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May 05, 2019

The Power of Humility

Passage: Philippians 2:3-8

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Philippians--Roots of Joy

Keywords: god, harmony, humble, humility, suffering, unity

Summary:

Humility--it's hard to define well and harder to practice consistently. Yet it is, according to Paul, the key to joyful unity and harmony with others. It's also the key to living life in Christ. This message calls us learn to walk in humility with Christ--truly the most humble being in the Universe.

Detail:

The Power of Humility

Bloomsday 2019—Philippians 2:3-8

May 5, 2019

Get Acquainted:  Humility is…gentle, authentic, a virtue.  What else?

INTRO:

Last week we left off talking about what we can do to build up the soil of our souls so we can be people enjoying the fruit of joy no matter what the circumstances of life.  You’ll remember that Philippians 2 starts by pointing us to 4 soul-soil boosters that we all have access to if you are “in Christ.”  They are…

1.) encouragement we have because we’re “united with Christ.

2.) comfort from being so deeply loved by Christ.

3.) fellowship with God and each other produced by the Holy Spirit.

4.) deep-seated, heart-felt tenderness & compassion towards others just as Christ has been tender and compassionate to us.

Paul says that since we have these edifying and transformative personal experiences with and in Christ, we can find something people without Christ find inordinately difficult if not impossible:  UNITY.   

Q:  What happens when unity breaks down in…

  • A nation?
  • A marriage?
  • A church?

Paul is going to show us the kind of THINKING we must adopt if we are ever to have unity as God wants it in our marriages, our families and certainly in the church.  It’s a radically different mindset from where we all tend to go in our flesh, our old nature, our way of relating when we are not dominated by Christ.  It’s the mindset and very thought process that dominated Jesus Christ every day of life he spent on this earth.  It is the only mindset that will enable us to escape selfishness that constantly divides and harms each of us.  It is the only mindset that will grow us up to truly be like Christ. 

Verse 2 is where we left off last week.  There Paul tells us that if we want the full measure of joy we all long for in life, we’re going to have to find the unity and harmony that comes only by adopting the mind of Christ, the love of Christ and the spirit/attitude of Christ. 

“…make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” 

The only “page” we should all be trying to get on together is the “page” of the very mindset, the very attitudes and the very love that Jesus had in His relationships with people and continues to constantly have for all of us. 

Questions:

The ONLY way that will happen is if we learn to first THINK about life and others as Jesus did and then ACT and LIVE as Jesus did while walking this earth.  This passage tells us HOW that can happen. 

            First Paul is going to tell us the theological secret of that kind of living. Then he will illustrate it from the life and actions of Jesus Christ. 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 

            There are 2 negative commands in our English versions here and 2 positive commandsWhat are they?

NEGATIVES: 

  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
  • ….not looking to your own interests….

POSITIVES:

  • …in humility value others above yourselves….
  • …each of you [looking] to the interests of the others…

How hard is it to avoid those 2 prohibitions?  Inordinately hard!  Do nothing out of selfishness…ambition that is self-driven? 

Don’t be concerned or driven by “my own interests”???

Q:  What does our culture say will happen to someone who doesn’t engage in those two practices?  “You’ll just become a doormat!”  “You’ll get run over…steamrollered…in this life!”  “You won’t accomplish anything!” 

            Unless we are living in the previous experiences we talked about of life in Christ, we will not be able to avoid these two negatives.  Sin binds us to selfish ambition and vain conceit.  It calls us constantly to think more and more often of ourselves than we do of the people around us.  It demands that we watch out for ourselves at the expense of relationship with others and others themselves. 

            Just because we’re sitting in church today doesn’t mean we’ve gotten free of selfish living and embraced humility. 

ILL:  Split at 4th Memorial in 1992—I heard all kinds of excuses as to why it happened post facto (theology, governance, character issues, etc.).  Fact of the matter was, it was all about WHO was going to “be in charge” and how they were going to run the church.  I can guarantee that every church split has to do with many people vainly wanting it their way…being conceited enough to think that they have a corner on the truth and that “their way” had to be the only way…and looking out for what they thought was best for them while ignoring what others thought was best.

