Think about a humbling or humiliating situation you’ve faced—for example, a layoff or demotion at work, something big you tried that failed in front of everyone, or even something embarrassing that happened when you were growing up. Besides “humbled” or “humiliated,” how else would you describe how you felt when this event was taking place? What good, if any, do you think came out of it?
Jesus talked about humility a lot. Perhaps surprisingly to some, most of His comments about it came in the context of leadership. But to lead as Jesus did, humility is critical. “One can so easily become too great to be used by God,” Corrie ten Boom once said. “One can never be too small for his service.”
Paul understood this about Jesus, and observed it in the leaders he was developing. Check out these passages from his letter to the church in Philippi:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming 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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father….
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me (Philippians 2:3-11, 19-30, NIV).
The literal translation of the beginning of verse 7 is “he emptied himself.” Jesus emptied himself. He gave up everything for us. Let’s think about that a bit more, especially if this is the attitude each of us is supposed to have.
• What examples of Jesus’ humility do you see in Timothy and Epaphroditus?
• How do you nonetheless see these two men as leaders? How do you see God (or Paul) honoring their attitude here?
• Do you think we need to be totally emptied of ourselves before God can really work through us? Why or why not?
• If you truly had “the same attitudes that Christ Jesus had” (verse 5), what would look different?
Think about your family, those you work with, and even people you don’t know very well. What are some realistic, practical ways that you can follow Jesus’ example and serve them?
OK, that was a nice mental activity. But let’s take it further:
• Out of all the ideas you just thought of, which ones do you think you’d actually do?
• What makes you uncomfortable or unwilling to serve others? What can help you get past that?
Serving others isn’t always easy or comfortable, but Jesus showed us not only that we can do it, but to have joy while doing it. It can be hard to step out of our comfort zones, but everything Jesus did showed us that it’s worth it to follow His example.
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
“What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:20-28, NIV)
• Be honest: In what ways are you like “the sons of Zebedee,” James and John (or their mom, for that matter)?
• What’s a situation right now where you’d considering serving more fully… as long as it was on your terms?
• What would take for you to let go of your “rights” and serve God however he wants you serve—in that situation or any other?
Ask God to help you use both your hands and your feet to lead the way He wants us to—by serving those around us—and that you’d not only have His willingness but also His heart for the people He’s placed around us.