Philippians 2:5-8, “In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: ‘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 human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
When I was a teenager I was invited to a party and asked to bring a snack to share. My mom had just made some cocktail wieners in a delicious (tasted like barbeque) sauce, so I asked if she would make that for me to take to the party. She was glad to comply. I went off to do some homework. When I returned to the kitchen mom had the wieners and crockpot out along with a jar of grape jelly and a bottle of mustard. I asked what the condiments were for. She said, “They’re for the sauce.” I was stunned! I could not have imagined that the combination of grape jelly and mustard could produce the delicious sauce I was so excited about.
Do you have a favorite recipe? Is there a key ingredient in it, that most people wouldn’t guess? You may enjoy blowing their minds by telling them….or probably you just prefer to keep it as your secret! As we focus on how to develop healthy and satisfying relationships, we begin with a key ingredient…. the secret ingredient that most of us probably wouldn’t guess. If you want to build relationships that will fill your life with joy and meaning, the trait to start with is humility. Nothing will transform your relationships like a massive dose of the spiritual trait – humility.
So, let’s start by examining the greatest expression of humility ever lived out. Paul described it for us in his letter to the Philippian church. It was expressed, of course, by Jesus. Jesus is God the Son (John 1:1-3; 3:16; 8:58; 10:30; 14:9), co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. As the earth was immersed in rebellion and humanity languished in sin, Jesus was worshiped and adored by the angels in heaven! He was served and honored in comfort and glory and joy as he fully deserved to be. Then, in keeping with God’s perfect plan Jesus left all of that behind. He left the beauty and wonder and glory and joy and comfort and worship of heaven to enter this dusty ball of rebellion as a human being. (John 1:14) Paul wrote, “he made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (vs.7) If you or I left the comfort and prosperity of our American surroundings and went to an under-resourced, developing nation to live in poverty and squalor--it wouldn’t even be close to the change in circumstances chosen by the all-glorious Son of God in coming to earth. And, as if coming to a situation like that were not enough, Paul added, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.” (vs.8) No being has ever sacrificed more in humility and love than Jesus did to save us from God’s wrath. His sacrificial death on the cross which made the way for us to be reconciled to God is literally the epitome of humility!
It is quite intimidating, but Paul challenged the followers of Jesus to imitate his humility. “In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind that Christ Jesus had.” (vs.5) Do you wrestle with attitude issues? When I used to lead sessions of Christian camp years ago and the campers started to develop surly attitudes someone would yell out, ‘Attitude check!’ And all the campers responded, ‘Praise the Lord!’ Sometimes more enthusiastically than others! Do you find yourself needing an attitude check on occasion? I know I do. A good (positive) attitude is so important in life. Typically, the highest achievers and happiest people in this life have the best attitudes!
And, so, it stands to reason that a good attitude is a key to developing healthy and satisfying relationships. I recently read a book about the life and career of Johnny Carson. I always admired Johnny Carson as an entertainment personality. The Tonight Show was one of my favorite shows to watch. But, reading this book, written by his long-time friend and attorney Henry Bushkin, I discovered that Johnny Carson was not a nice person! He treated people terribly. He was a surly and demanding man. Not surprisingly he was divorced 4 times and had poor relationships with his children. He was professionally successful, but relationally he was a disaster! At the heart of his relational struggles was a prideful, negative attitude.
Of course, Jesus exemplified, and Paul challenged Jesus-followers, not just to have a ‘good/positive’ attitude in our relationships….but to start with the best attitude of all….an attitude of humility. So, let’s think about what an attitude of humility looks like in our daily interactions with others and how it puts our relationships over the top in terms of health and satisfaction.
In leading up to his description of the humility of Jesus, Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3, 4) So, humility involves placing greater value on the feelings/interests of the people around you instead of primarily focusing on yourself. I like to say, “Others first, God foremost.” That is, the most important being for us to please, honor, and value is God. First, we please him in all we do (Matthew 6:33), then we please, honor, and value others ahead of ourselves.
That is not the way life begins, right?! As babies and young children, we are, first and foremost, focused on self! We don’t really care about the inconvenience we cause for our parents or about sharing with our brothers and sisters or friends, we want/need what we want/need when we need it! And we cry and wail if we don’t get it! But with the instruction and training and love of our parents, we learn to recognize and value the needs and interests of others. We learn not to live self-centered lives but lives that value and help other people. That takes a while. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight!
Jesus, through saving us from God’s wrath and forgiving our sins, and through the guidance and training of the Holy Spirit Jesus imparts to us, wants to take our humility and concern for others to another level. Through friendship, marriage, parenting, service in the church, and witnessing Jesus teaches and trains us to put ‘others first and God foremost.’ We learn to experience more joy and satisfaction in valuing and pleasing our friends, spouse, children, brothers and sisters in Christ….and even, those who are lost and far away from God, than we do in seeking our own pleasure, honor and satisfaction. In Romans 12 Paul wrote, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. (vs.10) Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (vs.15) Do not be proud, but, be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not think you are superior. (vs.16) If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (vs.18) If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. (vs.20/Proverbs 25:21) That’s hard. But that kind of Christ-like humility will make your relationships the envy of everyone who sees and experiences them! Humility, like Jesus showed for us, is the key ingredient in the recipe for healthy and satisfying relationships.
When I attended Cincinnati Bible College and Seminary in the late 1970’s Skyline Chili was the preferred hangout for the student body. So, I went there. I wasn’t super impressed at first, but it grew on me over time. There is a secret ingredient in Skyline chili. Do you know what it is? Cinnamon. Cinnamon!! Who would have ever thought to put cinnamon in a chili recipe?! But it definitely creates a unique flavor. Humility is the key ingredient in great relationships. It gives them a ‘unique flavor.’ So, follow in the steps of Jesus. Build your relationships on Biblical truth. “In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had.” Humility.