Commentary by Walter Albritton


December 31, 2006


God wants Christians to humbly seek the best for others


Philippians 2:1-11


Key Verse: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. – Philippians 2:3


Here in these verses is the Apostle Paul at his best. Some call it Paul’s account of the birth of Jesus so it is frequently studied at Christmastime.

It is also a brilliant summary of Christian humility and a marvelous tribute to the majesty and glory of Jesus Christ our Lord.

This passage quickly brings most of us to our knees! Even the most devout Christians will readily admit that they do not yet have fully “the mind of Christ Jesus.” Indeed the goal seems almost impossible, so high that we tend to feel we can never reach such a lofty state of mind and heart.

Nonetheless Paul does not water it down. He does not equivocate. Instead he insists that believers should follow the example of their Lord by caring more for others than they care for themselves.

Remember that Paul is writing to Christians, the small band of believers in the little church at Philippi. They are dear to Paul. Evidently they had made great progress in the faith; he does not find fault with them as he does with the members of the Galatian Church.

Consider how you might react were this a letter to you and the members of your church. Some of us might smile, or laugh out loud, at the suggestion that we should “be of the same mind”! Is it not true that most of us gave up a long time ago on believing that ours, or any congregation, could be “in full accord and of one mind”? We are prone not only to accept our differences but even to celebrate them.

Can Paul really be serious when he counsels his friends to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit”? Nothing? We want to cry, “Give us a break, Paul. Surely you jest. You must know there is a little “selfish ambition” in the best of us.”

But Paul is not negotiating. He is unwilling to accept anything short of an attitude like that of Christ. This he underlines with verse four – a statement that is much more demanding in the original Greek than it is rendered in most translations. Actually Paul says we should look out for the interests of others and not our own! We should ask this penetrating question then: Is Paul counseling us to look out for the interest of others while trusting God to look out for our own? That, it would seem, is more like “the mind” of Christ!

What is absolutely clear is that Paul counsels us to make Christ our model in our attitude toward ourselves and our attitude toward others. We spoil everything when we regard ourselves as better than others! When Christ is our model we waste no time comparing ourselves to others. The focus is always on how we measure up to the example of Christ. From that stance we should, in humility, always seek the best for others while leaving the care of ourselves to God.

The obvious implication of having the mind of Christ is that God will do for us what he did for Christ. Because Christ was humbly obedient to the Father’s will, God exalted him. He gave him a name that is above every other name. When we are humbly obedient to God, he exalts us, giving us whatever glory he wishes for us to have. Our joy is in being content with whatever “name” God chooses to give us for our goal is not exaltation but humble obedience.

This is in keeping with the teaching of Jesus in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). The Pharisee found no favor with God because he thought he was better than the tax collector. The tax collector found favor with God because he realized his need for God’s mercy.

Years ago Mary Webster toured the world with E. Stanley Jones, giving her compelling testimony in his retreats. After Jones died, Mary continued speaking in Christian Ashrams (spiritual retreats) while lesser preachers filled Jones’ role as the evangelist.

Once in Ohio when I served as the ashram evangelist, Mary was there to give her witness daily. As a poor substitute for Stanley Jones I did my best but I was nothing compared to the captivating charisma of Sister Mary. She held every audience in the palm of her hand, capturing the heart of every listener. I was in awe of her powerful witness for her beloved Savior.

But Mary did more than speak. Every morning promptly at 5:30 she knocked on the door of my room to bring me a cup of coffee she had made herself. That was the real Mary, always looking for little ways to humble herself in the service of others. She was always showing the love of Christ to others in unexpected ways.

When Mary spoke you realized her secret. She knew Jesus. Jesus was in her and she was in Jesus. She talked to Jesus and he talked to her. She found her greatest joy in humbly obeying her Lord, Jesus Christ.

This is the secret for us all when it comes to the challenge of Paul in this lesson. We cannot by our own effort or determination become humble and have the mind of Christ. Humility is not an achievement. It is not a matter of constantly struggling to overcome our selfish pride by “acting like” Jesus.

Our only hope of becoming Christlike is to surrender to Christ and let him take over, to become Lord of our total being. It happens when Jesus is Lord, when he is in us and we are in him. It happens when Jesus becomes our life, our way, and our truth. It happens when living for Jesus is our chief concern.

Then, like Mary, we can talk to Jesus and Jesus can talk to us. When nothing matters more than Jesus, then we too will find our greatest joy in humbly obeying his Inner Voice as unselfishly we seek the best for others.

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