Have you ever been troubled by a passage of Scripture? I have. I have struggled with or still struggle with passages like (Hebrews 6:4-6, Romans 9:13 or Exodus 9:12), but the troubling passage in question here is a little more embarrassing. During my junior year in college I was deeply troubled by Philippians 2:4. Perhaps I was immature or I was alone in the woods without food for too long, but I struggled to understand how I could have positive self-esteem if God expected me to take this passage seriously.
Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Reading this passage huddled under a rain poncho I wondered, “How can I have any confidence in myself if I think everyone else is better than me?”
I asked God what he had to say about my self-esteem concerns, and he answered my question with a question. (He seems to do that a lot.) “What is the source of your value?”
“It comes from being your son,” I replied?
I realized in that moment I struggled with Philippians 2:3-4 because I was basing my value on who I was better than. Believing I was better than a significant number of people translated to value and significance for me as a person. Of course, I knew that wouldn’t fly.
I continued in Philippians 2 and started to get a better picture of what verse 3 and 4 are actually saying.In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very natureGod,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This passage is often titled “Imitating Christ’s Humility.” I suppose this is an accurate description, but it neglects a significant point in the passage. This poem is not only a reflection on the humility of Jesus but also his willingness to serve. There is a deep connection between humility and serving. Humility is not concerned with how we see ourselves, but how we see others. We have value; that is true. It is not healthy to believe everyone is better than you, but it is equally unhealthy to consider yourself better than anyone else. My sense of value and significance must be independent of others.
We need to act as if others are the most valuable people we have ever met. This is how Jesus lived, and we are called to be like him. Think about Jesus for a moment. Here is the Messiah, the one the Jews had been waiting for with eager expectation for hundreds of years. He was there at the creation of the world. He is the Son of God. Yet despite all this he chose to walk among, meet with, talk and listen to us. He spoke to the outcast, touched the untouchable and healed the un-healable. He stripped down to his underwear and washed the dirty feet of his students, even the one he knew had already agreed to betray him. And of course, he made the ultimate sacrifice in his death.
Jesus’ motivation for all of these acts of service is love. The core of Christ-like humility is love. He loved us so much, that he was willing to consider the needs of others as greater than his own. This is the central point of this text. We are to love others in the same way Jesus did. In love, we see others as individuals, not commodities to serve our egocentric needs. Love-fueled humility will lead us to value others more than we value ourselves and ultimately to natural and authentic service. This is the life that a disciple is expected to live, a life marked by love and service.