Thursday, November 3, 2011


I've been thinking a lot about Philippians 2: 3 & 4

[let] nothing [be] in the spirit of strife or vain glory, but, in lowliness of mind, each esteeming the other as more excellent than themselves; regarding not each his own [qualities], but each those of others also.
If you've spent any time at all with "brethren" you've heard these verses. These are frequently read at the Lord's Supper, as they lead into one of the most striking Christological passages in the New Testament. But while that might well be the greater meaning of the passage, the immediate context is an exhortation: nothing--- nothing--- is to be done out of strife or vainglory; each of us--- every one of us--- is to consider everyone else as more excellent than ourselves.

The example is Christ Jesus (vv. 5--10). He is eternally God, but He considered equality with God nothing to be grasped at. He became a servant, emptying Himself, and became a Man. As a Man, He humbled Himself so that He even became obedient to the death and died on the cross. This is a remarkable story: it's the essence of Christianity.

With Christ as our example, we can consider the exhortation that we each esteem others as more excellent than ourselves. We immediately see that what we're really called to is, taking a lower place than our brothers and sisters in Christ. It's not that we are to attempt to convince ourselves that they are objectively better than us--- they might not be "more excellent" in any real way--- but we see that Christ took the lowest place. He is God, but He became a servant. Whether someone else is actually better than I is not the issue: even if I am superior to someone else in every conceivable way, I can still esteem him or her as more excellent than myself. That's what Christ did: He is objectively superior to every creature. He is God, He actually made them all. But He took a lower place than His creatures, becoming a slave and humbling Himself even to the point of dying on the cross.

I suppose I need to say that this doesn't mean I'm to simply act like everything's OK. Paul didn't do that, and he doesn't exhort us to do so either. The Epistles are full of exhortations to be careful how we live. There are exhortations to separate from iniquity (2 Timothy 2), and instructions on how to excommunicate an unrepentant brother or sister (1 Corinthians 5).

But there is a mindset and a spirit that we are to have as believers. We are to esteem others as more excellent than ourselves. We needn't buy into a heresy to condemn it humbly. Arrogance, even when we're right, is contrary to the mind of Christ and the will of God.

I don't want to ignore problems in an attempt at humility. It seems the spirit of the age would drive us to say nothing's bad, except believing in something. This isn't humility, it's arrogance: it's a practical denial of what God has said.

But at the same time, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about almost everything. Recognizing bad doctrine or practice is one thing, reacting to it "after the flesh" is quite another. So when someone stands up and says something completely wrong, it's not right to act like he was right on the mark. On the other hand, it's equally wrong to stand up and encourage everyone to mock and deride him.

I've said before that my biggest problem with "brethren" is how they teach the truth, but don't live it. I'm sure it's not only "brethren" who're guilty of this, but we seem particularly to fall into this sort of hypocrisy. And I think this is just another example, we remind ourselves (and one another) weekly that the Lord made Himself of no reputation so that He (eternally God) could come here as Man and die for wretched sinners. But so many of us (like me) then take an obnoxious and arrogant attitude when we notice a brother or sister go astray. I'm as guilty as any in this regard, and more guilty than most.

So I've been thinking about Philippians 2. I need to consider every other person in the assembly as more excellent than I. That doesn't mean I'm to pretend they're right when clearly they're not. That doesn't mean I'm to pretend someone's giving excellent ministry when they're spouting nonsense. What it does mean is that I'm to consider them more excellent than I am.

The Lord Jesus modeled this when He washed the disciples' feet:

When therefore he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, having sat down again, he said to them, Do ye know what I have done to you? Ye call me the Teacher and the Lord, and ye say well, for I am [so]. If I therefore, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet; for I have given you an example that, as I have done to you, ye should do also. Verily, verily, I say to you, The bondman is not greater than his lord, nor the sent greater than he who has sent him. (John 13: 12--16, JND)

The key to that seems to be not so much that I take a false view of my brethren, but that I take a true view of God. If I think highly of myself, that's pretty strong evidence that I'm not thinking about God. I can't have my eyes on Christ and think well of myself at the same time: were I looking at Him, I wouldn't think too highly of me. This ought to spill over into how I treat others. I need to learn to be right in the right way: it's much easier to be right than to be upright. It's a lot harder to be godly than it is to be correct. Christ came here and too the lowest place; I ought to do nothing from strife or vainglory: I ought to do everything considering others more excellent than I. It's not that I necessarily convince myself that someone else is actually a better person than me, it's that I act in the understanding that I am to take a lower place.

I don't do this nearly so well as I should.