As we think about Christmas, what is the central characteristic trait you associate with Christmas? Is it generosity? Central to Christmas is humility. If you went and searched the word ‘humility’ on a computer, one of the first things you would find is a quote, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” This is attributed to CS Lewis, however, it is not! The quote doesn’t quite get it right. Romans 12 tells us not to think too highly of ourselves, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,” (Romans 12:3).
This morning, as we explore Philippians 2:1-11, we are going to start at the end and work our way backwards.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by 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. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should 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.” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Most commentators seem to agree these verses are some form of first century hymn which praise God and Jesus for what they have done. Paul is painting it as the ultimate picture of humility. These words are really beautiful, powerful and moving. True humility is something truly beautiful but rare. Think of the godliest person you know. Their humility is something that possibly stood out. Some people can be funny, intelligent and sporty – they seem to have everything. We are drawn to such people. Humility is not something we see often; sports celebrities when being interviewed rarely thank those who have helped them along the way. Politicians, more than any, are supposed to represent the people, yet are often referred to as being self-serving.
We see true humility in Philippians chapter 2 – probably where we would least expect it. God, who is worshipped by angels from eternity, is surely the last person you would expect to put people first. In Psalm 113 we see that God is to be praised,
“Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord!
Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the Lord is to be praised!
The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!
We see this God of all the nations lifting the needy out of the ash heaps. The God of all glory sees and reaches down. Jesus does exactly the same. Though He is God, He emptied Himself to be born a servant. The divine Son of God humbled Himself! He took on flesh, set aside His power and glory – although He this still belonged to Him.
“Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail, the incarnate Deity,
Pleased, as man, with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!”.
(Hark the Herald)
He did not relinquish His divine attributes but added humanity. Imagine there is a king ruling over a vast empire. Imagine, one day this king decides he will clean the toilets in the palace. He gets down on his knees. The king is still the king, but he is not using his powers but using his servitude.
Jesus became the suffering servant (Isaiah 53). The divine Son of God entered our messy world and experienced our pain. He mourned, He suffered,
“He walked my road and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again –
I will follow my Immanuel.”
(‘Immanuel’, Stuart Townend).
Jesus, being a man and walking among us and ultimately dying in our place – Christ’s humilitation.
The 1689 Westminster Confessions states, “He was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it, and underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have borne and suffered, being made sin and a curse for us; enduring most grievous sorrows in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, and remained in the state of the dead, yet saw no corruption: on the third day he arose from the dead with the same body in which he suffered, with which he also ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.” (The Baptist Confession of faith, 1689, 8:4).
But why? Why did He have to be humiliated? Why did He become a servant? He had eternal love, majesty and glory. He did not need anything! So why?
(i) It was the only way sinners like us could be saved. Only one could stand in our place. From the moment we entered this world we are sinners. God became man in Christ to save us.
(ii) It was out of obedience to His Father (Philippians 2:8).
(iii) It was out of love both for His Father and His people – those ones He set His love on in eternity past.
(iv) To bring glory to His Father and Himself, as He saves sinners, defeats sin and kills death. Jesus is the divine Son of God, who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives in love from eternity past.
Jesus is undoing what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, as they grasped to be like God. His obedience was His exaltation (Philippians 2:9-11). One day every knee will bow before Jesus. Are you bowing the knee, standing before Him in faith or in judgement? One day He will return. He offers new life and a new future – being loved by God and by Him.
Why does Paul quote this hymn? He is trying to encourage humility, sharing Christ’s example. Paul has joy, gratitude and affection for the church in Philippi but he sees persecution, false teaching and disunity. He is worried that disunity will weaken them under persecution. Paul realises humility is the key to unity. Humility puts others first.
How does Paul show them this unity is achieved?
We are to look to Christ’s example. When we want to know how to do something we may often watch a Youtube video and follow the instructions. Paul urges us to follow Christ’s example, to follow in Christ’s footsteps. But there’s a problem for us; we can’t just copy Christ’s example. We need to be made alive before we follow His example. We are all dead in sin, proud by nature, putting ourselves first. Humility is really hard; our sinful hearts are always prideful. Humility does not come naturally to us.
Kane West says he is a born-again Christian, yet a few years back he claimed to be God. If he is truly saved then we will see a radical change in his heart. It doesn’t just come through following Christ’s example but also what Jesus does in us. Paul says to us in verses 1-2 it comes from being in Christ, participating in His Spirit, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
This humility, love and affection comes only as Jesus saves and gives us a new heart and a new life. We have to get to a place where only Jesus can take us. We go where Jesus has gone as we are united to Him in faith. Through Christ’s humility and His exaltation, He fulfils the law. He gives us a new heart which has His law written on it. We are united to Him by His Spirit. He starts to sanctify us.
There is a bit of a dichotomy. Paul 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” (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul tells us to work out our salvation, to work as hard as we can to follow Christ’s example. But he is quick to say Christ works in us. We are to humble ourselves, to put others first.
For us, we are called to follow in Christ’s example, to put others first in humility. Following Christ is following the path to self-sacrifice but also the path to glory. The secret to true humility is to look in faith to Christ and His humiliation and exaltation, and to live by faith in Christ and His exaltation and humiliation.