Carl Trueman is a church historian who published a book last year called The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. Basically, the book is a Christian assessment of cultural madness, specifically culture’s ideas about sexuality and sexual expression. He’s essentially asking the question, “how did we get here?”
The reason I start with this is because I want to take one of the ideas that he describes in the book and contrast it with what we find in Philippians chapter 2.
That contrast can be described in terms of Autonomy vs Humility.
What Trueman argues is that much of sexual revolution is symptomatic of a deeper revolution, what he calls a revolution of the human self.
What that means is we live in a time where the self, the human individual, is autonomous. The idea that man is sovereign over himself—literally a “law to himself.”
So in this idea, a person can construct their own identity independent from any external authority or limitations. Their private, internal feelings or desires, their conception of “right and wrong” are sovereign over anything else.
Your internal feelings are your “authentic self” and you need to express that outwardly. Anything that disturbs or gets in the way of your sense of well-being is to be rejected as harmful or oppressive.
Autonomy and self-expression dominates our culture. We’re swimming in it. It’s in our music, movies, books, even the way we post about our own lives on social media.
What Trueman describes is the Triumph of Autonomy.
What Paul describes in Philippians is the Triumph of Humility. He describes how the very nature and character of God is revealed in the nature of a servant, expressed in sacrificial love and service to others.
And as the Philippians worship the humble and exalted King and become like him in the way that they sacrificially love and serve others—another revolution takes place—they shine as lights in the world in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation (Phil 2:15).
Let me give you an outline for the morning for how we’re going to approach our passage, starting in 1:27 and moving through chapter 2.
We’re going to focus on 2:1-11, which is a condensed version of the gospel story that shows the Triumph of Humility. But before we focus on 2:1-11, I want to do two things.
First, I want to summarize the passage. And second, I want to give a brief sketch of humility in the Bible to show how it all culminates in the triumph of Christ’s humility in 2:1-11.
First, let me give you the summary—here’s your spark notes edition.
Last week, we talked about how Paul desired to see the Philippians grow in their faith for the advancement of the gospel.
Now, Paul turns to how the Philippians ought to live out the gospel.
He does three things. He calls them to unity, humility, and obedience. They are to be united in one mind and one spirit.
That unity is characterized by having the mindset of Christ—who humbled himself in loving sacrificial service to others— And as they “obey” Christ in this way, they may “shine as lights in the world” in the “midst of a crooked and depraved generation.”
As they live out the gospel, it serves to advance the gospel.
Verses 27-30 are a call to unity and steadfastness. Paul calls the Philippians to live as faithful citizens in a manner consistent with the gospel of Christ.
And then Paul gives them a picture of what that looks like in verses 2:1-11 with Triumph of humility. It’s the centerpiece of the book. I’ll talk more about the content of this section later, but here I just want to talk about how this section functions in what Paul is saying. He’s just called them to be united in his Spirit. Now, he tells them how to live out that appeal to unity. If you’re united in the Spirit, then you ought to have the same mindset of Christ, which is characterized by extreme humility and service.
Some people say 2:1-11 is a poem or a hymn about Christ. And maybe it is. But it’s not just exalted prose. I’ll be the first to say, the language in these verses is beautiful… but it serves a very practical function. Paul’s not painting an idealistic picture of Christ for the sake of being poetic – and I love poetry! It serves a practical purpose. Paul is in effect saying, “Here’s what Christ did– you go and do likewise”
In verses 12-18, Paul picks up his call from vs 27 about living worthy of the gospel with a call to obedience. The kind of obedience Paul means is not “rule following,” but total devotion to Christ. They are to follow after Christ, living like he did, and as they do it, they reveal the power of the gospel—they “shine like stars.”
In this section, Paul actually alludes to a handful of Old Testament passages about the Israelites. He’s contrasting Israel’s experience in the past with the transforming power of the gospel. The Israelites murmured and grumbled in the wilderness. God called the Israelites a wicked, crooked generation because of their grumbling.
And what Paul does is that he inverts that story by calling them to “obey” without grumbling—and instead of them being a “wicked and crooked” generation, they “shine like stars” in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation as they hold out the word of life.
Then, the final section in verses 19-30, Paul gives two examples of people who live like Jesus: Timothy and Epaphroditus.
