Do you have favorite passages of Scripture, ones that you keep coming back to over and over? Maybe there are some you rely upon as a source of comfort or reassurance, while others make you say “Wow…” and sit back in wonder. Here’s one of my “wow” verses (well, all right, two verses):
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil 2:12-13, NRSV)
(As you might suspect, I’ve written about this before, so I won’t repeat all of that here.) In the last two posts, we noted how there is a humility that comes from weakness, and a humility that comes from strength. The former is represented in the all too common experiences that puncture our pride: inadequacy, failure, powerlessness, loss of status. This is the humility of being humbled from without. The latter is represented in the humility of Jesus: a humility of legitimate power willingly subordinated to the good of the other. And the question we raised was the relationship between the two. How do we, whose humility is so often from weakness, have the mind of Christ, whose humility was from strength?
Just this: it is God who is at work in us.
Paul tells his beloved Philippians, I rejoice when I think of you; make my joy complete by being the kind of people who together orient their moral compasses by the humility of Jesus. He reminds them of the poetic vision that was probably already embedded in the early tradition: Jesus was equal to God, but humbled himself, emptied himself, became a human servant and obeyed his Father’s will all the way through the humiliation of the cross. Then, a grand reversal of fortune: after death, comes life; after humiliation, exaltation; after mockery, acclamation and worship.
But again: how do we follow the humble example of Jesus when we don’t begin from the same place?
Paul’s response is to remind them of their salvation, and to encourage them to “work it out”–in other words, to express the truth of their salvation through the way they live. Yes, it’s work. But there is a jaw-dropping truth that should set them to trembling at the sheer audacity of the miracle: God is at work in you. God has not left you to your own devices, but is working in and through your work, even in and through your desires.
The powerful of this world don’t come alongside the rank and file to work with them, to encourage them, to motivate them. They simply issue executive orders and expect them to be obeyed. So, too, one might expect of the God who created the universe.
But no. God is humble. If that sounds strange, it’s probably because we think of humility as weakness not strength; we think of power as power over others rather than for others.
We can follow the example of Jesus because our brokenness, our weakness, is not the end of the story. A powerful yet humble God is at work in us, giving us power for the purpose of giving it away in service, all to accomplish the good that God desires.
What does this change about the way you understand humility? And what would it mean for your relationships to others?