Humiliation and Exaltation

December 31

Lesson 5


Devotional Reading:

1 Peter 3:8–12

Background Scripture:

Philippians 2:1–11

Printed Text:

Philippians 2:1–11


Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:

1. Tell of ways that Christ humbled himself.

2. Discuss how Christ’s humility gave way to his exaltation.

3. Identify one specific area
in which he or she will adopt an attitude of service to others.


How to Say It

Corinthians. Ko-RIN-thee-unz.

Epaphroditus. Ee-PAF-ro-DYE-tus.

Gentile. JEN-tile.

Lydia. LID-ee-uh.

Macedonia. Mass-eh-DOE-nee-uh.

Philippi. Fih-LIP-pie or FIL-ih-pie.

Philippians. Fih-LIP-ee-unz.

synagogue. SIN-uh-gog.


Daily Bible Readings

Monday, Dec. 25—The Magi Give Honor (Matthew 2:1–11)

Tuesday, Dec. 26—Jesus Is Presented (Luke 2:22–38)

Wednesday, Dec. 27—Jesus, Our Brother (Hebrews 2:5–13)

Thursday, Dec. 28—Christ, Our Great High Priest (Hebrews 2:14–18)

Friday, Dec. 29—Unity of Spirit (1 Peter 3:8–12)

Saturday, Dec. 30—Be Like Christ (Philippians 2:1–5)

Sunday, Dec. 31—Jesus Emptied Himself (Philippians 2:6–11)


Key Verse

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.     Philippians 2:3


Why Teach this Lesson?

Cast the words humiliation and exaltation against a backdrop of modern culture, and certain images will leap out. Most so-called “reality” TV shows are about humiliation as people are “voted off,” “fired,” etc. Exaltation is what happens to the few who make it all the way to the end of such artificial experiences. The fact that audiences revel (or wallow) in such shows points to a need for a biblical understanding of humiliation and exaltation.

The lesson today will teach us just that. As we consider the example of Christ, we will come to understand what humiliation and walking in humility really mean. Followers of Christ are to live lives of humility—lives of humble submission, obedience, and service to and for Christ. Christ will, in his own time, exalt us to the place he desires us to be in.



A. Servant Leadership

I was recently shopping in a “big box” retail store for an electronics item. I briefly overheard three young employees of the establishment discussing an employee meeting that had been held that morning. They were making fun of the concept of “servant leadership,” which apparently had been stressed at this meeting. As one put it, “If they think I’m here to serve customers, they’re crazy. I’m just here for a paycheck until I can find something better.” This got a good laugh of agreement from the other two.

Some retail establishments have found that a way to thrive is by offering fabulous customer service. A large department store chain where I live has been practicing this policy for years and is legendary for its customer service. It does not have the best prices, but loyal customers flock to this store because they are always treated with courtesy and respect. There is no hassle for a return or a special order, and salespeople go out of their way to please customers.

While most people enjoy being served, to be a servant is another matter! Modern society has demeaned the role of servant. Young people rarely aspire to be career servants. They all want to be boss. Even in the church we have allowed a “serve me” culture to dominate in many congregations. The paid church staff is under enormous pressure to provide many types of services for the members. Worship services sometimes degenerate into entertainment, with an audience that must be pleased. If a church is providing inadequate services, members may go elsewhere or cut down on their giving.

Yet the church, as a whole and individually, is tasked with cultivating a “mind of Christ.” This is an attitude of service, of valuing others more than self. Today’s lesson seeks to understand how Jesus can be Lord of all yet servant of all.


B. Lesson Background

Philippians is an unusual letter for Paul. Unlike most of his other writings, he was not writing to defend himself from attacks or to combat major doctrinal errors. Instead, it has been called “Paul’s joy letter” because of his frequent use of the terms joy and rejoice. This peaks when Paul commands his readers to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4), one of the best-loved verses of all Scripture.

The historical circumstances behind the letter help us to understand Paul’s upbeat spirit. Paul had founded the Philippian church on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:11–40). Philippi was an important Roman city in the province of Macedonia.

Unlike most large Roman cities, Philippi had a very tiny Jewish population. The Bible doesn’t say that Paul was able to locate a synagogue in Philippi when he visited that city. This leads us to presume that no synagogue existed there. Instead, he found a group of faithful Jewish women that included a prominent merchant named Lydia. We believe that Lydia became a close ally of Paul, and that the Philippian church met in her home. Acts also tells the dramatic story of Paul and Silas being thrown into the Philippian jail and gaining release through God’s miraculous intervention.

