The Secret of Humility

  • Author: Ray C. Stedman
Read the Scripture: Philippians 2:5-11
Philippians 2:5-11

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

New International Version
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Now we come to what I think is the most breath-taking passage in all of Scripture. This passage on the glorification of our Lord Jesus is the Mt. Everest among the mountain peaks of revelation concerning the Person of Christ, the amazing story of how the eternal Son of God stepped out of eternity into time, and became a man as God intended man to be. These few short verses in this simple little letter written to the believers in Philippi many miles away from Rome, capture some of the most amazing truths that have ever confronted the minds of men.

It is an amazing passage, yet I think there is a temptation as we study it to forget its background, remove it from its context and treat it as a passage on Systematic Theology or Christology. We must never forget that this passage is set against the background of two quarreling ladies in the church at Philippi. That quarrel was threatening to destroy the unity of the whole church. The apostle has made it clear already in this letter that the secret of maintaining unity is humility. Wherever there is contentiousness, it is a revelation of the presence of pride. Pride in a single individual life, in a family, a church, in government, or a whole nation, always destroys, divides, sets one person against another, perpetuates conflict, breaks up marriages and partnerships and unions of every sort.

When people are quarreling, the path to peace is to seek humility, rather than to assess arguments and weigh one against another, because when we do that we run into relative values which are so subjective it's impossible to come to a conclusion. The way to settle an argument is to seek humility in each party. The question that comes to mind is, how do we do this? When tempers are hot, passions are aroused, and patience is strained, how can you get people to calm down and start thinking about a humble attitude? How do you quell the rising of pride in a human heart? How do you stop the urge to defend yourself, and the stubborn insistence of what we call our "rights"? This sounds familiar, doesn't it? The answer is in this marvelous passage concerning Christ. 

Let's begin by recognizing the answer is possible only to Christians. When non-Christians quarrel, all that is possible is compromise, which is really a way of perpetuating pride on an agreed level, what we call "saving face". That is the most you can expect from those in whom the Spirit of Christ does not dwell, but with Christians it is possible to have peace. 
I would like to ring the changes on that note if I can, because I think so many times in our Christian lives we are so content to settle for compromise, which is nothing more than the best the world can attain in disagreements. 

Christians can achieve peace--not merely a truce, or cold war, or an agreed settlement, but peace, which is a mutual sense of wrongdoing. Mutual-did you get that word? Each person acknowledging they have contributed to it, and burying the past in forgiveness. The result is a deeper sense of acceptance than ever before. When we come to this point the quarrel actually helps unity rather than destroy it. It will result in deeper understanding and love than before. That is what the apostle is wanting for these two ladies in Philippi and those in the church who were taking sides with them.

The secret to this unity set forth in verse 5 is a certain set of mind. I think "disposition" would be a better word to use here. "Have this disposition among yourselves which you have in Christ Jesus." Have this set of mind, or as the King James Version says, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. He doesn't say proudly imitate Christ. It is a mistake to say that Christianity is imitating the life of Christ. If that's the best we can do, it's a cheap substitute. No, it isn't imitating Christ, following His example, or trying to be like Him. The word of the apostle is "Let His mind be in you." We will look at that more closely, but before we can lay hold of this we must see what the mind of Christ is.

There are many ways to divide this passage. We could look at it theologically, we could divide it into the various steps the Lord took. But I want to keep it in context, and approach it in the simplest possible way. We will look at it two ways, first the process of peace, and then the experience of peace in our lives. The process is set forth in verses 6-11:

"...who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which 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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Now in the passage you see that we enter the realm of history. We cannot possibly hope to fathom all that is involved in these wonderful words. This is what Paul, later writing to Timothy, calls the "mystery of godliness", how God was manifest in the flesh, was seen among men, and preached among the nations. But three things are very clear in this passage, three steps that are evident in the preaching and actions of the Lord Jesus. 

The first one is he gave up the right to his rights. He did not give up his rights-he couldn't do that-but he gave up the right to enjoy those rights. And what rights they were! Paul says that he was existing in the form of God, and was equal with God. That doesn't mean equal with God the Father, but that he was equal with all the members of the Trinity in the expression of the nature and essence of God, and was existing in the exact form of God. 

