The humility of Christ (Phil 2:1-11)

Humility is such an attractive quality, isn’t it? Over the past three months, during this period of lockdown, our community has seen some great examples of humility. For example, many individuals have volunteered to help at the village shop; many people have been delivering shopping to housebound neighbours; and our pastoral care team has been telephoning people across our community to keep in touch.

Such humility and service is certainly commended by the apostle Paul in our passage from Philippians this morning:
• “Value others above yourselves” he writes in verse 3.
• “Don’t just look after your own interests, but those of others too” he exhorts in verse 4; and
• “Do nothing out of selfish ambition” he commands in verse 3.

But Paul doesn’t just command humility from the Philippians – he gives us reasons and a role model too. Paul tells us why we should be humble, and presents us with a perfect example of humility as well. So this morning let’s look at both the reason and role model for humility.

Humility has its reasons!

What then are the reasons for Christian humility? Why does Paul recommend it so strongly?

In verse 1 of our passage this morning, Paul says that it is our salvation, the work of God in our lives, that should drive Christians to humble service. If we’ve been saved by Christ, if we’ve experienced God’s love and if we’ve received the Holy Spirit, then we have every reason to be humble. Christians have every reason to care for one another:

• For example, if we are believers in Christ, then we all are part of his one Body – and it would be absurd for different parts of the same body to be in conflict or rivalry with one another. Can you imagine a right leg being jealous of a left leg, or an eye objecting to an ear? That would be absurd! A body works best when it operates as one – and the same principle applies to the Church;

• If we are Christians, we have also experienced the free grace and love of God. So it would be ludicrous and hypocritical to withhold love and generosity from one another;

• And since becoming a believer, every Christian has come to enjoy “fellowship with the Holy Spirit”. So how could we ever consider behaving in a selfish, self-centered way that breaks our fellowship with our fellow believers?!

This week the Premier League resumes after a three month break. The matches will be played behind closed doors, in empty stadiums, so even the most hardcore fans will be forced to watch their favourite team on TV. And the way we recognise our favourite team is by the shirts they wear. Every player from each football club will wear the same colour kit. Having received the same colour shirts, it is then obvious and logical that they should play together as a team, seeking to score the most goals against their opposition. They don’t run off as individuals, with their heads down, trying to win the match single handed.

Similarly, as Christians we have all been chosen by God and “clothed” in Christ – we belong to the same team, we are wearing the same spiritual kit – so it is right and proper that we must humbly love and serve one another.

And the goal or consequence of Christian humility is unity. In verse 2, Paul tells us that humble Christians make for a united church – a church that shares one mind, one love, one spirit and one purpose.

Like a football team, a church is most effective and successful when it is most united:

• For example, if we are working together to share Jesus, then our outreach and evangelism will be much more effective. That’s why Paul wrote in Philippians 1:27, just before our passage today, that the Philippians should “contend as one for the Gospel”. So, whenever we are back together in our new building, I hope we can run an Alpha course (or similar) together for our community.

• A united church is also a deeply attractive community. If we humbly love and serve one another we will draw the attention of outsiders. In a society increasingly characterized by family breakdown, social exclusion and rampant individualism, a loving, humble Christian community will shine like a light in the darkness. If we at St John’s become known for our love and unity, we will be attractive to many in our community – our humility will help draw others into the life of Christ’s Church.

Humility has a perfect role model!

So Christian humility has its reasons, and they are all good ones. But what does true humility look like in practice? Paul knows that to be humble we need more than just words of exhortation – we need an inspiring role model too. So in verses 5 to 8, he points us to a supreme example of humility and self-sacrifice – he gives a role model to mimic, an attitude to imitate. This role model is, of course, Jesus Christ himself.

You may have noticed that Paul actually gives two examples of Christ’s humility in our passage. One in eternity and one within time. One in Heaven, and one on Earth:

• In eternity past, Christ, the Son of God, freely chose to surrender his divine glory, power and status, and be born as a man. Though he was fully God, he did not take advantage of his divine power, knowledge, wisdom or glory, but temporarily set them aside to enter time and become a man. Like a King taking the role of a servant, or a Chief Executive becoming a caretaker, the Creator became a creature in the world he had made. As we celebrate every Christmas, God’s Son left the throne-room of Heaven and became one of us on Earth.

• Yet, of course, that was not the end of Christ’s humility, was it? Paul reminds us that once on earth, Christ exhibited enormous humility by going to the Cross. Christ’s self-sacrificial attitude was so great that he was prepared to endure the humiliation and pain of crucifixion for our forgiveness. On the first Good Friday he humbly suffered to secure our salvation.

No hymn has yet been written – nor will ever be written – that fully expresses the humility Christ showed at Calvary. But perhaps Charles Wesley came closest in the third verse of his hymn “And Can it be”. Those lyrics read: “He left his Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite his grace! Emptied himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race.”

So as I finish today, let’s all seek God’s help to grow in humility, let’s all strive to value others above ourselves. Because humility has its reasons, and because humility has a perfect role model – Jesus Christ our Lord.