How Does the Church Make Disciples, Part IIIRelated Media
The title of this series is “Following Jesus in a Me-First World.” The Lord has ways of reminding me how quickly and easily the “me-first” mindset can take over in my life. This past week, we received a Christmas gift of cash from a relative. I had my eye on a new CPU for my computer. Within minutes of the time the check arrived in the mail, I was ordering the computer processor as my present. Once I received a tracking number for my order, I began to watch the parcel as it made its way from California to Texas. This past week was one of those rare times in Texas when it was both cold and somewhat wet, which translated into the threat of sleet and ice. I was worried that my package would not arrive before the cold and icy weather. When the UPS truck pulled up outside our house, I hastily went out to take possession of my processor, before he even reached the house. Within just a few minutes, I had not only opened the package, but also my computer case. I was deeply involved in this “transplant” operation (from the old CPU to the new) when my wife Jeannette came into my office and asked if I knew that the meat I was cooking was burning.
I had forgotten all about the meat I was browning for soup. I had cut it into small pieces, seasoned it, and then placed it in our cast iron Dutch oven – on high heat. Once I heard that truck arrive at our door, I completely forgot about anything else. Everyone suffered through the burned soup, a flavor that I will not attempt to describe or duplicate. I was so preoccupied with my own interests that I forgot about anything else, and others paid the price for it. Humility would not have burned the meat; self-absorption did.
The solution for a me-first life is humility, and the Book of Philippians probably has more to say about humility than any other New Testament Epistle.2 In the last few lessons, I have been attempting to show how the New Testament Epistles serve as God’s discipleship manual. In our last message, we looked at the Book of 1 Corinthians. There, we saw a church divided into various factions, each of which centered about a particular leader. From all appearances, these leaders were very skillful and persuasive. The result was that a good number of the Corinthian saints were living undisciplined “me-first” lives, lives that shocked even the Corinthian pagans.3 Under the guise of possessing superior “knowledge,” some of these folks were exercising their rights at the expense of their “weaker” brethren.4 In stark contrast, we come to the Book of Philippians, where our Lord Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and two of his colleagues serve as examples of humility. Let us give our attention to this great Epistle and to its implications for those who would follow Jesus in a me-first world.
My purposes in this lesson are simple and straightforward. First, I want to arrive at a satisfactory definition of humility, especially as we find it in Philippians. Second, I want to identify what humility looks like, especially as it is described in Philippians. And finally, I want to consider what humility would look like today, in our church, because we too live in a me-first world.
A Definition of Humility
Let’s begin by identifying what humility is not. Humility is not discounted reality. Put differently, it is not true humility to deny or to discount the value of those gifts which God has given you. Let me illustrate with something secular. Suppose you are an excellent golfer – a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. It is not true humility to claim that you are really only a “7” when it comes to golf. Likewise, if you have the gift of mercy or the gift of teaching, then you are not being truly humble to deny that you are wonderfully gifted by God.
Spiritual gifts are God-given abilities or graces. They are sovereignly given, not primarily for the edification (building up) of the one who is gifted, but for the building up of the body of Christ.5 To discount the abilities we have been given is to discredit God and to diminish His work in our lives. To discount our God-given abilities is also to minimize the potential value of our service to others. If we underestimate the grace God has bestowed upon us in the form of spiritual gifts, then we will underestimate the magnitude of the work God has equipped us to do. We will look for ministries that correspond to our gifts, and since we have belittled our gifts, we will likewise belittle our capacity to serve others. True humility corresponds to reality; it acknowledges and gives praise to God for all that He has given to us in order that we may be able to serve others.
For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith (Romans 12:3).
Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God (1 Peter 4:10).
Humility is seeing to it that the things God has entrusted to us are used to build others up, rather than selfishly squandering them on ourselves alone. This leads us to our definition of humility. The best definition of humility in the Bible probably comes from the Book of Philippians:
3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well (Philippians 2:3-4).
Several aspects of humility need to be noted here, based upon this text. First, humility is the opposite of selfishness and of pride. Selfishness seeks one’s own interests, often at the expense of others. It is a me-first way of life. Pride (or vanity) has an overrated estimation of one’s self in relation to others. The end result is that we view others as inferior to us and are therefore used as instruments of self-gratification. We see the evil of selfishness and pride in the Bible. For example, God gave Israel specific instructions regarding the kings who would someday rule over them:
17 Furthermore, he must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside, and he must not accumulate much silver and gold. 18 When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. 19 It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out. 20 Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn from the commandments to the right or left, and he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:17-20).
