Cross Connections


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. ~Philippians 2:5-8

Humility is a funny thing. It’s been said that humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less. Essentially a virtue of self-forgetfulness, it’s hard to cultivate humility because as soon as you start focusing on it, it disappears. Trying really hard to be humble won’t work, because in focusing on your humility, you are focusing on yourself, which of course is the opposite of humility. It’s even possible to deceive yourself into being proud of your humility (I’m particularly guilty of that). And to top it off, most of us probably wouldn’t think of ourselves as particularly arrogant (although God’s Word happens to strongly disagree with that assessment), so we don’t see a particularly urgent need to grow in this area. It’s no wonder, then, that most of us are not very good at practicing this virtue.

And yet, alongside love, this is one of the virtues that God intends to most define his people. Over and over again, the Bible warns against pride in the strongest possible language. Here are just a few of those places; read them soberly, realizing that God is very serious about our humility.

Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. ~1 Samuel 2:3

In the pride of his face, the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are “There is no God.” ~Psalm 10:4

The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. ~Psalm 31:23

Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! ~Psalm 94:2

Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. ~Proverbs 8:13

When pride comes, then comes disgrace. ~Proverbs 11:2

The LORD tears down the house of the proud. ~Proverbs 15:25

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. ~Proverbs 16:18

The haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. ~Isaiah 2:17

I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless. ~Isaiah 13:11

Hear and give ear; be not proud, for the LORD has spoken. ~Jeremiah 13:15

“Behold, I am against you, O proud one,” declares the Lord GOD of hosts. ~Jeremiah 50:31

Behold, this was the guilt of Sodom: she and her daughters had pride. ~Ezekiel 16:49

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. ~Luke 1:51

God opposes the proud. ~James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5

There are many more texts we could look at, but these few should certainly sober us. It is a terrifying thought that the God of hosts, the Lord of heaven, opposes the proud, and says that he hates pride. He actively tears down the arrogant, burned Sodom and Gomorrah to the ground because of their haughtiness, and promises many times that a day of wrath and destruction is waiting for those who persevere in pride. Even those who have trusted Christ and are thus safe from God’s wrath should still tremble that their heavenly Father is so grieved and displeased by the pride in their hearts, and sets his face in discipline and chastisement against pride even in believers. “I am against you, O proud one,” is a sentence that should strike humbling fear into our hearts. The fact that it falls on our ears with so little weight is not evidence that we are humble; it is a testament to how proud we are.


The first thing that you need to come to grips with in a study on humility is that your assessment of your pride and humility is probably drastically wrong, and you’re much worse than you think you are (how’s that for a humbling statement?). The bad news that God’s Word gives us is that even if you think you’re a relatively reasonable, even humble person, you’re probably actually insufferably arrogant.

Does that sound too harsh? Here’s a simple question that I’ve found uncovers the arrogance in my heart better than nearly anything else: How much does the pride of other people annoy me? Does the boasting, bragging, knowing-it-all, and self-centeredness of other people get under my skin? The extent to which I’m bothered by other people’s pride is one of the best indicators of pride in my own heart. If I was truly humble, I wouldn’t be bothered by someone else hogging the spotlight, grabbing for praise, or thinking highly of themselves– because I wouldn’t be so desperate for those things myself. It’s only when their pride bumps up against my desire to be praised and admired that my sinful heart is exposed. “They think they’re so special… Ugh, everything that comes out of their mouth is a self-compliment… Why do they think they know everything,” is just another way of your heart saying, “I’m better than you, so be quiet and let people admire me!” Oh, how deceptive our hearts are!

There’s actually a lot more pride in our hearts than we like to think, and it comes out in a multitude of different ways. The desire to be praised and admired is the reflex of a heart that is in love with itself and wishes other people would join its worship. Self-pity is the flip side of that, the response of wounded pride; we didn’t get what we think we deserve, we weren’t treated the way we should be treated, and we wish other people would acknowledge our wonderfulness. Anger flares when the prayer of pride, “My kingdom come, my will be done,” is not speedily carried out by those around us. Impatience arises in the proud heart because, well, “Don’t people realize how valuable my time is?” Racism and all other forms of discrimination flow from a belief in my inherent superiority over those who are different from me. Even anxiety and fear are often expressions of pride; my desire to control the future and fear that I can’t are simply manifestations of my refusal to submit to God’s sovereignty and trust him meekly for my daily bread. Pride really is at the root of every sin.

