As I was reading through commentaries and preparing for this sermon this was the introductory statement for one of the commentaries. “The celebrated pacifist Mohandas Gandhi is reported to have said, ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ’”1 This stuck out to me because Paul’s main argument in our passage today is about our imitation of Christ, specifically in terms of humility. Paul starts out this petition by saying in verse 2, “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” This statement being in relation with Christ.
If we look back we see in verse 27 from chapter 1, “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel…” Paul is setting the table in a way for the main dish of what he is trying to say to be served. Paul is telling us we are to be imitators of Christ and called to be like Christ. However, if we are stopped there at verse 2 we are left with the overwhelming question. “How do we do that?”
Well if we continue reading we see that humility is a way that we can imitate Christ. At least it is the one that Paul moves to addressing in our passage today.
Now it is confession time for me. If I am going to preach on humility I must admit that this is something that I have struggled with and continue to struggle with in my life. Humility in my mind is one of the toughest things to have. My super competitive nature cause me to struggle and stumble when it comes to humility, and over the years it has caused rifts in my relationship with God. For me it wasn’t something that I noticed immediately, but in looking back I can see where my ego really gets in the way of me being more Christlike.
I say this because I want you to know how difficult something like this can be, and even though it may not seem bad a closer look shows that it can affect our spiritual relationships. I want you to know that humility is something you should never give up on. We should be always striving to be more Christlike and that is truly what Paul is calling us to when he is calling us to be imitators of Christ in verse 2. Paul in this passage is not just telling us what we need to do, but he also shows us and gives us an example.
So lets look at what Paul says. We read in verses 3 and 4, “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.” Now I want to examine this word humility that Paul uses in verse 3. As we know Paul wrote in Greek and we are left in our time to interpret what we think the Greek means based on what we know of the ancient Greek language. So lets look at it. The Greek word that Paul uses that is translated to humility is tapeinophrosunē (tah-pey-nah-frah-soo-ney). I know long word. This word literally means “the having a humble opinion of one’s self; a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness; modesty, humility, lowliness of mind.”2 It is a completely moral state. It is not a physical state of belittling, but it is a concept in which we allow our minds not to get to wrapped in ourselves. As we continue to read and not just stop with this Greek word and move on we see that Paul says, “in humility”…so in this lowliness of mind and this moral littleness… “regard others as better than yourselves. So we must bring ourselves down a notch to bring up others. Specifically we think of lowering ourselves to bring forth God.
Humility is not meant out of demeaning ourselves, but instead out of raising others up. Especially to raise up God over our own selves. A few weeks ago we talked about making God #1 in our lives and we visited how we are called to give God glory. Out of all that God has done for us he deserves our respect, and deserves our love. Much in the same way Paul tells us we should be regarding others more than ourselves. Not to the point where we feel like we are nothing, but out of being humble. Our call from Paul here is to be humble not to beat ourselves up or belittle ourselves, but as we looked at a few weeks ago allowing ourselves to be second and allowing God and thus God’s plan be first in our lives.
As Paul talks about how we are to imitate Christ through humility he gives Christ’s example. I wanna read what he says again because it is so eloquent. Paul notes that this is the example we are to live by. Paul writes, “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.” It is important to note that amount of attention that Christ drew to himself during his ministry. He treated his call with the utmost respect and humility to the one who called him.
There are many examples in Christ’s ministry of his humility. Of his reliance on God and what God was calling him to do. This is the example that Paul is calling us to follow. We are called to imitate Christ’s humility in our own lives. But how do we do this? How do we imitate Christ in humility? That seems like such a tall order to accomplish. I mean we are not perfect…we are not Christ, so how are we to imitate him.
If we think about the way Christ lived his humility was shown through his actions. Think about your actions what are you doing? Are you living your life in the best interest of others? Or are you living it gratify your own goals and your own glory?
As I mentioned humility is something I have struggled with in my life. I was an athlete and I had the ego to go with it it seemed at most times. When I was in High School I played many sports, but my primary sports were always running and swimming. No matter what I played I always ran cross country, swam, and ran track. Primarily cause those were my best sports and the ones I enjoyed most. I always thought I was hot stuff. Now I was fast, but I was not that fast. I had ok times and made regions, but I still thought I was the best when I had gotten to the track or in the pool.
As I was living my life I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. In fact I thought I was in the right. I was just being confident in my abilities. I was fast and I knew it. However, as we learn it is from God that we derive all that we are and it is to him we are to show thanks for what we have. Our humility starts with our acknowledgment of what God has given us.
Our humility much like Christ’s humility is an acknowledgement that there is one all powerful God whom we believe in. For as Paul says, “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.” When we acknowledge the power of our God and that we are not him we allow ourselves to be used for his purpose. For even Christ who was human did not use his divinity to exploit himself, but used what God blessed him with to do God’s work.
I have grown a lot since high school. Sometimes I still have to remind myself, but it is a process. We continue to work towards perfection, so I continue to work on my humility. I imagine most of us are in the same boat. Humility is a tough thing it is ok to admit it, but when it comes to humility it is important to remember who is really in charge. We must remember that God made us who we are. He gave us our gifts and our abilities. Therefore, being egotistical takes acknowledgment away from what God has done for us and what God has given us.
This comes back to our sermon from a few weeks ago about making God first. Not only do we love God because he loved us first, but we honor God. We honor God and not ourselves. We also do good for others. We do good for others because it to is what God calls us for.
Humility is about understanding God’s call in our lives, and living up to that call for his glory…Not for our own. Not for our own selfish gains. We cannot do things for ourselves. We must do things in the name God. We must do things for God because we love him. Humility is our acknowledgment of our love for God.
It is tough yes, but we are called to imitate Christ and we must grow to that. It is through our humility that Paul points us into the direction of imitating Christ. Because, humility is the ultimate way of showing our love for God. It will not happen overnight, much like the rest of our faith journey. However, it is something we must work on, and something we must acknowledge we struggle with. It is all about loving God and glorifying him…Not ourselves, but God.
1. Feasting on the Word Year A Volume 4 p. 110
2. Bible GT greattreasures.org Philippians 2:3; ταπεινοφροσύνη