Why Humility Is Not Your Default
Why Humility Is Not Your Default
Nobody’s default is humility. Not even the people who act humble. That’s what Paul says in Philippians:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
Our default isn’t humility, it’s selfish ambition and vain conceit. Literally “competition and useless glory.” We compete with each other because we’re looking for glory. The word “glory” has the idea of weightiness. We want our lives to be weighty. We want to be significant. We want to matter.
And in our mind, the way we become more significant is by making other people less significant. That’s where the competition comes in. You compete with the other people at work to be recognized, or you compete with the other moms in your play group to be recognized. And Paul says all this recognition is useless glory. It’s fleeting. So what if they recognize you today? They’ll forget you tomorrow!
So here’s what he encourages us to do instead: “Consider others as more important than yourselves.” Which isn’t a natural reflex for us either.
Think about it. When you see a picture on social media of a group of people with you in it, whose face do you look at first? Yours! When you’re choosing a photo for your family Christmas card, which one do you vote for? The one where you look best! You don’t care that your husbands eyes are halfway closed. You kinda care that one of your kids has their hair messed up, because that reflects on your parenting skills, but what’s most important to you is that your face is perfectly lit, your smile is perfectly balanced, and your hair is blowing perfectly in the wind.
Considering others more important than yourself just isn’t natural. In fact, it would be absolutely impossible if it weren’t for the next verse:
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.” (Philippians 2:5-9)
It’s possible for us to be humble and serve others, because Jesus humbly sacrificed everything to serve us.
He sacrificed his glory, giving up all the rights and privileges that come with being God when he descended from heaven to earth. He didn’t think of his equality with God as something that qualified him to demand things for himself, it qualified him to serve us. Like if you paid thousands of dollars to be a member at the Outrigger Canoe Club just so you could get in the front door and into the clubhouse and start bussing tables for the members there. That’s what Jesus did.
He sacrificed his comfort. Paul says he “assumed the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity.” He went from infinite wisdom and knowledge to the confusion and desperation of a newborn baby, and then after he grew up he had to live like a homeless guy. He had to borrow a place to sleep, a boat to get around in, a donkey to get into Jerusalem, a room for the Last Supper, even a tomb to be buried in. We think life is all about gaining more comfort, but Jesus showed us that life is all about sacrificing comfort.
And he made the ultimate sacrifice when he sacrificed his life. Paul says he “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even to death on a cross.” Te worst death the Romans could come up with, which is why Paul says “even death on a cross.” The most excruciating, humiliating, horrifying way to die. And it wasn’t just the physical pain he endured. Infinitely worse was the wrath of God for all our sins that was poured out on him. That’s why Jesus screamed out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He didn’t have the love of God the Father on him anymore, he had the wrath of God the Judge on him. Like a mile-long freight train, with a nuclear bomb in each car. Aimed straight at him.
So Jesus didn’t go to the cross just to display humility. Just to show us how to serve. He did it because we could never do it on our own! We could never be humble on our own. We could never consider others more important on our own. We could never sacrifice on our own. So Jesus had to do it in our place.
He took our sins, failures, fallenness and foolishness, and in exchange he gave us his perfect righteousness. Which is why Paul says in the next verse: “For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:9). Jesus lowered himself from heaven, and he lowered himself from earth, all the way until he lowered himself into the grave. He kept going further and further down, but that was so he could come back up and bring us with him.
Jesus descended so he could re-ascend … with us. And that’s what empowers us to be humble like him, serve like him, and sacrifice like him. It’s not our default, but it can become our disposition.