Unfortunately, in our human language this word "form" to our minds always carries with it the idea of shape, so we ask in what way did Jesus manifest the shape of God. That isn't at all the thought of the Greek. The word form expresses the essential nature. We come closest to it when we say of some athlete, "My, he was in good form today." We mean by that his outward action was a perfect expression of his inward ability. He exhibited outwardly that ability for athletic coordination that was inwardly inherent. The Lord Jesus was the expression from all eternity of the fullness of God's nature, whatever that is. He always existed in that form, and was therefore the equal of God.

You remember how John says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God , and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." Who can question that as a statement of the fullness of Deity? In Colossians Paul says, "For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily." And the writer of Hebrews begins that great letter with a similar expression. that he was the express image of the substance of God, that he bore the very stamp of God's nature upon his being , "upholding the universe by his word of power." 

What holds us together while we sit here this morning? Our skin? That helps. But what holds our skin together? What holds the atoms together? What is that strange power at the base of all matter that counteracts the centrifugal action of the revolving electrons and protons and holds it all together? The writer of Hebrews says it is Christ. He upholds all things by the word of his power. Paul agrees, writing in Colossians, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." You can see how right Paul was in speaking to the Athenians on Mars Hill, the intellectual capitol of the ancient world, saying to them, "In him we live, and move, and have our being", every one, without exception. All of these references together agree that in Jesus Christ there was the fullness of all that God is, fully made manifest and visible. From all eternity, those were His rights.

But having all this, the argument goes, he did not count all these things to be held onto at all costs, but he emptied himself. He did not empty himself of his deity-he couldn't do that, just as we could not empty ourselves of our humanity no matter hard we tried, because we are human, and all we do is an expression of our humanity. When Jesus entered this world, stepping out of eternity into time, he could not empty himself of his Deity. That needs to be made clear. What he could and did do was empty himself of every expression of Deity. He did not come to manifest what God was like. He came to show us what man ought to be. He did not give up his rights as God. He gave up his right to enjoy the rights of God. 

It began in his mind with this thought, Paul says, that the enjoyment of these things is not the most important thing to me. In other words, he did not insist on his rights, but laid aside the right to have his rights, and emptied himself. This is where humility begins-the readiness to lay aside the right to enjoy our rights. The thought was followed by his action. The scripture uses this very expressive term, "he emptied himself." He poured himself out, like taking a bucket and pouring out its contents so there is nothing left inside. He poured out every right he had to enjoy life as God. 

You ask, what about those times he walked on water, when he changed water into wine, opened the blind man's eyes, and raised the dead? Wasn't he then manifesting the power of God? That was not his inherent power as God, but the Father working through him as man. He did not come to behave as God. He came to show us how God would act through a man, to show us man as God intended man to be. He came to show us that the secret of man's life is complete dependence upon an indwelling God. 

He became a man, and never once did he ever take a step in the thirty-three years of his life on earth, ever utter a word or perform an act of any kind on his own inherent Deity, but in sole and unremitting dependence upon the indwelling Father. He said so himself, "..the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing", and "Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me." That is what a man must be, completely available to an indwelling God. That is what he came to show us.

But even that is not enough. This is only the first step. If all that Jesus did was to demonstrate all that man ought to be, we would have a perfect example, but we would not be one whit closer to being that ourselves. We would have learned how we ought to live, but we would have been totally unable to do it. I love to listen to recordings of Jascha Heifetz playing violin. I have never heard a man do so much with ten fingers. It sounds as though he has twenty-five. But though I have listened to him many times, it hasn't helped me one bit with the fiddle. If anything, the example only depresses me. 

Jesus Christ would never have solved men's quarrels and brought men to peace if the only thing he had done was renounce his right to be himself and come into this world and live as a man totally dependent upon the Father throughout his earthly ministry. It would not have helped, only discouraged us. It took another step. We read, "being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death."

Following the step of renunciation, there comes humiliation. He not only gave up the right to enjoy his rights, he also assumed all the indignity, the injury, and hurt, all the rejection of an unbelieving world himself, without complaint. That's the key-without complaint. He was obedient unto death, we are told. He is the only man who ever lived who didn't have to die. He said so of himself, "I lay down my life of myself, and I take it again." And though he was nailed on a cross and gave himself up to death, he never had to die. He voluntarily gave up his life. No one could take his life, but he became obedient unto death. 

