I have worked as a primary care provider since finishing a pediatric residency in 1999. Having a job in healthcare gives me numerous opportunities to be humbled in very good ways. I am encouraged that during my career, there has been a clear evolution away from the traditional hierarchical deference to doctors, and a more effective movement to the importance of teamwork, and the need for equal footing to eliminate errors or other threats to patient safety. All of this is a move toward healthily-oriented, cooperative humility.
There’s a reason it was talked about in Philippians. People living in the period when the New Testament was written were greatly influenced by Greek and Roman philosophy, in turn not significantly different in their attitudes about humility compared to American culture today. New Testament Greeks had as high a view of individual freedom as we do now. In non-biblical writings from that time in history, humility was disdained. Status was important. Humility was associated with low status and little worth; it was not something to be desired. With this understanding we come to scripture, which is packed with commands to be humble, with Jesus’ call to become the least and a servant of all.
According to Philippians 2:1-11, humility, for Paul, began with having the mindset of Christ. In this passage he tells the Philippians: if you know Christ, then you have to think like Christ. Paul gives a poem of sorts to explain what he means. He says: let the thinking be in you that was in Christ. It was at Jesus’ disposal to be the same nature as God, but he decided that equality with God wasn’t something he was going to grasp after or hold onto. Instead, he chose to make himself of no consequence, to take the nature of a slave, to obediently die in a humiliating way. It was because of this humility that God exalted him. Jesus chose the lowest status possible; consequently, God gave him the highest status possible.
This movement — lowering one’s self down and then being lifted up — is the movement of scripture. It is at the very core of Christianity. “Become the least,” Jesus said, and one day you will be the greatest. It was the opposite of the prevailing sentiment in the world that Jesus lived in and it is the opposite of today’s world that never willingly moves down.
What does it mean to be Humble? It means to move down.
According to the example of Jesus, it is giving up what we could have, what is “rightfully” ours for the sake of others. Paul spells out a little more practically what that downward movement looks like in the four commands he gives in Philippians 2:3-4, and again in verse 14. He says, first — do nothing out of selfish ambition or for your own self-interest; second — do nothing out of vain conceit or to look good or for appearance sake; third — consider others better than yourselves, not focusing on your own interests, but focusing on the interests of others. Lastly, do everything without complaining or arguing.
Based on these commands and the example Paul gives in Christ, here are three conclusions about humility that we can take away with us:
Humility never asks “What’s in it for me?”
It never acts on its own self-interest. It never seeks the best for itself. It doesn’t come to church because the church meets its needs.
Humility never asks, “How will I look?”
It does nothing out of a desire to look good, or religious, or holy or important or smart.
Humility never says “I deserve better than this.”
It does not complain or argue when things don’t go its way. It never grasps after what it could have, or what it “deserves.”
Friends, they wouldn’t say this about themselves, but this is how the staff of Word Made Flesh operates. This is who they are. In humility, they do their work out of love for Jesus and for others. I’m thankful to be part of the board of directors.
Finally, now that I am seeing the routine use of the abbreviation “WFH” (Work From Home), I am struggling to adjust to not thinking someone is writing about “WMF” (Word Made Flesh). I suppose this is an opportunity for me to be prompted to pray more often for our brothers and sisters serving as compassionate “Word Made Flesh” ministers of God’s grace across the globe. Would you in humility and compassion pray with me for these folks all over the world?
Gil Liu is Medical Director for the Kentucky Department of Medicaid Services. He is a Louisville, Kentucky pediatrician and member of the University of Louisville School of Medicine faculty.
He offers his medical philosophy: “My mission is to attain optimal physical, mental and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents and young adults. As a medical school faculty member, I bring clinical expertise, research, and education to bear on accomplishing these objectives.”
Gil serves as the current Chair for the American Academy of Pediatrics Pediatric Leadership Alliance, a globally recognized initiative to improve the leadership capacity of pediatricians and other health care providers.
Learn more about our board of directors here.