Selflessness: A Challenge to our Rights

Last month

Last month we looked at how our sovereign, compassionate God disciplines/trains us through difficulties. The aim of God’s discipline/training was to help us respond to difficulties the way Jesus would, and therefore to make us more Christlike.

This month

This month we look at how to be more Christlike in the area of selflessness. Being more Christlike starts with ‘knowing what we believe about God and then acting consistently with those beliefs when confronted with the daily issues of life.’ (Practical Theology for Women, Wendy Alsup). Getting to know what we believe about God really is the whole purpose of Bible study.


One amazing characteristic of Jesus that we can emulate is what Alsup refers to as ‘kenosis’. The doctrine of kenosis is based on Philippians 2:7-8 which says ‘Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.’

Jesus was (is) divine. God. And yet, in becoming a human being (a human being who died on a cross), he gave up the rights that went with that divinity. This is ‘kenosis’; making himself nothing. Alsup explains Jesus’ kenosis perfectly: ‘Rather than grasping all of his rights and power as sovereign God, Christ made himself nothing for our sake. It is not that he thought badly of himself. The point is that he did not think of himself at all. He opened his hands and willingly let go of his rights, forgetting about himself completely.’

Our turn

Wow! What an example. An example for us to follow. What would being Christlike in this respect – ‘kenosis-like’ – look like for us? Alsup continues: ‘We are called to willingly give up our rights and welcome the sacrifices that accompany being a servant to others. We are not called to think badly of ourselves. We are called not to think of ourselves at all.’

My turn

Not thinking of myself at all is extremely difficult, I have to say. When I was growing up I had one sibling – an older brother. This brother and I fought for what seemed like our entire childhoods. We fought over who got what, who did what, who was right, who was wrong, who should go where and why. I fought for my rights. And I took that fighting, that aggression into adulthood and into other relationships too. Fighting for my rights is just what I do. In a recent incident my brother did something to me that trampled my rights. I was hurt. But now, many decades after childhood, instead of rising to defend those trampled rights I was challenged to forgive my brother. Forgive him because I have been forgiven so much more by Jesus.

What situations cause you to go into defensive mode? What sparks your righteous indignation? In the light of Jesus’ example how might you learn to respond in a more Christlike way?

Bible study

The passage for study this month may seem to contrast with what we have just read about rights above. So, it’s a good time to be careful about CONTEXT (the first aspect of the COMA method of Bible study). After reading the passage below pay careful attention to Context, using the specific questions we introduced last month. Remember that the book of Colossians falls into a genre of writing called epistles or letters, more specifically Pauline epistles. After the Context questions we introduce some new ‘epistle-specific’ Observation questions.

So, let’s get to Bible study!

Read the passage below with your partner.

Colossians 2:16-23 New International Version (NIV)

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Now go through the passage together and discuss the following:

Context – What can you learn about the person or situation to which the letter is written? What clues are there about the author and his circumstances? What was the main point of the passage immediately before this one? Are there logical or thematic connections to the passage you are reading?

Observation – Are there any major sub-sections or breaks in the text? Are there key connecting words (for, therefore, but, because) that indicate the logical flow of the passage? What is the main point or points? What supporting points does the author make? What surprises are there in the flow of the argument?

Go through the passage again and discuss:

Meaning – How does the text relate to other parts of the book? How does the passage relate to Jesus? What does this teach us about God? How could we sum up the meaning of this passage in our own words?

Application – How does this passage challenge (or confirm) my understanding? Is there some attitude I need to change? How does this passage call on me to change the way I live?


Again, don’t worry if any of the questions are too hard to begin with. Move on to the next question and come back to difficult ones later if you have time.

Pray together about what you have learnt. Set a date for next time.

by Brenda Daniels

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32.

(COMA method taken from One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm)


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