Doesn't this sound so good? So Christian? So nice? Of course it does. It sounds like everyone should act like this, and our world would be a much, much better place if they did. But do you know what?
It's hard. This is one scripture that I almost always grit my teeth over, because I'm so bad at keeping it. There are three big concepts here:
|"Whoever then humbles himself as this child, h|
e is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Selfishness: I fall into the selfishness trap so often. Who doesn't? This is one of the deepest rooted human sins. Many people have tried to justify selfishness and pretend that it's not only normal, but good (there is actually a book called The Virtue of Selfishness). Sometimes it can look like a positive thing; for example we might say, "If everyone looks out for #1, we'll all be successful." We can easily see the terrible outcome of communism, which could be called unselfishness taken to an extreme. But the real reason we're selfish? We are sinful creatures and it's easier to pay more attention to ourselves than to others.
Some translations of Philippians 2:3 say that we are to do nothing from "selfish ambition," and that gives us another perspective on this problem. Ambition is a good thing, right? I tend to think so. I'm a very driven, ambitious girl. I want to do great things! But the tendency to do great things at the expense of hurting others is a dangerous one. It might get things done, but it's still putting ourselves in front of others. Selfishness is like a rut that our wheels naturally fall into--but as Christians we can't stay in these ruts! James 3:16 says, "For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing." Strong words.
Empty Conceit: I looked this verse up in the original Greek and found that "empty conceit" is the word κενοδοξίαν, which can mean vain glory, self esteem, or empty pride. This sounds like it's describing a girl who is very pleased with herself--she's all that and a bag of chips. Unfortunately, empty conceit is another pitfall for me. The problem is that I'm not all that, I'm just a sinner in need of a savior. It's humbling to think that I have a lot in common with the most heinous murderer on the planet.
Humility of Mind: Do you find humility to be a somewhat ambiguous concept? It seems a bit vague to me; what are we supposed to do, walk around with downcast eyes longing to wash everybody's feet? The next few words of the verse put humility in shockingly practical terms, "regard one another as more important than yourselves." Ouch. When was the last time you failed at this? Last week? Yesterday? 5 minutes ago?
Humility is completely counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, counter-self, but it's a vital part of the Christian walk (just check out a few of these verses on humility). God promises great things to the humble: whoever humbles herself will be exalted; the rewards of humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, honor and life; whoever humbles herself as a little child, she is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
If this verse challenges you, makes you question yourself, or worries you, take comfort! We're not expected to go it alone; we have a yokefellow who comes alongside us to help us through these challenges. Jesus didn't ask us to act like we're worthless--he asked us to treat others as we would like to be treated. This isn't about self-abasement, this is about love.