He lived under a shadow all his life. He was misunderstood and opposed by his loved ones all the days of his boyhood. He lived under the constant insinuation that he was an illegitimate child. When he came to the end of his ministry, he was deserted by his friends, betrayed by his own disciples, handed over to spitting and mocking and to the terrible Roman scourging. The crowning indignity of all came when he was stripped naked and nailed to a cross to die as a common criminal, an outcast of society, as Paul said, "even to death on a cross."

Remember that, Paul writes to his friends at Philippi. Remember that when you feel self-assertive and tempted to withdraw from others and break the bonds of fellowship. Remember that! Remember that with renunciation comes the willingness to bear injury, to put up with insults, to accept the cost of another's wrong doing. This is the place to which the Lord Jesus came, and the startling thing is that the lowest place to which he came is the place for you and I to begin. The death on the cross is where we belong, the place to which he came.

The third step inevitably follows the first two: exaltation.

"Therefore, God"(you see, Jesus does the first two; God does the third)has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which 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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Our Lord Jesus was given in his resurrection and ascension that name which is above every other name that has ever been given in heaven and on earth. What is that name? Every Jew reading this would know immediately what Paul meant, because in the Jewish scriptures there was a name that was never pronounced. They called him the Ineffable Tetragrammaton. Ineffable means unspeakable, unpronounceable. Tetragrammaton means four letters, YHWH . It was the name above all others, and they substituted another name when they came to it in the scriptures. It is the name we call "Jehovah". It is translated "Lord" in our English versions of the New Testament. That is exactly what Paul says of him: "and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." 

Now what does Lord means? Lord means he has the right to everything he surveys. In Scotland he is called, the Laird. The Laird of the castle has the right to ownership and authority, who holds the key to everything-the one who has mastered all the forces he controls and is perfectly at ease in every situation he encounters. Paul says Christ is the one who has won that position because he unhesitatingly and unreservedly committed himself to all that was involved in the mind of Christ, that attitude of his own heart that led him first to mortality, then to ignominy, and finally to unequalled glory.

The result is peace! You see how this picture is drawn for us? Here is the end of the story: every knee to bow, every tongue confessing, every voice unitedly ascribing praise to him above all the created universe. If you want to complete the picture , read the closing chapters of the book of Revelation, and chapter 5 where every tribe and tongue and people and nation is gathered before the throne singing, 

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing", because he was slain from the foundation of the world.

This is the word of peace, and it results from the work of our Lord. Now all of this is wonderfully true, and I'm sure every one of us subscribes to this doctrinally. But what I am trying to get at here is , do you subscribe to this in terms of your relationship with others? Does your understanding of this process translate into the experience of it! The KJV reads, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." The RSV says we already have this, which is confirmed in the letter to the Corinthians, where Paul says, "We have the mind of Christ." Now let it show! The place to do it is when you get into disagreement with someone. These people were divided by conflict, separating from one another, and it was in that kind of situation Paul came with this tremendously healing ministry based upon these two actions: renunciation and humiliation.

It is in that kind of situation that the mind of Christ is intended to operate today. Paul is saying, let it happen, give in to it. He doesn't say, seek for the mind of Christ, struggle to achieve this, try to imitate it. This is the way we read it. He is saying, you have the mind of Christ if you have him. All that he is, is available to the one who is available to him. We must stop resisting him. Accept the position that is involved in the mind of Christ. The inevitable result will be peace, because God takes over and brings us to that final third step.

If you were holding the door closed and I wanted to enter the room and asked you to let me in, what would you do? Wouldn't you stop resisting, step aside and open the door and let me in? That is what Paul is saying here: let the mind of Christ, involving the renunciation of your rights and the willingness to accept injury break through in your life. Accept these conditions as God's will for you. This is why you have Christ in you. Accept the hurt without complaint, and without fail he will bring you through to victory and to peace. Do you believe that? You will only experience the mind of Christ to the degree you accept it. Are you willing to believe that taking the first two steps will lead to the third in the quarrel you are having with someone right now? If you don't believe it, then don't say Christianity doesn't work, or that having Christ doesn't make any difference. You are simply not using what is available to you.