ILL:  J -- Mark Twain used to say he put a dog and a cat in a cage together as an experiment, to see if they could get along.  They did.  So he added a bird, pig and goat.  They, too, got along fine after a few adjustments.  Then he put in a Baptist, a Presbyterian and a Catholic.  Soon there was not a living thing left!

ILL:  Preacher and Professor Haddon Robinson tells of a man who went to visit an asylum for the criminally insane. He was a bit surprised to find that there were three guards to take care of a hundred inmates.  He said to one of the guards, “Aren’t you afraid that the inmates will unite, overcome you, and escape?”

      Know what the guard’s response was?  “Lunatics never unite.” 

      The fact of the matter is, when our “own interests” and “selfish ambition” dominate in us, we are acting like spiritual lunatics.  We are doing to others and ourselves what is damaging and destructive.  When we stop or fail to be profoundly committed to living in the love and mind of Christ and start fracturing and distancing ourselves from each other, what everybody sees is a bunch of “lunatics who never unite.”

APP: Think back to the last dispute or argument you had with a friend, a brother or sister, a spouse, a parent or a boss.  Can any of us really say, “There was nothing of self-interest in me, nothing of me advocating for what I thought I wanted or needed, nothing of me thinking my viewpoint or my ideas or my understanding was better than the other person’s (which would be a living definition of “conceit.”).” 

            So the first critical step in moving towards unity in Christ with anybody is to check the “self-factor” in our thoughts that are driving our words and actions.  I’m not saying this is easy in any way!  In fact, it will be one of the hardest things we will ever try to do:  give up our “rights” so that others can experience blessing.  Give up what serves us so others can experience being served. It is a thought-by-thought, action-by-action killing of ourselves…so that the life, mind, feelings, motivations and heart of Jesus can dominate us. 

None of this will do this perfectly.  But if we don’t make it our conscious goal, we’ll never really do it at all.

Now let’s move to the positives of these commands.  POSITIVES:

  • …in humility value others above yourselves….
  • …each of you [looking] to the interests of the others…

Let’s think for a moment about HUMILITY.  Since what Paul is calling us to DO is to be done on the ground of humility…or in the sphere of humility…we need to have a biblical notion of humility. 

            Keep in mind that the example Paul is going to point to is God himself—the Son of God in the person of Jesus the Christ.  So any accurate definition or understanding of humility must be able to fit God himself—the most amazing, wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, wise, powerful, all-good Being to ever exist. 

ILLDr. Henry Augustus Rowland, son of a Presbyterian minister and former chair of physics at Johns Hopkins University at the beginning of the 20th century, was once called as an expert witness at a trial.  During cross-examination a lawyer demanded, “What are your qualifications as an expert witness in this case?” 

      The normally modest and retiring professor replied quietly, “I am the greatest living expert on the subject under discussion.” 

      Later a friend well-acquainted with Rowland’s disposition expressed surprise at the professor’s uncharacteristic answer. 

      Rowland answer, “Well, what did you expect me to do?  I was under oath.”  [Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes, by Robert Morgan, p. 463.]

      Getting a working grasp of humility can feel like trying to nail Jello to the wall.  It’s something that is almost felt more than described.  Maybe that is why Paul points to God in the person of Jesus Christ when he wants to point us to true humility. 

      As one author has said, “Humility does not consist simply in thinking [poorly] of oneself, so much as in not thinking of oneself at all….” [Keith Brooks, quoted in Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes, by Robert Morgan, p. 455.] It’s not that you don’t realize you are part of the situation unfolding.  But your preferences, your part, your role isn’t what is determining your actions. Humility looks to others needs, not one’s own place. 

      Humble people don’t sit around analyzing whether or not their view of themselves is too low or too high.  Humble people are too busy being concerned with how others are doing and what they can do to help others to be concerned with how they themselves are feeling about themselves.  Find a truly other-centered person and I bet you’ve found a humble person.

