James A. Washington

Have you ever gone to church expecting to hear a certain minister, only to have a substitute guest preacher in his or her place? It has happened to me on several occasions and, after my initial disappointment, I am always reminded that it really is all about the message and not necessarily the messenger.

I believe William Shakespeare coined the phrase “sermons in stone,” meaning that if you are open and not closed, the world will indeed speak to you. And so it was with a guest minister I recently heard after I got over my ridiculous unfounded disappointment.

The stand-in guest minister’s sermon on humility was a stark reminder that’s it is all about the message and not at all about the messenger. Fortunately for me, that was one of the spiritual lessons I learned from the minister who saved my life, coincidentally, the one whom I was going to hear on that Sunday.

Humility, as the guest pastor was trying to clarify and explain, should be viewed from Philippians 2. That entire chapter is devoted to Paul’s message to the Church at Philippi regarding “imitating Christ’s humility.”

As I listened, humility went from a concept of docile behavior to a fact of faith and strength of conduct. It was made clear that Christ chose to consider Himself as at best equal to, if not lesser than, his fellow man. Remember, we’re talking about God here. He consciously chose to make Himself human in order to serve His divine purpose.

The text tells us to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.”  That’s a pretty good description of how He looked upon His duty and pretty much what got Him killed.

Paul teaches us that it is our fundamental responsibility, as Christians, to be united in our effort to emulate Jesus’ denunciation of status, pride, ego and self. Surely, if anyone had a right to be arrogant, it was the living Son of God. You try being the walking talking Word and deliberately transform yourself into a mere mortal human being. You know you couldn’t do it: become Christ and die willingly on the cross by the hands of mere men.

Fortunately, as the substitute guest minister made clear, Paul is not asking us to do the impossible. Our goal is service unto man. Put a lid on what we think of ourselves and our prideful independence in favor of our collective interdependence upon each other and the Almighty. Christ died to save us all and, here in Philippi, Paul tells us that our conduct must be rooted in the following truth: out of this thing called humility, Christ saved the world.

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