So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In 1960, a child psychiatrist by the name of Robert Coles observed the life of a six-year-old African American girl named Ruby Bridges from New Orleans. While white protesters lined the street decrying integration, Coles watched and waited for Ruby to show signs of trauma but never saw any. Years later, Coles recollected a conversation with Ruby during this time:
- “Ruby, your teacher told me today that you were talking to those people on the street.”
- “Doctor, I told her I wasn’t talking to the people.”
- “So who were you talking to Ruby?”
- “I told her I was talking to God.”
- “Why were you praying to God?”
- “I was praying for the people on the street.”
- “Why were you doing that Ruby?”
- “Because I wanted to pray for them.”
- “Why would you want to pray for those people?”
- “Well don’t you think they need praying for? I pray for them every morning, and I pray for them every afternoon when I go home.”
- “Ruby, those people are so mean to you, and they are so nasty to you. You must have some other feelings toward them besides wanting to pray for them.”
- “I just keep praying for them, and I hope God will be good to them.”
- “What do you say in the prayer Ruby?”
- “I always say the same thing.”
- “What’s that Ruby?”
- “Well I always say, ‘Please Dear God forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing.’”
As a young girl from a poor family with parents that did not know how to read or write, Ruby had received the humble strength of Christ to encounter evil in love. We would do well to pay attention to the humility she emulated in the way of Jesus.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians centers on the humble vocation of Jesus Christ who though he was equal with God did not exploit that equality for His own benefit (2:6). Instead, Jesus entered into human vulnerability as a servant faithful all the way to death on a cross (2:7-8). Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In a grand reversal of Adam’s prideful disobedience which led to death, Jesus willingly sacrificed his life in humble obedience and rose in victory over death. The great king over the whole of creation is the suffering servant worthy of all praise (2:8-11). Humility is the mark of a life in Christ’s way.
In a letter to a young man looking for guidance, Augustine replied:
To [Christ] . . . I desire you to submit yourself with unreserved piety, and I wish you to prepare for yourself no other way of seizing and holding the truth than that which has been prepared by Him who, as God, saw the weakness of our goings. In that way the first part is humility; the second, humility; the third, humility: and this I would continue to repeat as often as you might ask direction.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself. A truly humble person has an accurate self-assessment. Humility is looking beyond yourself to God and finding the freedom to think of others in the deep security of His loving presence. It is the life-giving choice to seek the well-being of others before yourself (2:3-4).
When asked who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus invited a child to come over to him and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-4). Perhaps a child like Ruby Bridges has much to teach us in the way of Christ’s greatness in humility and love.