The result was the conversion and befriending of the Gentile warden of the Philippian jail. Paul was asked to leave the city by the Philippian authorities, but he left behind a strong group of friends and fellow believers. His relationship with this congregation was in no way strained, so much so that he could begin the letter by saying, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3).

Paul wrote Philippians while he was imprisoned. The Philippian congregation became aware of Paul’s circumstances and sent one of its trusted young men, Epaphroditus, to assist the apostle personally. This young man fell ill and nearly died (Philippians 2:25–30).

Paul sent Epaphroditus back to the Philippian church with a letter that expressed deep thanks for their long-time support of his ministry (Philippians 4:15-16). Paul was unable to bless them financially but instead gave them a marvelous letter full of wonderful statements of faith. As a result, the verses from Philippians are among the most popular for Scripture memorization (examples: Philippians 1:6, 21; 2:5; 3:7, 10, 14; 4:4, 7, 13).

One of the gems of this book is known as the Philippian Hymn (Philippians 2:6–11). As with the Christ Hymn in Colossians 1:15–20 (see the first lesson of this quarter), we can imagine Paul teaching this song to the new Christians at Philippi nearly a decade earlier. This hymn is full of beautiful and profound information concerning our Lord Jesus Christ.


I. The Mind of Christ (Philippians 2:1–5)

A. Attitude of Unity (vv. 1, 2)

1. If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,


Paul begins this section with four rhetorical if-statements. These are rhetorical in the sense that Paul does not question whether these things are true but wants his readers to ponder them for a moment. Can we find encouragement in knowing Christ? Yes. Can we find comfort from his love? Yes. Can we find sweet fellowship through the Holy Spirit with God and other believers? Yes. And are we blessed recipients of any tenderness and compassion from God? Yes.


What Do You Think?

Paul uses four rhetorical “if-statements” to depict an attitude of unity. Which of the four do you find most helpful personally? Why? What other phrases would you use to describe your relationship to the Lord?


2.… then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Paul is hundreds of miles away from his beloved Philippian brothers and sisters. But there is still something they can do to bring him great joy: they can be united in their thinking and controlled by a spirit of love. Paul is leading up to the great uniting factor: everyone trying to be like Christ. Unity is not achieved when we try to copy each other. In that case the strongest example will prevail temporarily but may change quickly and create ongoing disunity. True, lasting unity comes when all copies are made from an ultimate, unchanging pattern. For the church this pattern is Christ.


What Do You Think?

Wouldn’t it be great if those in the church were always of one mind! What are some things that cause dissonance within the church? What actions can we take to keep dissonance and disunity from gaining a foothold?


B. Attitude of Servanthood (vv. 3, 4)

3. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Why do we do the things we do? Almost any action has an underlying motivation. Why do we mow our lawns? One man does it because he loves things to be neat and tidy. Another man does it because he is afraid his neighbors will speak negatively of him if his home looks unkempt. A third man does it because that’s the way his dad taught him, and he still wants to do things to please his father.

Paul uses the phrases selfish ambition and vain conceit to describe improper motives. The meanings of these two words overlap to a great degree. The combined idea is to avoid doing things out of motivation of selfish recognition. Self-aggrandizement is just that! The Bible has a lot to say about the dangers of pride (examples: Proverbs 8:13; 11:2; 13:10; 14:3; 16:18; 29:23). Conceit brought down some high and mighty rulers in the Bible (Daniel 4:28–33; Acts 12:21–23). Church leaders must resist those who push personal agendas at the expense of the long-term health of the body of Christ.

Then Paul gives a single motivation for correct actions: we should do things out of our esteem for others, placing their interests above our own. I was once talking to an older Christian man about changes in worship style. I sensed that he was not happy about the direction his church had taken. I asked him, provocatively, “What do you think about having drums in worship?”

For a moment his countenance was angry, and he admitted, “I hate the drums.” Then his face softened; he smiled and said, “But if that’s what we need to reach young people for Jesus, I’ll put up with drums.” He was considering others better than himself.


What Do You Think?

Well-intentioned counselors often equate good psychological health with certain assertive behaviors. How does verse 3 help you respond to this kind of philosophy?


Esteeming Others

Charles Dickens’s classic A Tale of Two Cities centers on the figure of Sydney Carton, a drunken, listless attorney who helps acquit Charles Darnay of a mistaken charge of treason. Both wind up in love with Lucie Manette. But Carton steps aside when he realizes that he has nothing to offer her, and that she loves Darnay anyway.