At its core, pride is the replacement of God with me. Instead of God being the central joy and goal of my life, my own pursuit of glory, acclaim, comfort, popularity, control, etc. is put at the center. This is the reason that God is so stridently opposed to pride; he is passionately committed to the upholding and display of his great worth, and every proud heart is opposed to that purpose for which the universe was made. (For more on why God’s pursuit of his own glory isn’t pride, see the chapter on goodness.) Psalm 10:4 exposes pride for what it truly is: “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.'” Pride is ultimately a refusal to acknowledge God as God, seeking rather to substitute myself. That’s why the psalmist says that all the thoughts of the proud heart are, “There is no God.” That doesn’t mean that only atheists are arrogant. It’s actually the reverse; every arrogant thought and act is, at its core, an act of atheism in its rejection of God. That is a terrible and sober truth, considering how the tentacles of pride so frequently wrap themselves around so many of our thoughts, motives, and actions. How many of your thoughts, motives, and actions are actually declarations of atheism?

If you’re anything like me, those were some convicting paragraphs. What those paragraphs tell me is that I’m the last person in the world who should be writing a chapter on humility. It hurts to have the light of truth shine on dark places in our hearts that we’d prefer to not look at. But the Holy Spirit’s conviction is one of the ways he loves us best; I’m so glad that he doesn’t leave me in my God-denying, self-destroying suicidal habits of sin and pride, but shows them to me and then gives me resources to fight them. Even more importantly, showing us our sin is one of the main ways that God deepens our appreciation for the gospel and love for our Savior.

I remember a time several years ago when I learned this lesson vividly. I had been mourning my coldness of heart when contemplating the Savior and longed to be more moved by the cross, to feel affections that corresponded to the greatness of my salvation. So I started praying that God would help me to love the cross more. But the way God answered that prayer was very different than what I expected. I had hoped for him to zap me with a ‘good feelings’ ray, or to give me particular insight into passages of Scripture.

Instead, the Holy Spirit started showing me my sin. For more than a week, nearly every thought I had or action I did was immediately accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s soft convicting voice, pointing out the misplaced motives of pride in everything I did. It was actually distracting; every thought running through my head was accompanied by another voice pointing out the pride inherent in that thought. It was also discouraging to see how much of the good things I did for Jesus were infected by sin and shot through with proud motives.

But a funny thing happened. By the end of that week, I wasn’t distracted, and I wasn’t discouraged. I was in awe of the grace of God, broken by the cross, and overflowing with thankfulness for his mercy. A vivid and honest look at the true nature of my proud, evil heart had the effect of making me supremely grateful for God’s grace to an unworthy sinner like me. That week turned into one of the greatest ‘mountaintop’ experiences in my Christian walk, and reverberated in my life for years to come (sadly, I feel like I’m due for another recalibration in seeing my sin and appreciating my Savior).

The reason that I recount that story is because I want you to have a deeper love for the Savior, and one of the best ways to do that is to grow in your understanding of your own sin. The Puritan Thomas Watson said, “Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” It would be well worth your time to devote extended meditation, self-examination, and prayer to the goal of tasting your sin as more bitter, so that Christ and his cross will be more sweet.


With a clear and sober view of our pride, we can now start to approach what the Bible says about humility with the seriousness and urgency that we should. The Cross Connections text we will unpack is Philippians 2:3-11. In this passage, Paul commends humility to us by giving us the command to be humble and then connecting it to Jesus’ perfect example of humility, and the reward of humility.

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 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.

The first two verses lay out the command to be humble by forbidding the negative and then commending the opposite. “Don’t do anything from selfish ambition of conceit; instead think of others as more significant than yourself. Don’t only look out for your own interests; look out for the interests of others.” Let’s look at these specific commands.


“Selfish ambition” means looking to advance your own agenda, trying to get ahead, and being wrapped up in pursuing your own success at the expense of others. You can probably think of a lot of examples of what this would look like, but before you conjure up a mental image of a politician or cutthroat businessman, remember that the commands of Scripture are meant to expose your heart, not help you point fingers at someone else. In what ways does selfish ambition manifest itself in your life?

The way that selfish ambition most often shows itself in my life is in relation to my ministry (which makes it even worse, doesn’t it?). I feel called to pastoral ministry– I long to shepherd and lead a local body of God’s people into maturity and service and mission. But at the time of this writing, God hasn’t yet opened that door. I’m simply serving and striving to be faithful in my local church, and working with my pastors in a sort of pastoral internship. But one of the greatest temptations in my life is for that good desire to serve Christ’s church to subtly shift into selfish ambition, and for my motives to shirt from selfless servanthood to trying to prove myself, make a name for myself, look good, impress others, and expand the opportunities I have to lead.

