The second chapter of Philippians is a mountain peak of Christian thought, describing the almost incomprehensible humility of Jesus in becoming human – and urging us to have that same humility. Can St. Paul really be serious? Sure, Jesus is my example in all things, yet how can I even hope to imitate the super-human humility of Jesus? I can’t even imagine imitating Mary, much less the very Son of God she bore.
Let’s look in detail at Philippians 2
Since the context is the humility of Jesus, here is a post I wrote a few days ago that I hope will illuminate what Jesus’ humility is.
The first few verses of Philippians 2 are St. Paul’s detailed instructions in how a Christian can imitate the humility of Jesus.
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:1-5
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy
St. Paul doesn’t say “if” in the sense of maybe-so-maybe-not. He says “if” in the sense that when you examine your experience as a Christian, you do find these things present. He reminds us that these are, in fact, the things that we receive both from God and from Christian fellowship in Christ. If these things are present (encouragement and comfort and working in partnership with God and the fruit of Christian love), then there is no doubt we are in the Church and thus in Christ.
These become our motive to greater perfections, including the humility he is about to bring up in the passage.
complete my joy
Paul speaks as the spiritual leader of these people. He is an apostle. He teaches with authority. He was the founder of the Church in Philippi and suffered deeply and physically for these people and for Jesus. It is no small thing that the Philippians “complete his joy”. Yet, this urging by Paul goes deeper – it fits in perfectly with the instructions he is about to give, instructions that help to define two things. First, what he urges defines what it means to be “church”. Second, it’s a definition of what it means to be humble.
by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing
I know a priest whose constant theme is to warn against what he calls “rampant individualism” both in society and in the Church. Part of what he means is the attitude that no one can tell me what to think, I don’t need to fit in with anybody unless it suits me to do so – the attitude that somehow it is noble and strong always to chart one’s course independent of the thinking of others.
But that’s not how Christians do things. According to Paul in this passage, unity and cohesion and agreement are highly important aspects of Christianity. “I did it my way” has no place in the Church.
If you think about it, there’s a simple reason Paul has to be right. Our goal as Christians is to imitate Jesus. If we each come to resemble Jesus – if we try to make his motives our own, as well as his behavior – then it has to be that we will be of the “same mind” and the “same love”. How could two people imitate Jesus and not end up similar to each other?
It is the essence of Christian humility to bow before Jesus, wanting nothing more than to obey and imitate him. This is how we play our part in making the Church “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”. To be a good Christian, I must consciously refuse to insist on my way of thinking as the best way. How do I do that? How do I understand what it means to imitate and obey Jesus? I do it by studying and obeying God’s word and the Sacred Tradition, by knowing the Church’s magisterial teaching and honoring it with my assent and my behavior. This doesn’t mean I am a robot – it means I am a brother or sister of Jesus doing my best to bring Christ to the world around me.
Know what they call that? Humility.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.
Here’s the part about humility. The post I put up earlier this week, and cited above, argues that what Paul describes here as always doing and being for others and for God is humility. This is how Jesus lived his life, never varying from this wonderful focus on other people and on God the Father.
Jesus says to us “it is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher” (Matthew 10:25). So do you want to know when you have done and been and thought “enough” for God? It is when you imitate Jesus. And Paul is telling us to imitate Jesus in the way we conduct ourselves in Church. We must always be looking out for the other person, not for ourselves. We must never cause trouble or dissension in the Church, unless somehow there is evil within the Church. And even if we do find evil to oppose within the Church, our motive must continue to be the benefit of other people and the glory of God.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.
The “same attitude” Paul refers to is humility. Paul goes on in the next six verses in the chapter to describe how God the Son lived his humility in ever-increasing degrees – how that humility played its crucial role in our salvation – and how that humility in the end resulted in an unimaginable degree of glory conferred on the god-man Jesus Christ. He was glorified because of his humility.
If we imitate Jesus in the matter of humility, doing the best we can to obey and love (they are the same thing), then we also will inherit from this same Jesus a degree of glory beyond our imagining.
Ironic, isn’t it? God rewards humility with glory. Thanks be to God!
Nothing that has cursed mankind shall exist any longer; the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be within the city. His servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name will be upon their foreheads. Night shall be no more; they have no more need for either lamplight or sunlight, for the Lord God will shed his light upon them and they shall reign as kings for timeless ages. Revelation 22:3-5
Imitate Jesus in humility in all things, but especially within the Church.
Always act with the benefit of others and of God as your motive.
Humble yourself and you will reign for timeless ages. That’s a promise.