Humility brings happiness

Humility brings happiness is one of the insights I got out of our passage (Philippians 2:5-9) this past Sunday. The Apostle Matthew reports that toward the end of Jesus’ ministry an ugly, competitive spirit developed among the apostles when James and John and their mother attempted to get Jesus to promise them privileged thrones in the kingdom.
Matt 20:24
“When the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers”.
Harsh words and angry gestures were exchanged among the Twelve. To be sure tempers flared! So Jesus called them together and said:
Matt 20:25-28
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
It would seem that none could miss the point. If only it were true. Sad to say, several days later, when the apostles arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, they were still going at it.
Peter and John had secured a room for Passover as Jesus had directed, but they had neglected to make arrangements for foot-washing. And as the apostles wandered in, no one would condescend to perform the humble task. Jesus’ teaching (only a few days earlier), as direct as it was, had apparently had no effect.
No one would volunteer for the lowly task. How very human they were. How like us. As John’s Gospel relates the account of what happened behind closed doors, the disciples were reclining at the table with their shamefully dirty feet stretching out behind them.
The meal was in process. Then they became aware that Jesus had risen from supper and was standing apart from them.
As they watched he removed his outer garment. Next he took a towel and wrapped it around his body. And then he poured water into a basin and began slowly to move around the circle, washing each disciple’s outstretched feet, wiping them with the towel with which he was wrapped.
It was a breathtaking deed. The Midrash taught that no Hebrew, even a slave, could be commanded to wash feet. Yet Jesus did it in the most humble way possible, clothed in a servant’s towel.
The incarnate Son, God himself, had dressed like a servant and washed the feet of his prideful, arrogant disciples. Then he said,
John 13:14-16
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him”.
Given our natural bent to be self-centered, it has always been difficult to live out Christ’s directive as Paul advises the Philippians in our present text,
Phil 2:3,4
“[do] nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” .
Humility is hard for us. Paul turns to the ultimate example
of Christ and his self-humiliation in 2:5–11, the theological,
Christological centerpiece and jewel of the book. Many consider it
the most exalted prose in the New Testament.
One scholar has likened it to
“the soaring, unanswerable language of a Bach cantata which is best understood by being heard out to the end—and then heard again.”
Paul begins,
Phil 2:5
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”
Taking on the mind of Christ is the exhortation and challenge. There are so many things in our culture and lives that we can fill our minds with rather than Christ. Paul asks us to give the priority to having the mind of Christ. Humility that leads to happiness will always start with the understanding that Christ had more humility than any other human who ever walked the face of this earth. If we are to be his disciples, and to find humility that leads to happiness, then we must take on the mind of Christ.

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