Both Tim Keller and C.S. Lewis have deeply shaped how I think about this passage.
Our text for today comes from Philippians 2:1-8. If you are using one of the Bibles in the pew rack the text can be found on page 980. These are the words of God:
27 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Paul opens with a string of appeals. “Is this Christianity stuff good for anything?” Then let it drive you into a humility that leads to true relational peace and unity. Now, this entire passage is about the one topic that is more difficult than maybe any other to preach: pride and humility.
Humility: Why do we need it? What is it? How do we get it?
WHY WE NEED HUMILITY
In v. 3 Paul says we’re naturally inclined towards selfish ambition or conceit. And, the Bible says this is the one vice no one can avoid. We hate it when we see it in others, but none of us imagine that we ourselves are guilty of it. People will admit to having a bad temper or that they abuse alcohol—but no one says, “I’m prideful.”
Lewis said that all the other vices such as anger, greed, and drunkenness—they’re all fleabites in comparison to pride – and we’re all guilty of it.
But, what is it? There’s an expression Paul uses in v 3 and the old KJV gets pretty close with “vainglory,” for the word is “κενοδοξία.” “κενο” – to be empty. “δοξα” – glory. We’re all “glory-empty.”
The Bible says that we were not made for ourselves, nor were we made primarily for other humans. You were made for him; to know him and enjoy his glory. Only the infinite, blazing glory and beauty of God can fill the glory vacuum of your soul. And, if you turn away from him, you have an infinite glory vacuum—an infinite validation and approval vacuum, that can never be filled with praise or accolades from finite humans. If you turn away from God, you’ll be cosmically insecure, touchy, and irritable.
So, here we are: all starved for validation and approval. All insecure and starved for respect. And this is why we fight. We’re not sure of our own significance, and whenever we feel that someone is threatening our glory, or our validation, we go on the offensive, because it’s better to have someone angry at us than to be ignored.
Jonathan Edwards (Charity & its Fruits) essentially said that our glory-emptiness manifests itself in 4 ways:
Willfulness – Always right. Often wrong, but never in doubt. Doesn’t listen. Will not receive and act upon wise counsel. It’s a mark of inner emptiness.
Scornfulness – Putting people below you. Courtesy and gentleness is not a sign of being nice, but of being full.
Drivenness – It’s one thing to work hard. It’s another to work habitually.
Unhealthy self-consciousness – To be self-absorbed either by your own perceived greatness, or worthlessness.
Husbands, why do you get angry when your wife disagrees with your judgement. Wives, why do you secretly disdain and scorn your husband when he overlooks you? Why is there so much bullying in young people? Why do we fight? Not because we’re assured of our self-worth, but because we are not.
“Pride is the first sin that ever entered the universe and the last sin to be rooted out.” It’s the sin that made the devil the devil.
Why do we need humility? Because we’re all glory-empty, looking to finite creatures for validation that only God can give us.
WHAT IS HUMILITY
The essence of pride is considering yourself. And some people consider themselves through congratulation, others by condemnation, but they share one thing in common: the focus is on themselves.
Notice how Paul goes after pride: Paul doesn’t say to the self-congratulator, “You should be more self-condemning.” To the self-condemner, he does not say, “Start respecting yourself.” Instead, he says to both, “Consider others” The photonegative of being “glory-empty,” in v. 3 is considering others. Humility is not thinking less of yourself—it’s thinking of yourself less.
You aren’t all-wise—so you have to consider the wisdom and opinions of others. You need 2-3 close friends in the church to whom you go for counsel—and they need the freedom to challenge you, and you need to submit to godly counsel.
You who are driven – take a break to enjoy time with family. Consider their need for companionship with you. Don’t delay marriage and children for the sake of being driven in your career.
Who are you serving? Your spouse? Parents? A neighbor? Ask them what their needs are and then fulfill them in the same way you would if they were your needs.
But this call to consider others more important than ourselves introduces a new problem. We all know what it takes to consider others. It takes work. It isn’t easy. We can do it for a little while, but we begin to run dry. We sacrifice until we realize that our needs aren’t being met in return. So, how can we ever consider others when our needs aren’t being met? What hope do we have, when we’re empty, of filling others up? How can we meet the needs of others if our own needs are not met?
When you’re preparing for takeoff, the attendant explains that when the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling you are to put your own mask on before trying to help anyone else. And the reason is when the cabin loses pressure there’s a void of oxygen. And only if your lungs are full of oxygen can you help others. The same is true here.
The only way you can selflessly serve others without doing it to fill your own approval vacuum is if you are already full.
HOW DO WE GET IT
The only way you’ll be full enough to serve others selflessly, with no thought of how it may come back to you is through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. If you are going to war with pride, the incarnation is the ultimate weapon. Why?
Jesus Christ is the ultimate threat to your vainglory because when you meet the real Jesus you realize that you’ve met someone who in every way is immeasurably superior to yourself. Look at where he is—in heaven, exalted, worshipped by innumerable angels. V. 5 – he’s in very nature, God. This means his true and permanent glory outshines your ephemeral vainglory as the Sun outshines a hand crank flashlight.
And what threatens our vainglory so much is the fact that he’s not threatened. In fact, in the incarnation—he gives up everything we’ve ever wanted—and he does it without a second thought. He’s equal to the father—and he lets it all go. He’s adored by angels, yet he chooses to be scorned and mocked. He says, “Not what I will.” I won’t insist on my own way.
All of us are empty, and we’re killing one another to get glory. Jesus Christ was infinitely full of glory and he emptied himself, even allowing himself to be killed. Why? For you.
We all want validation and recognition and we’d rather someone be angry at us than be ignored. And yet, on the cross, the one who was infinitely glorious was emptied and forgotten. Do you see what happened? At the cross, Jesus Christ went through our worst nightmare. We turned away from God and deserve his turning away from us. Instead, Jesus Christ was cast out so that we could hear the voice of the Father saying, “You are my child. In you, I am well pleased.”
At the end of the Lord of the Rings, Sauron has been defeated, all of the great warriors and kings of the earth have gathered on the field of victory… and in walk these two tiny Hobbits. Here are these two little people standing before the banners and trumpeters of Aragorn.
“And then to Sam’s surprise and utter confusion he bowed his knee before them; and taking them by the hand, he led them to the throne, and [set them upon it]
To our great surprise and utter confusion, the true king of glory has bowed the knee, gone to the cross, and in doing so, has set us upon the throne.
It’s not enough to know this—you have to use it on yourself. You have to daily take it into yourself and let it fill the emptiness until you are full. You can’t validate yourself. No other mere human can validate you. Only the infinite glory of Jesus Christ, seen most clearly in his incarnation and death can fill you so that you overflow in service to others.