Text: Philippians 2:3-4; Luke 10:25-29; Deuteronomy 6:4-6
We are continuing today to talk about “alignment with Christ.” The idea comes from Philippians 2:5, which is an anchor verse for the whole first half of Philippians 2, where we are spending these eight weeks or so leading up to and through Easter Sunday. In verse 5, the Apostle Paul writes, “Have this attitude which was in Christ Jesus.” The concept of “attitude” there is more than emotions; it is a mind-set and lifestyle, a course-heading for living and that’s what we are focusing on in this series. Like any other course heading, we do sometimes get off track. But it’s possible to make course corrections, to reset and re-orient back towards Christ. But as you also know, the longer you are off-course, the further you go from your destination. All the more reason, whether you have a little or a lot to re-set, to do it now. So this series is about that: defining our course in Christ and re-setting where we need to come back in alignment with him.
Today we are going to talk about HUMILITY. It is related to last week’s focus on compassion, but is more of a frame of mind where compassion was a gut-level response that leads to action. In fact, humility is one of the core mindsets that cultivates gutsy compassion. I probably would have talked about that before compassion, but Philippians is arranged in a classic Greek format that doesn’t put the main idea first or last, but in the middle. We are headed toward that middle.
We’ll focus on verses 3-4 today. Verse 3 starts with a negative: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,” And that is paired in verse four with “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests.” We could take those phrases on their own, but they also bring up the context of Philippians, which I want to mention.
I say that it brings up the context because Paul uses similar words in chapter one in describing some other Christian leaders in Philippi who apparently were speaking out against Paul’s ministry. Paul praises their ministry of “preaching Christ” but challenges the way in which they are not able to bless other ministry like his. That conflict prompts him to write chapter two with its focus on humility, compassion, and Christ-like behavior.
It’s not unlike some of the politics of today. It’s one thing to agree or disagree on someone’s political positions. But, increasingly, we are seeing attacks that are more and more personal – not only on other politicians, but on their families, and among the general populace. That was a bit of Paul’s situation: “Hey, great message about Christ; but why are your mocking me for being imprisoned for my preaching? Please pray for me instead!” Paul was not baited and did not rise to their accusations or mockery, but pointed to Christ as a picture of a better way.
Humility of Mind
So in contrast to selfishness, empty conceit, and looking out for one’s personal interests, Paul provides an antidote rooted in the character and behavior of Christ. He writes in verses 3-4:
“But with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves… looking for the interests of others.”
Even here, he pairs a mindset with an action. Humility results in compassion, in looking out for the interests of others.
What is humility? Paul is taking this teaching from the Torah, the Jewish Law found in the first five books of our Old Testament. He’s also drawing on the teaching of Jesus, like the verses you heard from the Gospel of Luke and the conversation between Jesus and the religious scholar of the Torah. Love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself.
So Paul defines humility as one part of that Great Commandment. For Paul, humility is regarding others as more important than yourself. Does that mean you are a doormat and let people walk all over you? Interesting that we often take it that direction. But no, consider how a human being should regard themselves! We are created in the image of God and God has called that creation good! We are charged with stewarding the earth and glorifying God and have an inherent dignity because of God’s creation and trust. In a perfect world, loving neighbor as ourselves would mean we see others with all that same dignity. However, sin has clouded our view of ourselves and of others. The first sin was humanity grasping after godhood, putting ourselves above others and equal to God. So it is no wonder that one of the forms sin takes is selfishness and putting others down. It is also interesting that in the verses to come, Paul will hold up Jesus as our example, specifically noting that he did NOT grasp after divinity, but became human out of obedience and compassion, serving others as he put their lives and needs before his own.
Finally, I would note the way humility has been translated here as “humility of mind.” Humility often requires a choice, a mental decision to think of others and put them first. Compassion is a feeling and sometimes we just don’t feel it. But humility is an ordering, a posture of others-first that CAN be chosen. And Paul is commending that choice to us as one that Jesus made and desires for us. Last week I asked how we might grow in compassion. Choosing humility is a good first step because it sets us in the right path for those feelings to form. It’s hard to cultivate compassion if we are focused on ourselves first. Even the action part in these verses is something that can be chosen with our minds: “Look out for the interests of others.” Again, I probably would have talked about humility first, then moved on to compassion; but now you have them both. Choose humility; cultivate compassion. It’s a joining of mind and heart in love of the Lord and others.
Listen Up! (Shema)
We began the service with the Shema. It’s the passage from Deuteronomy 6 that the religious scholar quoted to Jesus in Luke 10. It has the verses about loving God with all you’ve got. The neighbor part comes from Leviticus. But I wanted to mention the Shema because of what else is there. After calling on God’s people to “listen up” (that’s what Shema means), and after the verses about loving God with all you’ve got, there is a command to teach these things to our children. We are to weave them into every part of our lives: waking, sleeping, coming, and going. And we are to teach them diligently to our children.
One of the things that most concerns me about the way politicians, media, the general public, and even professing Christians treat each other in 2019 is that we tear into each other, mock each other, belittle each other, and divide into teams. A few weeks ago we talked about fellowship and unity in the Body of Christ. And yet we see very few people cultivating fellowship and unity and a world of people doing the opposite. Besides grieving that, I often think “what will our children learn from this?” Not only does Paul call us strongly to humility, compassion, fellowship, and unity because of Jesus, all this is rooted in biblical teaching like the Shema that reminds us to pass on this teaching, mindset, and behavior to our children. That is one of our high callings as families and as church family. That’s what we vow when we join this church and when we baptize children here. We promise to set our course on Jesus Christ and do our best to teach that faith and that faithfulness to each other and to our collective children.
Do we have to be perfect? No, but remember the invitation to reset and re-orient when we miss the mark? That’s what it means to follow Jesus and we mean to do that here! Amen.
Upcoming: Mindset Jesus
In the coming weeks we will turn from the application that Paul starts with to the inspiration he offers in Jesus. I can’t think of a better time to do that then coming up to Palm Sunday and Easter when Jesus demonstrated most fully who he was and how he loved us. Come back and dig in as we continue to set our course on Jesus. Amen.