The Christological Model of Humility

Humility is hard. I couldn’t think of a more catchy or story-based way to start this one, sorry. Either way, the statement stands true: Humility is hard. If you read that and think to yourself, “No it’s not, I’m great at humility.” You probably don’t have a good grasp on humility, or irony.

I think the reason humility is so difficult, especially for those living in western culture, is that the world tells us that everything should be about ME. We live in what is called an expressive individualistic culture. That means that everything is about the individual person’s wants, thoughts, and needs, and that the person should be able to express those wants, thoughts, and needs to the fullest extent of their desire without major consequence. I’ve been studying some existential models of psychology and therapy, and in that theory a person is not authentic unless they are serving themselves first and foremost. This theory is built on the philosophy that largely drives our society. Me first and me only.

Selfish individualism is rampant in our society, that isn’t hard to see, but is it good? For the Christian, for the person who claims to follow and trust in Christ, we have to ask if this is the way that God calls us to live as a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). Continuing in my walk through Philippians, we are going to see that Christians are not only commanded to humility, but they are given the perfect picture of what humility looks like in Jesus.


Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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 the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:3-8 ESV


Command to Humility

Paul begins in verses 3 and 4 by saying, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

The first thing I notice about this passage is that it is in the imperative. It is a command. For the Christian, humility is not framed as an option, but as a necessary result of following Jesus. The Holy Spirit through Paul tells the church, “Do nothing” out of a place of pride and selfishness, “but in humility” put others first. He doesn’t say “if you feel like it that day” or “if your coworker isn’t being a jerk” or “if they do something nice for you first.” No, we are commanded to a posture of humility. End of story.

Like I said earlier, humility is hard. Even when we are successful in putting others first or serving, we have a tendency to make it self-exalting, as if we are somehow a great person for doing what we are supposed to do in Christ Jesus. We have judgmental thoughts about the people we are serving, and we puff ourselves up even more through a sense of entitlement and comparison. In the framework that we are given in this passage, this is not humility. The first thing Paul says is “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.” He says that humility is not self-serving, or self-exalting. Service done with the goal of gain or grandeur is not humble as the Bible defines it here. In this passage, we are told that humility puts first the value, interest, and needs of others. We are to “count others as more significant than” ourselves. We are to see the value and worth of every person created in the image of God, and out of a legitimate view of their worth to serve them out of a humble desire for their good. C.S.Lewis says that “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” We are to “look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others.” I don’t know about you, but I like things to go MY way. Here we are told that our way is not where we should look first, but to consider the goals, interests, and good of others first. We are to meet their needs first.

For us to do this, it will take more than just a will-power determination to think about others first. It will take a heart-change; a complete shift in the way we approach the world. In the next verses, Paul tells us how this happens. He tells us that if we are to truly pursue humility, we must pursue Christ. It is only through seeing the gospel of Jesus that we see what true humility looks like, and it is only from experiencing the gospel of Jesus that we can be transformed into truly humble people.

 

Christology Fuels Response

Christology just means our theology of Christ, what we believe about Jesus. The very next thing that Paul says is “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” He directs us to look to the person of Jesus to understand how we are to think and live. A.W.Tozer has this great quote that says, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Jesus is God. What Paul is saying in this verse is that what comes into our minds when we think about Jesus is the most important thing about us.

Our view of Jesus will determine our response to Jesus, and as an extension, our view of Jesus will determine our response to others. Paul is his letter to the Ephesians says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (5:1-2 ESV). Our lives are meant to be a response to the knowledge of what Christ has done for us and in us. It has been this way since the beginning. In Genesis 1:28, God creates mankind “in his own image” (ESV). God’s intention for mankind was, and still is, to be image bearers that display His glory to all of creation (Isaiah 43).

As creatures created in the image of God, and creatures saved by the gracious work and mercy of God, our lives should be an expression of that grace and mercy. Our view of Jesus should determine our response to Jesus and others. Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” He tells us to reflect what we see in Jesus to the world. Then he goes on to show us Christ’s example of humility.

 

Christ’s Model of Humility

When Paul tells us what the humility of Jesus is like, he essentially lays out the gospel. He tells us that Christ is God who came down to serve and die for us. It is the humility of Christ that has saved us. He lowered himself to be like sinners, so that He could take their sin upon Himself, and give them His righteousness before God (2 Corinthians 5:21). By faith in that truth we are saved. Paul says, “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 the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The first thing we see is that Christ did not hold on to His rightful superiority, but lowered himself to serve. Jesus is Lord. Of Jesus, Colossians says, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (1:15-20 NIV). Jesus is supreme over all things, and everything exists through Him and for Him. Even so, he humbled himself to serve. If Christ who is God can lower himself to serve, can’t we who are utterly sinful and deserve nothing good, but who have been shown only grace from God, also take a posture of humility and service?

The second thing we see is that Christ emptied Himself. I think it would be fair to say that emptying yourself is the opposite of being full of yourself. Christ poured himself out for others, He did not withhold any of himself for the sake of self-preservation, or reputation. He did not hold on to his life, but he gave it up. Paul goes on to say that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This is the mind that we are told to have among ourselves. A heart of self-sacrificial love for others. In Galatians it is put this way, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20 ESV). We are to die to ourselves and live for Christ through His Spirit working in us. It is by looking to the person and work of Christ that we can truly “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” May we pursue this kind of life in Christ Jesus.


Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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 the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:3-8 ESV

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