One of the most important sections of scripture for me growing up, and my favorite letter, was Philippians 2:1-11:
Christ’s Example of Humility
So 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. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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.
There was always something so extremely compelling to me and hard to grasp about Christ’s approach to humility. It felt displaced, counter-intuitive, and often less than rational when placed within or outside of our religious circles.
And yet it is also the place where I found a good deal of hope. The call to find encouragement in humility is formed against the opening admonition of 1:7-8, where Paul speaks of his audience as “partakers with me of grace” from both a position of “imprisonment” and “proclamation”. And what is the proclamation? The proclamation is Christ, and that in Him a “good work in you will” be brought to “completion at the Day of Christ.” (1:6). Paul’s prayer then is that this good work is expressed in a love (vs.9) that grows, and grows, and grows with “knowledge and discernment” of the work Christ is doing within us. And what is this work? The work is the “fruit of righteousness” (vs 11), a term that is synonymous with the word “justification” in that it speaks of what is still yet incomplete will be “made right” and “just”.
What Paul then exudes in 1:12-19 is that in our hopelessness we can know the hope that is Christ’s work, a work being driven by “love” (1:16) and centred around the proclamation of Christ as the one who is making what is wrong right.
The problem that Paul points out is the ways in which some are proclaiming this work in their lives, not out of humility but out of “envy” and “rivalry”. To live is Christ and to die is to “gain” Christ. And yet as we live, we live for the love of others. (1:24), the kind of love that finds “one mind, one spirit, standing side by side” in the great hope of our Proclamation. This is what positions this love between the saving work (of Christ) and the destructive work (of the Power of Sin and Death), the two competing agencies that we are positioned within (1:28). Our hope is that while things are not yet complete, Christ is at work making it right.
Which then unfolds in this grand statement about HUMILITY as the great virtue that can uphold us in this hope, recognizing that in Christ the destructive Power of Sin and Death no longer hold us in bondage. The grand statement is that this work is complete even as it is also being brought to completion within us. And so because of this great proclamation, embrace humility as the freeing force that it can be in our lives. “Count others more significant than yourselves and “look not to your own interests” because this is the “mind of Christ.” This is what He was doing on the Cross. “He made himself nothing” so that “every knee” and “every name” in heaven and on earth and under the earth (the full sweep of creation being restored) can proclaim Christ’s work. In his death, death becomes no more.
This is the light that shines as we “work out this salvation” in the already-not yet reality that is Christ’s work in us and for us. (2:12-13). This is why we can proclaim that we do not “run in vain” (2:16). This is the “word of life”. To see ourselves as “blameless and innocent” is to place ourselves, as Jesus did, within the brokenness of others so that others can see Jesus bringing that brokenness to completion in them. To love is to see without precondition a world that is equally in bondage to the Powers of Sin and Death and a world equally freed by the work of Christ. This is why Paul says in 3:7, “whatever I gained” from the hope I once put in the flesh (as a Jewish man under God), is “counted as loss” in knowing the hope of Christ, a “resurrection hope” through which the Power of Sin and Death that the law makes known no longer has power over the life that we have been given. This is where our hope is repositioned away from the works of the law and towards the works of Christ, a repositioning that not only moves us away from exclusive ideas of God’s righteousness (that is, who is made right and how one is made right) and sets us in line with one another as equal participants of this (grace), but one that calls us to give up this notion of equality for the sake of the righteousness (being made right) of others. This is the way hope is expressed and made known in the realm of God’s creation.
“Not that i have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
This work, this hope, precedes us. This is why I found so much freedom in Philippians 2. This is why God’s work is built on the virtue of humility. Because of what Christs’ work proclaims we can begin to discover the work that Christ is doing within us and in the world. With this comes the firm declaration that without Christ the Powers of Sin and Death would still hold us bondage to its destructive and defeating force. Because of Christ we can proclaim that Sin and Death has been defeated and that we, all of us, are being transformed. This is the glorious truth that we are “making our own.” This is why we no longer need to be anxious, but “in everything by prayer and supplication (and) with thanksgiving” we can let our “requests be made known to God.” (4:6) This is the “peace” that hope brings. This is the “honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise” truth that Christ proclaims, and that we are called to proclaim in love to the world- what is wrong is being made right.