Missions and Humility

Humility is an important part of missions.

I am currently in the midst of a study of Philippians 2:5-11 for my DMin thesis. I have been wrestling with various words and phrases from Paul’s “Christ hymn,” and I am always amazed at the new theological depths I uncover as I study this passage.

Philippians 2:5-8 goes like this — ” 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, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Paul tells us that Jesus practiced humility. Although he was the morphe (form, image, likeness) of God, he did not seize tightly to this advantage. Instead, he humbly practiced kenosis. Kenosis is a Greek word means emptying, making himself nothing, voluntarily giving up, etc.

Jesus practiced humility in three phases. First, he did not consider his equality as something that he needed to hold onto. The word that is here could mean “to consciously think, decide.” Jesus thought through the implications of humbling himself… then chose to do it anyway. Second, he took thee nature of a servant and was made human. Imagine… God, the creator of the universe and all that dwells in it, chose to become like his creation. God took on flesh in order to dwell among us. And third, Jesus humbled himself through obedience. While the subject of the verb isn’t explicit, Jesus was obedient to God and to God’s mission.  He allowed himself to be given in sacrifice, taking on the sins of the world. He “became sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). As Irenaus wrote, “He became like us so that we might become like him.” And Jesus allowed himself to die a painful, shameful death… as Paul writes, “even death on a cross!” It was public, it was shameful, and it was integral to God’s mission.

Humility is important for the missio Dei. And it is important for the missions of the church.

I distinctly remembering having a conversation with a friend in Argentina and becoming very frustrated with expressing myself in Spanish. Finally, exasperated, I stated, “Te prometo, ¡estoy más inteligente cuando hablo en inglés!” (I am much smarter when I speak in English…) Now, I am not sure if that is true… but at least I can say what I want to say in English!

Missions takes humility. One must be willing to become like a child when one moves to a foreign country. You cannot speak the language, at least not well. You aren’t sure how to rent an apartment, get around on public transportation, or order off of a menu. You habitually say and do the wrong things, often seeming foolish in the process. And you have to learn to laugh at yourself or you won’t survive.

Missions takes humility. You must enter a new culture as a learner and a student. One must learn before you can teach. Imagine how Jesus felt… The Creator of the Universe, born as a baby that had to learn to walk, talk, be potty trained, learn a trade craft, speak multiple languages, go through puberty, make friends, be a sibling… Jesus came as the Messiah and Great Teacher… and spent the first thirty years learning the culture he entered into.

Missions takes humility. And humility takes time and effort to learn. It isn’t natural to us. We want prestige. We desire recognition. We want success at the things we undertake. But at its core, missions is about learning to put ourselves under; to consider others more; to become less; to give glory to others; to learn from those we hope to teach.

C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” What an important point and a great reminder! Humility isn’t about self-deprecation but, instead, about other-valuation. It is about realizing that others are important, so in order to best reach them I must learn from them. Listen to them. Truly see them. Discover what it means to care about them.

The MISSION of GOD and the MISSIONS OF THE CHURCH are all about humility. That is why Paul tells us “Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” (Phil 2:5)

More on the meaning of that later…