Focal Passage: Philippians 2:1-5, 13-15
The essentials to maintaining a healthy physical body are familiar. Doctors, physical trainers, and nutritionists agree with the basic components: Eat a balanced diet covering all the needed vitamins and minerals, exercise, drink plenty of fluids, and get a good night’s sleep. But what is essential to maintain good health as the body of Christ? Paul tells us in Philippians 2:3:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3, NIV).
The key to congregational health is “humility.” Regrettably, “humility” can be associated with “weakness.” This is an unfortunate misconception. Biblical humility is not a poor self-image that denies our talent or accomplishments. Instead, it is a wholesome self-understanding that is strong enough to make a deliberate commitment to others’ welfare.
Healthy congregations are made up of folks willing to set their interests aside for the interests of others. This is the attitude that supplies churches with volunteers, that funds their budgets, and that enables people to be on mission.
A person who is physically healthy displays strength, good color, stamina, bone mass, and muscle tone. What qualities do healthy and humble churches look like?
Humble churches think like Jesus. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:5-7 NIV).
This is a great text about Jesus. It is thought to be part of an early Christian hymn. The words proclaim how Jesus had divine power, position, and privileges. He had every right to use them just for Himself. Instead, He thought of others. He was the king who became a slave.
But note that the primary point of this section is not to praise Jesus for His gracious works, but to inspire His followers to think the same way about others that Jesus did. We can demand our own way. But when we think like Jesus we are willing to give up these entitlements in consideration of others.
Tim Kellor, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, shared a question he asked when couples appealed to him for counsel regarding an issue of impasse in their relationship. He simply inquired: “Which of you two is going to be like Jesus?” Key to healthy marriages, families, friendships, and churches is a spirit that does not insist upon its own way, but, like Jesus, lovingly takes the role of a servant.
Humble churches are affirmed by the Lord. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9, NIV).
This is a wonderful and often quoted passage of eternal praise to Jesus. Jesus was humble before the world yet God exalted Him eternally.
That dynamic is not only true for Jesus; it is what He taught for us: Read Matthew 23:11-12, NIV. Peter echoes the same truth: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (I Peter 5:6 NIV). While the world may give little attention to them, we are assured that our acts of humility are noted and affirmed by heaven.
Humble churches stand out in the world. “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:14-15, NIV).
I love to look up into the night sky. Most of this expanse is black and dark. Yet it is against this background that the stars stand out! Christians are like stars. There are enough whiners, haters, critics, and self-centered cynics. Against such a somber backdrop, a community living in humility looks exceptional.
Streets and roads normally cross at intersections calling for at least some traffic to come to a complete stop. But occasionally you find roundabouts where drivers circle toward their needed direction. Studies show that there are far fewer car accidents in roundabouts than in traditional intersections. The reason is that typical “stop and go” intersections foster a spirit of competition among drivers. Roundabouts, on the other hand, encourage cooperation.
Churches are healthier when we are like roundabouts. When we stick with humility, yielding and submitting to others, the ministry advances far more swiftly and smoothly.
— McCluskey is pastor of North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland.