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He Humbled Himself

6 minutes to read

Like every Christmas, this year, cakes, gifts, decorations, and songs will fill our homes and churches. But sometimes this joy and celebration can be a thin veil hiding something more disturbing. Our gatherings could be marred by selfishness, jealousy, quarrels and disputes – “a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov. 17:1). Probably addressing a similar context of disunity in the Philippian Church (Phil. 2:2), Paul shows them the ingredient which was lacking in their fellowship - humility. And to learn humility, he once again points them to the Incarnation of Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:3-8). In this article, we will learn about humility by first looking at its two contrasts, selfish ambition and empty conceit (Phil 2:3). After that we will view three different facets of humility which will help us love others as the incarnate Christ loved us.    

On Selfish Ambition
Humility is contrasted with selfish ambition in Philippians 2. According to Paul, those who acted with selfish ambition were motivated by “jealousy” or “envy”. They wanted to grab what belonged to someone else. And Paul experienced this first-hand from their fellow preachers in Philippi. These preachers preached with “selfish ambition” (Phil. 1:17), as they were filled with “envy” (Phil. 1:15), probably wanting to attain Paul’s growing reputation. A similar situation was playing out among those to whom James wrote his epistle. Some people were trying to grab teaching positions (Js. 3:1), and therefore they acted out of “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” (Js. 3:14). And whenever people act out of envy and selfish ambition, it results in “strife” (Phil. 1:15), “disorder” (Js. 3:16), “fights and quarrels” (Js. 4:2). No wonder, selfish ambition is also translated as “contentious” (Rom. 2:8 KJV), “disputes” (2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20). Are there such people in our gatherings?   

To regard one another means to ‘esteem’ one another.

On Empty Conceit
The second contrast to humility is empty conceit. According to Paul, such people also engage in Empty Conceit. A word which is only used here in the New Testament but also translated as “vain glory” (KJV) or “vanity” (NET). The dictionary meaning of “vain glory” is excessive or ostentatious pride, especially in one’s achievements. While “vanity” is inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance. A related word in Gal. 5:26 calls it “boastful”. It means that they hide their selfish ambition with a façade of fake glory – they wear attractive clothing, show off their achievements and positions, and engage in spiritual talk. And it reminds us of what Jesus said in Mk. 12:38-40, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation” (cf. Lk. 11:43).

Regarding One Another as More Important
But instead of “selfish ambition” and “empty conceit”, Paul says, Christians should grow in an attitude of humility, “which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Paul tells the Church in Philippi, ‘with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves’ (Phil. 2:3). That is the first mark of humility. To regard one another means to ‘esteem’ one another. Esteem someone as more important than yourselves. That term “more important” is also later translated as “of surpassing value” (Phil. 3:8; 4:7). And we learn this attitude from Christ Jesus himself.

Paul says, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil. 2:6). He had no beginnings; from all eternity He existed in the form of God. The prophet Micah said, “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2). And in every aspect of this existence, He was ‘equal to’ or ‘consistent with’ or ‘same as’ God.

Humbly serve each other, looking out for each other’s interests, for that would show to the world what Christ was like in His incarnation and death.

Yet He did not consider such an existence a thing to be grasped. Paul says, “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phil. 2:7). He emptied Himself by not holding on to the “form of God” but took “the form of a bondservant”. According to Paul, a person presents himself to someone as a bond-servant “for obedience” (Rom. 6:16). The Son of God, equal to the Father and supreme over all creation (Heb. 1:1-13), was born of a woman, born under the law (Gal. 4:4) and lived in obedient submission to the Father (Heb. 5:8). There was no selfish ambition in Him!   

And His emptying was not just in being an obedient bond-servant to the Father but also in “being made in the likeness of men”. Not that He ceased to be God (Jn. 5:18). Rather, He laid aside His heavenly glory (Jn. 17:5) and was found in appearance as an ordinary man (Phil. 2:8). He was born in Bethlehem which was “too little to be among the clans of Judah” (Mic. 5:2), was born into a carpenter’s family, and lived most of his life in very ordinary conditions (Matt. 8:20; Lk. 9:58). Isaiah, talking about His humility said, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Is. 53:2). He not only laid aside His heavenly glory but took on the lowliest positions among men! 

Look out for others’ interests 
The second mark of humility which Paul mentions in Phil. 2:4 is, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others”. Once again, we learn this attitude from Christ Jesus himself. His perfect obedience to the Father entitled Him to eternal life. Yet He chose to do the Father’s will. He voluntarily took on “death, even death on a Cross” (Phil. 2:8; Mk. 14:36). And His humble obedience to the Father, was also for our sake. To those who obey Him, He became “the source of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9). He put the interests of the Father and our interests before His. 

We are the Bond-Servants of Christ 
Having humbled ourselves before Christ by confessing that He is Lord (Phil. 2:11), we have become His bondservants. He has put us in charge of His household. Our duty is to put the interests of our fellow bondservants (Matt. 24:45-46; Lk. 12:41-43) before our own interests (Matt. 24:48-51; Lk. 12:45-46). For example, the bondservant Paul served his fellow bondservants by preaching the Gospel (2 Cor. 4:5; Titus 1:1-3). And in doing so, he struggled (Phil. 4:3), faced much opposition (1 Thess. 2:2), endured labour and hardship (1 Thess. 2:9), suffered (2 Tim. 1:8), and was imprisoned (Philemon 13). The bondservant Epaphras served his fellow bond-servants by preaching the Gospel (Col. 1:7), labouring earnestly for them in his prayers (Col. 4:12) and suffering imprisonment (Philemon 23). The bondservant Timothy (Phil. 1:1) served his fellow bondservants by showing kindness, teaching, showing patience, with gentleness correcting those who were in opposition (2 Tim. 2:24-25), strengthening and encouraging them in their faith (1 Thess. 3:2) and enduring imprisonment (Heb. 13:23). Let us also humbly serve each other, looking out for each other’s interests, for that would show to the world what Christ was like in His incarnation and death!

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