That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to take steps to advance your career or expand your ministry. It isn’t sinful to list your accomplishments on a resume so that you can get a better job. The phrase “selfish ambition” goes past simple actions and gets at our hearts: why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are you trying to advance your career? Are you doing it so that your company or co-workers will be best served, or to give room for others to fill your current role, or so that God can be honored in you using your talents and gifts for his service? Or do you want to be admired, and promoted, and compensated, and made much of? Do your motives point towards God and others, or towards yourself?


Conceit is the heart condition out of which actions of selfish ambition flow. Conceit means vain, self-centered, and boastful. A conceited heart admires itself and seeks to draw the attention of others so that they will join in its worship. This often comes out as bragging or being a know-it-all, but it can also be more subtle: insisting on your own way (because of course you know what is best!), or refusing to delegate and always having to do things yourself (because no one can do them better than you!) can be symptoms of conceit. Being impressed with yourself is the fuel on which selfish ambition feeds; if we’re honest with ourselves, inflated egos probably drive much of our hard work.


The opposite of selfish ambition and conceit is to instead consider other people as more significant than yourself. Note that it doesn’t say, “More talented than yourself,” or “More right than yourself.” There’s a proper way to exercise your gifts and your wisdom, and it’s by considering other people as more important than you.

This flips our natural human bent on its head and exposes our sinful hearts for what they really are. If you’re honest, you almost always consider yourself as more important than others; one way to see that is to realize that you’re usually way more concerned with offenses against you than with offenses against others.

But to count others as more significant than yourself means to put their feelings, their needs, their desires, their hopes and dreams, ahead of your own. It means to give more weight to how they feel than to how you feel, and to be more focused on others than you are on yourself. If you think about it, that’s what humility is: not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. To count others as more significant than yourself doesn’t mean lowering your opinion of yourself (although that’s probably necessary and helpful); it means exalting those around you and honoring them.

Romans 12:10 is one of my favorite commands in the Bible, and I think it’s a perfect illustration of counting others more significant than yourself: “Outdo one another in showing honor.” In other words, look for ways to one-up each other in acts of service and thankfulness. Devote yourself to commending and encouraging others. I’m a competitive person, and so I get a kick out of the way this verse is worded: make honoring others into a competitive sport, and try your hardest to win. Engage in a virtuous cycle of escalating honor: encouragement responding with greater encouragement, on and on. What a world this would be– what a family of believers we would be– if we took this command seriously!


The next pair of negative and positive commands that Paul gives is, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This is basically a restatement of the previous verse; don’t engage in selfish ambition flowing from a conceited heart, but put others before yourself. Don’t advance yourself; work for the advancement and encouragement of others.

I appreciate the realism and honesty of this command. It doesn’t forbid you to look to your own interests; it just tells you to widen the scope of your life to include the interests of others. That’s refreshingly realistic. Of course I’m going to look to my interests; that’s necessary for survival. I’m going to be focused on me a lot, and that’s not entirely bad. What is necessary, though, is a recalibration. Instead of self-absorption and self-promotion, God calls us to radically and intentionally focus our attention, energy, and efforts on the good of others. Looking to the interests of others means being aware of the needs of others and counting them as more significant than your own. It means stooping down to serve other people.

Have you noticed something about all these descriptions of humility in Philippians 2? Humility, it appears, is about much more than simply not being arrogant. Humility, at its heart, is an outward-looking virtue that delights to serve and give itself away. In that way, humility is the twin sister of love; love puts others above itself and gives itself away for the good of the beloved. Humility– looking away from yourself in order to honor and serve others– is the heart condition that makes love possible. Humility doesn’t just sit around and think low thoughts about itself; humility has hands and feet that stoop to serve others.

That is an important insight to grasp about the nature of humility, because as we continue reading Philippians 2, Paul turns our attention from the command of humility to the perfect example of humility. And what we’ll find is that Jesus Christ is the perfect example of humility because his humility ultimately expressed itself in servanthood and love, all the way to the cross.


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 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.

