Lecture 46: Humility | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 46: Humility

Course: 52 Major Stories of the Bible 

Lecture: Humility


Paul has close emotional ties with the church he planted in Philippi and there is much joy in the letter he writes them. It is often called the “joyful letter.” However, like any other church, the church in Philippi had its share of problems. Externally, there was persecution. Internally, there was rivalry and envy and self-centeredness. In fact, the motivation of some of the preachers in the different house churches in Philippi was to make Paul jealous. He is stuck in jail, his following is decreasing, and they think, “We can get out and preach to build a bigger church then he had.” Not an overly healthy church. The solution for Paul is to call the Philippians church and to call the church here to humility, to call us to unity and to call us to focus, to focus not on ourselves but to focus on God and his gospel.

Live Worthy of the Gospel (1:27)

We will start at Philippians 1:27 where Paul writes, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Paul wants the Philippians to live worthy of the gospel. If you have an ESV, you will notice the footnote on “worthy,” and it says: “Greek Only behave as citizens worthy.” That is exactly what the word means but it doesn’t make any sense in English so we just say “worthy.” Philippi had a special status that few cities outside of Italy had. This status gave citizens of Philippi the same rights as citizens of Rome. Roman citizens were given certain privileges that most people didn’t have. So to live in one of these privileged cities was an immense privilege. The Philippians would have been proud of their Roman citizenship. Paul expresses his point explicitly in chapter 3:20, our citizenship is in heaven. A Philippian would have heard 3:20 and heard the contrast between being a Roman citizen and a citizen of heaven. The church in Philippi is an outpost of heaven. And they are called to live in the way that is worthy. Live in a way that is appropriate, not for a citizen of Philippi, but for a citizen of heaven. Be worthy of your citizenship, Paul is saying. What does it look like to live as a citizen of heaven?

Stand Firm

Paul continues by telling us how to live as a citizen of heaven: “You live as a citizen of heaven by standing firm in one spirit.” In other words, in the face of external persecutions and internal rifts, the Philippian Christians are called to stand firm and not waver in their commitment to God and one another. How do you stand firm? Well, “in one spirit,” can also be translated “by one Spirit,’ capital S not small s. Paul is saying that you and I cannot live on earth as citizens of heaven by our own strength, but by the sustaining grace of God. Sustaining grace is the power of God’s Holy Spirit, and it is by the enablement, it is by the power of God’s Spirit, that you and I are able to stand firm. It is only by the enablement of God’s Spirit that we can “strive side by side for the faith of the gospel.” It is only by the power of God’s Spirit in our lives and in our midst that we are able to stand firm with one mind.

Same Mind (2:1-4)

What does that specifically look like? What does it look like to stand firm in one Spirit? That is what Paul continues to tell us in 2:1. He writes, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, [and the Greek grammar says, ‘and there is’] any comfort from the love that God has lavished on us [and there is] if there is any participation in God’s Spirit,[ our joint experience of God’s Holy Spirit] [and there is], if there is any affection and sympathy [that we have among ourselves] [and there is] [then Paul says] complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” In other words, let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. This is what it looks like to stand firm by the power of the one Spirit. It means that we have the same love; that the love that I have for you is the love that you have for me. We are in full accord. We all agree that we understand we are all in this together. But most importantly, we agree that we have the same mind. And again, the word “mind” here is more the idea of a mindset, an idea of a disposition, a way of thinking, a focus. Paul is saying that we have to be like-minded if we are going to stand firm in one Spirit; we have to have the same mind. Now that does not mean that we have to agree on absolutely everything. But it also does not mean that we ignore significant problems and “just get along.” Neither of those are what Paul is calling for, and he continues in this paragraph to give us two indications of what it looks like to live with the same mind.