I am particularly interested in the fact that God required Israel’s king to write out a copy of the law for himself and to consult it often, so that he might be careful to obey it. In this way, God says, the king will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens. Among other things, the law would humble the king by reminding him that he, like every one of his subjects, does not and cannot meet God’s standards. He is a sinner, just like every other Israelite. He too must be saved by grace, through faith, and this knowledge was humbling.
Second Samuel 11 tells us what can happen when a king like David becomes proud and selfish. At this point in time, David was not out leading his army in battle, which was his responsibility. Instead, he left the battle to Joab and his army.6 David slept in late – very late – and when he arose, he fixed his eyes on another man’s wife. Knowing full well that she was married to one of his faithful soldiers, David summoned her, slept with her, and then eventually had her husband killed. This is what happens when a king becomes conceited and selfish. David became proud and arrogant, and he used his power to please himself rather than to protect and serve his people.
The same thing happened to Nebuchadnezzar, as we read in Daniel 4. He had obviously begun to use his power to oppress the poor rather than to protect them. Thus Daniel warns the king concerning God’s imminent judgment. But he also appeals to the king to repent and to do what is right for kings:
“Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you. Break away from your sins by doing what is right, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged” (Daniel 4:27).
Rather than oppressing the poor, Nebuchadnezzar should have been protecting the poor. It was his arrogance that led to his humiliation, which ultimately resulted in humility.
The humbling of Nebuchadnezzar was but a foretaste of the way in which God will humble the proud and arrogant when the Lord returns to judge the earth:
Proud men will be brought low, arrogant men will be humiliated;
the Lord alone will be exalted in that day (Isaiah 2:11).
13 The Lord takes his position to judge;
he stands up to pass sentence on his people.
14 The Lord comes to pronounce judgment
on the leaders of his people and their officials.
He says, “It is you who have ruined the vineyard!
You have stashed in your houses what you have stolen from the poor.
15 Why do you crush my people and grind the faces of the poor?”
The sovereign Lord who commands armies has spoken (Isaiah 3:13-15).7
The Lord God had already warned that the same thing could happen to the Israelites when they entered into the blessings of God in Canaan, blessings they did not deserve, nor earn:
11 Be sure you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today. 12 When you eat your fill, when you build and occupy good houses, 13 when your cattle and flocks increase, when you have plenty of silver and gold, and when you have abundance of everything, 14 be sure you do not feel self-important and forget the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, the place of slavery” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14).
Pride and self-seeking had overcome the church in Corinth. People took pride in things for which they should not have taken credit.8 They took pride in knowledge (even when it was wrong).9 Amazing though it is, they took pride in tolerating sin in the church, sin such as even the Corinthian pagans found shocking.10 No wonder Paul found it necessary to include a chapter on love, a chapter which included these words:
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away everything I own, and if I give over my body in order to boast, but do not have love, I receive no benefit. 4 Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful. 6 It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:1-7).
Second, Paul writes that humility should motivate us to treat others as more important than ourselves. Contrary to the rendering of the NIV, I do not believe that our Lord requires us to regard all others as “better” than ourselves, but rather to regard the interests of others as more important than our self-serving desires. Adolf Hitler is not “better” than most of us. Neither is the murderer or the rapist. Nevertheless, these people still need the forgiveness of their sins through faith in the Lord Jesus. Considering the interests of convicted felons as more important than our own can thus be seen when someone gives up their weekend to participate in prison ministry.
It seems to me that humility is most readily evident when we deal graciously with those who are our “weaker” brother or sister, in some sense.
1 But we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to build him up (Romans 15:1-2).
The needs of others, especially those who are weaker and more vulnerable, should take priority over our own. I think the same principle is involved when John the Baptist says,
“The person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise” (Luke 3:11).
The story of the Good Samaritan11 illustrates this principle. The priest and the Levite saw the man who had been robbed and left for dead, but they chose to pass him by. In short, they saw their own personal interests as more important than the well-being of this critically injured man. This was not so with the Samaritan. He made the needs of this man his priority. The Samaritan was humble; the priest and the Levite were arrogant and self-serving.
Third, Paul’s words in Philippians 2:3-4 instruct us that seeking the best interests of others is not opposed to our own interests. I’ve always struggled with Paul’s choice of words in Philippians 2:4:
Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well (Philippians 2:4).
