James Nisbet Commentary - Philippians 2:5 - 2:5

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James Nisbet Commentary - Philippians 2:5 - 2:5

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’


What is the humility for which the Christian must strive? If the Bible seems to give an uncertain answer, remember there is a great distinction between the teaching of the Old Testament and that of the New.

I. The great distinction.—In the Old Testament, for the Jew humility meant a feeling towards God only; towards a man who was rich or powerful he would bow down, but he felt no regard for him. Even those who were described as poor and humble were often full of pride—pride of wealth, pride of birth, pride of intellect, pride of virtue. Turning next to the New Testament, we see that while the words ‘humble’ and ‘humility’ are not often found in it, yet the quality they represent can be found on almost every page. There was the example of Jesus and of St. Paul, His chief follower. In the Epistle to the Philippians St. Paul condemns instances of pride as enemies of the Christian life. St. Paul, after enumerating his own qualifications, condemned all boasting when he said, ‘Howbeit, what things were gain to me I counted loss for Christ’; and the same thought is brought out elsewhere when he says, ‘If I must needs glory, I will glory in my infirmities.’

II. In what does this Christian humility consist, and how does it answer to some current ideas on the subject?—It does not mean the repudiation of the powers that God had given to man: that would be ingratitude. St. Paul gratefully recognised his gifts. Nor does it mean that a man must distrust himself, as those who, to avoid doing wrong, do nothing. St. Paul lent no countenance to any such idea. The Roman Church has always insisted upon the submission of the intellect of all its sons to those in authority above them—the layman to the priest, the priest to the Bishop, the Bishop to the Pope—but how far such submission was from St. Paul we may see from his Epistle to the Galatians. It is ours to seek to know and to obey the truth, and that demands a large measure of independence of thought and action. To submit one’s intellect to another is not true, but false, humility. Wherein, then, did St. Paul’s humility consist? Three points may be observed which will help us.

(a) He valued few things so much as his own independence of thought and faith, yet he sacrificed it for the sake of others. He was prepared to be all things to all men that he might save some.

(b) He was accused by his own converts at Corinth of deceit and unfairness, yet he suppressed his natural feelings of indignation and answered their charges.

(c) He occupied a foremost place among the rulers of Jerusalem, yet he placed all his gifts at the service of each little Church; and, lest they should begrudge the cost of food and lodging, he worked with his own hands for his own support. Thus we see that St. Paul’s humility was simple, direct, unaffected.

III. We pass on to consider the example of the Lord Himself.—But one incident will suffice, that of the washing of the disciples’ feet, and we lay stress upon the teaching of the words ‘If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.’ What can we learn from this?

(a) That perfect humility is consistent with the full recognition of power.

(b) That as there could be no question of self-discipline in our Lord’s case, me see that the action was right and beautiful in itself. It was an act done to poor fishermen. Is there, then, such great worth in man? Yes; and that brings us to the root of the matter, for nothing is more prominent in our Lord’s teaching than the value He set upon individual souls. Thus we see that Christian humility has two aspects: it bows with the deepest reverence before the Majesty of God, as in the Old Testament; and it recognises, as in the New, the brotherhood of man.

IV. How, then, shall we describe the humble Christian?—He is one who knows that the nature which all men share is something very great and very precious; and he learns this truth, not from the Psalms, but from the Gospel of the Incarnation. He is one who knows that the value of each single soul is equal to his own. That is one way of stating the truth, but there is another. Let us turn our prose into the poetry of St. Paul by quoting that wonderful passage from another of St. Paul’s Epistles, changing only the word ‘charity’ into ‘humility,’ thus: ‘Humility suffereth long and is kind,’ and so on to the end of the ‘poem.’ Is it not plain that humility is nothing but charity in its earthly aspect? Humility is charity’s earthly cloak, but it will fall from her shoulders when she enters the courts of the King Whose name is Love.

Rev. Canon Glazebrook.



‘Behold My servant!’ (Isa_42:1). ‘Ich dien’ (‘I serve’) is the motto of our royal prince, but it is also the motto of the Prince of princes.

Let us endeavour to contemplate our Blessed Lord as the servant of the Father; in His descent; His dependence; His devotion.

I. Let us contemplate Him in His descent.—If we would understand what it cost the Lord of glory to become a servant, we must remember who He was and who He is. What is the great hindrance to service? It is unwillingness to stoop. How the Master by His blessed descent has abased the pride and self-consciousness of men! How He bids us take the lowest place, that we may lift up those we go down to seek!

II. We see more fully this lesson of humility when we consider our Lord’s dependence.—‘The Son can do nothing of Himself.’ Oh, wondrous pattern of an emptied life! Then, if this be so, do I not see the necessity of being self-emptied? If I am to live a life of faith, must I not be self-emptied? Christ emptied Himself of His glory; must not I be emptied of my meanness?

III. Consider the devotion of His life of service.

(a) Its voluntariness.

(b) Its unobtrusiveness.

(c) Its compassionateness.

(d) His sternness.

(e) His laboriousness.

(f) Its faithfulness.

Sacrifice lies at the foundation of service. To this He calls us; may we hear His voice, obey His Word, follow His example, and accept His power, for His name’s sake.

Rev. E. W. Moore.


‘Sweetly sings George Herbert:—

“ ‘Hast thou not heard that my Lord Jesus died?

Then let me tell thee a strange story.

The God of power, when He did ride

In His majestic robes of glory,

Resolved to light, and so one day

He did descend, unrobing all the way.

“ ‘The stars His tire of light, and rings obtained,

The clouds His bow, the fire his spear,

The sky His azure mantle gained.

And when they asked what He did wear,

He smiled, and said as He did go,

He had new clothes a making here below.” ’



Here St. Paul is discussing mainly the necessity of certain Christian duties and certain Christian virtues, and he points to the example of the God-Man, Christ Jesus.

I. The model.—The mind which was in Christ Jesus. It was—

(a) Disinterested.

(b) Humble.

(c) Gracious.

II. The imitation.—‘Let this mind be in you’: the same moral and spiritual excellences. His thoughts, desires, motives, actions, must all be ours. A higher or better model to imitate we could not have; and a less perfect one would neither have sufficed for Him nor for us. Is it possible to copy it? Yes. The standard is high—exceedingly high; but it is not altogether above and beyond us. By longing for it, praying for it, and believing for it, we shall gradually and certainly ‘come unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’ Our mind a transcript of His mind, His heaven will ultimately be our everlasting home’ (1Jn_3:2-3).


‘Those are true and beautiful words, which the little shepherd boy was singing at the bottom of the valley, in the Pilgrim’s Progress:

“ ‘He that is down, needs fear no fall;

He that is low, no pride:

He that is humble ever shall

Have God to be his guide.” ’