The Dignity of a Humble Life

A Study of Philippians 2:1-11

My message today is about the dignity of a humble life.

Steven K. Scott is an entrepreneur who has built his entire business career on the principles of the book of Proverbs, and one of those principles involves humility. In his book about this, Scott tells of a time when his pastor, Dr. Jim Borror, visited a church in the Pacific Northwest. While preaching there, a woman asked Dr. Borror to visit her husband, who had built an enormously successful company. It was a multimillion dollar enterprise with over 3,000 employees. But this man who owned it was surly and unhappy and cantankerous. No one liked being around him, not even his family.

Dr. Borror went to see the man and listened to him as he talked about his accomplishments and his success and how he had built the entire corporation by himself. He said his parents had never given him a dime. He said he had worked his way through college. He said he had singlehandedly built his company from scratch.

Dr. Borror said, “So you did everything by yourself?”


“No one gave you anything?”

“Nothing!” said the man.

Then Dr. Borror asked “Who changed your diapers? Who fed you as a baby? Who taught you to read and write? Who gave you jobs that enabled you to work your way through college? Who serves food in your company’s cafeteria? Who cleans the bathrooms in your office?”

For some reason, those questions punched a hole in the businessman’s pride, and he hung his head and he began crying. “Now that I think about it,” he said, “I haven’t accomplished anything by myself. Without the kindness and efforts of others, I probably wouldn’t have anything.”

Dr. Borror nodded and said, “Don’t you think they deserve a little thanks.”

That conversation changed that man’s life. In the months that followed, he wrote thank you notes to everyone he could think of who had made a contribution to his life. He wrote individual thank you notes to all 3,000 of his employees. He began to treat everyone around him with a newfound respect and appreciation. And when Dr. Borror visited him a year or two later, he hardly recognized him. His anger and contentiousness had been replaced by peace and happiness. He even looked several years younger.[1]

There is a dignity to humility. And that’s one of the great themes of the book of Philippians. The apostle Paul was very warmhearted toward the church in the city of Philippi, and he wrote an extremely upbeat and encouraging letter to them. But he knew there was some internal conflict in the church. There had been some disagreements and arguments and hurt feelings. You can see how Paul addressed this all the way the way through the book. In chapter one, he prayed that their love would grow deeper for each other. In chapter four, he told them plainly to straighten out their attitudes. But the greatest teaching along this line is in chapter 2, and that’s the passage we are going to study today. It teaches us about the Humble Life.

Our Advantages (verse 1)

Turn with me to Philippians 2. The apostle Paul began by telling them, in essence, “In your ability to form meaningful relationships, you have some built-in advantages from being a follower of Christ.”

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion

And without doing any damage to the passage, we can change the word “IF” to “SINCE”. Let’s read it that way:

Therefore since you have encouragement from being united with Christ; since you have comfort from His love, since you have common sharing in the Spirit, since you have any tenderness and compassion

The apostle Paul is telling us here that when Jesus comes into our heart and makes us part of His family, it gives us some advantages that no one has in our social lives. Some of you may be having a challenge right now in your social life. It could be with your husband or wife, or with your boyfriend or girlfriend, or perhaps with an acquaintance at work or school. Getting along with someone else is problematic. But as Christians we have four advantages that no one else has.

First, there is encouragement: Since we have encouragement from being united with Christ….

You can approach everything with encouragement because of Christ. But in the context here, Paul is speaking about the environment of the church.

When we gather here we are all united with Christ, and that should give us encouragement that spreads throughout the areas of life. When I was in college, I began attending the First Baptist Church of Columbia, South Carolina. It was a big downtown church, and it was very formal. It was packed, and we had to arrive early to get a good seat. At the start of the service, the procession would begin with the young people chiming the hour in handbells, and the choir would enter, and the pulpit party would come, and the organ would burst out with the opening anthem. For a few weeks I didn’t really like all the formality of it all. But within about a month, I found myself counting down the days until Sunday came. My buddies and I would crowd into my little car and drive downtown and find a parking place and enter the historic building with expectation. When the sermon came Dr. Young would stand in the pulpit like a biblical orator and preach the Word of God. And at the end of the service he would pronounce the benediction and the organ would usher us out. As soon as I left, I was looking forward to the next Sunday, and there was something about the spirit of those services that encouraged me all week. Whenever we go to church with expectancy and a desire to worship, there is great encouragement.