I’ve always tended to think that Paul should have written, “Each of you should be concerned about the interests of others, rather than your own.” If he had said this, he would have said that I must sacrifice my best interests for those of another. But that isn’t what Paul said, and that isn’t the way it works out. And this leads me to my definition of humility.
Humility is that selfless frame of mind that seeks the best interest of others as our priority, assured that this will ultimately serve our best interest as well.
We see this principle at work in Philippians 2:5-11. In verses 5-8, Paul shows how our Lord surrendered what appeared to be His best interest by leaving heaven and all of its “perks” to come to earth, and eventually, die a horrible death on the cross (and then rise from the dead) in order to save sinners. But then in verses 9-11, we see the outcome of this sacrificial act for our Lord:
9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will 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 (Philippians 2:9-11).
Our Lord Jesus sacrificed greatly in order to glorify His Father and to save unworthy sinners. But the end result of this was that Jesus Himself was given even greater glory. His sacrificial ministry not only benefited others; it also benefited Him. Thus, we can humbly set out to serve others as our priority, knowing that in the long run, this will serve our interests best as well.
As we can see in Philippians 2, the relationship between humility and servanthood is exemplified by the life and death of our Lord Jesus. It was also the lifestyle of the Apostle Paul:
18 When they arrived, he said to them, “You yourselves know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I set foot in the province of Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, and with the trials that happened to me because of the plots of the Jews. . . 33 I have desired no one’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine provided for my needs and the needs of those who were with me. 35 By all these things, I have shown you that by working in this way we must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:18-19, 33-35).
Peter draws upon this same principle when he addresses both the elders and the younger men of the church:
1 So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you: 2 Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. 3 And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. 4 Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away. 5 In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. 6 And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand 7 by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:1-7, emphasis mine).
Peter calls for humility on the part of church leaders. They are not to be heavy-handed, but rather they are to lead gently and with grace. They are to rely more on their example than on the force they can employ. And for so doing, Peter promises them a “crown of glory” when our Lord Jesus (the Chief Shepherd) returns. The younger men are likewise urged to be humble, knowing that they will be exalted in due time. In both cases, humility ultimately serves our own interests best, as well as the interests of others.
Let me attempt to illustrate this with an incident that happened to me a few years ago. I was at the airport waiting for my flight home. I had my boarding pass (with my seat assignment) in my hand. I could not help but overhear a woman who was speaking loudly, insisting that she would not accept her seat assignment. I saw that the airline personnel were perplexed and troubled because there did not seem to be any other acceptable seats available. I didn’t really care where I sat; I just wanted to get home. And so I walked up to the ticket agent and offered to let the woman sit in my seat. The problem was solved, with no great sacrifice on my part. But when I got on the plane, the flight attendant approached me and asked me to follow her. She led me to the first class section of the plane and told me this was my new seating arrangement. I sacrificed very little in seeking to help a passenger, but I gained more than I gave up. That is the way the principle works, although sometimes the benefits may not come so soon.
Humility that leads to serving others (servanthood) is a principle that runs through the entire Bible, and not just the New Testament. Abraham (Abram at this point in the story) humbly gave Lot first choice as to where he would settle, and Lot took what appeared to be the best land (where Sodom and Gomorrah were located). But in the end, God promised to give it all to Abram,12 and Lot ended up fleeing for his life.13
The Abrahamic Covenant was not just God’s promise to bless Abram; it was His promise to Abram so that he could be a blessing to others:
“And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, NASB 95).
This is something Jonah seems to have overlooked. It is something that Jews in general overlooked. They began to see God’s blessings as their private possession, for their personal (or corporate, as a race) benefit. But they were given the light to share with the nations, not to keep it to themselves. And thus Jewish unbelief and disobedience became the basis for the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles.14
The concept of humility and servanthood is not some incidental teaching in the Old Testament; it is the core teaching of the Old Testament:
34 Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. 35 And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40).15
Humility and Servanthood in the Book of Philippians
Humility in Philippians 1
For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
Philippians is one of the epistles penned by Paul while in prison. He was in Rome,16 awaiting the outcome of his trial before Caesar.17 It was possible that he would never see these saints again. And yet Paul could rejoice and give thanks for the saints at Philippi, assured that the One who began the good work of salvation in them would complete it. These were God’s possession, not Paul’s. Paul had preached the gospel to them, but it was God who began the good work in them, and it was God who would complete it. These saints were going to be fine without Paul, if need be. That, my friend, is humility. How we would love to think that the spiritual well-being of others rests solely upon us, but it does not. And this is humility.
