Philippians Day Seven
September 28, 2020, 4:00 AM

Lord, It’s Hard to Be Humble
Philippians 2:5-8

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient

to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Humility is the word that describes the mindset of Christ. And yet, it seems that the history of Christendom has not been defined by this mindset, in the main. I reference the above mosaic, which depicts the Byzantine emperor, Justinian I and his court (sixth century AD).

The Byzantine Empire, you’ll remember, began with Constantine’s vision of Christ the night before the epic Battle at Milvian Bridge with Maxentius— for sole control of the Roman Empire. Jesus said, “In this Sign, conquer,” so goes the story, and Constantine did, and they did. He subsequently had the "Sign" Chi-Rho (the first two Greek letters in the name of Christ) painted on all the soldier’s shields in honor of the deity who gave the victory. In summary, Constantine converted to Christianity, and his Empire followed.

Back to the picture above, note well that the emperor is set apart from his court with a halo, normally reserved for Christ and the Holy Family. Ironically, the Byzantine emperors were supposed to be exemplary subjects of Christ. Christian ruling stewards-shepherds, which slowly evolved into “Christ’s vice-regent on earth.” (More like "co-regent"). Humble King, an oxymoron?

Nic Fields, in his story-laden account of Constantinople (Christendom’s capital city), describes the pageantry of the Byzantine Court, which seems so far removed from the Jesus we encounter in the Gospels; and the Jesus that speaks to us through the epistles of Paul. Fields writes, “Imperial events [became] carefully choreographed spectacles, reproducing the spiritual benefits to the people of having a sovereign who was God on earth” (God’s City, p.102).

Let me give you a taste of Imperial habit, through a vignette in the life of Constantine the Great’s son, and successor, Constantius II. The emperor “his position once on the throne was exceedingly elevated and withdrawn. His formal powers were virtually unlimited. He was, after all, God on earth.” Due to “his unutterably lordly status, everything relating to him was pronounced sacred. A series of successive edicts even restricted the numbers of those who were entitled to touch his purple robes, and who were permitted to perform their obeisance before His Serenity in person. Those unqualified to obtain such access prostrated themselves before his holy images and portraits instead…. The emperor therefore became an untouchable figure, closer to the gods [than anyone else]… the court developed a style of obsequiousness [never seen before]. This distancing of the emperor from the people he ruled is demonstrated by the conduct of Constantius II, who went so far as to behave like a statue in real life whenever he appeared in public. ‘He was like a dummy, gazing straight before him as if his head was in a vice, turning neither right nor left. When a wheel jolted he did not nod, and at no point was he seen to spit or to wipe or rub his face or nose or to move his hand.’” [According to the ancient Roman historian, Ammianus’ eyewitness of a state visit to Rome in 357]. (God’s City, p.98).

Again, a far cry from the simple, humble Savior.

In the picture above — “The gold tesserae mosaic panel in the southern vestibule of Hagia Sophia, depicting the Blessed Virgin, Mary, enthroned on a bejeweled throne, holding the Christ child on her knees. Two emperors on either side: …On her left, Constantine I offers her a replica of Constantinople, and on her right, Justinian I offers her a replica of Hagia Sophia.” This mosaic dates to the tenth century. The ΜΡ (Mater) and θυ (Theou) surrounding Mary are the Greek letters for “Mother of God.” As I mentioned, Constantine made Byzantium his New Rome, soon to be called Constantinople, and Justinian I was the builder-emperor who made Hagia Sophia the largest, most glorious basilica in the world. On December 27, 537 AD, he allegedly walked into the church at its dedication, and said, “O Solomon, I have surpassed thee!”

As we come into modern times, we realize that it isn’t just Byzantine emperors and courts that seem to miss the simple call of Jesus. On one of his podcasts, pastor and author, Paul David Tripp, speaks to the current crisis of spiritual leadership in the Church. We’ve witnessed way too much pastoral misconduct of late. He writes, “I think there are two things that are at the heart of the leadership crisis in the church. I think the first one is we've backed away from a biblical definition of a leader— humble, gentle, kind, faithful, loving servant… Our definition of a leader is strong personality; quick witted; a forceful, domineering, able to win the day in a discussion or an argument; can cast vision and collect people… No wonder, we've produced a culture of ministry bullies.”

Having said all of this, I do want to recognize that there have been so many movements in the history of the Church over the thousands of years that have been so commendable. Christians who have sought first, the kingdom of heaven. Saints who’ve eschewed the world for the simplicity and humility of their Savior. However, history also demonstrates how easy it is to forget the call to Christ-mindedness for Christ-followers. Humility is not an easy, or at times, the desirable path. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3). But this is the call. (Our Sign, if you will ;-)


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