Second, we find comfort from God’s love among us. The verse says: Therefore since you have encouragement from being united with Christ and since you have comfort from His love….

In the body of Christ, there is not only encouragement; there is comfort. As we’ve already learned from this series of sermons, the apostle Paul had been imprisoned and it was big news. It sent shockwaves through the church throughout the Empire, and when the Christians in Philippi heard about it, they were grieved. Paul was very dear to them, and so they sent him some money and supplies and good wishes. And a member of the church, Epaphroditus, traveled from Philippi to Rome with all these things for Paul. And he also said, “I have come to stay here with you and to take care of any needs to you. They church has sent me.” Imagine the comfort that brought to Paul.

When you’ve gone through the mill, nothing can comfort you like your brothers and sisters in Christ. No one else can pray for you or meet your needs like your brothers and sisters in Christ. There is comfort from His love as we’re gathered together.

Third, we find a common sharing in the Spirit. Verse 1 says: Since you have encouragement from being united with Christ, since you have comfort from His love, since you have a common sharing in the Spirit…

What does that mean? The phrase “common sharing” means “fellowship.” A few weeks ago I was flying back into Nashville and it was during the height of the discussions about racism, and that was on my mind. I landed and called for an Uber, and presently a young black man picked me up. I asked him where he was from and he said, “Ghana.”

“Oh,” I said, “I was in Ghana recently. It’s a beautiful country and some of the friendliest people on earth.”

Well, he literally just squealed and laughed with delight, and he asked what I had doing there. I told him I was speaking to Christian workers, and I asked him if he was a Christian.

He just squealed and laughed again, and he told me about his Pentecostal faith, and I told him the group I was with had rented the Pentecostal assembly. We talked about the Lord Jesus, and I almost wished I lived further away so we could have talked longer. We had such good fellowship, a common sharing in the Spirit. And when he drove off, I thought to myself, “The answer to our problems in this nation is Jesus Christ. There is no other deeply-grounded solution.”

But Paul isn’t finished. There’s a fourth thing we find in the family of God—the tenderness and compassion that we share as members of the body of Christ. Look at verse 1 again: Since we have encouragement from being united with Christ, since we have comfort from His love, since we have fellowship in the Spirit, since we have tenderness and compassion….

Do you realize that tenderness and compassion is a Christ-centered trait?

Matthew Parris is an atheist and a prolific writer. He grew up in Africa, and many years later he returned to help rural African communities install water pumps, giving them access to clean water. What he found was a blow to his atheism. Everywhere he went, it was Christians who were touching the heart of Africa with tenderness and compassion. Parris admitted that what he saw didn’t fit his atheistic perspective. He found that the evangelism and humanitarianism of Christians was very different from that done by secular organizations or government initiatives. He came back and wrote a stunning article in The Times of London, saying, that Africa needs Christian evangelism to bring about spiritual transformation. Without this there can be no real change. Parris said: “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God…. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone, and the machete.”[2]

So what do we find when we become part of the family of God? We don’t find perfection, but…

  • We find encouragement from being united with Christ.
  • We find comfort from His love.
  • We find common sharing in the Holy Spirit.
  • We find tenderness and compassion.

That is verse 1.

Our Obligation (Verse 2a)

Now, let’s follow Paul’s unfolding logic. Since we have these four qualities as Christians—since Jesus Christ brings these things with us when He moves into our lives, then what should be do? How should we live?

He goes on in verse 2 to say, “…then make my joy complete.”

This is rather amazing. Philippians is the book of joy, and yet here Paul tells them something is missing in his joy. His joy is deficient in some way. It is incomplete. He needs for the Philippians to do something to inflate his joy.

…then make my joy complete.       

This phrase has just gripped my heart. I wish I had discovered it earlier, before my wife passed away, because it would have helped me be a better husband. The husband’s job is to make his wife’s joy complete. The wife’s joy is to her husband’s joy complete. Children should bring joy to their parents, and friends to their friends.

How would your marriage or your relationships be different if God impressed this on you—that your obligation is to make someone’s joy complete.

The Philippians were divided, and division subtracts from our joy. Let me say that again: Division subtracts from our joy. If you’re divided in your family, if there are divisions in your marriage or in your home or in your church, it weighs down your joy

Paul said, “Yes, I am joyful, but I should have a little bit more joy than I do. If you’ll iron out the divisions among you then I’ll have more joy here in my prison cell in Rome.”