At the height of the French Revolution, they are all in Paris. There Darnay is arrested because of crimes committed by his father and uncle. Convicted by the revolutionary court, he is sentenced to death by guillotine. Carton, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Darnay, trades places with him in prison so that Darnay, Lucie, and their family can escape. Carton then goes to the guillotine and dies in the place of Darnay.

The story is filled with the themes of unjust retribution as well as the redemption of the self-deprecating Carton. In essence he esteemed others better than he esteemed himself. Paul encourages the same attitude in the Philippians. Indeed, the fictional Carton’s self-sacrifice bears a resemblance to what Jesus did. Dickens had a make-believe character who gave up his life to save the earthly life of a friend; God sent his only Son to give up his life to save us for eternity. Do you live each day with that fact in view?     —J. B. N.


4. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Our motivations must extend beyond the desire to avoid offending others. We must truly look out for the interests of others, even though they may be at odds with our own interests. In the church this can be difficult. Should we spend our limited funds to hire a youth minister or a senior citizens minister? Should we be funding our church’s own food pantry or the local food bank? Paul gives his answer in the next verse.


Visual for Lesson 5

Point to this visual as you ask,

“How can acts of service demonstrate

that we are ‘of one mind’ ”?


C. Attitude of Christ (v. 5)

5. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

All of our attitudes should be patterned after the attitudes of Jesus. This is why it is important to study his life; that is the only way to understand what he did.

This is a consistent message in Paul’s writings. Earlier Paul warned the Christians in Rome not to “conform” to the selfish ways of the world. Instead, they were to be “transformed” by having new minds, minds that were in line with the mind of Christ (Romans 12:2). He told the Corinthian church that even though Christ in Heaven was rich beyond all measure, he became poor for our sakes (2 Corinthians 8:9).


II. The Hymn to Christ (Philippians 2:6–11)

A. Christ’s Preexistence (v. 6)

6. Who, being in very nature God,

          did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

Many newer translations such as the New International Version format this section as poetry, attempting to give the sense of how it may have been used in worship. The hymn begins with an affirmation of Jesus’ divine status before he came to earth as a man. He was like God in both nature and equality.

The seeming paradox of the nature of the Godhead is present here: Jesus is both distinct from God and at the same time equal to God. This verse is not talking about two equally powerful gods who are united only in purpose, a thought that might be at home in Greek philosophy. There is equality between the Father and the Son.


B. Christ’s Incarnation (vv. 7, 8)

7.… but made himself nothing,

          taking the very nature of a servant,

          being made in human likeness.

The hymn now gives us one of the most profound explanations of the incarnation in all of Scripture. Made himself nothing is literally “emptied himself.” Christ debased himself. Why? The answer has been given already: he esteemed others (us) more important than himself.

Another insight into the significance of the incarnation is that Jesus ministered to others as a servant—literally, a slave. A slave is someone with no rights and is considered to be property of the master. Jesus, the King of kings, did not come as a conqueror. Instead he taught that the way to be great in the kingdom of God was to be the servant of all (Mark 10:44).

This was a prophesied role for the Messiah. Isaiah said that Jesus would be “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). This reflects the ancient attitude towards slaves. They were looked down upon as the lowest rung of the ladder of humanity. We see the servant attitude of Jesus in his final meal with his disciples. At this dinner Jesus himself took on the role of a household slave and washed the feet of all present, a demeaning and odious task (John 13:14).

8. And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

The hymn moves to Jesus’ death on a cross, the ultimate act of servanthood and self-sacrifice. Jesus died an innocent man, guilty of no crime. His crucifixion was not an act of triumph or strength in a human sense. It was an act of self-humiliation and weakness (see 2 Corinthians 13:4). Even on the cross, Jesus could have rescued himself by summoning legions of angel warriors (see Matthew 26:53). Instead, he chose not to assert his equality with God but died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3).


What Do You Think?

The ultimate test of Jesus’ humility came as he submitted to the atrocities leading to the cross. How will you use Jesus’ humility as a model in your own life?


C. Christ’s Exaltation (vv. 9–11)

9. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

The crucifixion was therefore necessary, and it required that Christ become human and submit obediently to this horrible, unjust death. That was not the end of the story, however. God honored Jesus, first by raising him from the dead (Acts 2:32) and then by exalting him to God’s right hand, a position of honor and authority (Acts 2:33). He has a position unchallenged and unequaled by any other: King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16).


