Philippians 2:1-4 “Christian Humility”
C. S. Lewis once wrote,
“To even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert. Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” —Mere Christianity, (section on “The Great Sin”)
Humility takes many forms, as does its antithesis, human pride. Christ lived a life of humility. Consider the night he was betrayed, how he cared for his disciples, washing their feet, and lovingly instructing them in the way of the gospel! Did he spend all of his time convincing the disciples that he was God and that they ought to adore and serve him? Surely he had that right, he is the Creator of the Universe! But no, he did not. Instead, he served and loved his disciples with true humility, thinking more of their needs than his own. It was from this posture of love and humility that Jesus exercised his authority and instructed them.
Paul was also a man of great humility. He wrote this letter to the Philippians from a prison cell. Yet he did not spend his time convincing his readers to think highly of him and his sacrifice, nor did he plead with them to send their best lawyers to get him out. He made no case for his own greatness, but spent his time instructing and encouraging the Philippians. He thought more highly of them than he did of himself, and it was out of this posture that he exercised his spiritual authority over them. Indeed, it is from this posture that Paul exercises his apostolic authority over us today! For this letter is from God to the whole church, Paul was a mere messenger!
Already we have seen that the Philippians were persecuted for sharing the gospel with their neighbors, just as Paul had been imprisoned for preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. For the gospel is offensive to those who refuse to admit their sins and need for a savior. Last week, when we examined the last four verses of chapter 1, we found Paul instructing the Philippians, and indeed, us as well, as though we are in a war. Our opponents are those who oppose the preaching of the gospel. They talk about Jesus for personal gain. And they cannot tolerate the true gospel, it is offensive to them. For it calls out our sins and leads us to repentance. But beloved, the humility of confession and repentence is required not only to be saved, but also to faithfully walk the Christian life. Paul urged the Philippians in chapter 1 verse 27 that they should stand in unity against those who oppose the gospel, letting their manner be worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And now he continues this theme of unity in Christ and in the gospel.
Follow along with me as I read Philippians 2:1-4 from the English Standard Version:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being 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 count others more significant than yourselves.”
This is the Holy Word of God. Let us pray…
First, we must consider the basis for Paul’s argument. He uses a conditional statement, if there is any encouragement, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, then we should live a certain way.
Why does Paul argue from a conditional clause? Does Paul not know that there is indeed encouragement, comfort, love, affection and sympathy in Christ? Has he not experienced these through his personal participation in the work of the Spirit? Yes, Paul has indeed experienced these things! Probably far more than you or I! For Jesus suffered rejection, abandonment, persecution, and death. He is able to comfort all who endure such trials. And Paul endured great persecution! So surely Paul knew the comfort and affection of Jesus Christ mediated to him through the indwelling Holy Spirit! He knew that there is indeed comfort in Jesus Christ.
I believe Paul uses the word, if, because some who led the church in Philippi had lost sight of this comfort in Christ and needed to be reminded of the strength they had in Him! Others, as we have already seen in chapter 1, did not know the comfort or affection of Christ at all! They preached Christ out of selfish ambition! They had no participation in the Holy Spirit! They only knew the allure of money and power which they thought they could obtain as leaders in the church! Because they did not minister from the peace and love of Christ, and because they did not live out or preach the true gospel, they were Paul’s opponents, and the opponents of the church in Philippi! It is for this reason that Paul uses the word if, for the reason that only some of his readers, of the church of Phillipi, believed in and experienced the gospel.
It was in the midst of the struggle between those who led the church from pure motives and those who led the church for personal gain that Paul urged those who truly know the Lord to serve in humility.
Beloved, it is very important for us all to be reminded that our encouragement in Christ comes from the Holy Spirit. Our love, affection and sympathy come from our participation in the life of Christ. They do not come from our families, nor from our careers, nor from the comforts or pleasures of this world. We experience the comforts most when we are faithful in sharing and living out the gospel and are persecuted for it. Paul knew this firsthand, for he endured many hardships. He faced beatings, imprisonment, rejection, shipwreck, and even execution. His was not an easy nor a successful life, not by worldly measures. As far as we know, Paul had no family, he was not married, and he certainly had far more enemies than friends. Yet Paul writes of encouragement in Christ. He writes of comfort from love, of participation in the Spirit, of affection and sympathy, all of these things from his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, sustaining him through seemingly endless trials and tribulations!
