True Humility

Sermon Guide – Philippians 2:1-11

April 28, 2016


"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."

After impressing upon the Philippians to be united and fearless in the face of certain opposition, Paul now wants to deal with the concept of pride. How does he do this?

He calls them family.

Since the Philippians have put their faith in Jesus, they’re now “in Christ.” This means they’re even closer to Paul than blood because they’ve been redeemed by Jesus. From this wellspring of affection and sympathy, Paul now appeals to them to complete his joy. How can they do this? Act like a family. Paul wants them to be united in passion (love) and purpose (mind), and it’s Christ who will ultimately fuel their passion and drive their purpose.

“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.”

The main enemy of this kind of unity in any family is pride. In order to complete his joy, their path to unity will involve dealing with this problem head-on. So he says to never do anything from “self-ambition or conceit.” By this, he means don’t be driven by things that seek only to prop up your own reputation, but rather count others higher valued than yourself. Think first about other people and their interests, and trust God with the rest (1 Peter 5:6).  

Paul isn’t saying that we should ignore the good things given to us or disregard the plans laid out by God which move us forward individually, but for him, the idea that God’s family would be dominated by ego and personal ambition is incomprehensible. When you’re grafted into Jesus’ family, our lives are caught up in his passion and purpose because of his reckless love.

"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."

This portion of the passage begins what has historically been referred to as “the hymn of Christ.” Here Paul presents the ultimate act of humility, never to be equaled in history. Jesus Christ, the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, gives up the glory and divine prerogative that were his by right and instead takes on human flesh (John 1:14). The scandal is pushed almost to the breaking point when the pure and holy God-man obediently goes to the cross to show God’s reckless and matchless love.

Two thousand years of Christian history have made the cross a sacred symbol, but it’s important to recognize that in the first-century there was not a more disgusting or horrifically shameful way to die. For the Romans, the word “cross” was almost an obscenity, not even fully spoken during sentencings. For the Jews, it was even worse: anyone who was crucified was under God’s curse. We cannot conceive of a more humiliating death, which is why Jesus’ great work of love on the cross is so astounding and outrageous.

By presenting Jesus Christ’s humble obedience, Paul seems to be painting several pictures. First, he wants the Philippians to see what real humility looks like, and this is without question the greatest act of humility ever. Secondly, he wants them to know what kind of family they’re now in—the kind that lives to put others before themselves (Mark 10:45, John 13). And third, he wants them to have a rock-solid foundation for this kind of selfless sacrifice. Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross didn’t just save them, but is also sanctifying them—conforming them into the image of Christ. How does this happen? It happens when Jesus’ reckless love produces an invincible joy in our hearts that embraces humility because it points to him.

"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."

Despite the abject shame of the cross, this stunning act of humility would result in Paul later saying that he boasts in nothing but the cross (Galatians 6:14). This kind of statement is only possible because of what follows: After the cross, God exalted Christ as Lord above every single molecule in creation, no matter where in the cosmos—every human being who has ever lived or ever will live will one day praise God by bowing and confessing that Jesus really is Lord. For those who have put their trust in him, this will be the consummation of a joy proven to be invincible. A joy only found when we know Jesus and his reckless, scandalous love.


The concept of humility is superficially appealing to our 21st century American culture, but it’s also ironically easy to use as a mask for pride. Whether in the church or at our jobs or even (maybe especially) in our own homes, we can easily fall into the trap of seeking our own benefit over others, even under the false pretense of selflessness.

This is a dangerous thing in a family and as Paul presents, Jesus died to free us from it. For the believer, the only way to kill pride is by continually recognizing the ocean of grace that was poured out in the cross. Pride comes from the lie of self-deservedness, but the cross has already outed us. Everything we really deserve for our sin and disobedience, Jesus has already paid for by humbling himself. When we make it a priority to focus on that fact and the reckless love displayed on the cross, it should cultivate a kind of joy in our Savior and in his beauty that makes us want to be like him. Joyful humility comes from beholding reckless love.


Here are some questions to help you dig a little deeper, both personally and in group:

  • How often have you considered Jesus’ remarkable act of humility? Does it make sense that dedicating time for serious contemplation on this selfless act help us worship and love him more? Take a look at John 17 for Jesus’ final prayer for his people, and explore how his humility and love both lead to our invincible joy.
  • Are there possibly parts of our lives which superficially look humble and selfless, but are, in fact, only masks for ambition and selfishness? Why might this kind of living be exhausting? If Jesus’ humble act on the cross offers us complete forgiveness, does that make real freedom from this kind of inauthentic lifestyle possible?
  • The objective reality of Jesus’ complete authority over all things should constantly inform our lives by fueling the invincible joy that we’re really his forever. What kind of thoughts come to mind when this great truth is considered? How might this undercut any concern or fear about a loss of reputation or purpose in this life?