“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5)
One of the most profound Bible passages that I have read is Philippians 2:5-11. In it, the apostle Paul encourages believers in the church of Philippi to have the same mind as Christ in their relationships and in their ministry, which is a mind that is consumed with humility. Jesus, Paul asserts, was God in human form yet humbled himself and remained obedient. If Christ, the only sinless human to walk this flawed earth, can humble himself, we as flawed people should certainly be humble. In principle, what Christian would oppose imitating the character of the most impeccable and influential human to live?
Humility, described by author C.S. Lewis as “not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less,” sounds like a noble and plausible characteristic to portray, but how prevalent is humility in our society? With individualism and self-reliance being core American principles that dominate political rhetoric, self-help literature, and other areas, could it be that humility, like the economic system of Communism, is something that sounds good on paper but is incapable of being practiced?
In the book Road to Character, author David Brooks argues that American culture teaches us to advertise ourselves for the sole purpose of mastering our skills and becoming successful. He asserts that this type of thinking leaves little room for principles of character, humility being one of them. Brooks also argues that in our social media-driven culture, the desire for fame and self-gratification is more prevalent than ever before. He asserts that in the early 20th century, Americans felt as if they had a duty to serve others, being more humble and less concerned with their own success, whereas today, the goal is self-fulfillment. Many people I have talked to who were alive during World War II would argue the same thing as Brooks. There is little doubt that social media and other self-promoting venues have only exacerbated the sickness of self-centeredness and made humility even less socially acceptable. The aversion to humility in practice is nothing new. As the biblical author Solomon argues, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)—self-centeredness and lack of humility precede social media as well as the American experiment.
“The root of self-interest is a lack of humility and concern for others, looking at one’s own interest above all.”
Lack of humility and love of self-interest were foundations of the American empire and are the root of much of the evil and injustices in the world, from the genocide of indigenous peoples to slavery and colonialism. In the book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, historian Ibram X. Kendi argues that many racist policies, for example, have been a result of self-interest, not hate and ignorance. The root of self-interest is a lack of humility and concern for others, looking at one’s own interest above all.
This mindset continues to steer American society, as those viewed as the most successful people are known to exhibit such behavior, which is attributed to their success. Radio sportscaster Colin Cowherd once said that it’s hard not to be selfish to be great at something, citing influential people from Steve Jobs to Kobe Bryant. We as a society celebrate such people, and so often overlook their personal qualities and character and instead focus solely on their successes and innovations and cite them as models for living a complete life. Consequently, humility is not praised or recognized as a celebrated character, even within some churches where status and recognition, rather than character, is often a pathway to leadership.
Emulating the humility of Christ certainly isn’t easy in a world where selfishness has remained the most practiced principle and humility has sustained itself as a taboo and counter-cultural concept. However, it is certainly not impossible. Below are three ways to imitate Christ’s humility.
Stop being “fake” humble
So much of our “humility” stems from selfish ambition and vain conceit (Philippians 2:3-4). We are more concerned with putting on a humble image than taking on a humble lifestyle. We invest more time creating humble mannerisms and less on developing humble characteristics. It is easy to put on a somewhat humble act, merely because humility, like giving or community service, looks good on a resume, but does not fully drive many of our missions. To truly reflect the humility of Christ, authenticity has to intersect humility.
Rethink your motivations for doing things
Selfishness is not confined to the wealthiest members in our society. Those who seek fame through social service professions and ministry are guilty of the same selfish ambition that plagues the visibly elite. In our social media-driven culture, it is easy to use our social justice advocacy and charity work for our own self-interest and as a result, our compassion to serve dwindles. We must rethink why we do the things we do and if there is any selfish ambition, even in our good works, we must humble ourselves and re-center our mission around Christ.
Don’t let your status make you arrogant
So often, I hear people defend the ardent arrogance of successful individuals by suggesting that they have the right to be prideful. Even in some churches, I have witnessed a type of submission to church authority that leaves out Christ and creates an air of arrogance among the leadership. Position never made Christ ego-driven or prideful. Despite being God in human flesh, he humbled himself to death. If Christ, the only flawless person to walk this earth could humble himself, no position we have credits us the right to be prideful. No worldly position ranks above the God of the heavens, so we must assume humility in our “authority” and hold people in power accountable to the same principle.
As Christians, humility must be more than a noble principle to admire. Rather, it should be a Christ-like discipline that we embody in every aspect of our lives. Pride and selfishness are part of the sins of humanity, and are easy to uphold because they create a sense of satisfaction. Yet, as we seek to follow Christ more, we must ask God to expose our predatory pride and severe selfishness so that we can let go of our self-preservation and fully submit ourselves to God. We will truly be others-oriented in our life, regardless of our status or position.
Jonathan Holmes is a Christian who has advocated for racial justice in Chicago for over two years. He has written about the intersection of race, class and Christian faith for multiple magazines and is an avid reader of both fiction and nonfiction. Follow Jonathan on LinkedIn.
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