ILL:  In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has a high demonic personage mentoring a young demon about how to defeat a young Christian convert.  Screwtape tells Wormwood (the underling demon), to have his human subject think of humility, not as the absence of pride, but as having a low opinion of himself.  “Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe [his] talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be….”  Screwtape goes on to say, “The Enemy [in this case, God, since Screwtape is a demon] wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less)…glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.”  [Ibid, p. 462.]

      You see, a commitment to humility must involve… RECONGINZING THE REALITY OF WHO YOU ARE.

So let’s look at the model Paul pulls up in illustrating his sermon to the Philippians in verses 2:5-11

      Where did proper thinking about himself begin with Christ?  In acknowledging that he was, in the very essence of his nature, God. 

Screwtape’s perversion of genuine humility would have had Jesus say, “No, I really am not that great, that powerful, that all-knowing, all-wise, all-loving, etc.  I really can’t possibly redeem all of humanity.  I’m just not that great.” 

RESULT?  We would never have had a Savior who could really save us.  Jesus would never have considered using his divinity to work out a plan for our redemption from sin.  He would have stayed in heaven and we would have perished in hell. 

      The humblest work of God had to begin with an accurate recognition of reality about himself.  Here’s what Philippians 2 says about Jesus:  (ESV)

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….”

     This is one of the strongest and clearest passages of the deity of Jesus Christ in the N.T.  Both His nature and His position was equal to God the Father.  But His genuine humility moved Him to value US more than that position and more than the splendor of His glory in heaven itself.  God’s expression of humble living began with himself in heaven. 

      God isn’t asking us to engage in something he did not first do.  Humility begins with being honest about who we are.  Without realizing what you have to contribute to the lives of others, you will never be able to live out humility.  Humility isn’t thinking lowly of yourself; it is thinking realistically about how God made you so you can bless others with that. 

      In that sense, humility always sees oneself in relationship to others…actually IN relationships with them!  God calls us to a host of relationships in which we are called to live out the humility of Christ.  So ask yourself,

  • “How am I expressing humility in the roles God has given me?”
  • “How am I demonstrating more concern for others in these roles than for myself?”

APP:  Let’s take a few moments of quiet time with God and ask his Spirit to speak to us about how we are expressing or need to express humility in various roles God has called us to.

  • As a child of God? (Do I seek to express humility towards God by loving to serve Him?)
  • As a member of my family:
    • As a child/teen?
    • As a husband/wife? 
    • As a parent?
  • As an employee or student and/or boss/employer/teacher?
  • As a friend?
  • As a gifted member of the Body of Christ, ministering to others in Christ’s name?
  • As an ambassador of Christ in my community?
  • As a citizen in my city?
  • As a neighbor in my building or block?

ILLJohann Sebastian Bach was, in my estimation, perhaps the greatest church musician if not all-around musician of all time.  He was a man who composed most of his music for the church, week after week. 

      Whenever he began a new piece, he bowed his head and prayed. "Jesus, help me show your glory through the music I write. May it bring you joy even as it brings joy to your people." Before writing even one note, Johann would often carefully forme the letters J J at the top of the page (Jesu juva; Latin for “Jesus, help”). When he was finally done, he wrote the letters SDG at the bottom of the page - Soli Deo Gloria - For the Glory of God Alone.

      He was a true genius musically yet a deeply humble man.  He once said of the music he wrote, "I play the notes as they are written but it is God who makes the music."

But he was not without his critics.  Someone once told him, "Johann, people are complaining about the music you've been composing."  Bach was stunned. He knew that some of the recent pieces were his best work.  The man continued, "The music is too showy. Some of our members even think it is sinful. Music should be simple so that it draws attention to God, not to the music or the performers."

      Bach took a deep breath before responding.  "The main purpose of my music is to glorify God. Some people do this with music that is simple. I haven't chosen to use a simple style, but my music comes from my heart as a humble offering to God. This honors God no matter what musical style I use."  [https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/church-history-for-kids/j-s-bach-soli-deo-gloria-to-the-glory-of-god-alone-11635057.html]

      On another occasion when an acquaintance praised him for his wonderful skill as an organist, he replied with both humility and wit:  “There is nothing very wonderful about it.  You have only to hit the right notes at the right moment and the instrument does the rest.” 

