A Plea for Humility
Tim Temple


Open your Bibles, please, to Philippians, chapter 2. In chapter 1 of Philippians, Paul has set the stage for the more specific instructions in the remaining chapters of this epistle. Chapter 1 ended with a plea for the Philippians to emulate Paul's perspective of life, which was that because Christ was the center of his life–“For me to live is Christ,” he said–he was able to put all of the things that happened to him before he wrote this letter into proper perspective. Even though some very serious things had taken place–he had lost his freedom, he had lost his public ministry and all those things–he was still able to say that these things happened to the furtherance of the Gospel and to his good also.

Chapter 2 continues in that same vein. We are going to think about chapter 2 from four standpoints. First, in verses 1-4, we have the exhortation to humility. Second, in verses 5-11, the essence of humility; then in verses 12-18, the expression of humility; and finally in verses 19-30, examples of humility.

We want to begin looking at the first two of these points, so if you will think with me together, we will read the first 11 verses of Philippians, chapter 2.

Philippians 2

1If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
2Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost tells an interesting story in his commentary on Philippians about a situation that developed in a church in the city of Dallas a few years ago. It seems that there was a church split and the discussion became so serious that it was taken into court to see which of the two factions would get the buildings and the property, etc. Of course, the newspapers got word of this and began to follow it step by step, and many people were reading about this church situation. Finally, the court ruled that the civil courts had no jurisdiction in the case, and it really should be tried in a church court. Perhaps the judge knew the Word of God, because that is exactly what the Scripture says. So it was handed to a church court.

The denomination involved set up a church court and they heard the case to its outcome. They made a decision, granted the building and property to one of the groups. But the interesting thing is that as the church court delved into the situation, they finally discovered that the things that had originally sparked the controversy was the fact that one of the church elders had received a smaller slice of ham at a church dinner than a child seated next to him. Out of that incident grew something that caught the attention of the whole city of Dallas. Dr. Pentecost concludes his story by saying, “Can you imagine what a good time the people of Dallas had laughing at Jesus Christ over that issue?” Certainly that is true. The way that we as believers treat one another and react to each other is a direct reflection on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul's Appeal for Humility

Evidently there was this same kind of problem in Philippi, because Paul now spends a whole chapter dealing with the subject of humility. We have read together these first eleven verses that we want to discuss, and you will notice that he begins talking about the subject of humility, the subject of our relationship with each other. He says, in verse 2, “If you will learn to act in this way, you will fulfill my joy.”

Philippians 2

2Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

This is a very important and personal matter to Paul. He was very anxious that his disciples learn to react to each other properly, that they have the same mind, that they love each other properly. So what we have in verses 1-4, is an exhortation to humility because he is going to establish the fact that the only way to act properly towards each other is to have an attitude of humility. You will never be able to do what God wants you to do as a believer in relation to other believers without an attitude of humility.

Basis for Paul's Appeal

First, notice in verse 1, the appeal that Paul makes. We read there:

Philippians 2

1If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
2Fulfil ye my joy…

This appeal for humility that Paul is making is based on four conditions that spring from or revolve around our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Basically what Paul is saying is, “I appeal to you, on the basis of the Lord Jesus Christ. I appeal to you, on the basis of what Christ has done in your lives, that you be like-minded, that you react to each other properly.”

The use of the word “if” in verse 1 can be misleading. It might appear at first glance that what Paul is saying is, “These things may be so, and may be not so. They are a little uncertain, but if they are so, then I want to make the appeal on that basis.” Actually he is not saying that at all. Probably by this time you are aware of the fact that there are several ways in which the word “if” can be written in the Greek language. This particular form in the Greek is one which means, “if and it is so.” It is called a fourth class conditional clause, and it can be properly translated, “since or because it is so.”

So if you will notice verse 1 with that in mind, what he is saying is, “Since there is consolation in Christ, because there is comfort of love, because of the fellowship of the Spirit, since there is the matter of bowels and mercy…”

Love for Other Believers

Notice the details of this appeal. First, he says, “Since there is consolation in Christ…” This is the fact that Christ can comfort us; Christ can strengthen us; Christ can meet our needs. All of these things are wrapped up in the matter of consolation in Christ. “Since there is,” he says in verse 1, “comfort of love,” and certainly that is true in the Christian life. It is a comforting thing to know that other believers love us and we love them. The Scripture makes plain in other places that this love is not just something that we pump up, and it is not just the kind of human fellowship that people have by belonging to the same kind of organization, club or lodge, but rather it is a supernatural love that is produced by the Holy Spirit. All of those of us who know Jesus Christ as Savior know in one way or another what that love is like. We know what it is to love other believers, even though we sometimes let sin cloud that love for other believers. All of us have had the experience of having a supernatural love for other believers. That is the basis of this appeal.