Now, it’s tempting to write this section off as unimportant, ordinary, “logistical” information. Here’s where Paul outlines his plans for sending Epaphroditus back with this letter and Timothy after the trial.
But here’s how this section fits in with everything that’s come before.
Paul moves from poetry to the mundane. He’s gone from Sunday to Monday.
He’s talked about the story of Christ’s humility, and now he highlights two men whose lives are characterized by that same humility and service.
Timothy; he’s demonstrated he isn’t concerned with seeking his own interests but theirs. And Epaphroditus, who risked his life for the sake of gospel service to Paul. He was sick almost to the point of dying… but God was merciful and healed him.
Paul details his plans… but he also shows how these two men are a living embodiment of the gospel.
That’s your spark notes edition of our passage. I hope it gives you a 30,000 ft view of the flow of Paul’s thought.
Now as I mentioned, before we dive into 2:1-11, I want to provide a brief Biblical sketch of humility to show how it all culminates in Jesus’ humility in Philippians.
What is humility in the Bible?
Well, there are a couple things I would say that Scripture reveals to us.
The first is that humility in the Bible is both objective and subjective.
What do I mean by that?
Humility is objective in the sense that it’s positional, having to do with your rank or status. An Airman Basic is humble compared to an O-6 Colonel. Objective humility is where stand in relation to God.
For example, In Luke chapter 1, after the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that she’s going to give birth Jesus, she sings a song of praise. Here’s what she says:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.”
Mary is humble. Yes, in terms of her heart, but also objectively in terms of her social position. She’s lowly in status. That’s objective humility.
Humility is also subjective. This is in the sense of recognizing your position before God.
All of us are objectively humble before God in one sense… he’s God and we’re not. …but that doesn’t mean we all have the virtue of humility. Far from it. Subjective humility is an attitude or a mindset.
Humility in the Bible is a mindset that is characterized by submission and dependence to God’s will.
We see an example of this (or lack of this) in Exodus 10 with Moses and Pharoah. Moses and Aaron go before Pharoah and say, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?”
How long will you refuse to submit to God’s will?
Or in Deuteronomy 8:2-3, God says to the Israelites, “the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, … that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
The humility that God wanted the Israelites to learn was an attitude and recognition of their total dependence on God. It’s a rejection of autonomy. They are to live dependent on God’s provision. This is subjective humility.
James says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
This is not just arbitrary. God doesn’t just oppose the proud because he thinks it’s a good idea.
God values humility because he himself is humble.
Jesus reveals his own heart in Matthew 11:29, where he says, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” It’s in God’s own nature to be humble. It’s who God is.
You ask—how can God be humble?? Like objectively? He’s the creator of the universe, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing…
Exactly! Paul says, “that God! took on human flesh, humbled himself to the point of dying in the most shameful and humiliating way possible…”
Now we come to Phil 2:1-11. This is the culmination of humility in the Bible.
It’s a condensed version of the gospel. It’s a narrative about Jesus’ incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, and exaltation.
It’s a passage that reveals the very character and nature of God that serves as a pattern of humility in every area of our lives: Discipleship, life in community, evangelism, our marriages, relationships, workplace…
This passage reveals the Triumph of humility. It was revolutionary then and it’s revolutionary now.
Let me read the passage:
2 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,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] 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. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is a picture of the gospel that shows the Philippians how to live out the gospel.
The heading in your Bible probably says something about the “example” of Christ’s humility. And this does serve as an example and a model for them for how to live out the gospel…
Our ability to effectively live out the gospel is not just mere imitation. Our ability to live out the gospel comes through participation in God’s Spirit. Being plugged into the Spirit’s power. Christ in us.
So Paul begins… “Because there is… encouragement in Christ, because you’ve experienced comfort from his love… because there is participation in his Spirit”… continue on in love and unity with each other.
And he warns them against the harmful attitudes that are going to destroy their community—and destroy their gospel witness.
What is it? Selfish ambition.
Verse 3-4 says, “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”
Selfish ambition. Self-promotion, self-centeredness, self-interest, self-love, autonomy. Whatever word you want to choose… This is the root in so much of human brokenness.
I recently read an Op-ed in the New York Times that I don’t recommend, in which the author talked about how her divorce was a “radical act of self-love.” She talked about how she finally chose to put herself first over her family and how this is something that ought to be celebrated.
This kind of self-love, selfish ambition will only lead to misery for everyone involved.
