Settle yourself into prayer and get ready to reflect on the Word of
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who,
though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with
God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking
the form of a slave, being born in human likeness And being found
in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient
to the point of death — even death on a cross.
An old country western song laments how hard it is to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. Being humble was not popular in the imperial Roman culture of Philippi. Nor is being humble popular today. Check out your dictionary’s definition of humble and you will find words like subservient, unskilled, small, low in rank, and feelings of inferiority. When Winston Churchill was challenged to admit that a political opponent was a humble man, Churchill retorted, “He has much to be humble about!”
We are perhaps startled, if not unsettled, to read in today’s text that the eternal Son of God “humbled himself”. Here is the infinite God humbling Himself, taking on human flesh; and yet, we see that His self-demeaning goes even further. God humbled Himself to the uttermost in becoming obedient to death, even death on an executioner’s humiliating cross. This is not easy for upwardly mobile people to accept:
We are deeply disturbed by a God who embodies a downward movement. Instead of striving for a higher position, more power, and more influence, Jesus moves, as Karl Barth says, from ‘the heights to the depth, from victory to defeat, from riches to poverty, from triumph to suffering, from life to death.’” (Henri Nouwen, et al, Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life)
This is the spirit and the glory of Christmas: deity descending into the depths. The humble Christ not only refused to exploit His equality with God, but refused even to exploit human life for honor and ease. Seven hundred years before Jesus’ lowly birth, the prophet Micah foretold His humble introduction to the world in tiny, insignificant Bethlehem: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
The Son of God could have chosen to make His entrance onto the world stage with the mighty and noble, but opted instead to reveal Himself to barnyard animals and gawking sheepherders. The Almighty God, before whom angels hide their faces, sought the lowliest place and found it. This is God acting in character, manifesting His essence. God was never acting more like God than at this moment lying in a cow’s feeding trough. In infinite, unfathomable love Jesus took our place that we might have His place as sons and daughters of God. This is the mind of Christ!
This sublime revelation of the mind of Christ might so enthrall us that we forget why the revealing is here. Paul has a point he wants to make. He wants us to focus on Christ so that we rework how we think about our lives and how we relate to others. This is revolutionary, for “Paul is essentially charging a church member with Roman citizenship…to treat a brother who is a slave as if the latter occupied a more prestigious rank than he.” (Joseph Hellerman, Andreas Köstenberger, Philippians) He is calling us to climb down from the throne of self and to humbly give ourselves to others. The Son of God showed us the way!
John Tauler, the German mystic and theologian, observed, “In very truth, in proportion as a man goes out of selfhood does he enter into oneness with God.” (The Sermons and Conferences of John Tauler) Tauler’s spiritual heir, Martin Luther, similarly defined sin as incurvatus in se, that is, being curved inward on self. (Lectures on Romans) The mind of Christ calls out of self to caring for others.
Paul writes about what God’s humble love reaching out to others is like: “It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:5-7).
We might agree with the country western singer who thought it hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. But the only Man who was ever perfect showed us that humility is a key to becoming really human, a key to becoming fully alive.
- In Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis writes to anyone who wants to be humble: “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud.” What do you think?
- Our text says that the Son of God humbled Himself, but that is hard for us to do. So the Psalmist prays, “I know O Lord…in faithfulness you have humbled me” (Psalm 119:75). Might God, in faithfulness, be using some pain or sadness in your life to humble you? If you think so, talk to God about it.
“God entered into our world not with the crushing impact of
unbearable glory, but in the way of weakness, vulnerability and need.
On a wintry night in an obscure cave, the infant Jesus was a
humble, naked, helpless God who allowed us to get close to him.”
Brennan Manning, “Shipwrecked at the Stable”, Watch for the Light