      Anyone who plays Bach on the organ knows better!  By his words he may have been simply trying to express genuine humility.  By his actions in composing and playing some of the greatest music of all time, he also displayed genuine humility.  He did what few others can do in life… and he did it to the glory of God…to bless others every week, not to make himself look good.

Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHNLdHe8uxY  (4:30-5:51)

The 2nd great characteristic of genuine humility that unites people is that humility VALUES the “SUCCESS” of others.  By “success” I mean the flourishing, the good, the best for others.  Paul puts it this way in verses 3-4:

Philippians 2:3-4--“…in humility value others above yourselves, looking to… the interests of the others.”

Without humility there is little possibility that we will ever sacrifice our own “interests” or “success” for others.  This passage assumes that the “interest of others” is not something illegitimate, immoral or destructive.  Others can want things very badly that they think are in their best interest but may actually be very self-focused and therefore destructive. 

      The love of Christ—that kind of love that does what is in the best interest of the one being loved, often at a cost to the one loving—is a humble love. It doesn’t demand things that require the object of its love to sacrifice for it; rather it sacrifices for others, often without even being asked. 

ILL:  This is where the incarnation becomes THE best example in human history of genuine humility.  The Son of God, pre-incarnate deity, because of His perfect humility, valued our redemption, our rescue, our salvation above His own.  Rather than saving his human life in the incarnation when given the choice, He looked to our interests above and before His own.

      Self-interest would have said, “No, I won’t die unjustly, cruelly, painfully, voluntarily for others far inferior to me, others who are completely guilty, who deserve the wrath of God against them and eternal punishment.  I choose my comfort, my glory, my purity, my unhindered fellowship with the Father.  I choose ME!”

      Instead, Jesus looked at what we needed.  He looked at what would bring us life and life eternal.  And He set aside his preferences for our “success” both now and forever. 

ILL:  At a reception honoring the English musician Sir Robert Mayer on his 100th birthday, elderly British socialite Lady Diana Cooper fell into conversation with a friendly woman who seemed to know her well.  Lady Diana’s failing eyesight prevented her from recognizing her fellow guest, until she peered more closely at the magnificent diamonds and realized she was talking to Queen Elizabeth!  Overcome with embarrassment, Lady Diana curtsied and stammered, “Ma’am, oh, ma’am, I’m sorry ma’am.  I didn’t recognize you without your crown!”  But the queen replied, “This is so much Sir Robert’s evening that I decided to leave [the crown] behind.”  [Today in the Word, April 3, 1992]

      One of the wonders of the incarnation is the reminder that Greatness/God invaded human history as never before…and left His crown of glory at home…so He could wear the crown of redemption here.  The greatness of God did not burst upon the scene with all its celestial glory and overpowering majesty.  It slipped into human experience looking just like every other human being.  It maintained that form for 33+ years and eventually suffered in that form for every one of us.  WHY?  So that anyone who puts their faith in Christ might begin that journey back UP to greatness…the greatness of becoming all we were destined to be in relationship and love with God. 

      There is an interesting CONTRAST here between what Jesus did in humbling himself in assuming humanness and what Satan as well as Adam & Eve did in trying to exalt themselves in is attempt to supplant or be like God.   According to Isaiah 14:12-15 & Ezekiel 28:11-19

  • Lucifer/Satan and Adam’s hearts became “proud”. Jesus’ heart grew in humility.
  • Satan said, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God.” Jesus said, “Thy will be done.”  “I will descend to earth, your footrest, God, and I will place myself upon a cross, not a throne.”
  • Satan said, “I will make myself like the most high”, (Is. 14:14); Adam said, “I will become like God.” Jesus said, “I will make myself lower than the angels.  I will make myself fully human and experience all the suffering and weaknesses and indignities of humanity.” 

When Jesus humbled himself and took on human form, the amazing thing is, he didn’t just choose to do that temporarily.  He choose to engage in humility foreverHis post-incarnate form will, for all eternity, bear the marks and form of the humility that caused him to assume humanity. 

