9 For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Christ humbled himself and God exalted Christ. And if you are following a risen Christ, Jesus will take you down the same path. We humble ourselves and connect to Jesus and we leave the rest to God. If God exalts us and uses our lives to save hundreds or thousands, then so be it. If God doesn’t and we see no visible results, so be it. If we are humble, God may not exalt us now, but He will eventually exalt us. Humble yourself and leave the rest to God. Let him exalt whom He wants to exalt when He wants to exalt. He is God and that’s his prerogative.
If you live this way, you will be free. Exalting ourselves all the time is so tiring. We don’t need to exalt ourselves. This is the complete opposite advice from the world. Everyone else is telling you, and you are telling yourself, to exalt yourself right now, every moment until the day you die. Prove to the world that you are worthy of respect by your accomplishments. Show others why they should take notice when you walk into a room because of your job title or because of your intellect or your bank account. Exalt yourself. Don’t wait. You got only one life. Go for it. This is worldly wisdom.
In Christian circles, it’s the same advice applied in a different context. Make your life count for Christ. Don’t be lazy. Serve. Work hard. Evangelize. Write books. Get invited to conferences. Become a Christian celebrity so that everyone knows your name and listens to your podcasts and watches you on youtube and looks up to your church as a model church. Exalt yourself because time is short and you got to make this one life count. Bigger is better, don’t you know. Make an eternal impact in your generation. That sounds so right, but it’s a deception.
Our only responsibility is to believe in the One whom God sent. John 6:29. We are children of God. We are disciples of Jesus. We need to humble ourselves and repent from the delusion that we have power to do anything. I can’t save you. This church can’t save you. Only Jesus can save. Church without Christ is empty religion and empty religion will lead you straight to hell.
Our job is to go to Jesus and point others to Jesus. Then, they, too, can be yoked to the Jesus we have come to know and cherish. This is ministry–we go out to the world and introduce others to the one who is gentle and humble in heart and who takes my burdens away and who has set me free. Live this way and leave the results to God. Humble yourself and leave the rest in God’s good hands. You don’t have to exalt yourself. Let God exalt your life.
Paul begins this chapter by telling us to be humble and he unpacks what humility looks like relationally. Earlier we talked about gentleness as flowing out of an inner character of humility. Here’s another way humility is expressed in our relationships.
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. 3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Humility is defined plainly here. It is not thinking really lowly of yourself. It is actually to stop thinking about yourself period. Stop thinking about how you can exalt yourself. Instead, consider others more important than yourselves. Don’t be critical of others, or judgmental of others, or feel superior or inferior to others. If you do this, you are really thinking about yourself and trying to exalt yourself. If you are a church leader and you lead this way and you are at the center of the ministry, when people sin against you or diss you, it’s no surprise that you respond very harshly with them.
Harshness stems from a heart that is striving to exalt oneself. A proud heart leads to harsh treatment of others. Paul is saying, drop all of that way of thinking. Just consider the person in front of you as more important than you. Their needs, their issues matter, put your issues aside, humble yourself, stop thinking about yourself. Now be free and serve the person in front of you.
Imagine if every one of us here stopped thinking about ourselves and considered the person in front of us as more important. Now that would be radically different, wouldn’t it? Christ would be exalted in our midst, right? There would be spiritual power and a special filling of the Holy Spirit if we lived this way corporately.
How do we get there? Verse 5 – “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus.” The actions flow from attitude. You can’t will yourself to stop thinking about yourself and considering others as more important. Spiritual life doesn’t work that way. Whenever you feel proud and you begin to exalt yourself and put others down, you can’t beat yourself and say, why am I like this, I got to try harder. Humility doesn’t work this way. Humility is not a skill you can master through brute force. You need an attitude adjustment. Then, the actions of considering others more important will follow.
How can you and I change our attitudes? Only one way. You have to be with Jesus. You have to spend time with Jesus. You can’t fake humility. People can smell pride or self-exaltation from a mile away. Only Jesus can change your attitude from the inside so that on the outside, you can genuinely consider others more important than yourself.
There are many churchgoers who, to be frank, are very proud, critical, judgmental and just plain nasty. But they might be working really hard for Christ and the church. How can you explain this? I think there are two explanations. One, they are not spending time with Jesus. If Jesus is this gentle and humble and we are spending time with Jesus who describes himself as gentle and humble, how can His character not rub off on us? It’s impossible. We will become like Christ and his attitude will become our attitude and his actions will become our actions, provided that we are really fellowshipping with Jesus moment by moment. A lack of time spent with Jesus is one explanation as to why Christians might work really hard for God’s kingdom and not be changed into Christ-likeness.
Or, two, Christians who are harsh and proud might be spending time in prayer, but they are using Jesus as a means to some other end. They are seeking the blessings of Christ, not the Blesser. They are seeking the salvation of others rather than the Savior. They are seeking to advance the kingdom of God instead of desiring to have the King reign in their own hearts. Are you seeing the difference?
Knowing Christ has to be the final goal. If you use Christ to become an effective minister and to be fruitful in ministry, then the minister might have be able to gather a following, but their harsh treatment of others and their lack of humility condemns them because they’ve missed the point. We got to get back to the fundamentals of our faith. We are followers of Jesus. Meaning, we have to spend time with Jesus, not to check it off a list and go on our merry way, but to connect because we want to be with Jesus. No other agenda than to be in His presence. And as we fellowship, we allow His character to rub off on us and we become more and more like Christ. Then, in terms of our relationships with one another, we can be gentle because we are free to point others to Jesus. Such ministers are not possessive, they are not out to use others to feel useful or needed or to have people join their group. We don’t have to work so hard to get people to be loyal to us. We are free to serve others with no ulterior motive. Our only aim in ministry is to get others connected with Jesus.
When we are free from the temptation to exalt ourselves, we are free to consider others better than ourselves and to serve them and point them to the Jesus and not ourselves. We are free to leave the results to God. And if he exalts us, we rejoice. If he doesn’t, we are content. The outcome of our lives, personally, vocationally, in terms of family, ministry, everything doesn’t ultimately define our joy. We are free to follow Jesus and enjoy Jesus and leave the results in God’s hands.
Don’t settle for information about Jesus. Don’t settle for an experience of Jesus many years ago. I’m preaching to myself–don’t settle for church and service to others and ministry. I pray that you can discover for the first time, or together, we can rediscover the Savior and lover of our souls. Live to know Christ and leave the rest to God. Humble yourself. Focus only on Jesus. You don’t have to exalt yourself. Leave the exalting to God. Do you know this Jesus? Let’s get to know this Jesus together and help each other get to know Him.