A pyrophobic firefighter. A book-averse librarian. A doctor who is grossed out by germs. We shake our heads at the thought of these living, breathing oxymorons. If such workers exist (and they just well might), we would think them comical at best and hypocritical at worst.
Conceited mothers are no different.
By its very nature, motherhood is humbling work. From the moment of her child’s conception, a woman willingly opens her womb for the ministry of hospitality. She welcomes new life by giving her body as a sacrifice, laying down her comfort and pre-baby body on the maternal altar of love.
After intense pains bring forth her child, a mother’s labor has only just begun. Moment by moment, day by day, over many years, she assumes the role of a servant leader, laying herself down for the good of her kids.
Yes, motherhood is humbling work. And that makes conceited motherhood a sad contradiction.
War Against Conceit
We moms know this, and yet we still wage war against selfishness. Most mornings, I have to verbally remind myself before my two little kids come downstairs, “They are not here to help you. You are here to help them.” For those of us who love Christ and long to be more like him, our struggle with sin remains — but thank God there is a struggle! Our fight against it offers good evidence that we are truly alive in Christ. He has changed our hearts and given us the desire to be humble as he is humble:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
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. (Philippians 2:3–8)
“To be a humble mom is to look increasingly like Jesus as we look increasingly to Jesus.”
Jesus Christ is the most humble human who has ever lived. So, to be a humble mom — a mom who fights against “selfish ambition or conceit,” and therefore a mom in the truest, God-given sense of the word — is to look increasingly like Jesus as we look increasingly to Jesus. Only as we realize that he lives to serve his people (us!) will we fight the temptation toward selfishness and long for a heart that looks like his.
Because knowing and loving him is more satisfying than anything we could gain by sin.
Three Temptations We Face
Let’s identify now three ways that selfish ambition and conceit tempt mothers like you and me, following Paul’s flow of thought in the passage above. Then we will counter each of these temptations with a lingering look at Jesus, the holy and humble Son of God, who alone can deliver us from self and clothe us in his humility.
Temptation 1: Count Yourself More Significant Than Your Kids
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
You know the thought: This work — whether diaper changing, mess cleaning, snack making, or repeating myself a hundred times — is below me. I am too good for this. We may not say these words, but many of us think or feel them. Motherhood involves repetitive, simple, lowly work toward little ones, and so it’s easy to think we are too important for it.
Eve’s original temptation from the garden is ours: we want to be like God. And yet, in our pride, we don’t realize how low our God has stooped to serve sinners like us.
We may think we have good reasons for struggling to serve, but if anyone actually does, it would be the Son of God. And yet, nothing kept him from stooping to help us:
Though he was in the form of God, [he] 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. (Philippians 2:6–7)
This is astounding. The Son of God left his high position in heaven and made his home in the dust of earth. He left his unseen form as God of the universe and confined himself to a human body and soul. He left the glory he had known for all eternity to walk among sinful and murderous people.
“In our motherly pride, we may want to be like God — but the truth is, our God has become like us.”
In our motherly pride, we may want to be like God — but the truth is, our God has become like us. He wrapped himself in human flesh to deliver us from our sinful flesh, from the selfishness and conceit that would keep us from being faithful mothers who willingly lower ourselves to serve our kids, counting it our joy and privilege to do so. Only as we gaze upon the incarnate humility of Jesus will our definition of significance be altered, for his stooping posture of service is the perfect picture of greatness (Matthew 23:11). With all our hearts, we confess our pride and ask him to empty us of our former selves, filling us instead with Spirit-given joy in taking the posture of a servant (John 13:14).
Temptation 2: Look Only to Your Own Interests
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)
Every mom knows how often plans change. And this is humbling. As we realize that we are not God, that our future is not in our control, and that only he knows what’s next, we are confronted with how tightly we hold to our own interests. We’re made aware of our vice grip on our circumstances. We think, This wasn’t my plan. We need to spend precious naptime minutes disciplining our child instead of resting; we must cancel our long-awaited vacation because everyone has the flu; our dream of motherhood is thwarted by a life-altering diagnosis in one of our children.
The question for us is, How will we respond to God when plans change? In pride, or in humility?
During his earthly ministry, Jesus’s posture was to joyfully humble himself to the will of his Father. Even as he sought rest, solitude, and prayer after a busy season of ministering, he found himself confronted by needy crowds (sound familiar?). And what was his response? He was not annoyed or angry, but “he had compassion on them,” for he knew that these people were sent to him straight from his Father (Matthew 14:13–21).
He looked not only to his own interests, but to the interests of others, and ultimately to the interests of his Father.
The ultimate display of his obedience to the Father was the cross: “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). The sinless one took on our sin, bearing the full weight of God’s wrath in our place. What matchless obedience! And this, so we also would joyfully humble ourselves before God and obey his will, looking to his interests and the interests of others above our own.
This is freedom, momma. To be released from the tyranny and fallenness of self into the perfect ways and infinitely wise agenda of God as we serve our kids — this is the truest life, and true, humble motherhood.
Temptation 3: Forget Who You Are in Christ
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)
What mind does Paul call us to have? A humble one. A Christlike one. But lest we get discouraged by our remaining selfishness, by how far we still feel from Jesus’s humility, Paul reminds us of a vital reality: our union with Christ. “Which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
Mom, you no longer belong to yourself. If you have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, then you have been united to him in saving faith. This means that you have an unshakable security in Christ that no bad day of motherhood can undo. It means you are not left to your own resources as you fight selfishness, but have his Spirit of humility dwelling within you. It means that sin is no longer your master; Jesus is.
So when you are tempted to forget who you are in Christ — when the pull toward lofty pride or your own interests feels too strong; when you would rather scoff at your kid’s mess than clean it up (again); when you “just want to be done,” but the needs keep rolling in — remember that the living Savior lives in you. The exalted one, seated at the Father’s right hand, has made his home within you by his Spirit. You are Christ’s, he is yours, and he joyfully gives himself, without restraint, to you.
You are united to the God of all creation, who emptied himself to serve you to the point of death, and all the way through it to resurrection life. And if this perfectly humble God is on your side, momma, what conceit or selfishness can stand against you?