Agreed on one central focus

Number one: You and I need to agree on one central focus; that when we are like-minded we are focused on the same thing and Paul is going to say that we are to be focused on God. As we are focused on God, we will also be focused on striving side by side for the gospel, for the faith of the gospel. Focused on God, which means we are focused on the faith and his gospel. It is easy to lose focus, especially as a church. It is very easy to lose focus and become distracted, and we lose our focus on God and his gospel. Then what happens? Secondary things come into focus, don’t they? All of a sudden we start thinking that these secondary things are of primary significance. When we lose our focus on God and striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, the church starts becoming about numbers and growth. It starts becoming about, “What are we going to do if they spill coffee on the new carpet?” When we lose our focus on God, our focus does not dissipate, it shifts. It naturally, sinfully shifts, generally to the Almighty Me, doesn’t it? Instead of asking the question, “Does this glorify God?” we ask, “Do I like it?” Instead of asking, “Does this glorify God?” we say, “Does the church make me feel good about myself?” Eventually the question becomes more about, “Well, that person hurt me. What am I going to do about it? What are you going to do about it?” “I don’t like the way she does things.” The church, which is for the glory of God, becomes the glory of men and women, and it dies a natural death when we lose our focus on what we are here for. The church dies when we no longer focus on glorifying God and striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.

Sometimes I think the world sits back and just smiles when it looks at the church in general. It says, “I don’t have to lift a finger. They are their worst enemies. I do not have to do anything and they will rip and tear themselves apart all by themselves.” This happens when we lose our focus on who we are as the temple of God. We cannot afford to do that, can we? Tozer writes in the ''Pursuit of Holiness'' about getting 100 pianos in one room all tuned together. He does not suggest tuning them to each other; rather, tune them all to the same tuning fork. When you tune all the pianos to the same tuning fork, they are in tune with each other and can play in unity and a symphony comes out. If you extend the metaphor it is obvious, no? If you try to tune yourself to me and me to you, if you and I become the measure of all things, if the focus is on us, then we will never be in unity. We will never be able to play in harmony. Rather, we need to be tuned by the one tuning fork, which is God. Tuned to God, striving together for his glory and the faith of his gospel. As long as we do not lose focus, you and I are in tune pianos and we will play in unity and harmony together. This is one of the ways we have the same mind, that we agree on that one central focus, which is that we want to be tuned to God.

Our lives must be characterized by humility

Paul continues to explain that there is a second characteristic of people who have the same mind. He goes on to say that our lives must be characterized by humility. You and I will never achieve this sameness of mind, we will never achieve this focus until we come to understand, at least in part, what unity, what humility is all about. Preaching on humility is probably one of the most impossible things to do. You know the old saying, “Once you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it.” I do not know if you know the old song, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” Sometimes we might feel like that. It’s hard to preach, it’s hard to understand humility because truly when you think you’ve arrived, in fact you’re actually going the opposite direction. Yet humility is a key virtue; one of the key virtues in Paul’s thought. In fact, most Christian virtues are impossible without humility, are they not? Most of what we are called to do is impossible if we put ourselves first and the other person last. As hard as it is, we must venture into what is humility, this key ingredient to having the same mind. Paul tells us a lot of what humility is not. Paul tells us that humility is the opposite of rivalry and conceit. Humility is the opposite of looking only to your own interests. Humility is the opposite of self-interest, and self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. Humility is also the opposite of servility. Servility claims to be humility but it actually wants to attract attention to itself. Do you know those kinds of people? You are with them and you leave thinking, “Ohhh, that’s such a humble person.” Then you start thinking, “Why do I think they’re humble? Oh, they really went out of their way to convince me that they are humble.” That is servility, not humility. None of those things are humility.