12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel: 13 The whole imperial guard and everyone else knows that I am in prison for the sake of Christ, 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment, now more than ever dare to speak the word fearlessly. 15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 The latter do so from love because they know that I am placed here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, because they think they can cause trouble for me in my imprisonment. 18 What is the result? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice (Philippians 1:12-18).
Paul was on trial before Caesar because he was falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into a portion of the temple where only Jews were allowed.18 Not one of his trials was conducted justly. There were seemingly needless delays. And now, at last, Paul was in Rome, awaiting a verdict from Caesar. Had Paul viewed his circumstances only through the eyes of self-interest and (wounded) pride, he would have had much to complain about. Instead, he rejoiced; he rejoiced because he faced this situation with humility. He could rejoice because he viewed his sacrifices in terms of the good they had achieved for others, and specifically for the saints.
Paul’s imprisonment was about the gospel, and nearly everyone realized it. In other words, as the news of his imprisonment spread (even if by gossip), others heard about Jesus. And because Paul faced his circumstances with courage and joy, the saints were encouraged to be bold in their witness for Christ as well.
Yes, the gospel was being proclaimed, thanks to Paul’s unjust treatment. Some preached the gospel out of sincerity and with goodwill toward Paul. But not all of those who preached the gospel did so for the purest of reasons. Some who were jealous of Paul sought this occasion to capitalize on his circumstances. They hoped that their success in his absence would trouble Paul. They could gain a greater following since Paul was no longer in the competition (Yes, some gospel believing, gospel preaching, preachers are actually this carnal.). What would Paul’s response to this be? Because Paul subordinated his personal interests to the interests of others, he could rejoice. The end result – regardless of the motivation of those who preached the gospel – was that Christ was proclaimed, and that souls were being saved.19 If Paul’s imprisonment prompted some to work harder at preaching (even if for the wrong reasons), then Paul could rejoice over the advance of the gospel. Only humility could produce such rejoicing in these circumstances.
In our self-assertive world, even Christians get caught up in the spirit of competition. Can we rejoice in the promotion of a fellow employee, even when we would have enjoyed that promotion ourselves? Can we celebrate the rapid growth of the (Bible teaching) church down the street, or the rapid rise to fame of a fellow preacher? We can if the good of others and the glory of God is our goal.
Thus far, Paul’s words concern the success of others, but what about our own suffering? What if God wanted to use a serious illness in our own life to provide the opportunity for our faith to be evident to a doctor or nurse or cleaning lady at a local hospital? What if God wanted to use my inability to care for myself (and thus “becoming a burden” to others) in order for His grace to be demonstrated through those who cared for me? What if God wanted to use some serious form of suffering in my life so that He could comfort me in my suffering, and so that I could then share my comfort with others?20 In order to rejoice in my sufferings, I would have to put the interests of others above my own, I would have to be willing to subordinate my interests to the interests of others. I would have to be humble. But in so doing, I would be blessed as well, especially if the salvation and growth of others was my highest goal. This certainly was Paul’s goal. Their progress in the faith was his great joy:
So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends! (Philippians 4:1)
For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you? (1 Thessalonians 2:19)
19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 20 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: 23 I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, 24 but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. 25 And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that what you can be proud of may increase because of me in Christ Jesus, when I come back to you (Philippians 1:19-26).
In these verses, Paul is sharing how he has come to terms with the possibilities before him – possibilities of life, or of death. Humanly speaking, the pronouncement of Caesar’s verdict will mean death or life for Paul. How does He respond to this? He does not deal with these things in a self-serving way, but rather with humility. The truth is that dying is really gaining, since his execution would mean that from the moment of his death, he could be in the presence of God. Paul says that is “better by far.” But Paul has put the interests of others ahead of his own, and thus he feels that continued life will provide the opportunity for him to extend his service to these saints. And so Paul joyfully accepts the fact that he will likely live, not because of what this will do for him, but for what he can do for others. This too is humility.
How many of us think of life and death in these terms? How many of us are really more eager to “depart” and “be with Christ” than we are to remain here? How many of us joyfully accept extended life because it gives us more time to serve others? Humility will do that to you.
