What cannot be gained as long as one tries to gain it? What seems the very symbol of weakness yet produces the strongest bond? What promises the very thing that it seems to repudiate?
So contains the irony of humility. To strive for it, makes it more elusive. To embody the weakness it conveys, produces great strength. To follow it leads to its opposite – glory. Let’s see what our passage has to teach us about this enigma called humility.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,
Verse 1 is the setup for the instruction Paul is about to give. He calls to mind for them what they possess in Christ – encouragement, love, participation in fellowship with the Holy Spirit, the affection and sympathy – i.e. the mercies – of God. Out of what they possess, out of what they experience from God, he wants them to direct their attention to one another.
And there is one other motivating factor – 2 complete my joy… Paul is speaking to the Philippian believers from his own loved-filled heart. As he says in 1:8: “God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” That word for the affection is the same as in 2:1. It literally means “bowels.” It is the ancient world’s way of saying, “Out of my deepest heart; I really feel what I am expressing.” So Paul truly cares about the welfare of his hearers, and he truly cares about what he is about to say, enough so that it affects his joy.
…by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Paul wants unity – the same mind, the same love, in full accord, of one mind. He had already expressed this desire in 1:27: “I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side…” He will entreat two women in the church to “agree in the Lord,” the same Greek phrase for “be of the same mind.”
I have to confess that this insistence on having the same mind has always baffled me for one simple reason – How can it possibly be done? I’m still trying to figure out how to convert all the Baptists in the congregation to the right view of baptism! I don’t want to touch eschatology. Then there are political and social perspectives across the spectrum. Appropriate music? I’ll let Paul Jones handle that one! I have enough to handle dealing with the different opinions about how to do ministry and run the church operations.
Other translations are helpful in bringing out the nuance of the Greek term for mind that is used here. The King James Version and the New International Version translate it as being “likeminded.” Paul is calling on us to have the same disposition or mindset. So when he tells the Philippians back in 1:27 to strive side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, he’s telling them to keep focused on their goal, which is to advance the gospel. He wants those Christian sisters in chapter four to remember their common cause and faith.
And he wants this like-mindedness to be fully owned – “being in full accord and of one mind,” or, more closely to the Greek, being one in soul and mind, that is, with one’s whole being. He wants this like-mindedness to be expressed through a likeminded-love. As they have experienced the love of God (see verse 1), so they are to express the same love to one another. So whether they are Republican or Democrat, Pre-mill or Post-mill, Paedo-baptist or Credo-baptist – whatever side of an issue they may each fall, they are to bear and express the same love. They are to value love in the same way; have the same intent to love each other in the midst of their differences.
But how? That is a tall order. Verses three and four present the necessary condition. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit.” They are to check their motives. One can do seemingly good things for the wrong motive. While Paul was in prison, there actually were teachers trying to show him up in their preaching of Christ (1:15-17). As hard as it is to believe, there were Christians back then who were prideful about their service for Christ and even wanted to receive more recognition than others.
It is the next clause that presents the key concept in achieving single-mindedness and is the most difficult to swallow: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” In humility count others more significant. He doesn’t say, “count others as significant as yourselves.” Count others more significant.
What is Paul getting at here? Are we to act as though each person is better than he really may be? Do we pretend that a brother has spiritual gifts that he in truth does not possess? Should we praise someone for a false talent? Should we commend a person for behavior that is embarrassing or sinful? Such responses would be falsehoods and thus cannot be his meaning. And nothing is more likely to lead someone to pride than to be praised for what he does not possess.
His meaning becomes clearer in the next verse: 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Count others as so significant, that you will be more concerned for their wellbeing than you will in protecting your own interests. To put it simply, care for each other. Care for one another’s soul. Care for the other’s relationship with his Lord.
Paul then adds the clincher. If some might be tempted to say that Paul is going too far in his demands, he points them to Christ.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Think it is too much to be asked to place the interests of others before your own? Consider what Jesus did. He gave up the glories of equality with God. He, who was pure spirit, took on the limitations of flesh. He, who was highly exalted, made himself nothing. He, who was worshipped and served by multitudes of angelic beings, became a servant. He, who is eternal and who created life, submitted to shameful death on a cross. Why? Because he counted us more significant. He counted our salvation as more important that holding on to his glory.
Just such a mindset is what pleased his father. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Let’s recap. Go back to 1:27. Paul says, “I want you to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. You are going to go through tough times and face tough opponents, so it is essential to keep together. I will give you the key to staying together. Before I do, remember what you have in Christ – the encouragement and love. Now out of that blessing, focus on staying united. How are you going to keep focused? Count one another more significant. Care for each other as though the other was more important. That is the mindset your Lord had when he came to earth and died for your sins.”
This is what the apostle Paul says to the Philippians. The centerpiece idea is expressed in verse 3: in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let’s think it through for ourselves. Is Paul’s view of humility realistic? Is this humility worth the effort? Is this humility attainable?
1. Is Paul’s view of humility realistic? Are we really to count everyone else as more significant than ourselves and so always act according to their best interests? The answer is yes, if we act with discernment. To act according to our brother’s or sister’s best interest is not the same as acting according to what interests him or her. The young woman who gives in to the physical entreaties of a young man, who claims that he needs such a response to be assured of her love, is not looking to his interests but really hers. We are not counting the other as more significant when we are enabling him to sin. That is not humility but self-interest. It may be the self-interest of trying to win affection or getting rid of an annoyance. It is not humility.