      Nothing you or I can choose to do in this life can even begin to compare with the humility Christ evidenced in the incarnation… nothing!  For Mother Theresa to have been born into royalty in the richest nation of the world and to have chosen to spend all her life in the slums and streets of Calcutta would not have compared with the humble choice Christ made. 

      Passionately held humility moves into actually being a servant.  Jesus didn’t just “role-play” the servant thing for a while.  He “took the very nature of a servant”.  And he served anyone:  harlots, financial cheats, religious snobs, rich and poor, young and old, sick and well

How frequently did Jesus embrace the role of a servant? In almost everything He ever did on this earth. 

  • First miracle – provided beverages for a deeply embarrassed Jewish couple’s wedding reception.
  • Healed countless “unclean” people, from leapers to lame men, demon-possessed children to dead men.
  • Gave mercy to adulterers and thieves when others demanded justice.
  • Prepared meals for thousands by day and prayed for vulnerable disciples by night.
  • Washed feet when no one else would.
  • Paid the bill for our sins when none of us could.
  • Even when he rested and got away alone, it was so He could be with the Father and have more to give to others.

Actually self-identifying as a servant under the Master who served in the lowliest capacities imaginable is quite different from play-acting being a servant from time to time when I feel like it. 

ILL:  (Humble service) The famous African-American Booker T. Washington (educator, reformer and 1st Pres. Of Tuskegee Univ.) arrived in an American city to make a speech. His train was late and he was in a hurry. He dashed out of the station to the curb to hail a cab, but the nearest cabby growled, "I don't drive niggers." Washington said, "Well, all right, I'll drive. Get in the back."

[James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 207.]

ILL:  On the other hand, even the most well-known “saints” of past centuries often failed miserably at genuine humility much less sacrifice.  St. Augustine was known to have said, “Should you ask me:  What is the first thing in religion?  I should reply:  the first, second and third thing therein is humility.” [Ibid, p. 456.]

      But apparently he had a little more difficulty working it out in practice.  As the story goes, told by one of the Father’s of Church History (Venerable Bede), Augustine served as missionary to England under Pope Gregory I (6th century A.D.).  He was trying to convert the English to Christianity as well as Catholicism.  Despite his success with the former, he was having trouble converting the Celtics to Rome. 

      As the story goes, the Celtic leaders asked a wise man whether they should submit to Augustine or not.  “Yes,” the old man said, “if he is a man of God.”

      “How can we tell if he’s really a man of God?” was their next question.

      “If he is gentle and humble of heart”, was the wise man’s reply.

      “And how can we discern that about him?”

      The elder replied, “Arrange it so that Augustine and his men arrive first at your meeting place.  If he stands up when you arrive, it will prove that he is a servant of Christ.  In that case, do as he bids you.” 

      Unfortunately, Augustine failed to rise as he greeted the Celts, and they refused to accept his leadership.  A servant’s heart is sometimes revealed in the smallest things.

APPHow are you and I embracing humble servanthood right now?  If there is someone or something that I am fretting about, irritated about, chaffing against, then, as Andrew Murray says, this is not humility.  Nor will there be quietness of heart. 

  • WHO is God asking me to humbly serve? It may be someone I think I am wiser than, perhaps more mature than, perhaps know better than.  But God is asking me to serve him/her.   
  • HOW is God calling me to serve? Truly humble people are people who can be caught serving others on a pretty regular basis.  They’re not getting paid for it.  They’re probably not getting recognized for it.  They may even be ridiculed for it.  But they don’t let that stop them because they know that what they can do is needed by others they’ve been placed near. 

APPWhat privilege or power or prerogatives have you and I set aside recently in order to make someone else better?  Bless and benefit another?  Give some else prominence?  Who have you or I sought to raise up, shine the spotlight on, and develop their ability or capacity at our own expense? 

      And as a parting thought, verse 8 reminds us, that kind of HUMBLE SERVICE may actually involve real SACRIFICE as well. 

2:8--And being found in appearance as a man,
            he humbled himself
            by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

It’s not enough to simply let go of position or privilege or that which normally brings us honor.  True humility also takes up the cost of SERVICE. Living in humility will involve some suffering.  You can count on it! Just ask Mother Teresa.

