Imitating Jesus

In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul points to the obedience of Jesus “unto death” as the model for proper conduct by his disciples. His willing submission to death on the Roman cross set the pattern for his followers, both for their conduct and attitude. His subsequent elevation to reign over all things was the result of his submission to “death upon a cross,” for exaltation did not precede his death, it followed it.

The Apostle calls believers to conduct themselves properly while living in a hostile culture. This begins by “standing fast in one spirit, with one soul, joining for the combat along with the faith of the gospel.” They are to “let this mind be in you which also was in Christ Jesus.”

Cross Following - Photo by Luis Georg Müller on Unsplash
[Photo by Luis Georg Müller on Unsplash]

Christ’s disciples must seek concord and humility, especially in the face of opposition, therefore, the Apostle calls them to emulate his attitude and example.

Anyone who wishes to emulate him must do so by “thinking the same thing” that he did, especially by deferring his or her own needs and desires to those of others. This mindset was epitomized in the self-sacrificial act of Jesus when he submitted his life to death on behalf of others.

  • Be thinking this among you, that even in Christ Jesus. Who, commencing in form of God, considered being like God something not to be seized, but he poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of men; and having been found in fashion as man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Therefore also, God highly exalted him and granted him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of beings heavenly and earthly and under the earth, and every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father, even God” - (Philippians 2:5-11).

Self-sacrificial service even for one’s enemies is what it means to be the Messiah of Israel. He was the one who came “not be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”


To illustrate Christ’s example and how it applies to his followers, Paul employs Old Testament language from the stories of Adam and the “Suffering Servant” in the Book of Isaiah. Unlike the former, Jesus did not attempt to seize “likeness” with God. Adam was created in God’s image but grasped at divine “likeness” when he ate the forbidden fruit.

In contrast, Jesus obeyed God and suffered the consequences. Like the “Suffering Servant” in Isaiah, he humbled himself and submitted to an unjust and horrific death, and for that very reason, God has “highly exalted” him.

Like Adam, Jesus began “in the form of God,” but unlike the first man, he “did not consider the being like God something for plunder.” The Greek adjective isos translated here as “like” is in the dative case and means just that, “like.”

The clause alludes to the story in Genesis when the “Serpent” tempted Adam - “For God knows that in the day you eat thereof your eyes will be opened and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.” Adam chose disobedience and thereby attempted to “seize” the likeness of God. Paul contrasts his failure with the refusal of Jesus to grasp that same “likeness.”


He, “being in the form of God.” This clause corresponds to the creation account when “God created man in his own image.” Likewise, Jesus was in the “image” or “form” of God. In Greek literature, the two nouns are synonymous. The Greek term rendered as “being” in English represents the present tense participle huparchō, meaning, “to commence, begin; to start.” He began in the image of God just as Adam did.

The Greek noun translated as “seize” means “plunder, booty,” something that is seized by force. Unlike Adam, Jesus did NOT attempt to seize likeness with God.

INSTEAD, “he poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of men. And having been found in fashion as man, he humbled himself becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

In this last sentence, there are several verbal echoes from the “Suffering Servant” passages in the Book of Isaiah. For example,--

  • (Isaiah 53:12) - “Therefore will I give him a portion in the great, and the strong shall he apportion as plunder, because he poured out to death his own soul, and with transgressors let himself be numbered, Yea, he the sin of many bare, and for transgressors interposed.”
  • (Isaiah 53:7) - “Hard-pressed, yet he humbled himself, nor opened his mouth, as a lamb to the slaughter is led.”

[Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash]
[Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash]

Like the “
Servant of Yahweh,” Jesus humbled himself even to the point of suffering a shameful death. That is how “he poured himself out.” Paul completes the picture by utilizing allusions to two more passages in Isaiah:

  • (Isaiah 52:13) - “Behold, my Servant prospers, he rises and is lifted up and becomes very high.”
  • (Isaiah 45:23) - “By myself have I sworn, gone forth out of my mouth is righteousness as a decree and shall not turn back, that unto myself shall bow every knee shall swear every tongue.”

Hence, Jesus died the death of a “slave.” This uses an image from the Greco-Roman culture.  Crucifixion was considered the most shameful form of death imaginable, and its most horrific aspect was the public humiliation attached to it. It was often used to execute rebellious slaves and revolutionaries.

The disciples of Jesus are called to have this same attitude - To seek nothing from self-interest or for “empty glory.” They are to emulate the Messiah who did not seek to exalt himself, and instead, “poured himself out” in humble obedience to God.

His followers must conduct themselves in “humility” toward one another just as he did, laying down their lives for others if necessary. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to have his “mind.”

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