This text stands as a highwater mark in the New Testament letters we traditionally attribute to Paul. The apostle likely incorporated a hymn first composed for early Church worship. Like a good hymn, these lines convey profound truth.
With so much to unpack, I tried to be open to the preface (vv. 3-4) and the heart of this passage (v. 8). “Pride” isn’t mentioned, but Paul appeals to its opposite attitude, its spiritual alternative: the humility of Jesus who chose a path that led to his death, even death on a cross (v. 8), that brutal instrument of capital punishment the Roman Empire used to make an example of anyone who defied its authority.
Such a mindset doesn’t come naturally to weak, self-centered human beings. It originates in the Divine Creator, is embodied by the Incarnate Christ who became like the enslaved of humanity, and is instilled in us as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, Christ-like humility can be modeled by the saints who preceded us and live among us. We can pray for it to blossom and flourish within us as well. We can pursue, practice, and perfect it as learners and disciples of Jesus. But the power to choose the path of holy humility is first and foremost a grace-gift of God.
How can I find and follow this path? Start, Paul says, by choosing to put others first. That’s not my natural inclination. But being “full of myself” leaves no room for others and “selfish ambition or conceit” inevitably comes at the expense of others and my true self. Ultimately, pride and self-centeredness betray my motivations as counterfeit to the self-emptying Christ whose name I claim.
What one choice can you make this week to put another person first? What in you needs to be “emptied” for this to be an act of spiritual humility?
God, I’m drawn to “upward mobility,” fueled by pride and selfishness. Give me courage to move toward the“downward mobility” Jesus embraced. Amen.