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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC, Good Friday Service, 2004-04-09

Text: Philippians 2:5-8

Tonight, at this Good Friday service, I would like us to focus our thoughts on the self-denial of our Lord Jesus Christ. The passage of Scripture that brings this out is Philippians 2:5-8. In this passage, the self-denial of Christ is seen firstly in:

I. What Christ Was Willing to Give Up

Christ lowered Himself down from the glory of His highest-ranking majesty, and morally perfect environment, in order to join the common ranks of a morally imperfect humanity. He submitted Himself to live in the midst of all the wrong-doings, evil schemes and crimes of human society. Being God, Christ is holy and cannot stand even the slightest sin. According to Habakkuk 1:13, The Lord 'is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.' And yet, He had to endure the sins of those with whom He lived, ate, talked and walked for over 30 years. And toward the end, He even had to submit Himself to becoming the innocent victim of a sinful plot against Him, when He was nailed to die on the cross. When all these points are considered, it becomes clear to us that no one has ever given up as much as what Christ gave up!

Dearly beloved, if Christ has done all this, would it right for you to promote yourself up by trying to gain every honour that you can possibly gain in this world? Would it be right for you to hold tightly to all the things that you can legitimately glory yourself in? Obviously not. Jesus Himself said, 'If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.' (Matthew 16:24). If you want to follow Christ and become like Him, then you must be willing to relinquish even your rights to glory and honour. 

Besides that you must also be willing to give up what the world treasures so highly today: Self-esteem. Most of the self-help books he market today recommend that everyone must have a high self-esteem in order to achieve great things in life. This is one of the lies that is being actively propagated today by the 'Self-Help' movement. A low self-esteem is blamed for all kinds of problems. Programmes that will help people to build up their self-esteem, make them feel good about themselves, and love themselves more are being recommended. Actually, doing these things creates more problems than they can solve. It causes people to shift the responsibility for their faults and weaknesses away from themselves, and to their circumstances, or to others. It causes people to expect everything to work out well for them, and to be respected and treated with care. 

Let us not to be fooled by this kind of thinking. Denying self means that we ought to take full responsibility for our own faults and sins. We must begin with the truth that we are nothing but helpless sinners, unworthy of any grace or mercy. It is only God's kindness to us in saving us from sin that has given us great worth in His sight. As such, there are absolutely no rights that we can claim for ourselves - Rights to receive respect, honour from others, and even rights to receive love, care and concern from anyone.

In contrast to the teachings of self-esteem, what the Bible teaches us to build is Christ-esteem (cf. Philippians 4:13 'I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.'). It is Christ alone who gives great worth to your life, and the power to do the things that you ought to do. Those who refuse to surrender their high self-esteem may find themselves deprived of every opportunity to prove the power of Christ in their lives. Dearly beloved, are you willing to deny yourself even the slightest degree of self-esteem and self-confidence, and replace it instead with Christ-esteem and confidence in Him? This is the first lesson you can learn tonight from Christ's self-denial.

II. What Christ Was Willing to Become

The second lesson we can learn, comes from what Christ became after He gave up His position of equality with God the Father. According to Philippians 2:7, Jesus 'took upon Him the form of a servant.' He demonstrated this very clearly when He washed the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper (John 13:4;5). What He did was most surprising to them because He was their Master. They should be the ones washing His feet! Then He said to them in John 13:14,15 - 'Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well: for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.'

We must adopt this servant mindset in our thinking and in our attitude to one another. Without this we would fall into the same kind of problems that were found among the Philippian Christians. This is indicated in Philippians 2:3-5 'Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus'. Can you see what was happening in the Philippian church? In any church there are people from different walks of life - some are successful in their careers while others are not. Some have been Christians for a long time, while others are young Christians. If believers in such a diverse mixture do not have a servant mindset, there would be strife and vainglory, as everyone thinks that he is better than the others!

The only way for you to fellowship well with others is to deny yourself any thought that you are better than anyone else. In lowliness of mind think of yourself as being nothing more than a lowly servant. Jesus Himself said, 'If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.' (Mark 9:35). When you have this servant mindset you will automatically regard others to be better than yourself (Philippians 2:3). You will give less thought for yourself, and more thought for others. Whatever your rank or station in life may be, you will regard every brother or sister in the body of Christ as being important to you. It does not matter if the person is less qualified or less mature than you. Every soul that is precious enough for Christ to die for, should be precious to you as well, and worthy of your attention, interest and care. 

As this mindset controls your attitude toward others, and you will soon see a change in the way that you speak to them and answer them. You will become more approachable and accommodating. You will be more willing to see things from viewpoints other than your own. When you have a servant mindset you will be willing to serve rather than to be served. You will not mind going the extra mile to help others, even if it means that you may have to suffer some inconvenience for it. You will not mind doing things that most people consider as unpleasant or beneath their rank or status, e.g. giving a lift to someone who has no transport home after tonight's worship service. Think of how Christ stooped down to wash the dirty feet of His disciples, and ask yourself what you can do for others.

When you have the servant mindset of Christ, you will also be able to submit others, whether it is to authority, or to one another. When a fellow Christian who is concerned for you admonishes you for your own good, how should you respond? You should be thankful for it.