Humility in Philippians 2
12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God. 14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world 16 by holding on to the word of life so that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice together with all of you. 18 And in the same way you also should be glad and rejoice together with me (Philippians 2:12-18).
I have chosen not to delve deeper into the riches of Philippians 2:1-11 in this message. But what I would like to point out is that chapter 2 is almost entirely dominated by the subject of humility and its application to daily life. In verses 12-18, we find at least two examples of humility. The first is found in Paul’s command to “continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence” (verse 12). I believe that “working out one’s salvation with awe and reverence” is living in humility. And this humility is the result of knowing that it is God who deserves all the glory for the good He accomplishes in our lives – both our willingness to do it, and the doing itself.21 This expression, “with awe and reverence,” (or one very similar to it) is found in at least three other places in the New Testament:
1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. 2 For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. 4 My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Corinthians 2:1-4, emphasis mine).
13 Therefore we have been encouraged. And in addition to our own encouragement, we rejoiced even more at the joy of Titus, because all of you have refreshed his spirit. 14 For if I have boasted to him about anything concerning you, I have not been embarrassed by you, but just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting to Titus about you has proved true as well. 15 And his affection for you is much greater when he remembers the obedience of you all, how you welcomed him with fear and trembling (2 Corinthians 7:13-15, emphasis mine).
5 Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ, 6 not like those who do their work only when someone is watching – as people-pleasers – but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart (Ephesians 6:5-6, emphasis mine).
“Fear and trembling” are the opposite of pride and self-assertion. I think it is reasonable to conclude that “fear and trembling” is just another way of referring to humility. Paul did not come to the Corinthians as the other (false) teachers did – with arrogance, self-assurance, and fancy words. Paul knew that the work of God must be accomplished by God. All he could do was to humbly proclaim the truth, and depend upon God for the rest.22 The Corinthian saints received Titus humbly, rather than with an arrogant, haughty, spirit. They were eager and willing to hear and to obey his teaching. That is humility. So too slaves should have a humble spirit in serving their masters.
I believe that humility is the basis for Paul’s instruction in Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing. . . .” Why do we grumble? Because we think we’re getting a bad deal, because we believe that we deserve better treatment. We grumble because we have placed our interests above all else, and someone has interfered with our getting what we want and think we deserve. Why do we argue with others? It is because we are right, and they are wrong. Have you ever tried to argue with someone who has your interests at heart, rather than their own interests? It’s hard to find anything to argue about. Humility is the key to unity, as Paul has already stated in Philippians 2:1-4, and here, later in chapter 2, we see how this works out in practice.
But there is another example of humility in Philippians 2:17. There, Paul speaks of the possibility of his death, and how he perceives it. If his service to the saints at Philippi results in his death, Paul can rejoice in this. He likens his “sacrifice” to a drink offering that is poured out upon the greater (meat) offering.23 Should Paul die as the result of his ministry, he sees this as the icing on the cake of the Philippians’ service. To put it in more contemporary terms, Paul sees himself as the steak sauce that is poured out on a fine steak, or as the catsup that is poured out on one’s french fries. He sees their offering as greater than his, and his sacrifice is the lesser one. He can rejoice in having this subordinate role. His joy is enhancing their sacrifice and their service, so that the impact of their ministry may surpass his. What a most amazing perspective for an apostle! Only humility can produce this attitude toward personal sacrifice (martyrdom).
Are we willing to see our service in such terms? Rather than wanting our ministry to be regarded as worthy of recognition and praise, as worthy of the highest regard, are we willing to have a subordinate ministry, one that is not as visible, not as praised? Are we willing to take on those tasks which are not visible to others? Are we willing to make our ministry the promotion of others and their ministry? That is what Paul did, and that is what humility should do to our service. Praise God for those who rejoice in the privilege of playing second fiddle in the orchestra of God’s service.
19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be encouraged by hearing news about you. 20 For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. 21 Others are busy with their own concerns, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know his qualifications, that like a son working with his father, he served with me in advancing the gospel. 23 So I hope to send him as soon as I know more about my situation, 24 though I am confident in the Lord that I too will be coming to see you soon. 25 But for now I have considered it necessary to send Epaphroditus to you. For he is my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. 26 Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. 27 In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him – and not to him only, but also to me – so that I would not have grief on top of grief. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. 29 So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me (Philippians 2:19-30).
