As we enter the Thanksgiving season, thoughts turn to thankfulness in general and to thankfulness for God’s blessings in particular. We celebrate the joy of all that Jesus has done for us through his death and resurrection—forgiveness granted, eternal life provided, and adoption into God’s family secured, just to name a few.
With all that, let me suggest that one of the greatest reasons for thankfulness involves not what Jesus did, but rather what he didn’t do. Consider Philippians 2:5-7:
“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.”
In that passage, we are told that, though Jesus was fully God, he did not insist on his “rights as God.” The phrase “made himself nothing” is more literally “emptied himself”: he chose to not cling to his Godly prerogatives, but instead humbled himself to enter 100% into human experience. It isn’t that he stopped being God; he simply chose not to exercise his rights as God independently, but instead subordinated those rights to God the Father: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:19
The evidence of Jesus’ awareness of his “rights as God” is woven throughout the Gospels, as is His consistent refusal to demand those rights for His own independent action. Nowhere is this more clear than in the garden arrest scene in Matthew 26:53-54, in which Jesus corrects his disciple’s sword wielding efforts with these words: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
Jesus was fully aware of his rights in this situation, but he was also aware that his status as our “second Adam” (see Romans 5:12-19) required he surrender those rights so that our salvation might be achieved through his coming sacrifice and victory.
In short, we ought to be thankful that Jesus didn’t claim his rights, but instead surrendered them to His Father’s purpose. Given that Philippians 2 calls us to that same attitude, and especially in a cultural climate in which some might claim that defense of one’s personal rights is a Christian requirement, we must recognize that giving up our rights for God’s greater purposes is often central to our calling. As Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Jesus followers surrender personal rights to God’s greater glory for the sake of His Kingdom, knowing that as they trust Him, God will keep His promise to guard and vindicate those who serve Him.