The problem that we often face in doing all these things, is how to subdue our own self-will. We know from the Word of God that we are servants, and that a true servant does not have a will of his own. He is supposed to carry out his master's will without any question. But when our Master's will is not to our liking, we tend to rebel, and we want to do our own will instead. This is another aspect of self-denial that we must learn from Jesus.

III. What Christ Was Willing to Do

In John 6:38 Jesus said, 'For I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.' To Christ, doing God's will was just like the very basic food that He needed for His subsistence (John 4:34 'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.'). As a result of this attitude of putting the Father's will before His own physical needs, a Samaritan woman was saved. Through her many others came to find salvation in Him! Do you regard the will of God the same way? Is doing God's will just like your basic food and drink? 

But more important than this is that, doing the will of God was even more important to Christ than having life itself. Do you remember how He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before He went to the cross? 'Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will but Thy will be done.' (Luke 22:42). Never before had anyone suffered so much for the sake of doing the will of God, as our Lord Jesus Christ. Since it was the Father's will for Him to suffer, He suffered willingly. And since it was the Father's will for Him to die for unworthy sinners, He died willingly!

Dearly beloved, one day it may be the Father's will for you to suffer loss, deprivation, or grief. In His unfathomable wisdom, God may see it fit to lay a very heavy burden upon you. It may come quite unexpectedly, as in the case of Job. It may even become quite unbearable. When that happens, how long will you take to come to terms with it? How long will you take to accept it as God's will for you, without murmuring? If you learn self-denial from the crucified Christ, you will be able to say with all your heart, 'Lord, not My will, but Thy will be done.' 

Without learning such self-denial, you would only go on and on indulging in self-pity and craving for sympathy. You would spiral deep into depression and nurture a root of bitterness against others, and perhaps even against God. 'Why must this happen to me, of all people? Why me?' Such questions are directly opposed to denying self. It is only when you ask the right questions that you will be able to deny self. And the question you should ask is, 'What must I do now, o Lord? What is your will for me that I must do?' Let us be willing to do God's will, just like Christ was always willing to do the Father's will.

IV. Whom Christ was Willing to Love

Another lesson on self-denial that we must learn from Christ is in the area of love. Christ loved His disciples very much. In John 15:9 He told them, 'As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love.' We all know how much God the Father loves His only begotten Son. Thus we can imagine how much Christ must have loved His disciples. In John 13:1 we are told that He loved His disciples unto the very end. Even when He was arrested, He still pleaded that the disciples be allowed to go free (John 18:8).

But what about the disciples - how much did they love their Master? You can judge for yourself from their actions. Even in the days before Christ was crucified they were still arguing among themselves about who is the greatest among them. Jesus had to rebuke them for this. While Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, and asked three disciples to watch with Him for an hour, they fell all asleep. Throughout the ordeal of the trials that Jesus went through, they were all scattered except for John and Peter. And even Peter who followed from afar, denied that he knew Christ. He did this not just once, but three times!

What a great disappointment it is to be treated like this by the very ones you have loved and have invested so much of your time with. Perhaps you too may have experienced such a disappointment as this. You did a lot for others, but no one ever took the slightest notice of what you were doing. There was not a single word of thanks at all. And worse than that, somebody criticised what you have done. And so you said to yourself, 'That does it. I am not going to serve anymore if this is what I get in return.' Dearly beloved, when you feel like this, you need to remind yourself, that this is really an area where self-denial must be cultivated and exercised. When you show love to others, do not expect anything in return from them. 

When those whom you love return nothing but criticism and complaints against you, do not bear any grudges against them. This was the self-denying kind of response that Christ gave to the disciples He loved. When He was resurrected from the grave, He did not bear any grudges against them but immediately sought His disciples to minister to them once again and to strengthen them. He restored Peter back into favour. He gave him the opportunity to confess his love for Him three times.

How was Jesus able to do that? It was through nothing else but pure unconditional love - The same unconditional love that moved Him to die on the cross for our sins. This is truly self-denial in its greatest and purest form! Love always involves some degree of self-denial. A person can deny self without love, but none can have love without denying self. A man may deny himself all the pleasures of the world, and give up many of the comforts that he used to enjoy, but his motives may still self-centred - he does it in order that he may gain more merit and more self-respect. Although he practices self-denial, he has actually not denied self. Denying self can only be done when there is love.

This then is the kind of love that you are called to have - a love that is always seeking the good of others before self, a love that desires to give rather than to receive, a love that is not conditioned upon receiving a favourable response from those whom you love. This was the kind of love that Christ had for us when He died on the cross for our sins. As 1 John 4:9-10 'In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.'

Dearly beloved, tonight as we remember how Christ denied Himself for us by dying on the cross, let us desire to have this love. When we can love others the way that Christ loved us, then we would be able to deny self. We have seen what Christ was willing to give up, what He was willing to become, what He was willing to do, and whom He was willing to love. As we partake of the Lord's Supper let us be fully motivated and constrained by the love of Christ for us, to deny self and to live for Christ.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25