HUMILITY INCARNATE Philippians 2
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing” (Phil. 2:5–7).The way to be exalted is still, be humble.
A humble concern for others (2:1–4) mimics the humility displayed by Christ (vv. 5–11), which leads to blameless and pure lives (vv. 12–18). Paul commended two men he was about to send to Philippi (2:19–30).
Understanding the Text
“If you have any encouragement” Phil. 2:1. The Greek language has several different words and constructions that we render “if” in English. The “if” in Philippians 2:1 assumes the condition is already fulfilled, and means “since.” So what Paul was saying is, since you are united with Christ, and since you find comfort in His love, and since you share in God’s Spirit. How well Paul understood God. Paul was about to appeal to his friends in Philippi to commit to a more humble, caring lifestyle. In the world, people trying to influence others might say, “If you will do this, then I will do something for you.” But not God, and not Paul! Instead Paul reminded his readers of how God had poured out His grace on them, and then said, “Since you have been so blessed, take the step of obedience.” There’s no hint of threat in our relationship with God. There’s no hint of bribery. God won’t take our blessings away, and there is no need to add to them! Paul simply reminds us of what God has already done for us, and asks us, out of gratitude, to respond appropriately to God. The next time you face a difficult choice, remember all God has given you so freely. As an expression of thanks, choose just as freely to do what will please Him. “Like-minded, having the same love” Phil. 2:2–4. Two themes found throughout the New Testament letters are woven together here. One is unity: that common life shared by those who constitute Christ’s church, and who achieve spirituality only when the bond between members is close and warm. The other is humility: that basic attitude toward ourselves and others that is required for unity to exist. Every once in a while I see a magazine on a newsstand featuring a new self-test: “How well do you understand your spouse?” “What kind of a lover are you?” “Check your parenting skills!” Well, the Apostle Paul has given us a simple self-test here on an even more important question. “How do you rate in your relationship with other Christians?” Part of the test measures the community of which you’re a part. Are you “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose”? (v. 2) Part of the test measures your personal attitudes. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. . . . Look not only to your interests, but also to the interests of others” (vv. 3–4). If the church you belong to fails the first part of the test, don’t be discouraged. If you pass the second part, God can use you to change your church! “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” Phil. 2:5. Christ is our Saviour, plus. There are many words we might tack on behind that “plus.” He is our Saviour, plus our Lord. He is our Saviour, plus our High Priest. But here, as in Ephesians 5:1 and other passages, Paul reminds us that Jesus is our Saviour, plus our example. We are to be like Jesus, not just in the way we act, but in our innermost values and attitudes toward life. This is why Paul stressed humility. It’s not enough to act interested in others. We must be interested in others. It’s not enough to act unselfishly. We must be free of “selfishness and vain conceit.” This would be an impossible task if it weren’t for one wonderful reality. God has already acted to make possible everything He asks of us! No wonder Paul began by saying, “Since you are united with Christ . . . since you have fellowship with the Spirit.” Christ and His Spirit live within us, and through their presence we can develop “the same” attitude “as that of Christ Jesus.” “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place” Phil. 2:9–11. Our Christian faith is filled with paradoxes. This is one of the most powerful. Because Christ humbled Himself, God exalted Him. The way up, is down. The key to mastery is servanthood. The greatest among us are the servants of all. It is a paradox, but it is also reality. We who choose humility now will be raised higher than the proud. We who give ourselves to others gain. We who lose ourselves find our true and better selves. There is no other way to succeed in the Christian life than to walk the road Jesus traveled. “The name that is above every name” Phil. 2:9–11. The name “Lord” has significance in both Testaments. In the Old Testament it is the personal name of God, Yahweh, and means “the One Who Is Always Present.” It was by this name that Israel was to remember God, and to experience Him as reality in every setting of life. In the New Testament “Lord” is the name of honor. It captures the spirit of the Old Testament name, and fills it with fresh new meaning through Jesus’ suffering and exaltation. The ever-present God came into the world in a human body, and the God-Man Jesus was raised triumphant. One day all mankind will worship Jesus as Lord—the eternal, personal God of history and Scripture. There is a note of finality here. “Every knee shall bow” is not a Gospel promise. It is a blunt statement that those who are now unwilling to acknowledge Jesus will be forced to do so at history’s end. How glad we can be to acknowledge Him now, freely, and with joy. Let’s not make our acknowledgment of Christ as Lord mere lip service, though. In view of who Jesus is, and what He suffered for us, let’s pledge ourselves to render Him full obedience, now and evermore. “Work out your salvation” Phil. 2:12–18. As the old preacher said, “Oh, salvation’s in him. It just hasn’t worked its way out yet!” But it will. For God is at work in His own, and by His grace we will display the blamelessness and purity of the sons of God. “Who takes a genuine interest in your welfare” Phil. 2:19–24. Paul commended Timothy for the very quality he had been exhorting: a humility that lets us put others first. How important it is for churches to have leaders who demonstrate the attitudes they exhort. “Welcome him in the Lord with great joy” Phil. 2:25–30. Some feel Paul went out of his way to commend Epaphroditus and explain his dangerous illness. They suggest that some in Epaphroditus’ home church of Philippi were critical of this messenger of theirs. Paul countered the criticism by reminding the Philippians twice that Epaproditus “almost died for the work of Christ.” The role of “critic of the brethren” is one we want to avoid at all costs. It expresses the exact opposite of the attitude of humility that is appropriate for you and me.
Make Yourself Nothing(Phil. 2:6–11)
The affirmation of Paul, in this hymn to Christ as God incarnate, is thought to be one of the church’s earliest confessional statements, used in first-century worship. It is surely one of Scripture’s most profound statements of Jesus’ full deity. It portrays Christ as “in very nature God,” but emptying Himself to take on human nature and suffer a shameful death. It affirms not only Jesus’ resurrection but His ultimate exaltation over all. Yet Paul applied this most profound of the mysteries of our faith in such a simple, practical way! We are to look at the attitude of humility Jesus displayed, and adopt it in our relationships with others. It’s no wonder, with talk like this, that Christianity has been accused of being the religion of wimps. Ted Turner, for one, has publicly described Christians as people who can’t make it in this world, and so turn to the next. Christians are weak, dull, too scrupulous or too cowardly, to make it big in this world. The stereotype has been around a long time, and the accusation is nothing new. The arrogant of this world understandably look down on people who talk more about love than success, and who seem to prize humility more than headlines. What the world doesn’t understand is that Christians choose humility not out of weakness, but out of strength. We choose humility, because our vision of Jesus deals a death blow to all man’s pride. Whatever basis we might have for believing ourselves better than others—intelligence, looks, wealth, education, breeding—all pale to utter insignificance when we see Jesus, willing to abandon His rightful claim of full equality with God, to not only become a human being, but even to die on a cross. Seeing Jesus, we realize that all those claims we might make to superiority must also be nailed to Jesus’ cross. We must give them up; put them to death once and for all. For only when our pride has been put to death will we begin to care for others as Christ has cared for us. And to the true Christian, as to Christ, the interests of others are more important than his own.
We climb to glory on the down escalator.
“Humility is the garment of the Deity. The incarnate Word was clothed in it, and through it, conversed with us in our bodies, covering the radiance of His greatness and His glory by this humility lest the creature be scorched by the sight of Him. The creature could not have looked at Him, had He not taken on some part of it and thus conversed with it. Therefore every man who clothes himself in garments of humility becomes clothed in Christ Himself.”—Isaak of Syria