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Philippians is one of my favorite books. We’ve been studying it as a group during prayer meeting, and it seems like I’m always seeing something new in it! Lately, we’ve been in chapter 2. What strikes me about this passage is the importance of humility.
Philippians 2 begins with a call to unity. I’ve already dealt with unity as it relates to fellowship in a previous post. But there’s another key element to unity. Paul summarizes it in verse 4: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (NIV [Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.]). Unity can occur only when we put others ahead of ourselves. You might have seen the following acrostic for the word joy that illustrates what our priorities should be:
Jesus Others You
Beginning in verse 5, Paul shows how Jesus, our example, demonstrated humility. He writes, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (NIV). That’s quite a tall order! But in verses 6-11, Paul uses an early Christian hymn—at least, that’s what many scholars think this passage is—to explain what it means to have the same attitude as Jesus.
[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing [literally, “emptied himself”], taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! [Philippians 2:6-8, NIV]
Jesus, high and exalted as He is, and worthy of all praise and service, became an obedient servant. This is the essence of humility. You see, humility and arrogant pride are opposites. When we’re humble, we recognize God for who He is, and acknowledge that He’s unimaginably superior to us. He’s perfect in every way: He possesses perfect
knowledge, perfect wisdom, perfect love, perfect ability, and perfect power. The list could go on and on. We are sinful humans, totally depraved if it weren’t for God’s grace. The only way we can amount to anything is because of God’s love and grace and care for us. Humility recognizes our need for total reliance on God—which produces obedience.
Arrogant pride, on the other hand, sets itself in God’s place. Pride is any area of our lives that isn’t totally surrendered to God. Essentially, when we’re proud, we set ourselves up as a kind of demigod and worship ourselves. This is a direct violation of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, NIV).
While this pride might seem like a shortcut to waiting for God’s timing, it really isn’t. James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (NIV). You see, when our attitude is different from Jesus’, God has to get our attention. And when we hold on to pride, the Bible says that God actually opposes us. Pride is that serious. Many times, God won’t allow us to use pride for a shortcut.
But there’s good news in all of this. James 4:6 also says that God “gives grace to the humble.” In fact, James goes on with more good news for the humble:
Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. . . . Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. [James 4:7, 8, 10, NIV]
When we recognize God for who He is, and keep from considering ourselves to be demigods, then God will lift us up and the devil will have to run. This happened in Jesus’ case, as well. Philippians 2:9-11 tells us that God exalted Jesus so that everyone will eventually
worship Him. Now, while we will never be exalted to Jesus’ level, we will certainly benefit greatly from humility in the long run. To be successful, “find out what God wants you to do, and do it” (reference: Robert E. Logan and Sherilyn Carlton, Coaching 101: Discover the Power of Coaching. St. Charles, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 2003, p. 23). This is humility. And it’s success.