So Paul instructed those who have tasted the goodness of God. He did not write to the opponents of the gospel who paraded in churches of his day to look good. They still parade in churches to this day! Paul did not instruct the religious fools who used the church as a platform for showing off or making a name for themselves. Jesus also had to deal with such fools. Rather, Paul wrote to those who truly knew the Lord. And he instructed them to remember their relationship with the Lord and act accordingly.
This is so very important brothers and sisters. Satan hinders our churches by deceiving believers and by using religious unbelievers who look good on the outside and perhaps are well meaning, yet who are under the influence of the Devil and have no real understanding of the kingdom of God. We often have a hard time discerning between those who serve the Lord from pure and humble hearts and those who obtain power in the church for their own selfish purposes. But we remain faithful in the midst of chaos and conflict because we know the comfort and the affection of Jesus Christ.
Consider the fact that the Apostle Peter, no doubt one of the true followers of Jesus, once told Jesus that he would never die on the cross. Peter thought he was loving and encouraging Jesus, but Jesus looked right at him and said, ‘get behind me, Satan!’ Peter was not acting upon the Word or will of God! He was acting in accord with the deceptive and destructive purposes of the enemy of our souls, Satan himself! He was a true believer who was deceived by the Devil himself. And consider Judas, whom the disciples all thought was a devoted follower of Jesus, and who was well intentioned even when he betrayed Jesus. Yet he was not born again, and he was unable to see the kingdom of God. Satan used him to attach Christ Himself. Yet even in the midst of that conflict, God used Satan’s evil plans for the salvation of His people!
Beloved, when we encounter Satan among us today, when we realize that the Kingdom of God is being subverted by those who in their well-intentioned arrogance oppose the gospel and gospel ministry, then we may be tempted to act not from the comfort and affection which is ours in Christ, but from human anger. For those who oppose God’s kingdom work or inhibit it are our opponents. We may defend our anger as righteous, and it is sometimes, yet acting our of human anger can only add to the problem. We must take our anger to God and ask God to fill us with the fruit of the Spirit, and to show us if our anger is truly righteous and if so, what God would have us to do with it. We must submit our anger to God. There is a selfish anger and then there is an anger of love. Discerning between the two requires the work of the Holy Spirit.
James warns us not to act from human anger, for he writes, “For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:20. Human anger and human reasoning is no way to love and serve God or his church!
Paul shows us another way, the way of unity and humility rooted in a healthy relationship with the Lord.
Beloved, let us examine our relationship with the Lord. Have you experienced the goodness of God? Have you known the encouragement in Christ? That is, have you trusted in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation? Have you felt the guilt and weight of your sin and shame lifted away at the foot of the cross? If so, then let this be the primary motivating experience of your life rather than human anger! And if not, then spend some time praying about your relationship with the Lord. Ask God to give you new life, to show you the love and comfort of Jesus Christ. Ask God to convict you of the depths of your sins and then to show you that his grace and mercy run deeper still! Ask God to take away your sins and your guilt! Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will save and heal you!
In the second half of our text Paul tells us how we ought to live in light of the comfort and affection we have received from Christ. He gives this instruction with the plea that if we will follow it, his joy will be made complete. It is right to believe that if Paul’s joy was complete when the Philippians lived in this godly manner, that Jesus’ joy will be complete when the entire church lives in this godly manner! We should be motivated to complete the joy of our beloved Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
“being 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 count others more significant than yourselves.”
How can the church be of the same mind? How can we share in the same love? What would it look like to live in full accord and of one mind? Is this possible or is Paul using hyperbole?
Beloved, God grants us what is necessary to accomplish his commands. Christ died and rose again. He ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in and among the saints. Christ dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. And we have the Word of God. We have the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. They reveal God to us, proclaiming Christ on every page!