I know perfectly well that our normal reaction to mistreatment is to feel upset and angry. Don't beat yourself up if that is your immediate reaction. That is simply the inevitable human reaction, and it becomes the ground of temptation to respond with evil, to strike back, to separate, to rail with angry words, to retaliate. This is why Paul says to the Ephesians, "Be angry, but sin not."

We not only feel the temptation to respond in sinful acts, but we also feel the mind of Christ pressing our will. You know about that, don't you-that quiet, insistent voice of the Spirit that says to you, now don't insist on your rights. It's not that important. Bear the hurt gladly and willingly for the sake of peace. Explain the situation if you can and try to work it out, but if you get nowhere, forget it. Take it, for Jesus' sake, without complaint. Paul is saying listen to that voice. Let this mind which you have in Christ Jesus take hold, yield to it. The inevitable result is that God works his will and his way and you will share in the lordship of Christ. You are not under the circumstances; you are the master of them, and you live in peace.

I remember one of the stories Dr. Ironside told when I traveled with him that beautifully illustrates this. He told of coming into a town (I think it was Spokane, Washington) where he knew quite a number of Christians with whom he met and had a wonderful time, but he noticed one man who had previously been active in the group was not there. He asked about him and was told "Oh, he got on his high horse about something and won't come any more." They said they tried to talk with him and persuade him to come back. They admitted where they thought they were wrong, and asked to be forgiven, but he wouldn't come back. They said they thought he was "just a stubborn old mule", so Dr. Ironside said, "Well, I'll see what I can do." 

He went to the man's house, and as he came up the front steps and knocked on the door, he heard the back door slam. In a moment the lady of the house came to the door. She greeted him warmly and invited him in. He asked, "Is your husband in?" She looked sad, but said, "No, he is not right now." Dr. Ironside said, "Oh, I hope he'll be back. I'm just in town for a little while and I did so want to have fellowship with him." "Well", she said, "I think I know where he is. I'll send one of the children. Maybe they can find him." One of the children went out the back door and sure enough the fellow turned up, and greeted him, a little distant, but fairly warm. They sat down and talked together about what was happening. 

Finally, Dr. Ironside said, "Now I understand there is some difficulty between you and the others at the church, and I've come to see if I can possibly be any help." The man's face clouded and he said angrily, "Well, you don't understand the situation at all. They are completely opposed to what is right, and I'm not going to stand for it. I want my rights." Dr. Ironside said, "Well, brother, before we talk further let's read some scripture together. So he turned to the second chapter of Philippians and he read, "Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus.." Then he read the description Paul gives of the willingness of our Lord to leave all that was his by inherent right as God, to take upon himself the limitations and frailties of mankind. And more than that, he humbled himself to take all the indignity, pain and heartache of human sin, until it resulted in the awful indignity of the cross.

When they finished, the man sat there with his hands over his face, and after prayer he remained that way. Finally, one hand came down, then the other, and he said, "Oh, I've been a stubborn old mule." Dr. Ironside said, "Well, that's exactly what they told me you were." He said, "Since you are both agreed, you should have no trouble getting together." And sure enough, they did get together. Now what did this man do? He let the mind of Christ show through. He gave up insisting on his rights. He acknowledged the accusations of others, he took the pain and indignity, and there was immediate harmony as a result.

Now I don't know whether or not there are quarrels among you. There could be. But this message is not intended to simply stimulate our intellect and move our emotions to thank God for his grace toward us, but to have the practical effect among us that I trust it had in the Philippian church when this letter was read to them. If you have a quarrel with someone, and your temptation is to withdraw or break off fellowship and stop talking with them, then comes the exhortation of the Spirit to you: "Let this mind be in you which you have in Christ Jesus." He gave up his rights and humiliated himself even to the death on the cross, that he might one day be Lord of all, Master of the universe.

Prayer

Let us pray. Our holy Father, we ask that the Spirit may apply these words to the practical situations of our lives. If there are divisions between husbands and wives, parents and children, friend and friend, boss and employee, whatever may be an estranged relationship, that we who have the mind of Christ would let it show. May we simply give way and let our stubborn wills accept the conditions and bring us to peace. We pray in Christ's name. Amen.

Title: The Secret of Humility Author: Ray C. Stedman
   Date:1963
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