When Paul says, “do nothing from selfish ambition, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” …You might think, “Aaron, do you know how hard this is?
You don’t know how bad my boss is… You don’t know how difficult this co-worker is…
Yes, I know how hard this is!
But I also know there’s too much at stake for me to be okay with living for myself.
Selfishness in marriage is always going to be lose-lose.
Selflessness is win-win.
I don’t do this perfectly. But it’s about direction, not perfection. And the more I live connected to the Spirit’s power, the more I share in his humble mindset, the more I choose “others.”
When we put the interests of others ahead of our own or view others as more significant than ourselves, it doesn’t mean that we should have a low view of ourselves and consider ourselves worthless. That has no basis in Scripture.
When I say self-love is bad, I don’t mean that we should mope around viewing ourselves as insignificant, worthless creatures.
There is an appropriate love of self. Jesus says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” And when he says to deny yourself, he does not mean “hate yourself.”
Rather, he means “put to death anything that raises itself up in opposition to what God says is good and best.”
The kind of self-love the Bible condemns is selfish ambition. A desire to be autonomous. To be accountable only to yourself and your desires.
So when Paul describes putting the interests of others ahead of your own, he is describing is living in a way so that your needs, thoughts, desires, and opinions are not the highest priority when you enter a room.
Paul continues this thought on humility of mind with a narrative about Christ in verses 5-8.
He says to “have this mind among yourselves.” Paul means a mindset, or an attitude. A mindset characterized by Christ’s selflessness and humility. This is the kind of community we are called to be.
Here’s Believe-Value-Do in action. A mindset shows what we value. It’s a way of looking at things. It shows how your beliefs – what you think about- over time shapes what you love and value. The content of the gospel—is shaping their values (mindset), which guides their behavior.
Paul continues, “though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God something to be grasped.”
“In the form” of God just means that Jesus was equal with God. He and the Father are one. This points to his divinity. But Jesus’ divine status did not consist of “grasping” or “using it to his own advantage.”
Instead of grasping (closed fist), it consisted of self-emptying love (open hands), pouring himself out for the sake of others.
He wasn’t trying to hold onto his position/reputation with a closed fist, grasping for empty glory.
Grasping after our reputation/recognition is a fruitless exercise. Chasing the ever-elusive “cool;” The desire to appear knowledgeable or well-read; the accumulation of “likes;” a certain “aesthetic” to our social media pages – all of those are empty human “grasping.”
We are to have a “humility of mind” that is purged of a desire to “win,” to be right, to be first.
Instead of grasping, Jesus emptied himself out. This does not mean he emptied himself of his divinity or anything like that. It just means he didn’t cling to his reputation.
I like how the King James says it: “he made himself of no reputation.” He took on the form of a servant and humbled himself, dying on a Roman cross for the sake of those he loved.
And here at last is the Triumph of Humility.
Because Jesus humbled himself in this way… 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.
This is a remarkable statement by Paul. It’s an allusion to Isaiah, where it’s said that every knee will bow to Yahweh.
So Paul is saying… God has bestowed on Jesus this name—Yahweh. He’s affirming that Jesus shares the identity with the one true God.
And Paul gives us a vision of the return of Christ, when the entire creation – angels, demons, human beings – will bow to his lordship. That doesn’t mean everyone at that moment will yield to his lordship, but all of creation will acknowledge Jesus as King.
This is a remarkable passage. We move from Jesus’ pre-existence with God, through his Incarnation, his death, burial, resurrection, his exaltation and second coming.
But don’t lose sight of why this passage is here. “To live is Christ.” And that means—living like Christ in sacrificial, loving service to others.
As you embrace this kind of life—that’s where freedom and joy is found. There isn’t freedom in “grasping.” When you’re grasping, you’re a slave to vain pursuits. But as you give yourself away in loving service to others, others are blessed – and you find joy.
Let me conclude with some application.
Are you ready, it’s going to be really complicated: Go serve.
Die to yourself and serve others.
Even when it’s hard. Even when there’s nothing in it for you to “gain.”
God has designed us to experience the most joy when we put the interests of others ahead of our own.
None of this “serving” is about “works-righteousness.” It’s all empowered by grace. God is the one who works in us, transforming us to be like Jesus, pouring ourselves out in love and service to others.
This is a life of freedom. This is a life of joy.
Pray with me.