I came across an interesting comment as I was reading this week. The writer said that humility also is not thinking that everyone else is more important or more valuable than you are. Humility is not thinking that everyone else is intrinsically superior. It was an interesting idea to me. I had never thought of it in those terms. I always struggled with thinking of humility as, “I have to think that Charlie is of more value than I am.” We are all equal in one sense because we are all children of God. In fact, the writer pointed out that when Jesus humbled himself on the cross (which is coming in a few verses) he did not think that he was of less intrinsic worth than us, did he? God the Creator never sees himself as less worthy than his creation. That is not what biblical humility is. Biblical humility is caring for others. Biblical humility understands that we treat the other person as more significant, in that we put their needs ahead of our needs because that is what Jesus did on the cross. He put our needs ahead of himself. When we are humble, we put the other person’s needs ahead of our needs. It is in that sense that they are more significant. To state it another way: Humility is coming to a right understanding of who you are in Christ. Humility is understanding that we are utterly dependent on and trusting of our Creator. Humility is understanding that we are not to be focused on me. I am not the center of the universe even though every fiber of my being tells me that I am. So when someone hurts me, my tendency is to lash out at him, “How dare you hurt me!” But humility is not self-aggrandizement; it is not raising ourselves up. It is understanding who we are in Christ; that he is the center of the universe and I am not. When we start thinking rightly about God we begin to think rightly about ourselves. This pushes us to look to the interests of others. As we engage in this process of right thinking about God and therefore right thinking of who I am in Christ and therefore in right thinking about our brothers and sisters; then our lives come to be marked with humility. But true humility is rarely recognized by the possessor. Rarely have I come across a person who I consider humble who thinks of himself or herself as humble. Humility is coming to a right understanding of God and ourselves and then putting the needs of others ahead of ourselves within that dynamic. And that is precisely the point Paul is going to make in the next verses. In verse 5 Paul writes, “Have this mindset among yourselves which is also the mindset of Christ Jesus.” And the mindset of Christ Jesus was one of humility. Paul is going to show how Christ’s incarnation and death, even death on the cross, and then the resurrection and his ascension all reveal God's character. Philippians 2 is critical to our understanding of who Jesus is, and in that revelation of God’s character we are going to see God’s willingness to humble himself in order to meet the needs of other people. There is amazing theology in these verses, but do not get lost in it because it is here to say, “This is the mindset of Christ. This is the character of God, that he would put the needs of others ahead and he would do for others what they need.” Likewise you and I are to put others ahead of ourselves.

Humiliation (2:6-8)

Paul begins verses 6-8 by describing Christ’s humiliation and he says of Christ Jesus, “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, 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.” Paul is saying that Jesus existed in the form of God even before he was born. This is the doctrine of Christ’s “Pre-existence.” He did not come into being when he was born but he existed beforehand. In fact, he existed in the form of God. There are several Greek words in Philippians 2 without English counterparts. It is frustrating, but I guess that is why there are preachers. When you and I hear the word “form” in English, we tend to think of something that is an approximation, a general shape of something. But, the Greek word describes the exact representation of something. So when Paul says that Jesus existed in the form of God he says that he was exactly, precisely God. This is in fact one of the strongest affirmations in all of Scripture that Jesus is God. Jesus who was God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Being God is not about grasping for yourself. Being God is not about hanging on for my benefit. Being God is about making himself nothing. Specifically, God in Jesus made himself nothing by taking the form (by taking the exact representation) of a servant. Jesus became fully human while at the same time remaining fully God. He not only took the form of a servant, but specifically a human servant. And again, likeness does not mean that he kind of appeared to be like God. Likeness, again, means the exact representation. So Jesus was fully God and did not consider that something to hang on. And what was the extent of God’s making himself nothing? What was the extent of his humiliation? He became human and died on the cross. That is the extent of Jesus’ humiliation as he is showing to us the true character of God the Father. Christ’s death on the cross shows that God made himself nothing for the needs of his creation, for the sake of his creation. One writer says, “Here is the very heart of Pauline theology….that God is love and his love expresses itself in self-sacrifice for the sake of those he loves.” Wow! That was God’s humiliation.

Exaltation (2:9-11)

