How to Live in True Humility

“My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). Those are the two verses we ended on last time. Knowing Christ, both in death and resurrection, is the road to glory.

Context is critical when we are studying Scripture. If we don’t read what the verse means in context of the passage that surrounds it, we can make a verse say anything we want. That’s not rightfully handling the Word, and we don’t want to do that. We aren’t after our own agendas in studying the Word; we are after faithfulness, seeing God, knowing Him as He has revealed Himself.

In Bible study last week, I confessed that at the beginning of the summer I would have said that I was familiar with Philippians, but now that we’ve spent seven weeks reading and rereading the entire book and digging into individual portions and connecting the topics of Paul, I don’t think I knew anything about this book. After going through three chapters, I keep picking up a theme of true humility.

I think we frequently define humility wrongly. We see humility as constantly putting ourselves down, shrinking back, disqualifying ourselves. Instead of forgetting ourselves and obeying God and walking in resurrection power, we are continually looking at ourselves and our flaws and using them as an excuse to not follow God. Instead we wallow in the lies of the enemy. Our eyes are on ourselves.

True humility is eyes on Jesus. We aren’t looking at ourselves, either in self-deprecation or self-praise. There is no time to excuse ourselves from the work in front of us because God Himself is dwelling in us. He is calling us to a life we cannot do on our own and our responsibility is to own that and walk with Him.

The Power of Being Held

Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly calling Christ Jesus.”

He’s not reached the goal of knowing Christ. One day we are going to see Christ. Instead of seeing a reflection, we will see face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12.) But here, while we’re waiting, while we know we haven’t reached the goal, while we know that we don’t know fully, we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). We are taken hold of. The ESV says in Philippians 3:12, “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

That’s the impetus for pursing the goal of knowing Christ. That’s what sets us on this journey. God has already reached out. He has invited us in, adopted us, changed our position. We are in Christ, held by His power and authority, and it is an unmovable identity. That knowledge moves us to know this God who is so good. That is what draws us to live like our Savior. This is the life of the believer. We aren’t keeping a list hoping to pacify God with our futile attempts at righteousness. We aren’t throwing off sin to avoid the lightning bolts of a God who is angry at us. Jesus absorbed all the wrath of God on the cross. We are covered in Him. We are clothed in His righteousness.

It is against who we are now to live any other way. Paul says in Galatians 4:8-9, “But in the past, since you didn’t know God, you were enslaved to things that by nature are not gods. But now, since you know God, or rather have become known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elements? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again?”

We know that we are on a path of learning God. We are knowing Him as we progress throughout life. We are making every effort. But in all the things that we do not know and do not understand and will not understand until we see Him, we are known by Him. And that is enough. That is the motivation to learning Him and pursuing the goal of this heavenly call.

False humility makes us feel unwilling to say out loud that we are known by God, that He has made us His own. We don’t live from a conviction of that being true. False humility keeps us striving in order to earn our place when Jesus has already done that work for us. True humility recognizes that Christ did the work and we throw our whole selves into knowing Him in return. We live from our identity as one loved by God.

The Value of Being a Model

Paul writes down his aim: to pursue the prize promised by God’s call. And then he says “Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. Join in imitating me, brothers and sisters, and pay careful attention to those who live according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:15-17).

Mature believers have left some things behind. Instead of fighting and chasing earthly things, we are pursuing knowing God. We have left behind trying to prove ourselves and striving for our worth. We have surrendered our unworthiness and accepted Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. If we aren’t there yet, if we have a different outlook, God is at work revealing this to us. He is shaping and transforming our lives right here in the daily, everyday routine. That is the precise place we learn to know Him.

But wherever we are, there is only forward movement. We’re not giving up ground. As much as we’ve learned, we are living it. We aren’t filing away information that does us no good. We aren’t asking God to show us more of Him when we aren’t obeying what He’s revealed already. We are walking in step with the gospel and the Spirit as Paul says in Galatians.

Paul has already shown us in this tiny book how his counting all the things that give him credibility as loss is based off of Jesus not taking advantage of being God. He has reminded the Philippians that they are supposed to be doing the very same thing that Jesus did and that he is doing. Here he says it again: imitate my life. This is a common theme in Paul’s books; he’s going to say it again in chapter four, verse nine. It’s not that he’s lifting up himself; he also tells them to pay careful attention to others who are living this way. He says “the example you have in US” (emphasis mine) because the coworkers of Paul are also living this life.

We forget how we are supposed to live. Life is busy and weighty; our eyes are drawn to what we see playing out in front of us and we forget. Paul tells us to look around. See and make note of people who are pursuing this same goal of knowing Christ; observe the ones who have joined in Christ’s death and are living by resurrection power. Mark them. Follow them. Go together.

False humility prevents us from confidently saying that we are following God and others can walk with us. Maybe knowing that’s the kind of life we should live for the sake of the believers around us would call us to a higher standard. Maybe that’s really why we don’t want to do that. Maybe knowing Christ isn’t our goal and we know that as well. True humility is saying, “this is the way, walk with me.” Remember Paul has already acknowledged that he hasn’t achieved perfection either. This isn’t about being perfect or never sinning; this about our focus and our aim. If other people look at our lives, do they see a pursuit of God?

The Contrast of Hope and Destruction

Paul has called the Philippians to mark good examples because there are bad examples around too. He’s warned them about this before. “For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself” (Philippians 3:18-21).

There’s a marked contrast. Paul has discussed his goal of knowing Christ and he’s pointed out that there are others with this same goal. Now he reminds them of a different group of people who are enemies of the cross of Christ. They aren’t being conformed to his death (3:10) but stand in opposition to that way of life.

Instead of us gathering around to condemn a group of others in this section, let’s evaluate which group we actually live like. Are we focused on earthly things or are we living as citizens of the kingdom? Is our god our stomach-are we ruled by sensual passions and things that make us feel good-or are we eagerly waiting our Savior? Do we accept the rule of Christ or do we pretend to be our own god? Are we glorying now in things that diminish ourselves and others as the image of God or do we glory knowing that one day our condition will be transformed to be like Jesus’?

We have a choice and it seems summed up well by the middle phrase in these verses: “They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  We must ask which one actually describes our lives.

Notice that Paul’s response to the people who lived focused on earthly things was tears. He was grieved and broken over what their lives were doing both to themselves and to others. He wasn’t self-righteous. He didn’t think, “Well, they are getting what they deserve.” He was in tears. When was the last time we were in tears over people whose goal was not knowing Christ? I know we think that we have goals that aren’t knowing Christ but they are good and not worthy of grieving over. But is that true? Isn’t any life not set on knowing Christ really a waste and worthy of tears?

False humility leaves us saying, “I’m just a sinner. Don’t look at me for an example.” We go around excusing ourselves from the real work; we never answer the call to know Jesus and live His life. We never live as a citizen of another kingdom because we can’t move past our own unworthiness. True humility is weeping over the ones who don’t see the beauty of Christ because they are blinded by other things. Humility is acknowledging our place as a citizen of heaven and eagerly anticipating the glory that is ahead.

We get to make choices about how we live. We can choose the fullest life of knowing Christ, both in death and resurrection. Or we can march on toward destruction.