Pillars of Christian Character: Humility
Once upon a time, two brothers grew up on a farm. One loved framing, the other hated it. The one who hated farming eventually went away to college, earned a law degree, and became a partner in a prominent law firm in the state capital. The other brother stayed on the family farm doing what farmers do. One day the lawyer came and visited his brother, the farmer. He asked, "Why don't you go out and do something important, and make a name for yourself like I have so that you can hold your head up high in the world like me." The brother pointed and said, "See that field of wheat over there? Look closely. Only the stalks with empty heads stand up straight and tall. Those that are well filled always bow low."
Said differently, "The branch that bears the most fruit is bent the lowest to the ground."
Jesus told his disciples: "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all." It was a lesson, however, that the disciples were slow to learn. It seems that they each desired to be the best without necessarily doing their best. Each was always trying to out-maneuver their fellow disciples and ingratiate themselves to Jesus. In Matthew, chapter 20, we see the mother of James and John come to Jesus with a request: “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:21, NIV84)
Learning that Jesus' aunt was actively promoting her two sons, the other disciples went spastic: “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.” (Matthew 20:24, NIV84)
To put it mildly, it really bent ‘em out of shape. Even at the Last Supper, envy, rivalry and pride surfaced among the disciples (Luke 22:24). I can imagine on numerous occasions, Jesus saying to himself, "Oi, vai, ain't these schlemiels ever going to get it?"
I think that Jesus must look at us sometimes and still say, "Oi, vai, ain't these guys ever going to get it?" We live in a proud and egotistical generation. People push and promote themselves in ways that would have been abhorrent and totally unacceptable only a generation ago. Yet in a great part of modern culture, pride, exaggerated self-esteem, and shameless self-promotion have come to be redefined not only as virtues but as the supreme virtue.
American's obsession with self-esteem, self-fulfillment, and self-glory has become a major industry that ranges from exercise programs to motivation for executive success. Tragically, the cult of selfism has even found its way into evangelical Christianity. Books, seminars, conferences, magazines, and organizations that promote self under the guise of personal spiritual development abound. The movement has found little resistance in the church, which often seems determined to beat the world at its own fleshly game. From countless sources, claims are heard that God's great design for His people is health, prosperity, success, happiness, and—of course—self-fulfillment.
The Bible's teaching of suffering and cross-bearing and humility for Christ's sake are either ignored altogether or foolishly explained away. Like the disciple's, we frequently argue about who's number one instead of becoming a slave to all.
This morning, I want you to consider cultivating an attitude of humility.
I. THE REASON FOR HUMILITY
- the world says one ascends into greatness, but the Bible reveals that one descends into greatness
- for the believer the way up is to go down
- the word for this topsy-turvey attitude is humility
- this is perhaps the most counter culture virtue in all of scripture, especially for people grasping for the top
- we are programed to be winners at all costs in our culture
- ILLUS. Though Vince Lombardi, the famous Green Bay Packers coach usually gets the credit for the quote, it was actually ‘Red' Sanders of the UCLA Bruians who first told his team: "Men, I'll be honest. Winning isn't everything. (Long pause.) Men, it's the only thing!" Like many sports clichés, the quote gets applied to almost every other area of life. Unfortunately it’s an attitude that is poisoning athletic competitions, financial institutions, businesses, and even politics. Whether is doping or cheating, or creative accounting, or taking out your opponent, winning at all costs has become one of the preeminent philosophies in American culture.
A. GREATNESS IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD COMES BY HUMBLE SERVICE, NOT IN BEING NUMBER ONE
- “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35, NIV84)
- the logic for pursuing humility as a Christian character trait is pretty simple
- Jesus called for us to exercise humility
- Jesus was pretty blunt about how to do that—we become the willing servant of all
- being a disciple means deliberately identifying yourself with God's interests in other people
- Jesus epitomized the mind and life of humility
- “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3–8, NIV84)
- “and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:27–28, NIV84)
- Christians are to emulate Jesus
- the Apostle Paul tells us in the Philippians passage, Let this mind be in you ...
- even though Jesus deserved to be exalted and worshiped, he emptied himself of his glory, was made in the likeness of men and became a servant
- are we above the Master?
- the Apostle Peter, in calling his readers to humility, reminds us that Christ is our spiritual model
- “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21, NIV84)
II. THE ROAD TO HUMILITY
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:3–6, NIV84)
- in order to achieve humility, it first helps to have a working definition—“What is humility?”
- humility is the opposite of a sense of entitlement
- do you walk through life with the attitude “You owe me”?
- we see this attitude in such statements as ...
- Everybody else is ... They all have ... If you really loved me ... They're not being fair ... You owe me—big time ...
- the sense of entitlement is a dangerous cancer that is eating away at the soul of modern society
- how do we combat it within ourselves, because to one degree or another, we are all afflicted with it?
- I think that the first step on the road to humility is to remember from whence we came
- it's seeing ourselves as we really are
- true humility is not thinking lowly of ourselves but thinking accurately of ourselves
- for the Christian, thinking accurately about ourselves comes only from being stunned at the grace of God—when God owed you nothing but damnation and hell—but offered you grace and heaven instead
- such contemplation will always put us in our place!
