jesus who gave up His rights and do likewise. Do not insist on what is rightfully yours. A fortress mentality and looking after our own interests first is not the Christian way. Certainly we are to look after our own interests, but self-denial is a virtue, not an affliction. It is not always necessary to go after all that we could or should have in this life.
We can release our rights to many things as long as we are certain we still have our God.
We might lose our health in this life. If the medical community cannot assist us in recovering our good health then we should humble ourselves and accept the alternative of being chronically ill. If you are denied a partner in life while most or all of your friends have a spouse, humble yourself and accept it from God. If you cannot afford the finer things in life that your acquaintances have, humble yourself under God and accept your situation.
On it goes, you fill in the blank(s). God asks all of us to be like Jesus in humility. He calls on us to give up our “rights” in order to demonstrate our obedience to Him. We ought to always keep our eyes on Jesus as seen especially in the Gospels.
Have you “humbled” yourself? Is your life characterized by humility? It says in 1 Peter 5:5, (NIV).
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”