Then he says, “If there is any fellowship of the Spirit,” and I am using the word “communion” just for the sake of alliteration. “If there is any communion of the Spirit…” You will notice in verse 1 that the word “Holy” Spirit is not there, but the translators have capitalized the word “Spirit” because most Bible scholars agree that he is talking about the communion and fellowship that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. It is a very similar subject to the love of Christ that believers have for each other, but it is a little different. It's the communion, the fellowship, that we automatically have because of our common indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

That last term is one that we do not use in everyday conversation. It's been a while since I have heard anybody refer to “bowels and mercies” in their day-to-day conversation. Another translation of that would be, “compassion.” You see, in the first century the idea was that the seat of the emotions was in the bowels. Of course, it is easy to understand that because when we get emotionally involved, sometimes our stomachs and our intestines do get involved in it; and so those first century people, without the advantage of the study of anatomy to the extent that we have been able to study it, thought that the bowels were the seat of the emotions. Very often in the Scriptures we find it referred to this way–bowels and mercy–but it is talking about compassion. It is talking about concern and involvement, and all of these things are true of the Christian life. Compassion, comfort, communion are all characteristic of a Christian who is in fellowship with the Lord, a Christian who is walking in fellowship.

Paul is saying that on the basis of these things that are at the very core of Christianity, “I appeal to you.” The subject, you see, is our relationship with each other. Do you notice that each of these things is characteristic of our relationship with each other, or should be? We should have common consolation in the Lord Jesus Christ. We should share, as fellow members of the Body of Christ, the comfort that we can give each other and that Christ can give to us. We should have fellowship and communion together, not just the communion of the Lord's Supper, although that is certainly involved, but the common concern for each other, compassion. These things are all at the heart of our Christian experience. Paul says, “On that basis, I appeal to you, ”in verse 2,“ to be of the same mind.”

That brings us to the approach that Paul says we should have. It is typical many, many times to find Scripture that will tell us what to do, and then it will also tell us how to do that thing. That is what we have here.

In verse 1, we have the appeal; in verses 2-4, we have the approach for fulfilling that appeal, how we go about being of the same mind. In these verses Paul gives us three things that are involved in the basic approach to being of the same mind, how we have the kind of fellowship, the kind of unity, that as believers we should have.

Proper Mental Attitude

Here are three basic things: First, in verse 2, the right mental attitude–“that you be like-minded.” Being like-minded speaks for itself. It means “to be able to think the same way,” “to approach things from the same standpoint,” “to have the same likes and dislikes.” But this is amplified by three other terms that are also found in verse 2. As if that was not enough that he said, “that ye be likeminded,” synonymous to that is “having the same love.” Synonymous to that is “in one accord,” “of one mind.” You see, from these four standpoints he describes the right mental attitude. To be what we should be as fellow believers, to have the kind of fellowship that we should have, the kind of love and concern for each other that we should have, we need to have the right mental attitude.

Right Motivation

The question comes up, with all the differences in our background, our heredity, our environment, our education, our different political viewpoints, how in the world can we expect to have the same mind, the same mental attitude, the same likes and dislikes as every other believer? The answer begins with verse 3. Because we not only need to have the right mental attitude, but along with that–and these things have to be taken together–we need to have the right motivation. Notice in verse 3:

Philippians 2

3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

First, he takes our motivation from the negative standpoint:

Philippians 2

3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory…

The word “strife” is a translation of a Greek word that basically means “rivalry.” Specifically, technically, it means “factionalism”–to split into groups. But the basic concept behind that word is the concept of rivalry. As we think about that, we should have the immediate feeling that nothing should be more foreign to a group of believers than rivalry between one another, than factionalism within the group; and yet probably most of us can think of churches we know of or have heard of in which this is a major problem. There is this group. They have this particular set of standards. There is that group, and they do not believe quite the same way. They have a different set of standards. There is another group, and they believe another way still, and these groups are sometimes jockeying for power within the group, hoping that they can get their people into leadership. Those things don't sound so strange about a political party or about a social club or about a school organization, but those things sound very foreign to a church, to a group of believers. But we know that many times those things are true in a church. Paul says that if we are going to have the right kind of attitude toward each other as believers, that cannot take place. “Let nothing be done through rivalry.”

Let me ask you a question: How many times do you do something within the context of Christianity, either in this local church or within a group of Christians that you know of, and you do it at least partially to get one up on some other Christian? You do it so that people will realize that you are as good as those other Christians are. I am sure that in a group this size, though let me assure you that I have nobody specifically in mind, there will be a group whose motivation is strife, is rivalry, is competition.

