III. Christian Humility (Philippians 2:1-11)
III. Christian Humility (2:1-11)
2:1-2 In the kingdom of God, you can measure greatness by looking at a service record. Paul thus urges the Philippian Christians to embrace a servant mindset, putting the mission of Christ and the good of others before themselves. If then there is any encouragement in Christ, he says, make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Notice the word same. That has to do with harmony and unity. A servant thinks in terms of pulling things together, not tearing things apart. A servant asks, “Is what I’m about to do or say going to make things better, or is it going to make things worse?”
Paul isn’t arguing for harmony and unity at all costs. Truth isn’t to be compromised in the name of harmony. But neither is the truth set forth to the exclusion of love. In dealing with the truth, expressing the truth, and communicating the truth, the goal is still unity.
Consider an example from the sports world. A football team is unified, not because every player plays the same position—that would be uniformity. A football team is unified because they are operating in harmony to reach the same goal line. Each player is playing his position with the objective of either helping his team score or stopping the opposing team from scoring. Everyone is moving in the same direction.
Why is unity so important? Because the Spirit doesn’t work in disunity. Where there is disunity, the spirit of God backs up. Conversely, where there is unity, the Spirit of God is at home. So, if we are going to have the mindset of a servant, which is the key to greatness in the kingdom of God, we must choose to pursue harmony and unity without losing uniqueness.
2:3 By definition a servant serves others, not himself. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves is a radical statement. “Nothing” doesn’t allow for exceptions. It would be a lot easier if Paul had said, “Don’t do most things out of selfish ambition or conceit.” That would allow us an escape clause. But “nothing” requires ongoing commitment to humility.
2:4 Though servants think in terms of the benefits others will receive, they too can benefit from serving. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. There’s a win-win scenario behind Christian service being rendered.
2:5-7 If you want to have a servant mindset, you should look to the ultimate servant, Jesus Christ, and adopt the same attitude he had (2:5). If anyone deserved to be served, it was the Son of God. He existed in the form of God. But he didn’t consider his equality with God as something to be exploited for his own gain (2:6). Instead, he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant (2:7). What did Jesus give up to do that? Well, he didn’t empty himself of deity; he didn’t stop being God. Rather, he took on human flesh and became a servant. He didn’t let his deity stop him from expressing humanity. Like pouring water into a container, Jesus poured the entirety of his deity into the container of his humanity, resulting in him being fully God and fully man. In theology, this is known as the hypostatic union—two natures in one person, unmixed forever.
So, how can we adopt Christ’s mindset? Jesus could serve because he knew he was God. Service was never a threat to him because he never lost sight of who he was. He was never insecure in his identity. He knew his position with the Father. Similarly, when you know who you are—a saint and a son or daughter of God—rendering service won’t be a problem. It’s when you don’t know who you are that serving becomes a problem. When you are unsure of your identity, you’ll fear that serving is beneath you, that you’ll somehow be taken advantage of if you serve.
2:8 What did Jesus’s service look like? He became obedient to the point of death . . . on a cross. He died as a substitutionary sacrifice so that he might atone for sinners. He died the death we deserve. That’s the ultimate sacrifice; it’s the ultimate act of service. But he could do it willingly because he kept the end in view (2:9-11).
2:9 A servant of Jesus thinks in terms of true greatness because that’s what Jesus did. He understood true greatness, so he could serve. What was true greatness for him? Divine exaltation: God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name. False greatness is human exaltation. People will pump you up, but they will also stick a pin in your balloon. Jesus was after something more than the praises of people; he lived for divine recognition.
2:10-11 When you aim to please people rather than glorify God, you may receive some applause for a time, and that will be your reward. Unfortunately, though, you won’t receive the approval and exaltation of God. Some divine exaltation comes in this life, but most of it comes in eternity. So, if you want to be great, take advantage of every opportunity you can to serve others to the glory of God alone.
Jesus could sacrificially serve humanity because he knew that one day every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2:11). All of life is to be the supreme recognition of the comprehensive kingdom rule of Jesus Christ. This can now be done voluntarily, but one day all will do it mandatorily.