The Substance of Humility

Philippians 2: 1 – 11.

Humility and the human spiritual condition are inextricably interconnected. In fallen humanity, they become mutually exclusive, habitually confounding genuine obedience with superficial conformity; profoundly confronting our behavioural inconsistencies through our insecurities toward individualism and subterfuge. Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul urged the Philippian believers to adopt the same attitude in humble obedience as did their Exemplar, Jesus Christ, when He became man (Phil 2:6-11): laying aside their self-interest, to stop complaining, and to work together for the sake of the gospel (Phil 2:3). When pride is the consequence of our reputation, the toxic self invariably corrupts all relationships, including those within the church community and with God too (Phil 2:2-4). What is the Apostle’s antidote for our self-centredness?

Paul’s solution for the Philippian church was counter-cultural; to be humble was generally denigrated in Greco-Roman society and relegated only to slaves (c.f., Matt 5:5; Matt 11:29-30; Eph 2:8-9). Hence, humility is perpetually at odds with an ego obsessed by his insatiable desire to inflate his self-esteem. In such a predicament, it would not be abnormal for a self-absorbed person to be perpetually cynical and customarily disparaging others in his interactions; contrary to the Apostle’s refrain to regarding others more important than oneself (Phil 2:3). Pride possesses a self-blinding effect, and a proud heart is incapable of identifying with the downtrodden and the needy, as their opinionated selves ensure that their views, decisions and interests come first, in preference to those of others (c.f., Phil 2:4). The passion for succeeding and to excel is not altogether reprehensible, but when it is at the expense of everything and everyone else, it usually reveals a deep-seated need for approval seeking and recognition from among one’s peers. Such a willful pursuit usually implies an unconscious desire to over-compensate for one’s insecurity with a show of self-importance, pomposity, narcissism and snobbery. Genuine humility is the attitude of counting all things as loss for the sake of knowing Christ (Phil 3:7).

Perhaps the pertinent question ought to be “Why do we want to be humble?” Humility is a slippery virtue, and any attempts to directly work at it would undeviatingly surface pride. In this respect, the Apostle Paul pointed us to Christ, in His archetypal selfless journey towards being exalted by God (Phil 2:5-11). In this grand hymn to our Saviour, the pathway towards humility steers us towards an unshakable desire to be like Jesus; who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself… of His glory… by taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men… humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death (c.f., Isa 53). The clarity presented by the gospel is indisputable – our humility is only found in Christ as we die to ourselves; with absolutely no regard for our reputation (Rom 6:1-11; c.f., 1Cor 6:19-20). For it is only in that humble state that obedience to our Creator can be facilitated. Without it, it would be impossible to be a faithful follower of Christ. Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time (1Peter 5:6-11).