- Christ Himself—in His Sermon on the Mount—told His disciples that it is the Poor of Spirit who are to be congratulated for they are the ones who will see God
- the word translated poor in Matthew 5:3 is a word which means to be so poor that you have to beg
- it describes a person who has no means of support
- it was a term used to describe beggars who had no skill, or who were disabled to a degree that they could not function in a job
- such people are utterly destitute
- Jesus says the Kingdom belongs to people who come to God with nothing, who know they are nothing and who have come to understand their spiritual bankruptcy
- ILLUS. In Luke, chapter 18, Jesus tells a story that contrasts religious pride vs. spiritual humility. It's the story of the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisee, Jesus says, boasts with pride, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." But the Publican – that is a tax collector – beats his chest in contrition, hangs his head in shame and whispers, "God be merciful to me for I am a sinner." Jesus concludes the story, saying, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
A. THE POOR IN SPIRIT RECOGNIZE THEIR SPIRITUAL POVERTY OF HEART AND SOUL
- the road to humility is paved with the stones of brokenness, contrition, and penitence
- in other words, Jesus says that those who are most truly happy in the Kingdom of God are those who have an absence of pride
- ILLUS. The truly humble sing along with the hymn writer, "Not the labors of my hands, Can fulfill Thy law's demands; These for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone In my hand no price I bring, Simply to the cross I cling." (Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me by Augustus Toplady)
- first, mourning over sin as you contemplate your desperation and agonize over your rebellious condition
- second, your mourning is characterized by meekness in approaching the throne of God because you realize your utter unworthiness to do so
- like Isaiah, you cry out Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts (Isa. 6:5)
- third, your hunger and thirst for righteousness propels you to your knees in repentance and contrition and you confess—like the publican of Luke 18, God, be merciful to me a sinner!
B. GRACE IS NEVER AN EXCUSE FOR PRIDE
- ILLUS. There is an old ditty that goes: “It needs more skill than I can tell; To play the second fiddle well.” Leonard Bernstein was once asked which instrument was the most difficult to play. He thought for a moment and then replied, "The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that's a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony."
- friends, humility means always being willing to be second fiddle to Jesus Christ
- it doesn't mean being second rate
- humility is not self-hatred or lack of self-confidence
- neither does it imply that a person becomes the proverbial doormat, allowing others to walk all over them
- nor does a humble person look down on themselves or their abilities
- furthermore, humility is not a call to mediocrity and a substandard quality of life
- humility simply understands that God is sovereign and you ain't!
- you are no more worthy of God' goodness and grace now then on the day you first came to Christ
- you're still a sinner and it is still God's grace that sustains you
- there's no more place for pride in your life now then the day you gave your heart to Jesus
- you're still wretched and unworthy in and of yourself
- whatever is good, whatever is noble, whatever godly features may exist in your life are the work of the Spirit and not you
- perhaps this is why the Apostle Peter tells his readers," ... and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble," (1 Peter 5:5, KJV)
- the word clothe in this passage means to tie a piece of clothing to oneself
- ILLUS. Peter could be referring to a common practice of that day where slaves used to knot a white scarf or apron over their clothing to distinguish themselves from freemen.
- it is for those who have a Beatitude-attitude – for those who are spiritually bankrupt and know it
III. THE REWARD OF HUMILITY
- Jesus humbled Himself, and then God exalted Him
- this is what Jesus preached will happen to us
- "And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." (Matthew 23:12, KJV)
- we will be exalted by His blessings
- in his sovereign rule, God has seen fit to bless and to elevate those he has chosen
- ILLUS. Abraham and Isaac enjoyed God's spiritual and material blessing (Gen. 24:35; 26:13). In the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River Joshua was exalted as the leader of Israel, (Josh. 3:7). Psalms 75:10 and 112:9 say that those who are righteous are lifted up and given honor. 1 Sam. 2:7–8 tells us that God takes special delight in raising up the poor and humble.
- "But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. "For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it." (Matthew 13:16-17, NASB95)
- "For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, "I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite." (Isaiah 57:15, NASB95)
- what more glorious exaltation can the believer desire?
- He will exalt us when He glorifies us with Christ, His Son
- "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him." (Romans 8:16-17, NASB95)
- "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure." (1 John 3:2-3, NASB95)
- "Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." (Matthew 25:34, NASB95)
- "Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:6, NASB95)
- let me offer you three suggestions ...
- by remembering from whence you came
- by living in daily obedience to Christ
- by being a servant to others
As a believer, are you cultivating humility in your life or has your pride led you to believe that you are indispensable to your company, or your family, or your church?
When a company takes over another company, there is often a sign placed outside the premises announcing, Under New Management.
No sign so accurately summarizes what takes place in Christian conversion. When Christ takes over a life, that life is literally under new management. Is God managing your pride?
ILLUS. In the year 1847, a doctor from Edinburgh, Sir James Simpson, discovered that chloroform could be used as an anaesthetic to render people insensible to the pain of surgery. From his early experiments, Dr. Simpson made it possible for people to go through the most dangerous operations without fear of pain and suffering. His was one of the most significant discoveries of modern medicine.
Some years later, while lecturing at the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Simpson was asked by one of his students, “What do you consider to be the most valuable discovery of your lifetime?” To the surprise of his students, who had expected him to refer to chloroform, Dr. Simpson replied, “My most valuable discovery was when I discovered myself a sinner and that Jesus Christ was my Saviour.”