            Mother Teresa, born in Albania to a politician father and a fervently sacrificial mother, was named Agnus Bojaxhiu.  Though comfortable and happy with what they were blessed with, her mother taught her how to leave their own happiness to bring joy to others.  Her mother raised her children in regular prayer at home and in “errands of mercy” outside the home. On a weekly basis, her mother (Drana) went to feed and clean the home of a widow whose family had abandoned her. She also regularly bathed and served an alcoholic woman covered in sores. She took over the maternal care for six children orphaned when their parents died in succession. Out of a happy home, Drana led her own children towards those who were suffering, neglected, hungry, dirty, sick, and lonely. The Bojaxhiu family gave the comfort of their home to those who needed it and they left the comfort of their home to serve those in need.

The rhythm of this stable and charitable family life was interrupted upon her father, Nikola’s, death when young Agnes was only eight. In the wake of his death, the financial security he provided was lost, as was the family’s place in the social life of Skopje. If ever there were a time to cling to what they had and seek after greater security for themselves, this was such a time. But Drana persisted in practicing charity for the poor and weak even now that her own family’s future was in a more precarious state. 

Mother Teresa later remembered her family as one that formed her to know the abiding joy of leaving happiness to tend to the suffering of others. This is precisely what she did at the age of eighteen when she kissed her mother for the last time and made her way by train and by boat to India as Sister Teresa of the Loreto Order. 

But even teaching school to some of the poorest of India was not enough for her.  In 1946, she felt called of God after suffering a near complete emotional breakdown brought on by what she had seen of the daily life of her students. 

She was teaching lower-cast children in the Loreto school.  It was stable but demanding work.  Through that teaching she came in contact with the deprivation in which her pupils lived in the Calcutta slums. She was “full of anguish” when she first saw where her students slept and ate, believing that it was the worst poverty imaginable.  

But then in her walks through the streets of Calcutta she witnessed the previously unimaginable poverty of those who were forced to live outside of organized society, not of lower castes but in fact those who were excluded from India’s caste system altogether: “the outcastes,” “the untouchables.” She saw the dying destitutes, the abandoned and lonely, the mentally and physically impaired who were left without help, without company, without notice in the filth of the streets.  They were worse than dead: they were abandoned, forgotten, unwanted.

When she went outside the walls of the Loreto community on August 16, 1946, these Poorest of the Poor were the ones she saw disposed of and mangled in inhumane neglect.  It was the day of the “Great Calcutta Killings.” With more than 5,000 people killed on the streets in a single day amid violence between Muslims and Hindus, she saw the poor and starving lying abandoned among the bodies of the dead. Shortly thereafter, she felt called of God to begin her work of finding those abandoned and dying in the streets and providing them loving comfort and care of Christ in their last hours. 

Teresa found and claimed the dying, she found and claimed the abandoned children, and she went towards those from whom everyone else fled: those suffering with leprosy. Her love for Christ in them was stronger than the tide of fear that carried others away. Perceiving their needs, she developed mobile leprosy units to dispense medication and, more important still, to bring personal love and care to those who were ostracized and exiled, left to deteriorate in isolation. She founded a stable community for them—“The Place of Peace” she called it—where these “untouchables” could work, live with dignity, and enjoy company. When she traveled to the West decades later and discovered the horrifying condition of those suffering with AIDS in New York and elsewhere, she and her sisters hastened to bring the same gift of accompaniment and dignity to these whom she saw as “the lepers of the West.”

      This is what humility does.  This is what it looks like today.  And, at the risk of not being very humble, I would say that this is why we are doing what we are doing here in downtown Spokane.  It is Christ that moves us to care about others souls more than we care about our own safety.  It is Christ that calls us to put the relational, mental, physical, educational, spiritual and emotional needs of other ahead of our own.  And it is Christ that is creating a community of His people here, a “Place of Peace” for Healing Urban Brokenness.    

[Found at https://churchlife.nd.edu/2016/09/01/the-saint-of-calcutta-mother-teresa-and-the-pain-of-joy/ on 5/5/19.]