If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about two boys, Tim and Jack, who were arguing in class one day when all of a sudden the teacher came in and began scolding them. “Now boys, I will show each of you the importance of humility. I want the both of you to compliment the other one in front of the class,” said the teacher. Tim went first by saying, “I’m sorry Jack, I will never be as good at art as you.” Jack knew this was sarcasm because his art was terrible, so he replied, “I’m sorry Tim, you will always know more things than I do.” This caught the teacher’s curiosity so she asked, “Can you name one of those things?” To which Jack replied, “I will never know what it’s like to be so stupid.”
Clearly Tim and Jack had a long way to go before they could fully appreciate the importance of humility! Sure, they were adept in humiliation but that’s a far cry from humility. Unfortunately, the ability to humiliate comes far too natural to many of us. It’s the ability to be humble that is truly unique and special. It’s the ability that lies at the core of who Jesus is and it’s at the heart of our reading so I think it’s well worth our time to reflect on.
In the whole of scripture, this passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a superbly concise description of who Jesus is and what he did for us on the cross. There are no better words in such limited space other than the familiar John 3:16-”For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” God gave, we believe, we have eternal life…simple and to the point. Our Philippians passage simply flushes out exactly who God gave and why we should believe. So who exactly did God give us? Well, God gave us himself…but not necessarily himself. God gave us a hollowed out version of himself. God gave us a version with serious restrictions in place. Jesus couldn’t be in all places and at all times. He was restricted to 33 years in the Middle East. And he was restricted to teaching and healing a limited number of people in that time and in that place. So why did God do it? To take the form of a slave, to know firsthand humility. There is no one more humble than a slave. Even the poorest among us have something that slaves do not–freedom. At the very least, they have control of their minds and their destinies. A slave’s mind and destiny are determined by those they serve. They have no control, no freedom whatsoever, and therein lies true humility. Humility is relying solely on the grace and mercy of those around you. Prior to Jesus, God had no reason to understand humility. He relied on the grace and mercy of no one so it was quite a radical change for him to exist in such a lowly form. Jesus lived to serve others, plain and simple. Jesus had no control over his destiny. He lived by the complete mercy of those around him. He lived by the complete mercy of destiny itself.
It is not an easy thing to live by the mercy of others, without control of your destiny. There’s always a lingering fear of what may happen if you fail to please others. I’ve often wondered if that’s why Jesus most frequently advised those around him, and us, to not fear. “Do not fear, do not fear, do not fear” over and over again. They are his most repeated words of advice in all of scripture. “Do not be afraid.” Why? Perhaps because of the constant battle he fought against fear in his own life as a slave to all. I don’t think he was a fearful man but only because he was always aware of it lingering in the shadows, waiting to take over his life as it so quickly takes over the lives of so many people. Fear is a mind killer. Fear is a hope killer. Fear is a destiny killer. Fear, my friends, is the true enemy in this world. Jesus knew it and we ought to know it. Perhaps by naming the enemy as often as he did, that was Jesus’ way of keeping it at bay. After all, fear thrives in the darkness, in the unknown, and to bring it into the light is to kill it.
Fear and humility walk side by side in this world. But fear never wins. Why? Because we have Jesus in this world, the true light of the world! And Jesus is no longer a slave in this world. Jesus was obedient and was rewarded for his obedience…quite handsomely as we hear in our passage! God “highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” What a mighty reward for such faithful obedience! If only all slaves were rewarded so richly! Alas, no other slave has been rewarded as such but no other slave has been the Son of God either. But just because no other slave has been rewarded with supreme lordship, the humble are highly exalted as is reiturated elsewhere in scripture. The book of James also confirms Paul’s assertion when it declares, “humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (4:10) And Proverbs tells us,”the reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” (22:4) I sometimes wonder what those “riches and honor and life” entail but I have faith that they are revealed at the end of a humble life. I particularly appreciate David’s wisdom in his 25th psalm, “he leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (vs. 9) So another reward for humility is wisdom. Riches, honor, life, wisdom, all great rewards for a humble life!
Paul loved his Philippian congregation and shared with them a powerful lesson on who Jesus is and the importance of humility. Too bad our little friends, Tim and Jack, can’t quite appreciate it yet. Hopefully one day they will! We, on the other hand, have the wisdom of scripture to teach us the rewards for humility. Jesus’ life of humility was greatly rewarded with supreme lordship over all. Likewise let us seek to live humbly and with a deep fear of the Lord. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.