God’s leadership principles are the complete opposite of man’s. Consider just one. If a man wants to go up then he goes up. If he wants to climb the corporate ladder then he climbs (often stepping on a good number of others in the process). If a man wants to sit in the most important chair at the banquet then he sits there. It’s as simple as that. But in God’s economy of glory the way up is not up; it is down. It is the one who sits in the most obscure chair in the room who may be asked to sit in the chief place (Lk 14:7-10). It is the one who becomes the servant of all who will one-day be the most important in the kingdom (Mk 10:43). It is not the one who practices role reversal that will be lifted up, but rather the one who submits to God’s orderly structures of authority (1 Pet 2:18-20). In God’s system the way up is down.
No greater illustration of this principle exists than Jesus—who lowered himself to the position of household servant when He washed the filthy, stinking feet of His imperfect and sinful followers (John 13). We briefly considered His servant leadership yesterday. Today, let’s go a little deeper. Let’s think about the humility that existed in the mind of Christ before He washed their feet (in fact, before He even came to earth), and the humility He displayed after He washed their feet—the ultimate display of His humility by His death.
To begin, take a few minutes to read Philippians 2:1-11. The verse references in parentheses below refer back to this passage. Meditate with me on seven marks of humility as modeled by Jesus. Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to convict your heart so as to reveal pride that needs to be confessed and others-exalting thoughts and actions that need to be applied.
- Humility begins in the mind. The reason the apostle exhorts believers to “be of the same mind” (v. 2) toward one another is because humility—the unifying glue in every Christian relationship—begins in the mind. Before Jesus humbled Himself to be conceived in the virgin’s womb, and born in a dirty feed trough, He consciously thought of Himself, and thus treated Himself, as lower than the ones He came to save.
- Humility is a conscious choice of the will. The effect of regarding “one another as more important” than oneself (v. 3) is caused by the will’s resolve to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.” In obedience to the Father’s will (Jn 4:34), Jesus made the decision to resist any road—whether small or great—that intentionally moved Him toward self-glory.
- Humility is an attitude of the heart. A conscious choice of the will can sometimes be cold and hard (with us, not with Jesus). But such was not the case with Jesus’s self-lowering. When He chose to lift us and our need of redemption above His own personal right to be worshiped every moment of every day, and with every breath that human beings have ever breathed, the decision flowed from the heart attitude of love. Truly, as Jesus loved the twelve…with an everlasting love, “He loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1) so He has loved us. Hence the apostle’s call to have “this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (v. 5).
- Humility lowers oneself, while at the same time entrusts the possibility of any future exaltation to God. Humility is content with the absence of earthly recognition because of the infinite superiority of the heavenly. Jesus refused to treat His own right to personal glory as “a thing to be grasped [held tightly so as to never let go]” and, therefore, lowered Himself. He “emptied Himself” only in the sense that He took on something foreign to Him—the weakness of human flesh, which temporarily hid the fullness of His glory. He lowered Himself to “the form of a bond-servant” by being made in the likeness of men (v. 7).
- Humility’s earthly end is death. True humility expects no glory in this short life. Rather it accepts death as its rightful end (at least death to self, but perhaps even physical death, as in the case of the Savior). Jesus humbled Himself “to the point of death” (v. 8). The Author of life subjected Himself to death—the just punishment reserved for sinners who defied the Creator’s first command (Gen 2:17).
- Humility accepts the likelihood of earthly shame. The death Jesus died was not a private, clinically-sterile death. It was in the public square, as filthy and vile as death could possibly be when dark sin is its cause. That’s why the apostle chose the phrase “even death on a cross” (v. 8). Crucifixion was the most humiliating form of torture known and practiced by the Romans. Jesus knew this ahead of time…before He chose to submit His will to the Father’s good pleasure to crush Him (Isa 53:10).
- Humility’s heavenly end is exaltation. “Therefore” says it all (v. 9). The eventual result of the voluntary humiliation of Jesus is His exaltation to the Father’s right hand and the receipt of “the name which is above every name.” One day this then humble Savior will be recognized as the all-glorious Lord, which was always His true station. Then, and only then, will every creature be required to lower himself before the Lamb’s throne and accurately behold His rightful exaltation by the Father (v. 10). When this occurs every tongue will be loosed to glorify Him by declaring “He Is Lord.”
In the meantime, our verbal declarations of His glorious Lordship will only be authentic to the degree that our lives are marked by His humility.