God the Holy Spirit, as a guide to the Apostle Paul in writing this, said, “That should never take place. That should never be a part of a local assembly. Let nothing be done through strife.”

A very similar term in verse 3, is “vainglory.” Now this is a word that means “taking glory in an empty thing,” but the basic meaning is the idea of doing something for your own advancement, doing something so people will notice you, doing something so people will recognize what a great believer you are. So the idea is very similar to what we have been talking about.

In Lowliness of Mind

After having given us the negative standpoint in verse 3, he also approaches it from the positive standpoint:

Philippians 2

3…but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

This phrase, “lowliness of mind,” is a translation of a word which is a combination of two Greek words, the word for “mind” and the word for “low.” The interesting thing about that is, even though it is not such an unusual word, there is no record of this word being used in any Greek literature outside the New Testament. There is no record of the Greek language having used this combination of mind and lowliness until the Apostle Paul wrote it to the Philippians.

That is all the more significant if we know a little more about the Greek culture. You see, lowliness of mind, esteeming others better than themselves, was something that was absolutely totally foreign to the Roman way of life, the Roman way of thought. When the Romans captured another nation, they would bring back captives, partly for the purpose of parading them through the streets and showing the greatness of the Roman Empire, showing their superiority over the other nations. To talk about lowliness of mind, esteeming others above themselves, was something of which the Romans simply couldn't conceive. Yet God says this is exactly what, as believers, we should do–in lowliness of mind, esteeming others better than ourselves.

Let's think about this for just a minute, not necessarily from the Roman standpoint. It may have been a little harder for the Romans to swallow than for us, yet it is not that easy for us to swallow. It is contrary to our nature even if it is not contrary to our culture. And even though it is not as big a point in our culture as it was in the Roman world of the first century, I think it is a very big part of our culture too.

Philippians 2

3…but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

Again ask yourself the question and answer it for yourself: Does that characterize your life? Do you think in terms of others deserving really more than you deserve? Specifically, do you think in terms of others deserving your attention and your help, or is your attitude really that everybody else should be doing whatever they can to help you? A godly attitude–this seems to be applied across the board. God doesn't make any exceptions here that we can see in this verse.

Philippians 2

3…let each esteem other better than themselves.

“Let each of you individually esteem everybody else, all others, better than themselves.” He goes on to amplify that in verse 4:

Philippians 2

4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

A Channel for God's Love

We will come to that in just a minute, but let's apply this specifically for now. You see, love is properly manifested when the person who does the loving becomes a channel for God's love to other people. That is the reason that God has given us the ability to love. God has given us the ability to love and serve other human beings so that He can manifest His love through us. Probably the most obvious example of that is in the Gospel. Did you ever stop to think about the fact that God has designed it so that the spreading of the Gospel is left up to human beings only? There is no other way for the Gospel to be spread.

The Scripture says that the Heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork, but it is very important to notice that Scripture does not say and experience does not show that the Heavens declare salvation. A person can never get saved by just looking at God's handiwork around him. He can be brought to the point of being ready to hear more about salvation. His God-consciousness can be whetted and can be piqued, but a person can never find out about Jesus Christ by just looking at the mountains and the pine trees. God has reserved the knowledge of the Gospel, the transmission of the Gospel, to you and me as human beings. God has reserved us as His channels of outreach to other human beings.

As a person who had the gift of evangelism, whom I heard speaking one time, said, “If there is a weak link in God's chain that is probably it right there–the fact that He is leaving it up to you and me.”

But the same thing is true, not only of the Gospel, but of God's love in general. Do you realize that the only way that other people can experience God's love is through you and through me? We can see the glory of God; we can see His handiwork, but if it were not for our relationship with other people, we would be left to guess that God was a loving God.

He records in His Word that His love is demonstrated in the person of Jesus Christ, but we have just been saying that the message of the Gospel is reserved for you and me to give out. It is true not only of the Gospel, but it is true of every other area of expressing love. The only way that God has of expressing His love directly to individuals is through you and me.

Service to the Family In Love

A mother serves her family in the very menial tasks that she has to do, and as she does that, she expresses the love of God for them, or she should. It should be the love of God that motivates a mother to do things that she probably could not be paid enough to do if that was not her family, if those were not her children. It would be well-nigh impossible to find somebody, and if you could find somebody it would be well-nigh impossible for you to pay them what they would demand to do the things that our wives do every day. The only way that a wife can do that effectively is as a means of loving her family and letting God love her family through her.

The same thing should be true of a father and husband. A husband's motive should not be just to make more money or get more advancement in the company. A husband's motive should be to serve his family in love, and through his love for his family let God's love be channeled to his family.