There are three examples of humility in verses 19-30, which I will only briefly summarize. The first example is that of Timothy. Timothy will soon be sent to Philippi, perhaps with this very letter in his hand. He will report how things have gone with Paul’s trial. Timothy was the only one Paul could entrust with this mission because he was deeply concerned for the Philippian saints, while others were too caught up in their own concerns. Timothy was an excellent example of the kind of humility Paul desired in the Philippian saints.
The second example of humility in this chapter is Epaphroditus. He had been sent by the Philippians to minister to Paul during his incarceration. He had nearly lost his life because of his ministry to Paul. And now Paul was sending him home – to a hero’s welcome. Epaphroditus was also concerned about the Philippians, especially because they had heard of his illness and were greatly concerned about his well-being. He risked his life to serve Paul and that was putting the interests of others above his own.
The third example of humility is not quite as obvious, but I think it is there once you think about it. The third example of humility is Paul. Here were the two men who were most valuable to Paul – Timothy and Epaphroditus. How tempting it was to keep them there with him, to serve him. And yet Paul loved the Philippians so much that he sent them his most treasured companions. Once again, Paul put the interests of others ahead of his own – by sending Timothy and Epaphroditus to Philippi.
The Apostle Paul demonstrates humility in Philippians 3 in several ways. I believe that the gospel is the great humbler. Paul was undoubtedly a typical Pharisee, like those our Lord rebuked in Matthew 23. Paul, like his fellow Pharisees, took great pride in his religious performance. But when he was confronted by the living Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, he came to see that his finest religious efforts actually opposed God. As a result, Paul came to regard all of his religious accomplishments as “dung.”
The gospel never appeals to man’s pride; instead, it humbles men. All men, without distinction, are declared to be sinners, deserving of God’s eternal wrath.24 It offers salvation to men based upon the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, rather than on the basis of our works.25 The gospel declares that God chose us long before we chose Him.26 It assures us of eternal salvation, not based upon our performance, but on the basis of His faithfulness.27 The gospel leaves us no room for pride, but instead gives us every reason for humble hearts that give God all the glory:
30 He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
Paul was humbled by the saving work of Jesus Christ, as declared in the gospel:
7 But these assets [Paul’s religious deeds] I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. 8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).
Paul makes it clear in his other epistles that sanctification is achieved on the same basis as salvation:
Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him (Colossians 2:6).
In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul declares the necessity of a transformed life in chapter 6, and the impossibility of living such a life in the power of the flesh in chapter 7. And thus he cries out,
Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)
Just as man is unable to fulfill God’s law in order to attain salvation, so he is unable – in the power of the flesh – to meet God’s standards for sanctification. The good news is that the gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord) solved our problem regarding sanctification:
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. . . . 11 Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:1-4, 11).
Thus, in Philippians 3, we see Paul’s humility not only in regard to his salvation, but also in relation to his sanctification:
12 Not that I have already attained this – that is, I have not already been perfected – but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, 14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).
Paul’s Pharisaism (as an unbeliever) had led him to conclude that he had arrived, spiritually speaking. But when he experienced God’s salvation by grace through faith, he realized how far he yet had to go. Perfectionism is arrogant, and Paul will have none of that. Salvation humbles us, and keeps us humble as we depend upon God to conform us to His image.28
I see yet another example of humility in Philippians 3:
15 Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways. 16 Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained (Philippians 3:15-16, emphasis mine).
There were times when Paul had to confront error directly and with great zeal.29 In those situations, the nature of the problem required it. But here Paul speaks of a situation where someone does not see things as they should. Instead of using external force, Paul urges the Philippians to let God change this person from within. It is a humbling thing to realize that we cannot change men’s hearts. Only God can do that. And this is what Paul encourages the Philippians to do – let God change the person’s heart. No wonder the ministry of the apostles gave priority to “prayer and the ministry of the Word.”30
Surely Paul’s example (of humility, among other things) in this chapter of Philippians is to be followed:
Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example (Philippians 3:17).
We, like Paul, should be humbled by the gospel, which does not seek to employ the flesh, but rather to put it to death.31 The gospel should not only make us humble; it should keep us humble. If our Lord gave His life for us, then how can we escape giving our lives in service to others? And if Paul knew that only God changes hearts, then we should surely be humbled regarding our ability to change people spiritually.
