As I was out on a walk yesterday talking with a friend, I was reminded of the stark contrast in the way in which we, as Christians, are to both live out and define the characteristics which exemplify our new life in Christ. Specifically, I've been meditating on the idea of humility. As we observe the ever-present contention and oftentimes prideful arrogance in the discussions and debates around us, the idea of humility seems to both be missing and convoluted in our subjective truth based culture. Even more, as we honestly reflect upon our own actions, we can often arrive at the conclusion that humility is at times lacking in abundance.
According to a very individualistic and post-modern society, the idea of humility is often centered around not sacrificial, dying to yourself type of service and love but rather either a low view of self or a way of placing yourself on a higher pedestal than those around you; as if to contradict your humility with a sense of pride in having it. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, humility is defined as "the quality of not being proud because you are aware of your bad qualities." In other dictionaries, it is a modest opinion or estimate of one's self. Humility, often mentioned solely in relation to ourselves, seems to have lost its concordance with how in which we treat those around us. Tim Keller, in his book titled the Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, puts it this way. "The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”
With anything, we as Christians are to look back to the Word of God for truth, wisdom, and understanding for how we are to live, act, and be. The Bible, though, is not in any way like your everyday self-help book found on the New York Times bestseller list. Rather, the Bible is not in fact primarily about us. The Bible is the story of God's creation and His plan of redemption for the fallenness and sin of mankind through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible is the living and breathing Word of God, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). It is not merely an instruction manual of do's and dont's, but it is our authority in all things because it is from the Creator of all things. So, in order to not be conformed to this world, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds in the Word of God (Romans 12:2). As the secular world around us either leaves out or redefines characteristics like humility, we then should ensure how we both define and live out this concept of humility comes from our ultimate authority in the Bible.
As I have taught numerous times before, we are dead in our trespasses and sins apart from God's grace shown to us in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-2,5). We are new creations in Christ and are transferred not just into Heaven one day when we die but from the domain and darkness into the kingdom of God's beloved Son while we are here on earth (Colossians 1:13). Because of the now indwelling of the Holy Spirit inside of us, our lives are and should be characterized by the transformative work of God. Therefore, gospel-humility comes not out of our own ability to conjure it up daily, but rather out of abiding in Christ seeing we are fully dependent on Him to live a life for His glory. Since Christ's example of humility is alone perfect, we are to point our hearts and minds to Him and the way in which He humbled Himself in the ultimate act of love for undeserving sinners.
Let us, then, look to Christ's humility as we aim to understand how we then are to act as we abide in and reflect upon His perfect example. In Phillippians 2:1-11, Paul is writing to the church in Philippi as he is imprisoned most likely in Rome. He starts his letter, like many others, with prayer, exultation, and thanksgiving in Christ. In this specific passage in Phillippians 2, Paul is not doubting that among these believers there is encouragement, participation in the Spirit, affection, or sympathy but rather he is writing a conditional sentence, using the word if, in order to draw those in Phillippi into reflection upon their own actions and deeds. Paul begins by listing these attributes pointing them then to the same love and mind that should exist among them also. He does not propose the need for the same mind in Christ, as if to say unity derives from existing in some sort of intellectual echo chamber. Rather, he is encouraging these believers to use their varying gifts and abilities in a harmonious and honorable manner (Romans 12:16-17) all while focusing all in which they do for the glory of God.
He continues on to remind them that as they use their gifts or encourage those within the body of Christ, they are to do it never from selfish ambition or conceit. Instead, they are to act in humility, counting others more significant than themselves (Phillippians 2:3). As we can easily observe today, it is within the natural instinct and sinful temptation to be like the rest of the world and operate in a manner of selfish ambition, aiming to advance one's own agenda above the encouragement and well-being of others. Paul recognizes that it is of the rare occasion that such radical love and self-sacrifice are present not just in the world around us but amongst the body of believers in Jesus Christ as well.
Such a depiction of radical love is seen perfectly in the supreme reality in the life of Jesus Christ. Now, for believers, Paul says this same mind that is set on looking to the interests of others, is ours in Christ Jesus. It is ours, not because of our own innate ability to set aside our selfish desires, but instead as we continue to look to and abide in the perfect example of humility in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
In verses 5-11, Paul writes, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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."
There is much to be unpacked (and oftentimes debated) here within these powerhouse verses from Paul. To me, they are some of the most beautiful and yet wholly humbling as I reflect upon both who Christ is and what He did. Paul begins by asserting and affirming that Jesus, prior to the incarnation, was in the form of God. Jesus, the Son of God, eternally existed with the Father for all time (John 1:1). The Son of God is and always has been one of three persons in the being of God. Christ, being fully God, did not count His equality with God the Father a thing to be grasped, but instead, He emptied Himself by taking on the form of the servant. Jesus emptied Himself never of His deity. Rather, He emptied Himself of his right and privileges to be served as the king that He is. Jesus emptied Himself of his privileges that were rightly his as the king of the universe, in order to become a human baby destined for crucifixion on the cross.
Jesus, who is the Son of God, took on the form of a servant by becoming human in order not to be served (as was what He rightly deserved), but rather to be the one serving those who have sinned against Him. It is in and of itself remarkable enough that God would reveal Himself at all to us wretched sinners, but it is a whole other thing to be grasped that He would take on human form, entering into the utter depravity and brokenness of this world so that he would become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Crucifixion was not a quick and simple way to execute prisoners. Rather, it was one of the most horrific ways to die. It was humiliating, degrading, and full of immense physical pain. So, as Jesus humbled himself by laying aside His privilege of being the one that is served (but never His deity or God attributes) He additionally humbled Himself by dying one of the most humiliating and excruciating deaths. Even more, He took upon the inconceivable pain of bearing the wrath of God.
This act of Jesus was, as my study Bible says, "the ultimate counterpoint to the divine majesty of the preexistent Christ, and thus was the ultimate expression of Christ's obedience to the Father." Jesus's humiliation on the cross was the act and demonstration of perfect love and unity with the Father, who is Himself love (1 John 4:8). Therefore, Paul continues on, God has highly exalted Jesus and bestowed upon Him the name that is above every name. The eternal Son of God, who was in the form of God before the foundations of the earth, is the name in which every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of the Father (9-11).
So, how then do we as Christians live in light of Christ Jesus's perfect and supreme reality of humility? We are to abide in Him, obey the Word of God, honoring it as our ultimate authority. We are to continually renew our minds, washing it with the truth and glory of Scripture. We are to fix our eyes, hearts, and minds onto He who had every right to be served and yet served wretched sinners like us by giving us both salvation and new life in Him. We are to live out of this perfect love, considering other believers as more than ourselves, aiming not to meet the needs of our selfish desires but to look at the interests of others. We are to daily ask the Father to help us to die to our old ways of selfish ambition and conceit, knowing we only love in this way because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Even more, as such humility feels impossible we are to remember that through God all things are possible; for He gives us the perfect example of Christ to look to and empowers us by His Spirit to live and love like He does.
I am imperfect at this daily. I will be the first to admit it. I urge us all, then, to abide and reflect upon the work and life of Jesus Christ both in and out of seasons of contention, disruption, and hardship. These days can feel particularly taxing. Let us then unite in love and humility (1-4), as exemplified by Christ's ultimate humility (5-11), so that we may live as lights in the darkness of our world.