What Do You Think?

Before Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of the Father, he led an earthly life of humility. What are one or two specific things you will do this week to model that humility?


Highly Exalted

Mark Twain’s novel The Prince and the Pauper tells the story of Tom Canty and Edward Tudor. Tom was born into poverty; Edward was born into the royal family, the son of King Henry VIII, and was the heir to the kingdom. Becoming acquainted in a chance meeting, the boys traded clothes, and circumstances soon traded their experiences. Edward, dressed in Tom’s rags, was thrust from the palace; Tom, dressed in Edward’s finery, dwelt in luxury.

Edward soon experienced the deprivation of the impoverished. Beaten, starved, and humiliated, he learned what it was like to become part of the urban poor. Through various experiences he discovered how the other side of England lived. When Henry VIII died, Edward was able to make himself known and was placed on the throne as king. From barely existing in the lowest levels of poverty, he was exalted to the highest station in the kingdom.

Although Jesus was in quite different circumstances, the change in his position also was startling. He gave up his position in Heaven to live in economic poverty on earth. He became poor (2 Corinthians 8:9). Living as a man among men, he came to know firsthand our struggles and failures. He was beaten, humiliated, and even crucified. Yet God took Jesus from that lowly position, raised him from the dead, highly exalted him, and restored him to his rightful place in Heaven. This is the one we serve.     —J. B. N.


10, 11.… 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.


The implications of Jesus’ exaltation are now given. First, every created being, whether in the physical realm or the spiritual realm, will bow before Jesus. We should understand this bowing as more than a mere act of respect or courtesy. It is an act of worship (see Revelation 5:14). The Bible teaches that worship is for God and God alone (see Revelation 22:9). For the hymn to envision universal worship of Jesus is a strong affirmation of his deity.

Second, the worshiping will be accompanied by a confession. This word confess is sometimes misunderstood. This is not a confession of our sins or crimes. It is confession in the sense of acknowledgment, a statement of strong and passionate belief. All creatures, including all men and women, thus will acknowledge that Jesus is indeed the Lord. The saved will do so gladly, eagerly. The unsaved will have no choice; resistance will be futile. The truth that they rejected in their earthly lives will be all too clear, to their eternal disgrace.



Have you ever heard a tune that stuck in your head for days? Every time I visit a certain famous theme park and ride a particular ride, I am haunted by a song about a “small world” for days. But I still do it because I enjoy the ride.

What makes us think the way we do? How do certain thoughts (or tunes) get stuck in our minds? Why do we think some things to be trivial and other things to be important? What causes us to care about some things and ignore other things? To push this even further, why do we sometimes have thoughts we don’t want to have (or, at least, that we regret later)?

“The unwanted thought” seems to be part of the human condition. We get angry and think terrible things about an irritating coworker. Later, though, we may be ashamed at what we thought. We see an attractive person and our minds flash inappropriately. Later we are ashamed for thinking that way. We lose patience with our spouse and blame him or her for our inadequacies. Later, when we reflect, we are ashamed of such thoughts and appreciate this person deeply.

Paul speaks elsewhere about taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). What he means is that we must make Jesus the Lord of our thought life. Our minds are not fortresses of solitude where Jesus is not welcome. If he is truly our Lord, then our minds must be open to his presence without shame or fear.

How can we accomplish this on a practical level? The Philippian Hymn outlines a very clear strategy: we begin to think like Jesus. This does not mean we try to imagine what we would do if we were the King of kings as he is. It means we look for ways to serve others. We think of how we can help others, not just help ourselves.

Jesus declared that he came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28). When we adopt this attitude, we have made a giant leap toward adopting the mind of Christ. Paul described this attitude as the difference between being sinfully minded and having a controlled by the Spirit” (Romans 8:6). Those thoughts that cause us to be ashamed will not be welcome in the mind that is set on Christ and acknowledging his presence.

How can you improve your thought life in the new year ahead? Are there things you need to avoid, things that pull you from having your mind open to Jesus? Specifically is there an area in your church or family life where you have been selfish? Take a minute to think of a concrete example; then be resolved to eliminate this unchristlike attitude by fixing your mind on Jesus and adopting the desire to serve others rather than to be served.


Thought to Remember

Submitting to the lordship of Jesus means we are willing to humble ourselves and serve others.



Loving God, help us to begin the new year with a deeper desire to serve you by serving others. May your Spirit always be working within us to remake our minds to be like the mind of our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray this in his name, the name above all names, amen.



New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati