Philippians 2:3


1900 words


Please turn in the Pew Bibles to Philippians chapter 2 and follow along as I read verse 3.  “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”  Amen.  The word of God.  Thanks be to God.


A young man in the Old West wanted to be the best gunfighter.  He practiced every day, and he thought he was very good, but he realized that he might be missing a little edge that would make him the best.  He went into the saloon and saw an old man who was the greatest gunfighter in his day.  So the young fellow went over to the old man and told him his dream, to be the best gunfighter that ever lived. The old man said, "I have a suggestion that might help.  Tie the bottom of your holster lower down on your leg."

"Will that make me a better gunfighter?" asked the young man.

"Definitely," said the old man.

The young gunman did what he was told, then in a flash he drew his gun and shot the bowtie off the piano player.

"Wow, that really helped!” he said, “Do you have any more suggestions?"

"Yeah, if you cut a notch in the top of your holster where the hammer hits, the gun will come out smoother."

"Will that make me a better gunfighter?" asked the young man.

"It sure will," said the old man.

The young gunman did what he was told, then he drew his gun in a blur and shot a cuff-link off the piano player’s shirt.

"This is really helping me,” he said.  “Is there anything else you can share with me?"

"One more thing," said the old man, "Get that can of axle grease over there and rub it all over your gun."

The young gunman did as he was told.  He started putting the grease on the barrel of the gun.

"No, not just the barrel, the whole gun, handle and everything," said the old man.

"Will that make me a better gunfighter?" asked the young man.

"No," said the old man.  "But, when he gets done playing that piano, Wyatt Earp is going come over here and shove that gun right down your throat, and it won't hurt so much!"


That young man had a common human disease.  It is all about me.  I am the best, I am the smartest, I know the most, I am the best looking, I am fastest gunfighter.  Most of us suffer somewhat from that disease.  Everyone loves a winner, and everyone, in their heart of hearts, thinks that they are that winner. 

Everyone thinks, If I quit my job that place will fall apart.  They can’t do without me.  Many people have thought that, and quit their jobs, and found to their dismay that the job went on just fine without them. 

Furthermore, most people secretly believe that if they were to die, the world would cease to be. But the world did without us before we showed up, and I suspect that the world will do just fine when we are long gone.  That is a truth that we need to recognize.  The quality that enables us to recognize that truth is humility. 

Part of humility is realizing that there is always someone smarter, always someone better looking, always someone with more stuff.  A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with a retiree in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  He said that he had worked all his life as a stock broker in New York City.  He retired with an excellent retirement program and a sizeable fortune.  Like many, he moved to Florida, and he was proud of himself.  He thought he was a winner.   But he said that he took the harbor tour of Fort Lauderdale and he saw the houses of the rich and famous—which average about ten to twenty million dollars apiece, and he said that he was shocked to realize that he was a pauper.  He said, “I worked all my life, and I got nothing in comparison with those people.”  He sounded envious to me, but perhaps he was also realizing that there is always someone with more toys.  That can be the beginning of humility.

I have heard several definitions of humility.  Here is mine.  Humility is the quality that enables us to properly assess our position in the cosmos.  Humility is acceptance of the reality of what I am where I am.  Socrates challenged us to “know thyself.”  Self-knowledge, real self-knowledge, always makes us humble.  Thomas a Kempis said, “He who knows himself well becomes vile in his own eyes and takes no delight in the praises of men.” (all quotes from Thomas a Kempis are from The Imitation of Christ BKI, ch.2)

Thomas says, if you really know yourself, you think of yourself as contemptible, low, despicable.  We revolt at that.  We certainly don’t think we are despicable.  Actually, we think we are pretty good.  Thomas would reply, that is the problem.  We minimize any bad qualities we have, we maximize any good qualities we have, and we think we are all right.  That is the way most people think.  Most people live in an egotistical fog that prevents them from accepting reality.  The reality is that we are pretty much ordinary people, but no one likes to be called ordinary.  We want to think that we are somehow better than other folks.  That is why Thomas says, that we can get a better handle on reality if we go to the opposite extreme and regard ourselves as worse than others.  Or as Philippians 2:3 urges, “regard others as better than yourselves.” 

Again, Thomas a Kempis says, “The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you.”  He says, Suppose that you do know a lot.  Suppose that you are a talented and resourceful person.  That should not cause you to be proud.  That should cause you to fear, knowing that you will be judged by your greater ability.  In other words, if you have more, God expects more of you.

Again Thomas a Kempis writes, “If you think you know many things and understand them well enough, realize at the same time that there is much you do not know. Hence, do not affect wisdom, but admit your ignorance.”  We are fortunate to live in a time when the amount of knowledge available to humankind is doubling and tripling at a fantastic rate.  In the last generation, our knowledge of the universe doubled.  In one generation, we discovered as much as all previous generations put together.  That is great.  We should rejoice in that.  But all our discoveries have also led us to appreciate what we do not know.  The figure that is used to illustrate this is that we are like a woman walking along a beach.  She bends down and picks up a handful of sand.  The handful of sand represents all that we know.  The beach represents all that there is to know.  Thus, humility is the only attitude for a true scientist.

And for all of us.  Some people think that they must portray an image of having all the answers.  Preachers in particular are accused of this fault.  But that image is never going to succeed.  Humility is the attitude of reality.  None of us has all the answers.

Humility allows us to put our ego aside and say to another person, “I don’t know, do you?  “And to listen to their contribution.  I have often heard that our business community desperately needs managers who can do this—just listen seriously to what others have to say.  Managers are often out of touch with reality because they are tied up with their own ego and their own agenda.  They need some humility to get beyond all that and find out what is really going on.

If we feel that we have to portray an image of knowing it all, we can never admit mistakes, and thus we can never learn from mistakes.  Humility is a wonderful tool that allows us to turn our failures into lessons so that we don’t do the same thing all over again.  Humility allows us to say, all right, we failed.  Let’s look at why we failed so we can figure out where we go from here. 

But humility is not easy.  Humility is a form of nakedness.  When we are in a situation where we are supposed to know the answers, it is hard to say, “I don’t know.”  That admission strips us bare and leaves us vulnerable.  We admit that we have limitations.

Of course we do.  After all, we are only human.  Ultimately humility says, after all, we are only human.  Part of being human is to realize that everything does not depend upon me.  I can ask others to help.  Humility is the admission of our common humanity.  There are no rugged individualists; there are no irreplaceable people; we are all in this together with all our shortcomings and limitations. 

Now that is not an easy attitude to have because it runs counter to what our society teaches.   Our society exalts pride and arrogance and teaches that we should say, I am the greatest.  Its about me.  Even the disciples of Jesus thought this way.  Luke 22:24, “A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest.”  Each want to be the top dog, numero uno.

But Jesus declared that way of thinking was fatally flawed.  As the young gunfighter learned, there is always a faster gunfighter, so give it up.  Instead, Jesus offers a radically different way of thinking.  Mark 9:35: "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."  In ancient Palestinian society, the slave was the bottom of the barrel, the end of the line, the total hopeless failure.  Jesus turns that upside down and tells us that in his society, the humble slave is the only success.  Or, to put it another way, the only real success is to forget yourself and help others.

Jesus not only told us this, he showed us this.  In Philippians chapter 2 beginning at verse 5, Paul holds before us the great example.  He says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  He is talking about humility.  He says, we need the humility of Christ.  He goes on to explain, saying in verse 6, “he was in the form of God.”  Jesus was God, the second person of the holy trinity.  But Paul adds in v7-8, he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.”

Paul says the world is lost in a fog of ego and selfishness, but when we begin to perceive reality, we are led to another way of living, the way of Christ.  Christ calls us to empty ourselves of ourselves, of our egos, of our selfish ambitions and conceits, and serve others with humble love and concern.  Amen.



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Last modified  08/19/06