1If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
12Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
In my reflection this week, I came across a newly discovered chapter in the Book of Genesis that apparently has provided the answer to the age-old question, “Where do pets come from?” Supposedly Adam said, “Lord, when I was in the garden, you walked with me every day. Now I do not see you anymore. I am lonesome here and it is difficult for me to remember how much you love me.” And God said, “No problem! I will create a companion for you that will be with you forever and who will be a reflection of my love for you, so that you will love me even when you cannot see me. Regardless of how selfish or childish or unlovable you may be, this new companion will accept you as you are and will love you as I do, in spite of yourself.” And God created a new animal to be a companion for Adam. And it was a good animal. And God was pleased. And the new animal was pleased to be with Adam and he wagged his tail. And Adam said, “Lord, I have already named all the animals in the Kingdom and I cannot think of a name for this new animal.” And God said, “No problem! Because I have created this new animal to be a reflection of my love for you, his name will be a reflection of my own name, and you will call him DOG.” And Dog lived with Adam and was a companion to him and loved him. And Adam was comforted. And God was pleased. And Dog was content and wagged his tail.
After a while, it came to pass that Adam’s guardian angel came to the Lord and said, “Lord, Adam has become filled with pride. He struts and preens like a peacock and he believes he is worthy of adoration. Dog has indeed taught him that he is loved, but perhaps too well.” And the Lord said, “No problem! I will create for him a companion who will be with him forever and who will see him as he is. The companion will remind him of his limitations, so he will know that he is not always worthy of adoration.” And God created CAT to be a companion to Adam. And Cat would not obey Adam. And when Adam gazed into Cat’s eyes, he was reminded that he was not the supreme being. And Adam learned humility. And God was pleased. And Adam was greatly improved. And Dog was happy. And the Cat didn’t give a hoot one way or the other.
Who knew that our furry friends could teach us so much about humility?! I certainly didn’t! No, if I want to learn about humility I look no further than the witness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ life and death and resurrection are the epitome of humble service to God and to our neighbor. Jesus never allowed himself to think he was greater than those around him or the Father who sent him here. He always highly valued all those around him and eagerly obeyed everything his Father commanded him to do. Jesus was and is a servant to all, nothing more and nothing less. He wants to serve us and live for our comfort and well-being. He wants the best for us and would do anything for us to receive the best. Jesus loves us…always has, always will.
Today’s passage is affectionately known as the “Christ Hymn” because it neatly captures the full magnitude of what Jesus did on the cross on our behalf. Jesus knew who he was as the Son of God. He never admitted to it but he knew it fully well. He also knew that he was bound to obey the Father. Jesus was bound to the same commandment that you and I are bound to: to honor our father and our mother. Just because he was a part of the Trinity didn’t mean he was exempt from honoring his parents. Yes, Jesus was expected to honor his father just as you and I are expected to. And sometimes honoring our parents demands that we do things we don’t want to do. The Father sent the Son to die on our behalf; honoring his father meant enduring the agony of the cross. If Jesus failed to obey the wishes of his father, how could we respect him as fully human who was expected to honor his parents just as we are expected to? Jesus doesn’t get an exemption just because he’s fully divine…he’s fully man too! Play by the same rules the rest of us have to play by, Jesus! We’ll wrestle with this more in a few weeks when we celebrate Trinity Sunday but the point is that Jesus was aware of who he was as fully divine and fully man which made the agony of the cross all the more humilious. Jesus didn’t have to suffer on the cross because he was fully divine and yet he had to because he was fully man, bound by the same commandments.
But God regards humility different than we do. For God, humility isn’t about shame or punishment. In fact, God looks very favorably upon humility. God wants us to be humble, to walk humbly, to live humbly. God doesn’t consider humility as a sign of weakness but rather one of strength. When we humble ourselves, we are acknowledging and accepting just how small and weak we really are before our almighty God. God already knows how small and weak we are…God designed us that way! It is in times when we forget how vulnerable and insignificant we are that God is frustrated and angry with us. And be assured, God has no problem reminding us of our frailty either. The wisdom of Proverbs comes to mind: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but wisdom is with the Lord.” (11:2) God is sure to disgrace us when we claim to be greater than we actually are. But He’ll also reward us with wisdom when we acknowledge our limitations.
You see, the cross serves not only as a tool for Jesus to conquer sin and death but also to reveal the importance of humility. Jesus humbled himself before Pilate, the Roman guard, and the Jewish crowd. More importantly, he humbled himself before the Father. And in humbling himself, he was exalted, just as James advises, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (4:10) Jesus’ suffering was turned into glory. We stand in awe of his sacrifice on our behalf, particularly because we know how unjust it was. Jesus didn’t deserve to suffer and die for us…WE deserve to suffer for him, for what we did to him! Yet through God’s good and generous grace we are spared that suffering. Contrary to the ways of man, God doesn’t want us to suffer to know humility. God simply wants to be in right relationship with us. God loves us whether we’re humble or not but his love is best revealed to a humble heart. Or, as Psalm 25:9 notes, “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.”
We’re closing out our walk through the season of Easter with a good reflection on humility.
Next week we’ll welcome the gift of the Spirit and head into the long season of Pentecost. Humility is important for understanding the ways of God, certainly the ways of Christ and why he went to the cross in the first place. His crucifixion was an act of great humility. Let us seek out similar ways to show humility with God and our neighbors; maybe not as drastic but certainly just as effective.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.