The Humble Heart of a Servant
Humility is a cornerstone in our relationship with Christ. Why is that?
6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
We see God’s word saying that He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
I want you to think about this passage and let sink in. If you are proud, you wake up every morning and the creator of the universe, heavens, and earth is at war with you.
Conversely, if we are humble, we wake up every morning and the creator of the universe gives us grace. That is a pretty remarkable thought as well.
However, we still have not answered that the question as to why humility is the cornerstone of our relationship with Christ.
Pride usurps God’s glory.
28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
That leads us to the next question, why does God even care?
Why is He so needy that He requires us to glorify Him at all times and resists us whenever we glorify ourselves?
Ironically, that is a question that many people have. They see God as an egomaniac who wants everyone and everything to glorify Him all the time.
The key to answering this question lies in this whole notion of Christian Hedonism.
God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.
There is perfect harmony in that statement.
If that statement is true, then our greatest happiness lies within God’s greatest glorification.
God’s glorification and our greatest enjoyment run perfectly parallel with each other.
They are never in opposition.
God’s glory shines in our happiness. When our happiness is in Him.
God is the one being, whose self-exultation is the most loving act that we can ever experience.
If we exalt ourselves, we are distracting those around us from knowing the one person that can make them eternally happy.
If God exalts Himself, He draws our attention to the one that can make us happy forever.
If we do that, we are egomaniacs. If God does it, He is infinitely loving.
It is a natural flow. You will find the most happiness in God, which will result in His glorification.
Nothing demonstrates this more than the cross.
God saved us from eternity in hell by giving us His Son. He was and is fully exalted in the cross and it is for our greatest eternal benefit—eternal life.
17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
So, Paul, Luke, and the rest of the gang finally arrive in Jerusalem.
Verse 17: The brothers, which is referring to other believers in Christ welcomed them gladly or with joy. They were happy to see them.
No doubt, they were happy to see them because they brought with them a substantial offering to give to the Church, but that wasn’t the focus of their joy.
They just elated to see Paul again after all of the miles he had travelled.
Verse 18: They go in to see James and all of the other elders. This is James the brother of Christ. They saw him as well as the elders of the church.
Notice that James is the only apostle that is mentioned. By this time the other apostles had left Jerusalem and were away teaching and preaching on their own.
James stayed behind and was the leader of the church at Jerusalem.
I want to point out something that demonstrates the heart of Paul. That is the beauty of this entire passage. Paul’s servant heart is magnified in this entire passage.
Paul started approximately 20 churches, directly. There is no telling how many he started indirectly, by producing reproducing Christians.
He goes back to Jerusalem and tells them the things that GOD has done among the gentiles through his ministry.
He gave God the glory 100%. He took none for himself.
He knew that it was God working through him that was responsible for this work.
Then look at what James and the elders did in response to Paul’s good news.
They glorified who? They glorified God.
Paul, James, and the Jerusalem elders knew that if he glorified himself, it would distract everyone from the one being that is capable of fulfilling their every need, God.
Folks, I want you to understand that Paul was a magnificent preacher and teacher.
He was extremely smart and had a wonderful gift of oration.
But, he knew and understood that it was gift from God.
I am quite sure that his flesh was telling him that he was responsible for all of those believers and the growth of the church.
That’s what our flesh loves to do.
The question is really a simple question. Why does fleshly pride tend to flow from our gifts or abilities?
It’s quite silly actually. We didn’t do anything to get those gifts. God gave them to us.
If we are intelligent, it’s not because of something we did or didn’t do.
If we have an ability, any ability, regardless of what it is, we didn’t do anything for it. God gave it to us as the result of His sovereign choice.
So, when we break it all down, the responsibility for any success we have in life flows directly to God and only God.
As soon as they glorified God, the conversation takes a little different turn.
20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.
Paul has ran head-long into a problem at the Jerusalem church.
Remember, that Paul has been planting these churches in areas where there was a large percentage of Gentiles. However, there were also Jews intermingled that believed with the Gentiles.
James says that the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem have heard that he is teaching the Jews to forsake the law of Moses, not to circumcise their children and to throw away their Jewish customs.
Where they right or were they wrong? Yes and no.
Clearly, Paul taught everyone, Gentiles and Jews alike that you did not have to observe the law of Moses to be saved. In fact, it was impossible to be saved by keeping the commandments because you can’t.
In addition, he taught everyone that circumcision was not necessary for salvation.
