Humility and Service

Reading: Philippians 2
A few years ago our Mitsubishi Express reached that stage that most cars do between 80 and 100,000 kilometres - the cam belt needed to be replaced. The other minister in the parish had the cam belt go on his Toyota Corona while he was out on the highway - with some serious results. So I made sure that our service man knew when to do the right thing. The car went in, and at the appointed time I walked down to pick it up. The three-block drive to our manse was terrible. At thirty kilometres an hour the vibration was almost unbearable. I dared not drive any faster than for fear of doing some damage. What was the problem? The Astron engine has two balance shafts - designed to make it run smoother. And it was only on the third try that the mechanic got these shafts set up correctly. Apparently three marks have to correspond, but he could only find two of them! The result was an engine that was badly off balance.

In Philippians chapter 1, we noticed that Paul was able to live with real thankfulness in the midst of circumstances that were far from ideal. His secret was expressed in v.21 - For what is life? To me, it is Christ. Death, then, will bring more. Centred on Christ, his life was "well-balanced" and he was able to cope - no matter what!


If our life is truly centred on Christ, then he is Lord and one of the marks of our life will be humility and this will be reflected in all our relationships within the church community.

Paul begins chapter 2 by writing about the commendable things he observes among them. Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another. So being a Christian has given them personal encouragement and comfort - and isn't that what Paul had experienced in his adverse circumstances? Encouragement and comfort. Their life in Christ is also fellowship with the Spirit. The Christian life is only possible because of the reality of the Holy Spirit and his life within us. And this life in Christ - this fellowship with the Spirit - was already making them more caring, with kindness and compassion. Paul had experienced this in the gift they had sent with Epaphroditus.

If all this is so, then - make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind. In writing to the Philippians, Paul was not confronting the threat of false teaching as in Galatians and Colossians, nor the excesses and divisions that existed among the Corinthians. The character of the letter is warmth and encouragement. Yet Paul does have a concern that they have genuine oneness in purpose and love, not acting from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but being humble towards one another, always considering others better than yourselves, looking out for one another's interests, not just for your own.

So it is not just a question of how well we copy, but how we relate. Our Christian life centres on Christ, and it is important that we humble ourselves, that we consciously allow Jesus Christ to be the Lord of our lives.

He himself has given us the supreme example of humility. Vv.6-11 is widely regarded as either an early Christian hymn or creed.

Christ Jesus had the very nature of God from all eternity. He could say, "The Father and I are one" (John 10.30). The Jews knew what Jesus was saying. They knew what he was claiming. They picked up stones and would have stoned him to death for blasphemy. Within the one godhead there is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Son gave no thought to usurping the place of the Father.

Jesus made himself nothing, took the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. Luke records that at the Last Supper, an argument broke out about which of them should be thought of as the greatest. Part of Jesus' reply was "I am among you as one who serves" (Lk.22.27c). John records that at that last meal Jesus shocked his disciples by taking bowl and towel and washing their feet. When he had completed the task, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have just done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another's feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you..." (Jn.13.12-15).

Jesus took the nature of a servant... He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death - his death on the cross. Having become a man, he didn't opt out of that universal human experience, death. In fact, he died a death which was a cruel and violent rejection of him - death on a cross.

But that was not the end of him. For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name... In other words he was received back to all of the glory that he had humbly laid aside to come to earth, into our human history. The name that is greater than any other name is none other than the name of the Lord himself. This is confirmed in the allusion to Isaiah 45.23 that follows - (the Lord Jehovah is speaking) "By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear" (NIV). It is rather striking that it is Jesus, God the Son who came as the final revelation of God in our human history, at whose name every knee is to bow and every tongue confess. This expresses the unity within the Godhead. And in confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, people give glory to God the Father.

So Then...

So then - therefore - Paul has called them to humility and unity and has appealed to the ultimate example of Jesus. He thought now goes back to the opening verses. The signs of their Christian maturity do not remove the need to keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation... The principle of maturity is not a matter of having "arrived." Our attitude must never be arrogance, but complete humility - and dependence on God since he is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose. We can only work out what God in his grace works in us. The Christian life is a continual response to God at work within us.

Because of this they are to live and act without complaining and arguing. In this way they will become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in contrast to the crooked and depraved generation in which they live. In other words, it is not enough to be able to say, "I don't murder. I don't steal. I don't commit adultery..." It is all too easy to be like the Pharisee in Jesus' parable, "I thank you, God, that I am not greedy, dishonest, or an adulterer, like everybody else. I thank you that I am not like that tax collector over there. I fast two days a week, and I give you a tenth of all my income" (Lk.18.11-12).. We can never come to God with personal arrogance - and it won't do to come "proud of our humility", either! But we are to come as sinners in need of divine grace and allow that grace to work out into every aspect of our lives. Only so can we become like stars lighting up the sky as we offer the message of life. And we will never be able to offer the message of life if we are complaining and arguing with one another. We may be saved for eternity, but we are of no earthly use!

Timothy and Epaphroditus

In the last section of this chapter, Paul writes about Timothy and Epaphroditus who illustrate so clearly the attitudes he longs to see.

In chapter 1 Paul spoke of his deep affection for them and his great desire to have news of them. His hope is that he will be able to send Timothy to them. Timothy shares Paul's genuine interest in their welfare. So many others are only concerned with their own interests, not with the cause of Christ. And that is the whole point of what Paul has been writing. What is life? To me, it is Christ. Christ is not optional or secondary. He is central to our being, pivotal to our thinking, fundamental to our actions.

The Philippians sent Epaphroditus to take care of Paul's needs. Paul describes him as one who has worked and fought by my side and has served as your messenger in helping me - a fellow-worker and fellow-soldier and also their messenger (apostolos). Epaphroditus has been seriously ill - almost to the point of death. Paul is glad for his own sake as well as theirs to return Epaphroditus to them. He is to be welcomed with great joy and honoured - he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life in order to give the help they could not personally give.

Both Timothy and Epaphroditus were outstanding because, having centred their lives on Christ, they had this great desire to reach out to others.

It has been said that a person wrapped up in himself/herself makes a very small package indeed.

How "big" are you? Centre your life on Christ. Acknowledge Jesus Christ as your Lord. Be open to the changes in attitudes and priorities that he wants to work out in your life. Then with humility and genuine caring love be open to your Christian brothers and sisters and open with the message of life to all who live about us.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Buderim Uniting Church, 21 February 1993
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.

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