I received the book last Friday and began reading it on Sunday morning before worship. This morning during my devotional time I read:
Men sometimes speak as if humility and meekness would rob us of what is noble and bold and manlike. Oh, that this is the royal spirit that the Kingdom of Heaven is displayed, that is Godlike, to humble oneself, to become the servant of all! This is the path to the gladness and the glory of Christ’s presence ever in us, his power ever resting on us (p. 20).
What hit me was the fact that I have often seen humility in exactly those terms, that to truly be humble would in some way rob people what what it truly means to be human. To me to be human means that we are able to live out our God given rights and to make the choices that will govern our lives. The problem is the focus of that type of thinking, the focus is on self. Sure we can clothe our thinking in terms of love and service, but that doesn’t mean the choices we make are free from self-serving motives.
Let us stop for a moment and consider some very surprising words from the apostle Paul:
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 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 2:1-11; NLT).
For starters we notice that Paul expects Christians to be humble, to put other people before themselves. This doesn’t come naturally to us, but it is choice that we must make. In other words we discover that humility doesn’t originate in our feelings, but rather in our actions (which are always preceded by a choice). We have to choose to take the humble course.
What we also see is that we are to have the same attitude of Christ Jesus, who was humble. Here we run into one of the most amazing truths of Christianity: God is humble! What other God, besides YHWH, the Creator of heaven and earth is humble? His humility is seen in His willingness to be a Servant to His creation, and the greatest example of this is Christ Jesus.
Since one of Christ’s tasks is to restore us to true humanity it would then follow the path towards truly being human is the path of humility. It is the path where we voluntary lay down our rights and pick up obedience. If we cling too tightly to our rights and privileges and reject the example of Jesus then we will miss out on the life God wants us to live.
Verse 5 of Philippians 2 might be better translated, as the ESV does, as; Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. I bring this up for two reasons. First, I think it is easy to confuse attitude with feelings, and so we could get the impression that Paul is trying to tell us that we need to conjure up the feeling of humility in our lives. The second reason is because I want to remind us what the good apostle wrote in the book of Romans; Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2; ESV). The way of the world is to insist on our equality and on our rights, and so we need to have our minds renewed. We run into the reality that we cannot renew our minds. There are certain actions we can take that will help in the process, but ultimately we are helpless to make this transformation.
If we are going to be humble then we have to realize that humility begins and it ends with God. We have to throw ourselves on His mercy and ask for Him to renew our minds and to create in us humble hearts. It is making the choice of release the control of our lives to God, and to trust Him with what we need. This is in essence what humility is about.
Andrew Murray wrote; “Humility is not so much a grace or virtue along with others; it is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God, and allows him as God to do all” (p. 7; emphasis added). Humility is not something that come naturally, nor is it something that we particularly desire, but when we recognize God for who He is what other option do we have? True humanity is not found in holding on to our rights, but it is found in surrendering those rights to God and allowing Him to use our lives.