In fact, this very church held a meeting and decided that the Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to be saved.
He also taught that them that they did not have to abide by the Jewish customs to be saved either—the rituals of cleanliness and eating, so on and so forth.
However, if you look closely at the text, it is a false belief that these Jews had.
Paul never told them to forsake the law of Moses or that it was unimportant.
24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
I don’t like the way that ESV translates paidagogos (pidogogos) as guardian. The NASB translates it as tudor.
If you listen to the word paidagogos, you can hear the word pedgogy. Pedgogy, which means to teach. in fact, paidagogos is the greek root word for pedagogy.
So, Paul was saying here that the Law was a teacher until Christ came.
What did it teach us?
It taught us that we are incapable of keeping the law.
In that respect, Paul would never had said that the Jews should forsake the law of Moses. He had a great deal of respect for the law.
1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Paul circumcised Timothy himself. Now, his circumcision had nothing to do with salvation but more to do with identifying as a Jew because he was half Greek. It was a credibility issue. Still Paul did not forbid circumcision as the Jerusalem Christians claimed.
Neither did Paul tell them to throw away their Jewish customs. He did tell them that the customs had nothing to do with salvation.
22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.
James and the Jerusalem elders have a problem. They are happy Paul is there, but the know that there is going to be problems if something isn’t done to remedy this problem.
You can tell that they thought about keeping him a secret if only for a moment.
When they say, “They will certainly hear that you have come.”
Clearly, the idea of keeping him secret entertained their thoughts for a time.
However, they decided against that.
They then tell him to accompany four men who are under a vow. We covered this a few weeks ago when Paul, himself, took a nazarite vow.
Nazarite vows came in two forms: Lifelong and short-term.
The Bible contains 3 men that were God-ordained life-long Nazarites—Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist.
They could not shave, cut their hair, drink wine or eat grapes or anything from the vine.
They were consecrating themselves to the Lord.
Then there were short-term vows.
They abstained from the same things but it was for a short period, 30 days or 7 seven days.
At the end of that period, they would cut their hair and burn in an altar in the Temple.
Again, it signified the setting aside of yourself for God.
This was the plan to show the Jews that they were wrong for believing that about Paul.
25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
Now, you recall that back up in chapter 15, they sent a letter to the Gentile churches telling them that they didn’t have to be circumcised.
However, they did tell them to abstain from things that have been sacrificed to idols, from blood (eating bloody meat) and from eating meat that came from strangled animals and sexual immorality.
These things represented Gentile traits that the Jews despised.
The Gentiles, in times past, would mock the Jews by eating the meat from animals that had been sacrificed to idols, bloody meat and meat from strangled idols.
The Jews also viewed the Gentiles as being extremely sexually immoral.
Sexual immorality is in a different class than the others. We are all called to abstain from sexual immorality.
However, the other things mentioned were not unlawful but the Jerusalem church asked them not to do those things for the sake of unity.
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple, giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each one of them.
We can read this passage and not think much about it.
Yet, it is so incredibly beautiful.
Paul followed the direction of James and the elders and didn’t question them.
He took on a Nazarite vow, not out of an internal calling from God to be consecrated but for the sake of those around him.
Paul understood that this was Jame’s church. He appreciated that and was going to put aside any disagreement he had in an attempt to maintain unity.
Although the Jewish believers were wrong at their core and Paul was right, He did not want to cause his Jerusalem brothers to stumble.
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Paul was all things to all people for the cause of Christ.
There was nothing in what Paul did that was deceitful or sinful.
However, he did walk a fine line, that was quite unlike Paul in many other places in the New Testament.
Yet, we must remember the great reverence he had for his fellow countrymen, the Jews.
He preached to them over and over and over praying that they would see the light.
The takeaway from all of this is not so much about what Paul did not do, but is humble submission to the cause of Christ.
This passage paints such beautiful picture of humility.
He could have objected and let pride get the best of him.
He refused to allow that to happen.
He knew that even though he was right, he was not in any way going to do something to destroy what little bit of faith in Christ they had.
I think we can all learn a valuable lesson in humility from this passage.
We must follow Paul’s lead in humility and beat back our pride for the greater good showing Christ to others.
He could have easily scolded those who were spreading lies about him, but he knew that would estrange them further.
Instead, he sought to draw closer to them so that he could point them to the one being that is able give them eternal happiness.
When our joy is in God and God alone, He is glorified and He provides every good and precious gift for us to enjoy.