This should not discourage us in the work He has given us to do. Rather, it should encourage us. For although we see that we are weak and powerless, we know that He is infinitely powerful. Indeed, His power is perfected in our weakness.32 There are those whom we love who are lost and without hope of eternal salvation, and we cannot change them. But the good news is that God can. He delights to answer our prayers, and He likewise delights in saving lost sinners. We are therefore encouraged to pray for the salvation of those who are lost and also encouraged to proclaim the gospel, knowing that God can and does employ weak vessels to accomplish His purposes.
Humility in Philippians 4
I believe that Philippians 4 begins with an expression of Paul’s humility:
So then, my brothers and sisters, dear friends whom I long to see, my joy and crown, stand in the Lord in this way, my dear friends! (Philippians 4:1)
Is Paul not saying that the Philippians are his priority, that their growth and progress in the gospel is his goal, his joy? I believe that he is, and this is what humility is all about – giving yourself in service to advance others in Christ as their highest good, and yours.
I’m going to pass by verses 2 through 9. It is not because these verses are of less importance. I think the final chapter is of great importance. It is not just the lack of time either, though I wish that was the only reason I’m passing by these verses. The real reason is that I believe verses 2-9 must be understood in the light of Paul’s teaching on humility in the entire book, but I’m just not quite sure how it all fits together at this moment. At present, I am convinced of two things about verses 2-9. The first is that these verses are all cut from the same cloth. That is to say, these verses together deal with unity and harmony, as introduced by Paul’s reference to the struggle between these two women. The second is that humility is the key to understanding this section. Perhaps you will put all this together before I do. (I realize that Bible teachers don’t like to confess their ignorance, but we need to be careful that we don’t give false impressions about our limitations. That is probably a matter of humility as well.)
What I do wish to do is to consider Paul’s humility in verses 10-20.
10 I have great joy in the Lord because now at last you have again expressed your concern for me. (Now I know you were concerned before but had no opportunity to do anything.) 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. 12 I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. 13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me. 14 Nevertheless, you did well to share with me in my trouble. 15 And as you Philippians know, at the beginning of my gospel ministry, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in this matter of giving and receiving except you alone. 16 For even in Thessalonica on more than one occasion you sent something for my need. 17 I do not say this because I am seeking a gift. Rather, I seek the credit that abounds to your account. 18 For I have received everything, and I have plenty. I have all I need because I received from Epaphroditus what you sent – a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, very pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply your every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. 20 May glory be given to God our Father forever and ever. Amen (Philippians 4:10-20).
These verses may very well sound strange to our ears. A great deal of the mail we receive these days consists of ministry reports (at best) and requests for funds (with few exceptions). Most contain self-addressed envelopes for contributions. I’m not faulting this entirely, but I simply wish to point out how different the conclusion of Paul’s letter is to most of the letters you and I often receive. This letter was prompted, at least in part, by the contribution the Philippians had sent to Paul. He is clear in making it known that these saints were the only ones who supported his ministry.33 Since Paul normally worked to support himself,34 there was no need to regularly send funds to him. But now Paul was in prison, and this kept him from supporting himself by tent making. This was the opportunity (to give) that the Philippians had been waiting for. And so they sent a contribution, along with Epaphroditus, who was also a gift to Paul.35
The Philippians were delighted to send this gift, and Paul was delighted to receive it, but not for the reasons we might expect. Paul did something we seldom see today. He told the Philippian saints that he could have gotten by without their gift. He had learned to be content, whether that be with little or with plenty. Paul is no prosperity preacher. He trusted in God to strengthen him to be content with whatever means He provided.
Many Christian workers would have been delighted to receive a generous gift from their fellow Christians. And having received it, some would have been quick to write a letter of appreciation, accompanied by a self-addressed envelope for the next gift. Paul’s words were surely not crafted by a fund-raiser. They were honest words of appreciation and gratitude, but without any appeal for a follow-up contribution. Paul was not grateful because he could now eat better or afford a softer bed. Paul was joyful about the Philippians’ gift because of what it said about their walk with the Lord, and because of the blessings they would receive from the Lord due to their generosity.
This is true humility – rejoicing in a gift you have received, not because of what it will do for you, but on account of what you know it will do for the givers. This is an important point. Some people are reluctant to receive gifts from others because they are too proud, or because they do not wish to be a burden to others. But Paul’s words inform us that those who give sacrificially – as the Philippian saints have done – will be blessed by God for doing so. Thus, if we hinder others from sacrificial service, we may be keeping them from blessings they could receive (at least so far as their ministry to us is concerned).