Attitude of Christian Employees

Because of his love for his family, he may need to make more money, may want to make more money. He may want to advance in the company. All of those things may be part of it, but his basic motivation is what we are talking about. Paul is saying that in order to have the right attitude to each other, we have to have the right motivation, that motivation of esteeming others worthy of our love, esteeming others worthy of our service. The attitude of a servant–a Christian employee should have this attitude.

Do you realize that if Christian employees would follow the injunctions that the Scripture gives, and there are not that many, there probably would be zero unemployment among Christians. As soon as a Christian quit somewhere, the employer would already know of two or three other Christians he could hire, because a Christian employee would be the very best kind of employee that you could get, and every Christian would know of two or three other places where he could get a job. As it is, that is not the case at all. Probably if there were any way to find out the statistics on it, it would be shameful how many Christians are unemployed and how many of that number are unemployed because they simply are not worth hiring.

I have had a number of conversations with business men, and I am sure some of you men have had the same conversation with men who say, “I would just as soon not do business with a Christian. It is so easy to be cheated and to be disappointed when you are. I would just as soon not hire a Christian because they expect too many benefits and advantages and soft treatment.” That is shameful. A Christian should serve his employer whether that employer is a believer or not, in the sense of letting the love of God show through him and in the sense of esteeming his employer better than himself and worthy of his concern and service. This is the right motivation.

Giving Priority to the Needs of Others

Paul goes on to say, in verse 4, that you will only be able to have the right motivation if you have the measurement. We touched on verse 4 a moment ago. Notice what he says:

Philippians 2

4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

How do you go about having the right motivation? Well it depends on the measurement you give to other people.

Philippians 2

4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

Men how important is your wife? How important are her things, the affairs of her life, her activities, her problems with the children, problems that the neighbors are having and unloading on her? I am afraid that I am as guilty as anyone, but the tendency is to come home at night and say, “Get those kids quiet. I have had a hard day at the office.” Our tendency, when our wife begins to unload and unburden herself of the problems that she has faced during the day, is to say, “I'm tired. I have had a hard day today. Let's talk about it in the morning.” Is that looking on the things of others, or is that concentrating on our own things?

A few years ago I was in a seminar that was conducted for pastors by the chaplain and the administrator of the hospital in Wichita Falls; and one of the pastors, during one of the question and answer sessions, asked the administrator of the hospital, “What is the definition of major surgery?” With a perfectly straight face, that hospital administrator said, “Major surgery is the surgery that you have. Minor surgery is what everyone else has.” If you think about it, you will realize that it is true, not only in the medical field, but in every other area of life. A major problem is a problem that you have, and a minor problem is one that your wife had with the kids today. A major problem is one you have, and a minor problem is the problem that your neighbor talks to you about over morning coffee or whenever you get together with her. That is contrary to the Word of God:

Philippians 2

4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

Paul goes on in verses 5-11 to give us an illustration of humility. We will not take the time to look at those verses in detail, but just by way of summary, let me give you a preview of coming attractions. Paul goes on to say that there is one individual who supremely characterizes the attitude that we ought to have as believers. Interestingly enough, that one is our Savior Himself. He was the essence of humility. He was the very character of humility, and of course the conclusion that he is going to draw is that if the Lord Jesus Christ Himself could have this characteristic, how dare we think that we are too important to have a humble spirit? Because of what I know about my own sin nature and about my own attitudes, I'm guessing that there are many of us who don't have the kind of attitude that we ought to have.

A Testimony to Others

Verse 4 doesn't characterize us. We are looking on our own things, not on the things of others. Our attitude of serving others and serving the Lord in that way was serious enough that God had the Apostle Paul devote a whole chapter in the New Testament to it. As I mentioned in the beginning, it has a direct bearing on our testimony to others outside. The statement was made early in the first century, and it was made–even though it is not often quoted this way–in jest and in mockery: “Behold how these Christians love one another.” I wonder if an unbeliever only had you and those Christians around you to look at, what would his opinion be of Jesus Christ? If he only had you and perhaps your family to look at and the way that you relate to each other in the bonds of the love of Christ, what would be his opinion of Jesus Christ?

Paul says in verse 5:

Philippians 2

5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

He goes on to explain that Christ Jesus did not have the attitude that most of us have. The Lord Jesus Christ was completely characteristic of verse 4. He did not look on His own things, but He looked on the things of others.


With that in mind, let me conclude by asking you what kind of situation would you and I be in if the Lord Jesus Christ had had the same attitude about the needs and problems of other believers that you have about their needs and problems? Where would all of us be if the Lord Jesus Christ had reacted the same way to the needs of others that you have reacted the past week? What is commonly your reaction?

Probably if most of us were to answer that honestly, we would have to say, “Thank the Lord that He didn't react the way that we usually do to the needs of others.”

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