A Philippians 2 spotlight on my arrogant heart
What would happen if Christians did better at living out a call to humility?
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If you have a journalist for a friend, I am sorry. Or maybe it’s just me. My friends can’t enjoy a decent hang-out session with me without me fact-checking their statements, sharing my opinions on every relevant and irrelevant issue, and reminding them of all the dark and depressing issues that they’d rather not dwell on at that moment. Please have pity on my friends.
I can’t seem to help it. My job is literally to inform people, and I was raised by a preacher who used every moment with his family as a teaching opportunity, so it’s both in my blood and my vocation to constantly teach and inform and correct people around me. And that irritating habit has gotten even worse during this COVID-19 pandemic.
I did it again several weeks ago with my women’s Bible study group. We were on a group text thread one evening, talking about the latest news on the coronavirus (what else?), when a friend shared something that I sniffed out as inaccurate. Like any good reporter would, I fact-checked it, and then quickly informed her on the group text that her information was outdated. My friend texted back an unhappy emoji face with rolled-back eyes, and I realized then that I had probably ticked her off.
At first, I was also annoyed: Well, didn’t she want the correct information? But then as I thought more about it, I felt convicted: It wasn’t just that I had basically edited her in front of others. It was the way I did it—my text response to her had been curt, undercutting, and ungracious. Feeling guilty, I texted my friend privately, asking if she’s mad at me.
She responded right away: “I’m not mad, Sophia. It’s just sometimes you come at people like you know everything. Which is awesome, you’re smart, I get it. But I notice that when anyone says anything to you, sometimes the way you answer is like everyone is stupid except you.”
Oh, boy. She was right. I knew she was, because even though I can come up with all the excuses I want for my behavior, as I just did—I’m just a journalist being journalisty, I’m my father’s daughter, I am just trying to be factually accurate, I don’t want misinformation to spread, blah blah—the Holy Spirit shed a bright, torching spotlight into the chambers in my heart, and I saw arrogance, and even a little bit of elitism. Yes, I do often think I know more than others around me. Yes, I do pride myself for being well-read and well-researched—you know, an intellectual. Someone different, someone a tad superior to others.
How easy is it to get that sugary twinge of self-satisfaction when you prove someone wrong? It’s seeped into the language of our culture today, and we see it often in the headlines of YouTube and Facebook and certain media posts: “So-and-so absolutely DESTROYS so-and-so!” “So-and-so conservative pundit leaves so-and-so libtard SPEECHLESS!” “So-and-so OUTSMARTS idiot so-and-so!” “Compilation of snowflakes completely TRIGGERED!” “So-and-so WRECKS so-and-so!” “The TRUE story of xx agenda!” And so on and on.
God has wise humor though. That same week, our Bible study group had planned to study Philippians 2:1-11 together. As the Bible teacher, I had prepared for the study that week, but we ended up having to postpone the Bible study. The next week, I prepared for the study again, but we had to postpone another week. That meant I had to read and study Philippians 2:1-11 at least three times by myself in the quiet mornings, meditating and praying on those words for three weeks. God wanted to teach me something Himself, and I received it loud and clear in that entire passage, particularly verse 3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Oh, Lord, have mercy on me. This commandment from You is so simple to understand, yet so challenging to act out! It cuts deep into the deepest and darkest sins in my heart, igniting that yearning battle to purify myself from inside-out, for humility can’t be feigned. To “count others more significant than yourselves” requires an exorcism of all the junk and grime of selfishness, envy, pride, conceit, and greed that have congealed inside me—a thick, gooey, stinky mess that only spreads and drips and putrefies the more I try to wipe it away with my own sticky hands. The only man to do this perfectly was Jesus Christ, who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself ... and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” And now that’s whose name we confess and exalt, whose mind we seek to adopt and emulate.
I still think about this passage often today, especially as I look at the divisions between the Body in Christ shaking wider during this turbulent season. I’m not certain we are currently “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” as the Apostle Paul exhorted. We don’t even agree on what to call this season. One group would call it a public health crisis born out of a deadly virus. Another might call it an economic or constitutional rights crisis born out of overblown panic and political agendas. Another would interpret everything through the lens of prophecies in Revelation.
Two decades after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, back when our nation still knew how to band together into a collective grief, we’ve become more polarized and outraged rather than united and determined against a common enemy, partly because we don’t even know who the real enemy is anymore. Sometimes I think our enemy has become each other.
That evening when my friend called me out, I thanked her for doing so and told her I’ll try to be more aware of my flaws. She replied, “Sophia, we have nothing but love for you. Trust me. We are all different in our amazing ways and that’s what makes us awesome together. We all fill in the gaps.”
What, I wonder, would the church in America look like, if we all individually and collectively lived out this vision of Christ-like humility in Philippians 2, as a people who have been forever transformed and reformed by it? What if we all, like my friend here, recognized and celebrated God’s unique thumbprint on each of us, and exhorted each other in humility to count each other more significant than ourselves? Why, I think our one and only enemy would quake with fear.
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