How can we have the same mind? We must have the mind of Christ, a point which Paul is going to argue in the verses to come. We obtain this mind of Christ through the scriptures.
Beloved, there is a movement in the church which dates back to 1896, with the publication of a book entitled, In His Steps by Charles Monroe Sheldon. I read this book as a teenager and perhaps you have also read it. In the book, a pastor gathers his dying congregation together and challenges them to do nothing for 30 days without first asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” I had a bracelet as a child with the initials WWJD.
But when I began to seriously study and live out the Bible, I came to understand the challenge of applying this concept. Perhaps you have also struggled with this. For when I encounter someone in a wheelchair, I understand that Jesus might heal him, but I cannot. When I encounter religious leaders who deny the gospel in favor of moralism, legalism, or some other error, I understand that Jesus would probably rebuke them, calling them whitewashed tombs like in Matthew 23 and telling them that they strain out a gnat and swallow a camel in the same chapter! And when I see politics and the love of money in the church, I consider whether I should do what Jesus did in John chapter 2 and drive some people out with a whip! Perhaps you can understand why WWJD is so difficult to follow. It is very difficult to gain the mind of Christ, to know what he would do in our current situation! Furthermore, how do we know if what he would do is the same as what he would have us to do?
Of course, the culture thinks it is easy. The world gives us a false depiction of Jesus. They present Jesus the moral teacher, Jesus the compassionate friend, Jesus your buddy, and Jesus the wise prophet. But the world avoids all Jesus’ actual teachings, only citing certain passages of scripture which they can extract from the Biblical context and twist to say what is socially acceptable. There is a lot of this deception in churches around the world today.
What confuses me most about these false worldly depictions of Jesus is how such a tame and lovable guy could end up making all of Israel so mad that they had the Romans crucify him naked on a cross! I’m just not sure that the world has any idea what Jesus would really do, and if they do, they certainly would not actually do it! The world rejected Jesus and the world will reject all those who live according to the mind of Christ! Jesus said as much in Luke 10:16!
So how do we obtain the mind of Christ? We need four things: first, we need to be surrendered to the will of Christ, especially when we disagree with His will or teachings; second, we need an ever deepening knowledge of the Bible which reveals to us His will; third, we need the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit enlightening to us the scriptures, conforming us to the image of Christ, and empowering us to serve the Lord; and finally, we need brother and sisters in Christ to bring to us the scriptures and confront our sins and false beliefs. Jesus taught us to do this when he washed the disciples feet in John 13.
What Paul writes next follows quite clearly: “do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit.” If we are filled with the Word and the Spirit, we will be incapable of acting from selfish ambitions! And we will not be conceited, for our lives and actions will point to the work of Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit! We will give God all the glory for any good thing He does through us!
How can we discern whether we are living from the love and affection of Jesus or from selfish ambition and conceit? Often it is in the midst of conflict that what is in our hearts is revealed.
Now every church faces conflict, and this is not all bad. A conflict can simply be a difference of opinion. Conflicts arise regularly in relationships. Since we are all different, conflict is unavoidable! But we must recognize that while much conflict arises simply because of preferences or perspectives, some arises we are in a spiritual battle for the gospel and the kingdom of God. Regardless of which type of conflict we find ourselves in, we will either respond with Spirit-filled humility or we will respond from selfish ambition or conceit.
As you may have heard, there are three natural responses to feeling attacked; fight, freeze and flight. Perhaps you have heard of these, they are the result of heightened levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline, hormones which flood our bodies when we feel attacked and which enable us to respond to real and immanent bodily danger. When we feel verbally attacked, manipulated or bullied, we may also experience this response. And when we are rebuked or corrected, regardless of whether the correction was good and necessary, we may still feel attacked and so experience this internal response. Our heart rate may increase. Our breathing may become shallow. We may begin to sweat, and we feel like we are in danger.