We also are not acting according to our brother’s best interest if we are not discerning about our limitations. You may have had the following happen to you. Someone needs your help. You help. He needs it again. You help again. But he keeps coming and coming and coming. You give and give and give, until you blow up at him. What started as a desire to be helpful turned into an occasion to sin and harm the very person you intended to help. What happened? You were not discerning of your limitations. You did not set the necessary boundaries needed so that you could be of real help to that person.
We do no one good when we press ourselves beyond our abilities – whether it be a matter of being patient enough or skillful enough. Indeed, humility without discernment becomes yet another means of following our innate tendency to act for ourselves. But how can that be, you might ask. How can slaving for the interests of others be an act of self-interest? Because your real motive is to be thought well of, to win acceptance, or perhaps by glorying in how poorly treated you are, you think you can win favor with God. There are other more subtle motives, I am sure. The point is that humility must be coupled with discernment – discerning the true interests of others and the true motives of ourselves.
I should add one other matter in which we need discernment. Looking to the interests of others does not mean imposing ourselves into the affairs of everyone and anyone. We are to care about everyone, but we are to be discerning about the appropriate boundaries of others. Thus, if we have yet to build a relationship with a particular person who seems needy is some way, it probably is best to restrict our help to prayer. Perhaps we could refer our concern to someone who does that person well. Or perhaps we could first take the time to build a trusting relationship.
The bottom line is this: real humility will lead you to pay attention to the other person. You will pay attention to his need. You will pay attention to how he responds to help. You will make the effort to be respectful of him, which leads to the next question.
2. Is this humility worth the effort? Why must we be so careful with each other, especially as brothers and sisters in the Lord? Yes, we are to love one another, but shouldn’t we also expect more from each other? We have work to do for God’s kingdom. We have battles to win for Christ and plenty of opposition. A sergeant does not lead his soldiers into battle, taking the time to make sure he has not hurt anyone’s feelings. No, but a good sergeant takes the time to know his men precisely because he wants them to fight as a united team when the battle comes.
This is Paul’s point. No one knows better than he the level of opposition. And he knows that it is essential for Christians to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side” (1:27). There is a scene in the movie The Gladiator in which a motley collection of prisoners are thrown into the Roman Coliseum to battle against professional soldiers. They want to scatter, but Russell Crowe commands them to stay together. If they separate, they will be picked off and surely die. Christians have to work together. We have to fight the good fight of faith together.
The humility essential for striving side by side is worth the effort because the cause is of the highest value and the consequence of failing is of the greatest disaster. The cause is the advancement of the “faith of the gospel.” It is bringing life to the dead, light to darkness, hope to the despairing, and exalting the glory of our Lord and Savior. And the consequence of failing is shaming the gospel so that the Enemy is able to harden the hearts of many against the church that proclaims that gospel.
Remember what our Lord said was the identifying mark. He said in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Have that love and people who know who we are and what we are about. They might still reject our faith, but at least it won’t be because they think it is a sham.
Loving each other with humility is not only about putting up a united front; it is about survival. Pull a Christian out of fellowship and he will stumble. Why do many young people fall away from the faith when they go off to college? The primary is not that they encounter opposition, but that they encounter it alone. No one is standing by their side. No one is looking out for their interest. Oftentimes that is because the person does not want the fellowship. Whatever the reason, the result is the same. And understand, the tragedy is not that we lost someone for the cause, but that we lost someone for whom the cause is about. The cause of the gospel is salvation and the end of salvation is glorification. Each individual, whatever his circumstances may be now, has a future either of glory or of doom.
As C. S. Lewis eloquently expresses the matter:
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one other of these destinations.
3. Humility is worth whatever effort for such a cause. But then, how realistic are we being? Is such humility attainable? When I look at the instruction given to count others more significant, and then look at the example given – Christ’s great work of humility, I must confess, I feel discouraged rather than inspired. How can I ever live up to the standard of Jesus Christ? If Paul had moderated his tone, I could handle it better: “To your best to get along. Try to treat each fairly. Do what you can to follow Christ’s example.” That’s the kind of language I want to hear, not this language of “same mind, same love, full accord, one mind, more significant.” Let up a little.
But, of course, letting up is what leads to letting down. We have got to give our all, but the good news is that what we have to give is what has already been given to us. Paul may be saying that very thing in verse 5. Our translation presents it that way: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Have what you already possess in Christ. Other translations have what the ESV places in a footnote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus.” In other words, emulate the mind that Jesus had. Whichever is the right translation, both ideas are taught in the letter. Why express so eloquently what Christ did, if he is not being set before us as an example?
But Paul lets us know where we can expect to find the ability to carry out the will of God. He opens the letter in verse 6 assuring believers, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” And he will make clear who is doing that work: “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:13). And God works in us in Christ. “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (1:11); “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19). Christ is not a model set up to show what we cannot become. Where he goes, he leads that we may follow, and follow with all that he supplies for our strength. Humility is not an ideal that we despair of attaining. It is our possession to take hold of and to use for God’s glory and our neighbor’s blessing.
It is our possession to lead us to our destiny of glory. There is a reason Paul did not end what he had to say of Christ at verse 8. He made sure the rest of the story was told. Christ’s humiliation led to even greater glory because of the pleasure of God. And what awaits us as we follow our Lord in humility is what Paul describes elsewhere as the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Listen again to C. S. Lewis speaking of this glory that awaits the humble:
It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.
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