This Blog Post is an excerpt from my sermon on Philippians 2:1-11, "The Gospel, Humility, and Unity". You can listen to the sermon audio here.
Humility is a bizarre concept for modern people. It is a difficult idea to wrap our minds around. Modern people have been indoctrinated with enlightenment idea of progress striving to be better than one another, but most significantly is the Darwinian idea of the survival of the fittest. Many people see rising to power and promoting self as the chief purpose of life. To be great is to be powerful, respected, feared, and wealthy. So for many of us greatness and humility are two traits that do not go together. Indeed humility is against our very nature. We are prideful beings constantly seeking our own fame. We often beg for compliments and perk up when someone gives us a word of praise. We like to be in the spotlight and we like to be the center of attention. We like for people to serve us, so we created a whole service industry of waiters, customer service representatives, and hospitality to pamper us and to meet our every want. Our sinful instincts are not naturally drawn to humble service but prideful entitlement!
Yet for the Christian, one born of God is to be characterized by radical humility. Christians are to be made servants, not consumers. The Christian lays down his own wants and desires for the sake of others. Since he has been given everything in Christ it is his joy to give himself to others. The Christian is to do nothing from selfish ambition. He is to do nothing to advance his own reputation. He is not to seek his own glory or fame. The Christian is to abstain from conceit. He should not think of himself more highly than he ought. He is to realize that he is not the center of the universe. Rather than thinking much about himself he is to think much about others. What about you? Do you think of yourself more highly than you ought? Do you desire your own fame and glory? This is not the way of the Christian.
Rather than self-exaltation Paul encourages the church toward other-exaltation. We must see the significance of our brothers and sisters and must value them above ourselves. We are to look out for them, care for them, and serve them. We are to look not only to our own interests but also the interest of others. The humble servant is to look for ways to serve and to meet the needs of those around him. Rather than being absorbed in narcissistic individualism we are to be marked by generous radicalism.
The Struggle of Humility
But lets be honest. Isn't it so difficult to be a humble servant? I struggle with laying down my wants for the sake of my brothers and sisters. So often I want to look out for myself and my own needs! I want to look after my own interests, and if I have time maybe I'll look after yours. My heart fights to find others as more significant than myself. The spirit rages in my heart convicting me of my pride. Humility is difficult and as pastor and writer CJ Mahaney said in his little book on humility, "I am a proud man pursuing humility by the grace of God". I want to be humble, but I need God's grace to help me in my sin and to help me realize who I am before Him. He is the creator I am the creature. I am the sinner and He is the savior. I am the rebel, He is the peace maker. He is the judge and I am the felon. Humility is not some sort of melodramatic self-loathing. Humility means understanding who you are in relation to God and others.
The Disdain of the Me-Centered Church
If a church is to be unified, on mission to advance the cause of Christ, there must be humble service among its members. This humility must define the culture of the church. The body of Christ is not to be made of entitled egoist, but self-denying servants.
Yet how far many churches are from this picture! We've turned our churches into consumer businesses where you come to church to be served rather than to serve. We've traded in the great commission for attractive products the church can offer you. The Great Commission has become the Great Suggestion. So churches come up with the latest and greatest way of catering to your needs with multi-million dollar buildings, a large menu of programs for your choosing, and worship services with watered down lyrics, flashing lights, a funny speaker, but very little Jesus. Perhaps the reason the mission of God is not being accomplished today is because our churches have been training a generation of believers that the church is here to serve them, not them to serve the church!
So a me-centered Christianity has cropped up where we demand from the church to do it my way or I'll hit the highway. I want my style of music, I want this sort of ministry, I want this length of a worship service, I want this sort of pastor, I want this sort of children's ministry. So in a never ending aim to appeal consumers churches run the rat race of conforming the church to what me-centered Christians want it to be, rather than letting God define what the church should, how we conduct our worship services, or what sort of ministry philosophy we will have. We take God's word and throw it into the metaphorical drawer and do church the way we want to do it.
So what is the solution to the plight the church of america has gotten itself in? How do we guard against our own hearts form this me-centered Christianity? How do we get our churches to look more like Philippians 2? Well it starts with a profound knowledge and deep conviction of the truthfulness of the Gospel. Humble service is a result of Gospel transformation. The antidote to the me-centered church is the self-sacrificing Christ! How do we learn to serve? How do we learn humility? How do we stay unified on the mission God has given us? Well it comes by looking to Christ!
The Example of Jesus
Paul turns our attention to Jesus, highlighting him as the example, the epitome of humility. Jesus though God did not cling to his divine prestige. If anyone had the right to be served by others it was Jesus! He is God! All of creation was created by his word! He sustains the universe by the word of his power. Yet, he was willing to take on the form of a servant. He was willing to step down from the glory of heaven, to become a human being and be born to a teenage girl in a stable. Rather than coming as a King, Jesus came as a servant. He came as one who would give up his life. Jesus was obedient even to the point of death. He humbled himself to the point of death, but not just any death, a death on a cross! The most horrific, violent, bloody, and painful inventions of torture humanity has ever come up with. He goes to the cross of his own volition and dies in the place of sinful man. As Jesus says, "The son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many". Jesus served us in our greatest need and in our greatest weakness. We are sinners who stand condemn before God. There is no one righteous, no not one! We stand before God and we are unrighteous, unworthy. We deserve hell and punishment. Yet the servant Jesus sees our need, humbles himself by taking on humanity and the Father sends Jesus on a rescue mission. God crucifies himself at the hand of his created image bearers so our sins could be paid for. God endured the wrath you deserved by taking it on himself. At the cross Jesus in humility laid down his life for us. The great God of the universe humbled himself and became a servant of man.
Here is the power of the Gospel in our lives! When we understand the astonishment of God's grace to us, when we stand amazed at God's service to us, our response is genuine humility. As we look to Calvary we see a gift we do not deserve. When we see the wonder of God's grace to us we become aware of our smallness. The reality of our tiny existence is made real, and we are amazed that God would take me and save me and restore me. When that truth sinks in and you feel the weight of God's love towards you in Christ, you are left standing with eyes gazing, falling on your knees in humility!
Do you desire humility? Do you desire to be a servant to others? Look to Christ our example! He is the suffering servant who demonstrates humility for us. Soak in this truth and as you do humility will be your response. For those who have genuinely put their faith in Jesus and have trusted in this good news humility is the only response. As we are humbled by the Gospel we will in turn be a servant to others. Why? Because Christ was first a servant to us. So look to your savior you who are proud at heart! Look to his nail pierced hands and feet you who seek to be served! For if the God of all the earth has stooped down to serve you, shouldn't you the dust of the earth serve your neighbor?