Our Method (verses 2a-4)

He bores into this and becomes more specific.

then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking at your own interests but each of you to the interest of others.

Notice there are three items on this list: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit; value others above yourselves; and don’t focus on your own interests but on the interests of others.

  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit
  • Value others above yourselves
  • Don’t focus on you own interest but on the interests of others

One day some years ago, the motivational speaker and writer, Dr. Sheila Murray Bethel, found herself seated beside Katherine Graham at a luncheon in Washington, D.C. At that time, Katherine Graham was one of the most powerful women in Washington, the publisher of the Washington Post, which she had kept running after the suicide of her husband. Katherine Graham knew everyone—the most powerful men and women on earth. Dr. Bethel asked her, “Mrs. Graham, you have hosted all the greatest leaders from around the world. What is the single most important trait of all great leaders.”

Without hesitation, Mrs. Graham said, “The absence of arrogance.”

Years passed, and one day when Katherine Graham as 84 years old, she tripped on a sidewalk and suffered a traumatic head injury and died. At her funeral, Senator John Danforth, spoke of her own absence of arrogance. She was very strong and powerful and influential. But there was a remarkable absence of arrogance to her, and he quoted this passage from Philippians 2 to describe her and he said that Katherine Graham lived out this text of Scripture.[3]

There’s a book called The Power of a Humble Life by an executive coach named Richard E. Simmons III. In it he asks some very personal questions that I’ve wrestled with:

  • Why do we feel so compelled to impress other people? And why are we always comparing ourselves with others?[4]
  • Despite our achievements, why don’t we feel we are successful unless other people are aware of them?[5] 

Then he said:

  • The ultimate solution is humility. The humble are continually at peace with who they are in the eyes of others. They are content with their position in life and what they possess. The humble are the only ones who are delivered from this great drive to prove to the world that “I am important.”[6]

But how do we do that? How do we become humble people when by nature we are filled with pride and insecurity?

Our Mindset (Verses 5-11)

Well that brings us to one of the greatest set of words ever written—the apostle Paul’s great poem about the nature of the person of Jesus Christ. Look at verse 5:

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

We can never exhibit the true dignity of humble life if we don’t understand the person of Christ Jesus.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

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

Samuel Wesley wrote:

He left His Father’s throne above—

So free, so infinite His grace—

Emptied Himself of all but love,

And bled for Adam’s helpless race;

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,

For, lo, my God, it found out me!

Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the very embodiment of humility, and the only way to be truly humble is to embody Him. He was co-equal in essence and in nature with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. And yet He will willing to temporarily lay aside some of the privileges of His position, and to enter into humanity because He was putting our interests before His own.

I’ve recently rediscovered a wonderful prayer that seems to sum all this up. I’ve known this song for many years, but as I prepared this message I rediscovered it. t was composed by a British Anglican woman, and it’s so simple yet so intimate:

May the mind of Christ my Savior

Live in me from day to day,

By His love and power controlling

All I do and say.

May the Word of God dwell richly

In my heart from hour to hour,

So that all may see I triumph

Only through His power.

May the peace of God my Father

Rule my life in everything,

That I may be calm to comfort

Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me

As the waters fill the sea;

His exalting, self-abasing,

This is victory.

May His beauty rest upon me

As I seek the lost to win,

And may they forget the channel,

Seeing only Him.

That is the mind of Christ.

Wherefore God has highly exalted Him and has given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in earth and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

[1] Steven K. Scott, The Richest Man Who Ever Lived (New York: Currency, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, 2006), 185-186.

[2] Also Richard E. Simmons III, Reflections on the Existence of God (Birmingham, AL: Union Hill Publishing, 2019), 44.

[3] Pat Williams, Humility: The Secret Ingredient of Success (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing House, 2016), 13-17.

[4] Richard E. Simmons III, The Power of a Humble Life (Birmingham, AL: Union Hill Publishing, 2017) Kindle Location 104.

[5] Adapted from Richard E. Simmons III, The Power of a Humble Life (Birmingham, AL: Union Hill Publishing, 2017) Kindle Location 133.

[6] Richard E. Simmons III, The Power of a Humble Life (Birmingham, AL: Union Hill Publishing, 2017) Kindle Location 192.