This word is so difficult for us to properly understand. It has been said that as soon as someone thinks s/he is humble, they are no longer humble.
But as C.S. Lewis once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”
That definition may be cleverly worded, but it is fundamentally true.
In Philippians 2, Paul wrote to the church that he wanted them to “complete my joy” (Phil 2.2). This joy would come by them being united in heart and in mind. Then, Paul says that they should not only think of their own interests, they should also consider the interests of others. Now, what Paul says is as important as what he does not say here.
Paul did not say that the people should abandon their own interests. Instead, he said, in addition to thinking about yourself, you need to remember to consider what others need as well.
And then Paul provides us with a few great verses about how Christ did this. Jesus was God. Jesus is God. But Jesus considered our interests as well, and thus, became nothing, for the interest of others. The Son of God, as Jesus, left His heavenly home and came to dwell among us. But not only that, He gave Himself for us. That truth is astounding.
And Paul said that in that process, Jesus became “nothing” (Phil 2.7). Now, if I was not quoting Paul I would not resort to using the word “nothing” in talking about Jesus. But Paul used the word as he was guided by the Spirit. So, it is ok in this instance.
I think the reason for Paul’s use of the word is that to compare who God is and what God has at His disposal with what Jesus was a man, is about as great a contrast as is possible. Of course, Jesus walked on the earth as God, and claimed unity with the Father, as in John 10.30. But to come to the earth, at least in one sense, the Son chose something far less than He always had been.
Why did He do so? Because of humility!
Jesus never thought of Himself as less than He was. He knew He was God’s Son. He knew He was the Messiah (Chosen/Anointed One). He claimed both without reservation. But Jesus also knew that without Him being who He was (is), and without making Himself available to us in a unique way, we would not have an opportunity to be with Him.
Therefore, Jesus chose humility. Jesus became “nothing” for us because He knew we could not attain anything on our own (see Paul’s testimony regarding his own humility in Philippians 3).
So, Jesus did not think of Himself as anything less than who He was, but He did think of the interest of others, in part, because their best interest was also in His interest (being with, and glorifying, God forever).
I think some truth exists in the thought I shared at the beginning of this post. When we think of ourselves as humble, we may be at the beginning of crossing the line towards pride, or at least away from humility.
However, regardless of the truth of that thought, the quote from CS Lewis holds true. We do not need to degrade ourselves or have some sort of false humility in order to be truly humble. We simply need to place a focus on the true needs of others (even if they do not recognize the effort or the need).
The irony is that unless we forgo our pride, we cannot embrace the humility of Jesus. And until we embrace the humility of Jesus, we have nothing for which to have pride. For, as we humble ourselves, the Bible says that God will exalt us (1 Peter 5.6). I understand why Jesus would be exalted by God (Phil 2. 9), but I cannot fathom why God would exalt me. However, just as Paul’s use of the word “nothing” is beyond my usual scope of thinking, I will defer my limited understanding to the greater truth of God’s Word.
In doing so, I am choosing humility. For as John, the baptizer, said, “He must increase; but I must decrease” (John 3.30).
As I decrease, I have the true privilege of knowing that not only is Jesus being increased, but that, in turn, He is increasing me.
I can’t explain it. But it is truth. And that is enough for me.
Is it enough for you too? Will you choose to be humble for God?