So we see Paul’s humility in the way he responds to the kindness and loving care he has received from fellow believers. Paul is humble, not only in the way he responds to suffering (chapter 1), but also in the way he handles “success” or prosperity (chapter 4).
As I close, let me attempt to show the application of this lesson on humility, as taught in the Book of Philippians. First, humility is one of the most prominent and most attractive qualities of our Lord. I think it is why sinners were drawn to Him, in contrast to their arrogant religious leaders. Notice the humility in our Lord’s call in Matthew 11:
28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30).
The gospel is not addressed to the proud and arrogant, but to the meek and humble. We see that here in Matthew 11, and also in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. Paul was humbled by his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. The gospel does not make men proud; it humbles men, because salvation is the gracious work of God on behalf of undeserving sinners. It is a finished work, achieved by God alone, and one to which we can add nothing.
It is interesting to see how our Lord needed to humble Peter before he could become a useful leader.
31 “Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).
It was this same Peter, now humbled, who wrote these words to church leaders in his first epistle:
1 So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you: 2 Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. 3 And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. 4 Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away (1 Peter 5:1-4).
I do not believe that one can be a fruitful disciple of Jesus and have an arrogant spirit. The way to be humble is not to try to make ourselves humble; the way to be humble is to go back to the gospel and see that our salvation is all of God, in spite of us, and without any contribution of good works from us.
5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).
Humility is the realization that our sanctification, like our salvation, is God’s work in us (Philippians 2:12-13; Romans 8:1-17). Humility is the recognition that anything good in us has come from God:
For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Humility is the basis for servanthood, and servanthood is the basis for edification, for building others up. So what does humility look like in our church? It would be evident in a person who came to church, looking for those in need, and seeking to minister to those needs. It would not demand that others meet my needs, that the music be to my liking, that the sermon speak to my felt needs. Humility would be evident in those people who were not seeking a “significant ministry,” a visible, public ministry that brought praise and appreciation. It would be content to minister in quiet ways and to people who may not appear to have great “potential.” It would cause one not to be too quick to jump to his feet at the Lord’s Table, but to be sure that others (who were not as courageous or aggressive) have had the opportunity to speak. It would not seek to change the subject to a particular hot button, but would strive, so far as possible, to affirm and enhance what had been said. It would seek to reach out to newcomers, or to those who might otherwise be overlooked, rather than to huddle with those we know best. It would be quick to grant forgiveness and not to harbor bitterness and anger. It would not be grumbling, as though everything is about me.
I pray that God may work in each of our hearts, to make us humble people, people who give the glory to God, and who seek the good of others.
1 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 10 in the Following Jesus in a Me-First World series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on December 3, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
2 In the Old Testament, the Book of Proverbs addresses both pride and humility. For example, see Proverbs 29:23.
3 1 Corinthians 5:1.
4 1 Corinthians 8.
5 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11, 18.
6 2 Samuel 11:1.
7 It is interesting to see how prominent pride and arrogance are in Isaiah.
8 See 1 Corinthians 4:6.
9 1 Corinthians 8:1-3.
10 1 Corinthians 5:1.
11 Luke 10:25-37.
12 Genesis 13.
13 Genesis 19.
14 Romans 11:25-32.
15 See also Romans 13:8-10.
16 Philippians 4:22.
17 Philippians 1:19-26.
18 See Acts 21:17-36.
19 It should come as no surprise that people can be saved through the preaching of a person whose motives are impure. Just look at all the Ninevites who repented when Jonah preached.
20 See 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.
21 Philippians 2:13.
22 See 2 Corinthians 2:15-17; 3:5-6; 4:2.
23 See Numbers 28:7.
24 See Romans 3:9-28; 6:23.
25 See Ephesians 2:1-10; Titus 3:3-6.
26 See John 15:16; Acts 13:48; Romans 9:6-18; Ephesians 1:4-6.
27 See John 10:27-29; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; Philippians 1:6.
28 Romans 8:29.
29 See, for example, 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 11; Galatians 1:6-10; 2:11-21.
30 See Acts 6:4.
31 See Romans 8:12-13.
32 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
33 Philippians 4:15.
34 See Acts 18:1-3; 20:33-35; 1 Corinthians 9:1-22; 1 Thessalonians 2:9.
35 Philippians 2:25.
Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)