Humility For The Church

Before we say or do anything, how often does the question cross our minds, “How will this affect the unity and mission of the church?” Most of us have been inculturated to think, “How will this action affect me?” That is not a bad question. In fact, that is a legitimate question that needs to be asked. However, we don’t live in an isolated relationship with Christ. We live in union with Christ and his people. We are members of the body of Christ, and our actions affect the life of the body for good or for ill. We either enhance the unity and mission of the church, or we work against it.

Everything we do as Christians either serves or fights against Christ’s church. Sin’s deleterious effects are obviously. My sin, great or small, eats at the body of Christ like a cancer. The effects of my sin are never confined to me any more than cancer in my brain only affects my brain. I must fight against sin in myself so as to protect the rest of the body of Christ from its effects.

But sin is not the only action that affects the body. My non-sinful choices also encourage or discourage the health of the body. The way I spend my time, where I put my energy, the words I say to others, and the goals of my life all affect the rest of the body of Christ because I am united with the rest of the body all of the time. 

The effects of personal actions on the body of Christ by each member of the body is one of the reasons Paul exhorts the Philippian church the way he does in Philippians 2.1-11. He practically begs them to fulfill his joy by “being of the same mind, having the same love, of one accord, of one mind” (Phil 2.2). In order to accomplish this, each Christian will have to do “nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than” himself” (Phil 2.3). Each will not look only to his own interests, but to the interests of others (Phil 2.4). The humility to which Paul calls the church is the humility that keeps all of my actions and agendas subservient to the good of the church and her unity and mission. 

Sure, this means that I’m not to be in sinful competition with my brothers and sisters in the church. But it also means that I am to think about how my choice of a job, the way I treat others in my household, the way I act on the job, what I do with my spare time, and things as such affect the life of the church. I am not to have an agenda that runs roughshod over others in the church, not caring about what others think as long as I get my agenda accomplished. I am not to set an agenda for my life without consideration of how it will affect the life of the church of which I am a part. Instead, I am to live humbly, which means that I set aside what may be comfortable to me and what may be perfectly within my rights to claim, in order to serve the rest of the body. 

Paul doesn’t leave us without examples of how this is lived out. It begins with Jesus himself (though, if you keep reading through the chapter, it is not limited to him). With all of the rich teaching about the Person and work of Christ in this little section of the letter, we must never forget that all of it undergirds Paul’s exhortation to humility. Jesus, being who he was, “the form of God,” humbled himself to the point of death, even the death of the cross. His life’s agenda was set by what was best for the church. Everything that he was and all of his power were used to serve to save the church. Paul says that we are to have that same mind that Christ had in this.

Humility is not walking around with a poor self-image. Humility is putting yourself in positions to give up what you might think would be comfortable for your life for the good of others. Humility is laying down your life for others.

So, while we have been indoctrinated by the culture around us (sadly, even much of American Christian culture around us) to think only of how my actions affect me and my personal salvation, Spirit-inspired Paul calls us to keep our lives in proper context: the context of our union with the entirety of Christ’s body. When our interests don’t serve the church’s unity and mission, they are to be set aside for the interests of the church. We need to learn to ask the question of ourselves and encourage our brothers and sisters to ask, “How will my actions affect the unity and mission of the church?”