Skip to main content

Learning humility from Jesus in the Christ hymn

Author: Jack Morris, 31 May 2024

What does it mean to be humble? Jesus showed the ultimate example of humility when he died on the cross but his whole earthly ministry was a showcase for humility. Paul sheds more light on Christ’s humility in Philippians 2, in part of the chapter often called ‘the Christ hymn’.

As we take a deeper look at the Christ hymn, we can learn what it takes to be humble like Jesus. Paul says in Philippians 2.5 that in our relationships with others we are to have the mindset of Christ. Let’s explore Christ’s humility in three steps.

1. Humility requires a selfless mindset

Despite being fully divine and fully human, Jesus didn’t take advantage of his status. Rather than using his position for his own gain he lowered himself to our level to show us the Father. Paul writes that Jesus ‘did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage’ (Philippians 2.6). He put others before himself and despite having every right to hold on to his divinity he ‘emptied’ himself and took on human form to die for our sins. The enormity of Jesus’ selflessness is brought to the fore by Alec Motyer in his commentary The Message of Philippians, as he writes, ‘His are the eternal glories, both by nature and by right, but they are not a platform for self-display, nor a launching-pad for self-advancement; they are all for self-denial. Self is something to pour out’ (page 114).

In a society where leaders used their power for their own advantage, Jesus chose the other way. Jesus made an active choice to be selfless. Note that there was no passivity in what Paul says in verses 7 and 8‘he made himself nothing’ and ‘he humbled himself’. For him to actively decide to lay down his rights for the good of others and to think of others’ needs above his own is an amazing example to us.

The most recent episode of The Rooted Podcast touches on the Christ hymn further, so why not check it out!

When we adopt the selfless mindset of Christ, we focus on those who are looked down upon by society but whom Christ actively sought. Despite cultural norms, Jesus associated himself with outcasts (the woman at the well in John 4), the sick (Mark 1.40–45) and women (Mark 7.24–30). Associating himself with these groups was to throw his reputation out of the window, but Jesus would stop at nothing to bring salvation to all. Perhaps this is a lesson to us that ‘the last will be first and the first will be last’ (Matt 20.16).

We have all been in situations where we think that we deserve something more than somebody else, but here Jesus calls us to follow him, to lay down our rights and be selfless for the good of others.

2. Humility requires a servant heart

Jesus states in Matthew 20.28 that he came to serve, not to be served, and we see this repeatedly. In his incarnation, Jesus took the form of a human, but he took this one step further in making himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2.7). The one through whom creation was formed came to the earth to serve his creation.

In John 13, when Jesus ate with his disciples, we read that ‘he knew that the Father had put all things under his power’ and yet Jesus then proceeds to wash his disciples' feet. Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe expresses the enormity of this when he comments, ‘The Father had put all things into the Son’s hands, yet Jesus picked up a towel and a basin!’ (Volume 1 of The Bible Exposition Commentary, page 345). The Sovereign Lord Jesus knew that there was quarrelling among his disciples as to who would sit at his right hand (Mark 10.35–45). Here we see that the disciples wanted power and authority, but Jesus showed them that true power is shown in humility and service. When we humble ourselves to serve others, the Father’s heart can be seen to those around us.

Jesus ends the meal by saying ‘no servant is greater than his master’ and ‘now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them’ (John 13.17). What a challenge or us today to follow in the footsteps of the sovereign servant Jesus! Where can you look for opportunities to serve others rather than looking to be served?

His servant-heartedness is brought to the forefront in his submission to the Father’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane, and ultimately on the cross of calvary.

3. Humility is a sacrifice

Jesus’ ultimate act of humility is shown in the sacrifice he made; his death on the cross. Humility requires an active choice to put others before ourselves. He sacrificed himself for the greater good of anybody who would believe, in that through his sacrifice, Christians would have eternal life.

There is something of obedience and submission involved in sacrifice too. Paul says that Jesus was ‘obedient to death, even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2.8). Part of Jesus’ humility was his obedience to the Father’s will. This wasn’t any normal death though; Jesus was crucified. Crucifixion was and is a brutal way to die. Mark Woods speaks about the severity of crucifixion on the latest episode of The Rooted Podcast, explaining that no Roman citizen would be crucified and that no word could possibly describe so horrible a deed. Yet Jesus humbly subjected himself to that, to glorify his Father and to bring about salvation for all. In Ephesians 3, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 21: ‘cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree’ – yet this is what Jesus did for us. He was the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice. When he submitted to death he modelled humility to his followers perfectly.

The whole purpose of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation is the glorification of God. The ‘Christ hymn’ finishes with Paul explaining how following Christ’s death he was raised up and exalted to the highest place, to the glory of God. 

Peter in his first epistle wrote that we should humble ourselves under God’s hand so that he may lift us up in due time (1 Peter 5.6). Reading this, we might think that we should be humble in order to be raised up – which isn’t very humble. But really, humility is based on selflessness, servant- heartedness, sacrifice and ultimately God’s glory rather than ours. It’s when we focus on these that we follow Jesus’ example of humility. 

If you want to dig deeper into Philippians, why not check out The Rooted Podcast? Subscribe wherever you listen and also check out our last series on the Sermon on the Mount.

Share this:

You might also be interested in:

Read the Bible icon Read the Bible
Open the full Bible