Now these are appropriate responses when we are in true danger, and they are understandable when we are in conflict. But when we experience God, the Bible, healthy correction, or conflict as immanently dangerous, we know that we are in need of God’s help and healing. And even when we are attacked for doing the right thing, we must not respond out of the anxiety which characterized this fight, freeze, or flight response. If we are to combat this anxiety, we need to experience the comfort and affection of Jesus Christ. This comfort is found in the work of Christ on the cross, in the resurrection, and in his sovereign reign over everything. And it is experienced through faith and in confessing our sins, repenting, and being assured of our salvation.
Why are these natural fight, freeze or flight responses inappropriate in spiritual battles or everyday conflicts? They are responses of self-preservation, which is the opposite of Christian humility. For Christ did not preserve Himself in his battle against Satan, sin and death. When we are in conflict, the Spirit-filled response is love and humility. Sometimes this means listening, sometimes responding with scripture, sometimes standing up for the truth, or confronting sin, or asking questions which reveal the heart of the issue. While each of these responses is sometimes appropriate, a humble response always includes listening with a heart willing to receive Biblical correction. A humble heart is quick to apologize when shown his or her sin or when an apology would help heal a relationship. These are loving, engaged responses. They focus on the truth, on health, on resolving the conflict, and on restoring the relationship. They may be painful, but they are what a healthy, mature, and humble believer who is filled with the Holy Spirit will do. Fight, flight, and freeze are all responses of self-preservation. But love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control are fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit. They accompany a life of true humility. And contrary to popular belief, these fruits of the Spirit are seen in Jesus even when he called out his disciples when they were in sin, confronted the errant religious leaders of his day, and forgave the sins of those society most loved to despise.
Consider this, when Jesus was confronted with bad religious leaders in his day who were misleading the people, he rebuked them, exposed them, and sometimes ignored them. In every case, since Jesus is God, and since God is love, Jesus must have been acting out of love. We know he wasn’t acting out of selfishness, for he eventually allowed these religious leaders to stir up the people against him, and then he allowed the Romans to crucify him. Was this an act of arrogant self-preservation? Was this selfish ambition or conceit? Absolutely not! Yet some might have assumed while he was rebuking the pharisees and sadducees that he was trying to make a name for himself, elevating himself by putting others down. It is clear to us now that this was not his motivation, he rebuked because he loved both these errant and arrogant leaders, and because he cared for those they were misleading. To protect the sheep he had to call out the leaders who were abusing them and leading them astray, even if they thought they were doing the right thing. Not to confront them would be unfaithful and unloving both for the errant leaders and for those who followed them.
If we are to have one mind, the mind of Christ, then we must study the Bible to learn about the real Jesus Christ. We must study the Bible to find out what love, peace, and joy really mean. In the words of that great philosopher, Inigo Montoya of the movie, The Princess Bride, “I do not think it means what you think it means!” We must examine the scriptures carefully to learn what Christian love, joy and peace really look like.
Paul concludes today’s text with this admonition: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Jesus certainly did. Though he was God and the disciples were mere men, Jesus washed their feet. Though he is the creator of the universe, he considered us more important than himself, and lay down his life that we might have eternal life. If we are to have the mind of Christ, we must also live lives of sacrifice. I must consider you more important than myself. And you must consider each other more important than yourselves. Otherwise, we demonstrate that we do not have the mind of Christ. Without this humility, we cannot be united, we cannot bring glory and honor to our Lord, and all that we do as a church is in vain.
We must always put the needs of others first. We must encourage and empower one another, spurring one another on to faith and good works as God commanded us in Hebrews 10:24. And we must call one another out when we see someone in sin. We must point it out to them from the scriptures with all love and humility, for this is true, bold, Christ-like love. And we must do so not from self-conceit, but with the humility of Christ. We must point others to the affection of Christ when we point out their sins, being quick to forgive and quick to show grace. For this is the way Christ loves us. And we must be willing and ready to receive correction and training from our brothers and sisters in Christ who love us. For when we love one another in this manner, we will increasingly mature as one body in Christ, developing the mind of Christ, and learning to live lives of holiness together for the sake of Christ. This is true Christian humility.
If we are living not for selfish ambition but for the affection and joy of Jesus Christ, then living in Christian humility will be a delight and not a duty! May God grant us all this love, unity, and humility which are rightfully ours in Christ!
Let us pray…