THOSE WHO HUMBLE THEMSELVES
Read and pray through Philippians, chapter 2, specifically, Philippians 2:3-4.
Reflection | Paul has just shared with the Philippians that they will make his joy complete by living out of the benefits that we all receive by being in Christ: mutual encouragement, loving comfort, communal empowerment from the Holy Spirit, and a continual welling up of tenderness and compassion. He went on to stress what then naturally flows out of these godsends: like-mindedness, harmony, and unity within and among those who follow Christ. Such togetherness is not something we can or have to muster ourselves. It is, as with all good things, a gift of God’s grace, as Paul underscores, the work of the Spirit in and through us.
But how do we get and remain in step with this work of the Spirit? What does this unity of the Spirit practically look like in our day-to-day lives? Paul now devotes his attention to the answer to these questions. And that answer is HUMILITY.
Paul starts breaking down exactly what humility is by indicating what it is not. Humility is not “selfish ambition.” Bearing some sort of false modesty in which one appears to self-sacrifice but actually is doing so in order to gain a better position is not true humility. Neither is operating out of “vain conceit.” The connotation of the original word used here is to be full of oneself, possessing a highly exaggerated self-view. It is to become so fixated on one’s own reputation that one is constantly elevating oneself at the expense of everyone else. No matter whether one engages in self-centeredness or selfishness, both are the antithesis of humility.
After telling us what it is not, Paul proceeds to define what humility is by describing what it looks like in practice. First, he says, humility is to “value others above yourselves” (v. 3). Paul isn’t calling for self-loathing or to despise oneself for the sake of others. True humility is not carrying an inferiority complex and putting oneself down; it is lifting others up. It is affirming and honoring the dignity and worth of others rather than stroking our own ego or protecting any sense of our own self-importance.
Related to this, humility is “not looking to your own interests” but rather “to the interests of others” (v. 4). Paul advocates a mindset that seeks to give up one’s personal wants and rights out of a concern for the advancement of others. To employ some modern and often contested language, humility is the willingness to acknowledge and surrender my privileges for the sake of those who have not been as privileged. Can we be honest in admitting how difficult humbling ourselves is – especially, if we try to do so in our own strength and will?
Perhaps the biggest reflection of our brokenness is how much it goes against our nature to think of others. Our default perspective is to focus on and to be concerned with “me, myself and I.” Oh, we’re good at talking about putting others first. But when it comes to actually doing it, just even trying to put others first, we end up resenting it and/or feeling sorry for ourselves. We smile and we’re polite about it but we’re still keeping score – waiting for “our turn.” We silently expect reciprocity. One good turn DESERVES another, right?
On our own, true humility is beyond us. It is beyond us because we can’t unconditionally love others if we haven’t first received unconditional love ourselves. And the only One who can and has loved unconditionally – purely selflessly and sacrificially – is Jesus Christ. If our sense of identity and worth derive from anything or anyone other than Jesus, we will continue to wrestle with selfishness and conceit, with putting ourselves first. It is only as we are humbled by the perfect love of Christ, that we find ourselves able to humbly love others like Jesus, valuing and serving others above ourselves.
Something we must not overlook is how Paul frames this call to humility to the Philippians: “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Paul isn’t speaking here to an individual. He is writing to a community. Part of what makes humility possible – for me, by the grace of God, to look out for the interests of others is that I know and trust, others, by that same grace, are likewise looking out for my interests too. That is what Paul is inviting us to embrace, a posture of mutual care and concern where we as a community are looking out for each other. And this is a viable practice for all of us so long as we together lean into the prompting and empowerment of the Spirit in loving others as we have been and continue to be loved by Jesus.
Consider & Discuss | Do you live your life out of a sense of reciprocity/benefaction (“You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”) or out of a sense of humble generosity – looking not for what you can get but for where and to whom you can give. How is the Lord calling you to look out for the interests of others and to value others over yourself?
Prayer Focus | Good Father, You love us without measure. Through Your Son, Jesus Christ, You have assured us of our inestimable value and worth to You. We confess that our selfishness and self-centeredness have no place in reflecting Your image to others. We repent of privileging our own hopes, needs, and desires over those of others. We recognize that when we do this, we belittle those entrusted to us to love and erode the very community, the Body of Christ, that has the capacity to grant us hope and love. Lead us in living for others by loving each other the way You have and continue to love us. Amen.