Christianity 201

November 30, 2021

Humility as Demonstrated by Jesus

As I’ve stated previously, several years ago I set out to memorize the “kenosis” passage of Philippians 2, also sometimes referred to as “The Philippian Hymn.” I’ve also written several of my own paraphrases of it. It’s a passage that I highly value, just as I highly value humility and people who demonstrate humility. But first, some words from John’s gospel.

 

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

In most of our Bibles the passage above has a subheading such as “Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.” This is true as far as it goes, but I think “Jesus demonstrates humility” would make a better focus. We often use this passage to talk about “servant leadership” and many have suggested that in addition to the cross, the towel and the basin should be the symbol that represents Christianity.

However, I feel that it’s so easy to miss the full impact of verse 3:

  • Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (NIV)
  • Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (NET)
  • The Father had put everything in Jesus’ control. Jesus knew that. He also knew that he had come from God and was going back to God. (God’s Word)

What a contrast between that set-up and the action that follows. It’s like a symphony that is building in a giant crescendo, and just as it reaches the penultimate note of the scale and you wait for that grand chord that resolves everything, the orchestra suddenly is silent, and you’re left with just the sound of a single violin or piccolo:

  • he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet

I say all that as a setup for some verses I’ve covered here many times:

Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The progression is rather simple in verses 7 and 8

  • took the nature of a servant
  • entered into the human condition
  • was obedient even to experiencing human death
  • and a death of the worst kind at that

If you look at the study we did on this in May, 2017, you’ll notice I switched the order of the first two clauses in these verses. Surely, God enters humanity first — that’s the point of incarnation, the season we are about to celebrate — and then does so as someone whose birth lineage is controversial, whose occupation is that of a carpenter’s son, and whose short career as a rabbi is marked by things like foot washing. Right?

But then I started thinking about it, and recognized that the humility of Christ begins prior to the incarnation. Before the moment when “he left the splendor of Glory,” he has already taken on the role of a servant inasmuch as the incarnate Christ is submitted to the Father.

Although doctrinally the Father and Son are co-equal, and equally divine, in the incarnation we see passages such as:

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

and

Matthew 24:36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

not to mention the passage where Jesus prays at Gethsemane Garden for the Father to introduce a Plan B that won’t involve the torment of crucifixion.

In other words, the humility of Jesus extends even so far as humbling himself before the Father, the One with whom he co-created the universe.

That’s submission. That’s humility.

In a devotional from June, 2019, writer Keith Giles notes that it won’t be long (in the book of Acts) until the disciples decide to off-load some of their more menial responsibilities to a second tier of leaders. He writes,

Instead of remembering this essential lesson from Jesus, the Apostles in Acts are seen coming to the conclusion that they are too important to wait tables and feed widows and orphans. Instead, they decide to elect some lowly people to do this menial task so that they can devote themselves to the Gospel – forgetting that, to Jesus, this serving of the widows and orphans; waiting tables; WAS the Gospel in vivid, vibrant 3-D…

But then Keith goes on to point out that the martyrdom of Stephen would have had a humbling effect on the disciples.

…I can’t help but feel that it’s the Holy Spirit’s attempt to remind those Apostles what their mission is really all about. See, up to that point, we read that Peter had become a local celebrity and that his fame had spread through the land; that even those who were pagans would lay their sick out on the street whenever the Apostles walked by in hopes that their shadows might heal them.

But then came Stephen. Not an Apostle. Not one who walked with Jesus for three years. Not one whose feet had been washed in that room by Jesus. Not one who was too proud and important to wash feet. But one who was humble, willing to serve, and even willing to die – with joy – for the Lord Jesus he loved so much.

…As I was preparing this, I was also listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley on pride, which is of course humility’s opposite. Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way and basically says that you either are humble or you get humbled.

Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

In my personal life and ministry I do encounter people who are arrogant, and I also find myself having to guard against arrogance and pride. God help me and all of us to develop a spirit of humility without having to be humbled. God help us to learn from Christ’s humility that is not only symbolized by a towel and basin, but by submission to God the Father’s will.

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