This description of Jesus’ humility is breathtaking, and should lead us to worship, reverence, and joyful imitation. Remember, the purpose of “example” Cross Connections in the Bible is not primarily to command us to behave a certain way (though they do that) or to set up Jesus as the standard to which we must rise (although that should be our aim). Rather, the Holy Spirit intends to use portraits of Jesus like this one to help us see his glory and stir our hearts to worship. It is in beholding Jesus’ glory that we will be transformed into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18), and so we are going to walk through this text, not primarily with an eye to application, but with our attention on Jesus’ perfect, beautiful, saving display of humility. That, I believe, is Paul’s intent here; that’s why verse 5 tells us that this humble mindset that Jesus had “is yours in Christ.” This is point of verses 6-11 is not to hold up an impossibly high standard of humility for us; the point is to celebrate Jesus and all that he is for us, now that we are “in Christ.” It is his work, not ours, that establishes our union with him, and it is his work, not ours, that is on full display here. So I want to linger on his work– not so that we will be distracted from the essential work of cultivating our own humility, but so that essential work will be properly grounded in and flowing from his perfect work for us.


The most amazing thing that this text says about Jesus’ humility is not what he did, but who he is. Jesus Christ, the carpenter from Nazareth, existed before the dawn of time “in the form of God.” That means, in the words of Colossians 1, “he is the image of the invisible God,” the invisible God made visible. This carpenter from Nazareth is the almighty, ever-living God, the same One who spoke the world into existence and, Hebrews 1 tells us, “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

He is the One about whom the hosts of heaven sang in Isaiah 6, “Holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of his glory.” All things, Colossians 1 says, “were created through him and for him.” Everything in the universe exists because of Jesus, and everything exists for Jesus– for his glory, to showcase his worth, to point to him, to bring him pleasure.

This means that Jesus Christ is worthy of everything that God is worthy of. He is worthy of all praise, and receives the endless praise of all creation– “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!” (Psalm 150:6). He is worthy of supreme devotion, above devotion to family, possessions or even one’s own life– “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). He is worthy of endless worship and the sum total of all creation’s power and produce. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11). “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).


The reason this is so breathtaking, when connected to humility here in our text, is that it means that Jesus Christ is simultaneously the only person in the world to have ever displayed perfect humility, and yet is the only person who has nothing to be humble about. He is the most worthy Person in the entire universe. He has no defects, no failings, no lack, no inabilities, no sins, no shortcomings– nothing to be humble about.

So consider the wonder, then, that this perfect God-man modeled perfect humility for us. The One who is worthy of all worship did not count equality with his Father a thing to be held onto, but willingly surrendered it for us. Though he existed from all eternity in perfect love and glory with the Father and the Spirit, he stepped off his throne and forsook the worship of heaven and its angels. The self-existent One who invented time, who inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15) lowered himself to be dependent on his Father for even his daily bread.


The One who is all-powerful and all-glorious emptied himself of all his divine prerogatives to rescue us. He submitted to the indignity of hunger and thirst, though he owned and sustained all things. He exercised his divine power only for the good of others, never to save, serve, or sustain himself.

That, in essence, was what Satan’s temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4 was about: “Whatever you do, Jesus, don’t be humble!” For Satan knew the truth of Philippians 2: that Jesus had come, humbling himself from heaven all the way to the point of death, even death on a cross. Satan knew that Jesus’ humility would mean evil’s undoing, and so his temptations went after that source of our salvation. “Don’t empty yourself; use your power to serve yourself, Jesus! Exalt yourself and show everyone that God is on your side! Get the worship of the whole world the easy way; whatever you do, don’t get it in the Philippians 2 way– don’t go to the cross!”


In emptying himself of his divine prerogatives, Jesus did not lose his divine nature or form, but clothed his divinity in servanthood. “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” Glory cloaked in lowliness, power robed in meekness, exaltation obscured by selflessness, honor bowing in humility. The One who is worthy of all service assumed the body, role, and position of a servant; he fed and healed and and taught washed feet and served us all the way to the cross.

It would have been a radical act of humility for the Son of God to come as a human king. For the eternal one to inhabit time, the infinite one to confine himself to a frail body, the Lord of the universe to restrict himself to a human kingdom– this would have been the greatest act of humility that the world has ever seen.

