Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. [Phil 2:5-7]

The other morning I enjoyed a wonderful study on humility in the Word. Jesus reminded me that although he was the Son of Man, deserving of all honor, he came to earth not to be served but to serve. I prayed that I would have the same kind of attitude. I felt so good about myself as I imagined lowering myself like Jesus did. Then, my wife and I went to Walmart.

On the way, I was driving in the left lane when a car alongside us proceeded to move into our space. I honked but he continued to come. I slammed on the brakes to avoid an accident. Then, I sent him a Christmas greeting with my horn. He returned the greeting with an obscene gesture.

By the time we reached Walmart, I had gotten control of the anger and was feeling pretty good about my self-control. Barb and I separated and went in different directions. I was pushing my cart down an aisle when I saw a mother and her teen-age daughter ahead. They saw me coming but turned their heads toward their shopping. As I got closer, I realized that it would be a tight squeeze to get by because there was a pillar in the middle of the row. So, when I got to the lady, who had her back to me and not wanting to disturb her, I slowly inched the cart around so as to not hit her. The daughter saw me coming and said, “Mom.” Mom ignored her. Again she said, “Mom.” Again Mom ignored her. The third time Mom turned to her and said, “What do you want?” “The man is trying to get by,” explained the daughter. Her Mom shot back, “That is why they invented the words ‘Excuse me’!”   

I continued on, shaking my head. I had tried to be careful not to disturb her and that is how she responded. Ugh! Later, as divine vengeance would have it, I came out of a row into a main aisle just as the mother and daughter were coming toward me. I pushed my cart in front of them and said very self-righteously, “Excuse me!”

Now, in retrospect, I am not very proud of my actions. I could have blamed a bad day or Christmas depression or an empty stomach. I could have even claimed that I was only responding to the ugliness of others. But, the fact is that I was just thinking of myself and any thoughts of honoring Christ were absent. Apparently, a simple prayer and some good feelings were not enough to change my depraved, self-centered heart.

In our last devotion, we heard Paul exhorting the Philippian church to “treat others better than themselves.” In the wisdom of God, the Church was to be the grand example of a loving and united family. In Christ, all of the things that once divided and caused competition were destroyed on the cross. [Ephesians 2:14-18] Christ has now “created one new man out of the two, thus making peace.”  This “new man” meant not just a lack of hostility but unusual charity. That kind of lifestyle was meant to be carried out into the world and practiced as a witness to our unbelieving neighbors. [Matt. 5:16]  

For that to happen, we needed to experience a major attitude adjustment. Our model is Jesus. Paul writes, “Your attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ.” Jesus was controlled by an attitude that could be described by one word: humility. He continually lowered himself to lift others up. He explained the thrust of his life like this: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  [Matt 20:28]    

As the Son of Man, he had every right to demand respect and service from us. Instead, in conformity to his Father’s plan, he chose to give up his glorious existence and inherent rights and come to earth to serve and save sinners and rebels like you and me. Whether he faced friend or foe, he always gave not what was deserved but what was needed, no matter what it cost him.

Paul exhorts us to have the same attitude. How does that miracle happen? It obviously takes more than just a wish to imitate Jesus. We retain a huge residue of self-focus within us so that self-determination will never be enough. No, we need an ongoing miracle. Paul tells us that the source of that transformation comes through the Spirit who is working in us, giving us the desire and the power to become servants like Jesus. [Phil. 2:12-13]  

A brief look at Jesus will help us to get on that path. First, Jesus’ sacrificial service was based upon his unqualified trust in the Father. This is not some psychological theory but an eternal reality. When Jesus was insulted and attacked, he did not respond in kind, but trusted himself, his well-being,  to the One who makes all things right. [I Peter 2:23] And, at the last supper, with the cross only hours away, he demonstrated that trust in a surprising and unusual way. He washed his disciples’ feet. The reason Jesus could act with such humility in a time of personal calamity is explained by John with these words: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” [John 13:3-4]

Jesus was not a helpless victim. Neither ugly people nor painful circumstances determined his actions or his reactions. The Father had given all authority to him. Jesus knew where he came from and where he was going. With his life securely in the good hands of his Father, he continued to serve under the shadow of the cross. His attention remained fixed on the need of others. In this passage, Paul reminds us that we are called and equipped to live with the same kind of self-forgetfulness. When we react to rude drivers and rude shoppers with anger and ugliness, we are showing that we have forgotten who is ultimately in control of our lives. We are demonstrating a lack of trust and gratefulness.

We might wonder if this kind of change is even possible. Paul seems to think so. He writes, “let this attitude be in you.” No matter how impossible it seems and no matter how many times we have failed, Paul exhorts and expects us to live like Jesus. However, his confidence does not rest upon our will power but Christ’s presence. He is working in us, through His Word, to change our heart so that we want to be just like Jesus. [Phil 2:12-13] The Spirit who is committed to shaping Christ in us won’t let us get away with self-centered hissy fits on city roads or store rows. He will convict us and point to a more excellent way. God at work in us is Paul’s source of exhortation to us.

Transformation will take a lifetime. It will involve commitment, failure, confession, forgiveness, repentance and progress.  The starting point will be a growing awareness of our privileged position in Christ. Each day we will have to prepare for battle through engagement with the Word and prayer. As we feel anger arise because of disrespect, we learn that those events are designed as opportunities to respond with graciousness instead of reacting with ugliness. What is at stake here is much more than preserving my pride but protecting my joy. Pleasing Jesus, portraying Jesus, proclaiming Jesus, is eternally more rewarding to our souls than demanding momentary respect from strangers.

Corrie Ten Boom, that precious lady who suffered unspeakable indignities at the hands of the Nazis, was once asked if she found it hard to be humble. She pointed to Jesus arrival into Jerusalem on a donkey. She said that as the masses were waving palm branches and singing praises it never occurred to the donkey that those expressions might be for him. And, then she concluded, “If I can be a donkey on which Jesus rides in His glory, I give him all the praise and honor.” That, my friends, should be our attitude. Be a donkey, not a jack ass.