Paul turns the focus toward Christ’s exaltation in verses 9-11. Among other things, the exaltation of Christ is here to illustrate the depth of his humiliation. It shows how far he went down by how far he went back up, as it were. He writes, “Therefore, God has highly exalted him.” Paul likes to make up words and that is a made up word. He wants to say, “Over, over, over exalted him. As high as you can do it.” We do not do that in English. God has super, over abundantly, amazingly, beyond our comprehension exalted him. That is what the Greek says. “And bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee would bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." God the Father highly exalted Jesus but not as a reward. He did not exalt him by giving him something that he did not already possess. God exalted God by universally declaring who Jesus truly was. God the Father exalted his Son by declaring his full name by the resurrection and the ascension. God declares Jesus’ true name to be Lord, which is Greek for the Hebrew "Yahweh." Jesus is the Yahweh of the burning bush in Exodus 3. Jesus is the God of Genesis 1 who created all things. Jesus is the God of David and the prophets. That is his true name. He is God. But notice that ultimately the glory does not go to God the Son. Ultimately all glory goes through the Son to God the Father. What a great act of humiliation by someone who was Yahweh, who was God. That’s the point of the illustration. The illustration is incredibly important theologically as we come to an understanding of who Jesus is. But in this context it serves to illustrate this basic point that Christ in his incarnation and in his resurrection revealed what God is like. He revealed that God is willing to make himself nothing for the needs of his creation. Therefore, we too must be willing to make ourselves nothing for the sake of others, ultimately to the glory of God.

V. Application (2:12-13)

Having said this, Paul wants to make application and in verses 12 and 13. He says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

A. Work Out Your Salvation

In light of the example of Christ and in light of understanding the character of God, Paul calls us to work out our salvation, to understand that God saved us and in that he changed us. We do not work out our salvation in an attempt to earn it, that is impossible. We were dead before we became Christians, Ephesians 2. Rather, we work out our salvation through the consequences, the necessary and certain fruit of our sanctification. We live out our Christian lives with fear and trembling. In other words, this is really serious stuff. This is not some optional thing that can be stuck on the back end of salvation to be taken or forgotten at will. Working out our salvation is to be done with fear and trembling. I often wonder what people see when they look at us or when they look at me. I wonder if they see someone casually going through life at my own speed for my own purposes focused almost entirely on myself. Or, do they see an individual who understands that our sin cost Yahweh his human life? Do they see people who understand that we must take our spiritual maturity, specifically our humility, very serious in fear and in trembling in the light of God’s divine sacrifice? I wonder what people see when they see us. Hopefully they see someone working out the consequences of their salvation in fear and in trembling.

B. Why Are We Able?

In typical Pauline style, he qualifies himself in verse 13 in case someone could misunderstand him. He clarifies by saying that you can work out the consequences of your salvation, but you can do so only because God has already been at work. In fact, God has already been at work in your life giving you the desire to grow in humility and then the ability to grow in humility and the other virtues of the Christian life. Notice the wordplay that is going on. Work out your salvation because God is at work so that you can work. Ultimately a life of humility, a life of growth and sanctification, a life of holiness is only possible because of God’s prior work in you. You and I alone cannot will and or do good. It is simply not within my frame, which is dust. It is only God, as J.B. Phillips translates saying, “God is at work in you, giving you the desire and then the ability to accomplish that desire.” This is what Paul was saying back in Philippians 1:27; that we stand firm. How? We stand firm by the power of God’s Spirit, his sustaining grace that is at work in our lives. Paul concludes with one way we work out our salvation, and it is interesting that he chooses sins that are especially destructive to the unity of the church. He says, “[Therefore] Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” Shining as lights in the world. Can we be that kind of church? Can we move the focus off ourselves, off of what I want, off of what I desire, and in humility put the needs of others ahead of our own? We need to do more and more. Can we be the kind of church that keeps the focus on the gospel, so that you and I together strive together with the same mind, side by side for the faith of the gospel?

Memory Verse

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Reflection Question

  • How can we think of ourselves as citizens of heaven and not citizens of the earth? What specifically does that look like?
  • Share what it was like when you tried to live a life “worthy” of the gospel on your own strength. How does this look different from relying on the Lord’s strength?
  • What are some examples of how a church can lose focus on God and the gospel?
  • How can Tozer’s metaphor of the tuning fork be applied at Shiloh Hills Fellowship?
  • How can we help each other understand biblical humility, not a false servility but an honest desire to set the needs of others ahead of our own?
  • How does seeing Christ’s humiliation and exaltation encourage you toward humility?
  • What are practical ways in which we can work out the consequences of our salvation, understanding that God has given us the desire and the ability to do so?
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