But that is not the humility that Jesus showed. He did not stoop from Son of God to human king. He stooped from being Son of God all the way to being a servant, a slave, a Savior. He was born into a poor family in a backwater corner of the world, laid in a manger. He lived as a human baby– utterly helpless and dependent on others to feed him, care for him, change his diaper. He grew up as a peasant boy and took on the job of a peasant laborer. And when he began his ministry, he didn’t go to kings and priests and rulers; he went to common people, to sinful people, to broken people, to hurting people. And that same stooping, humble compassion that propelled him to touch lepers and weep with mourners and eat with tax collectors and forgive prostitutes was the same humble compassion that propelled him to the cross, to bear the sin and guilt of rebels like you and me, so that we could know his healing, humble touch too. This is what the incarnation, Christmas, is all about: the humility of the King of Kings on fullest display, from the cradle to the cross.


“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This was, after all, the goal of his humility, the reason he stooped to take on human form in the first place. He had come that he might die. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

When you look at the cross, consider who it is who is dying there. This is no mere man, no “good teacher.” This is not another sad case of injustice, no pitiable victim. This is the Author and Sustainer of life humbling himself all the way to the fullest possible extent of humility: to the helpless and horrible indignity of a brutal, shameful, naked death on the cross… for you. This is the King taking the place of the rebel, paying our debt, bearing our shame, humbled in our place. He was humbled… to pay for every time we were arrogant. This is the God of heaven, bleeding for you. “You killed the Author of life!” Peter marvels in Acts 3:15. The One who sustains the universe was keeping the nails and wood together, even as he hung on them. As he was dying, he was keeping the soldiers breathing. Oh the glory of Jesus’ perfect humility!

Does this glorious humility move you to thankfulness and worship? It should. That thankfulness and worship is the foundation from which you can start to build a life that imitates Jesus: a lifestyle and mindset that doesn’t hold on to what it deserve, to its prerogatives, but instead gives itself away, gladly stooping to serve others just like Jesus first served you.


The symphony of Jesus’ beautiful humility comes to a crescendo in verses 9-11, in the celebration of the reward of Jesus’ humility.

Therefore God 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.

Note the “therefore” at the beginning of verse 9. “Therefore– because he humbled himself to the point of death on a cross– God has highly exalted him.” Jesus’ current state of exaltation to the right hand of the Father’s throne, his current worship by angels and redeemed saints, and his future endless glory as reinstalled and undisputed King of the universe is not owing to his divinity, but to his humility. Jesus possesses the name above every name, not because he is God, but because he became a man. Every knee will bow to him, not because is the Creator, but because he is the Savior. Every tongue will confess that he is Lord, not because he is holy, but because he is humble.

This is “the joy set before him” that enabled Jesus to endure the shame of the cross (Hebrews 12:2)– the endless worship of a redeemed people. And this joy set before him– wonder of wonders– is the same way that God motivates us, his children, in our practice of humility.

It is easier to get our head around the formula of humility in Jesus’ life (humility now = glory later), but the Bible clearly says that this is also the formula for humility in our lives as well. Just as Jesus’ life followed the trajectory of humility-servanthood-suffering-glory, so God has ordained that the lives of his people follow the same trajectory: humility-servanthood-suffering-glory. Consider these bible passages all teaching the same truth:

Whoever exalts himself will be You save a humble people, but the
humbled, and whoever humbles haughty eyes you bring down. ~Ps 18:27
himself will be exalted. ~Matt 23:12
He has brought down the mighty from
God opposes the proud but gives their thrones, and has exalted those of
grace to the humble. ~James 4:6 humble estate. ~Luke 1:52

Humble yourselves, therefore, under Humble yourselves before the Lord, and
the mighty hand of God so that at he will exalt you. ~James 4:10
the proper time he may exalt you.
~1 Peter 5:6

The pathway to exaltation that God has decreed is the pathway of humility. This was true for Jesus, and it is true for us. The commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” will be heard by those who grow in the fruit of humility, and by no others. One way, then, to grow in humility (we have seen others: being more aware of your sin, and meditating worshipfully on Jesus’ humility are two) is to start believing these promises. You don’t need the feel-good, hollow reward of pride now; the real prize is worth waiting for. You don’t need to be noticed and praised and admired now; the commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant” will outshine every human spotlight and put them to shame, and you yourself will shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father (Matthew 13:43). You don’t need selfish ambition, because the future that God has prepared for those who love him is far beyond anything we have seen, heard, or imagined” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Father, Give me confidence in your future grace, combined with the humbling sight of our own sin and the breathtaking sight of Jesus’ glory and grace, so that I might abound more and more in humility. Forgive the evil of my pride, and fix my eyes always on what Jesus did for me, until my life resounds in self-forgetful, humble worship to the King.