In his letters, Paul consistently teaches us what it means to be conformed to Christ. Particularly in Philippians 1:18-21, he points out that it is his blessing to suffer, that the gospel is going to gain from it, and Christ will be glorified, even if Paul dies doing the work. How does suffering, humiliation, and death create something positive and glorifying to God?
Paul explains that in Christ we are assured of our salvation, so we can bravely proclaim the gospel in life and, if necessary, in death. Paul exhorts us to see that to serve in humility is the only way to serve wholeheartedly and that this pattern conforms to the servanthood of Christ. Paul (and we) may have social, economic, academic or other reasons to feel superior. These are nothing compared to the superiority of Christ. Yet Christ emptied himself and took the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7). Following this example of downward humility gives us more opportunities to experience upward grace. Each time we remember how truly low we are (the law exists to shine this light), we have immediate hope in Christ and the grace He provides so that we will not suffer the consequence of our failures. That’s radical grace.
And so what do we do with this in our lives, in economically and logistically comfortable churches, in middle and upper-class life? Engage in the increase of the gospel, no matter the risk. Start where we are and, as Paul did, work our way farther and farther out, as God allows. Suburbanites can talk to neighbors, coworkers, and friends at the dinner party about what Christ has done for us. This may feel like a risk but it pales in comparison to the suffering, humiliation, and death that Christ and even the early church martyrs suffered. Rejoice in the small way we can relate to that suffering. Rejoice in the opportunity to share this radical grace that asks nothing in return. Because God’s grace asks for nothing and gives us everything, it is indeed everything that we should be willing to risk to proclaim it.
We can work our way out from our own proverbial Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Go to a town that doesn’t feel as safe as our own and serve (don’t preach, just serve). Comfortable suburbia, meet the inner city (or maybe even international missions), where needs are so much more readily on display and where the cultural divide requires us to make a conscious decision to humble ourselves and become lower than those we feed, clothe, and tend.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) ESV.
Here we may also be at greater physical risk. So be it. With prayerful discernment, we go forth.
The ways that we can humble ourselves to serve the gospel of Christ are innumerable. This is a small way we can model our own lives on Christ and be conformed to him. It will be our abundant joy to do so.