First Mennonite Church
September 30, 2018
Texts: Colossians 3:12; 1Peter 5:5, 6
Following the Humble Christ
Besides the list of Christian characteristics given by Paul, which he called the fruit of the Spirit, there are other virtues we should also consider. Remember for example: humility, honesty/integrity, and self-control/discipline. These are important characteristics that should also define us as Christians.
In the next three Sundays we will be looking at these characteristics from a biblical point of view. We will reflect on these virtues with the purpose of finding practical ways in which we can integrate them in our Christian conduct or ethics.
Let us start today with humility. What does the Bible say about humility? In the first place, Jesus is the prime example of humility. He was born in a barn. He associated himself with the lowly and rejected. He served instead of seeking to be served. He washed the feet of his disciples. He died a disgraceful death on the cross. Given the way Jesus lived and died, Paul in writing to the Philippians claims that Jesus despite sharing in every aspect with God, he took human form, and being in human form he humbled himself and became obedient like a slave, even to the point of dying. But God exalted him, giving Jesus a name that is above all names.
It is Jesus example of humility that the New Testament writers had in mind every time they called for humility. It was Jesus’ humility that Paul, Peter, and James they called their respective readers to emulate. James writes: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4: 10) Peter writes: And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. (1 Peter 5:5, 6)
Why is humility called for from the followers of Jesus? First of all, humility is not a virtue towards which the human heart is naturally inclined. No one is born a humble person. The human heart clings onto anything to claim superiority over others, from the claim of knowing more to being stronger, from the claim of having more to being morally superior, etc..
So, what is humility? Perhaps it might help us if we understand what humility is not. First, humility is not lack of self-confidence or self-worth. Lack of confidence or self-worth is a sign of low self-esteem, not of humility. The second mistake about humility is to confuse it with self-deprecation. On occasions we meet people who are always apologizing for everything, even when there is no reason to apologize. They apologize if they say or ask something. They are make every effort to communicate how much they give of themselves to accommodate for others. That is not humility. That is a martyr’s complex. What such people are looking for is affirmation and compliments. They care only about themselves.
On a side-comment, humiliation does not lead to being humble, nor is the same as being humble. “A humiliated person,” writes Pat Williams, “feels weak and enslaved; a humble person feels strong to serve others. A humiliated person feels helpless and hopeless; a humble person feels helpful and hopeful. A humiliated person feels powerless and dishonored; a humble person feels empowered and dignified. Humiliation tears down; humility builds up. Humiliation is a tragedy; humility is a choice.”
Having seen what humility is not, we should now look at what is humility. The dictionary defines humility as: Freedom from pride or arrogance. But the New Testament writers describe humility far beyond merely being free from pride or arrogance. For instance in Philippians 2:3-4, Paul very well defines humility in an active way. “Do nothing from rivalry 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. (Philippians 2:3-4). Humility is not thinking less about ourselves, but thinking about ourselves less. Humility is expressed in everything we do or say. Humility places the other’s needs, interests, and welfare first. That is the message of Paul about Jesus. Jesus’ taking human form and the nature of an obedient slave even onto his death, gave his life for the good of others. And God exalted him above all things.
Again in Colossians, Paul called the church to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, and humility among others characteristics (Col. 3:12).
So how can we continue to grow in humility? First, it starts in the heart. How do I perceive myself? How do you perceive yourself? Again Paul writes to the Romans: For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment. (12:3) Sometimes we can take ourselves too seriously. We might be tempted to believe we are very important– in our home, in the church, in the workplace, and in the world. Yet, we should know that one of the hardest sins we have all difficulty acknowledging is pride. We can see it in others with great easiness. But to admit it is in us, that is hard to do.
Humility begins by making life less about me and more about others. Pride or arrogance according to the biblical wisdom is what leads to all kinds of downfall. We are most familiar with the words of Proverbs where it says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) So, you might ask, Is it wrong to have some pride in my achievements and hard work? And the answer is no. You should accept being recognized for your hard work. You should accept the praises you are given for the things you do well. Pride becomes a problem when your effort and hard work only have the purpose of getting praises and compliments. Therefore another step to grow in humility is by searching our heart regarding the motives of why we strive to do our best. If our hard work when doing things is for the sake of getting praises or admiration from others, then our motives are prompted by pride.
Another step we can take towards humility is by associating ourselves with the lowly. Paul writes: Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12:16) We live in a society that is so obsessed with those who have made it big. Our society sort of disregard the ordinary but idolizes the famous, those who are up there in some way. It happens even among church leaders, sometimes.
You must have watched the British TV comedy show Keeping Appearances. The main character is the eccentric Hyacinth. She likes to rub elbows with the rich and famous. Whenever she is surrounded by people of high society, Hyacinth would speak presumptuously about herself in her effort to impress those around her. But Hyacinth would do anything, even foolish things, to avoid being seen together with her poor sisters, Rose and Daisy.
There is a story of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who stopped at a gas station to fill his car. When he came back from paying inside, he saw his wife talking to a station attendant in a manner common for people who know each other well. It turned out the woman and the man attended the same high school and she had even dated him before she met the one who now is her husband. Once the two were again on the road, they drove for a while without anyone speaking. The CEO finally broke the silence: “I bet I know what you were thinking. I bet you were thinking you are glad you married me, a Fortune 500 CEO, and not him, a service attendant.”
“No,” she said, “I was thinking if I had married him, he’d be a Fortune 500 CEO and you a service attendant.”
So again, let us ask ourselves, who are our friends? I am ready to rank people by their level of education, wealth or social status only for the purpose of knowing where I rank besides them?
One last step. We can grow in humility by keep listening to others and by having an open heart and mind to continue learning. The Bible repeatedly warns against being wise in our own eyes. Why is this warning so important? That is because when believe we are wise or wiser than everyone else, we stop listening to others. We stop seeing a need to learn new things. When we think we know it all, then pride and arrogance are enthroned in our heart. For us as followers of Jesus Christ, we need to have a teachable spirit. We will never come to a point of not needing to learn from others. Church leaders, pastors, and every member in the body of Christ need to learn from each other. We all learn from Christ, but we are also disciples the whole of our lives.
Let us hear the words of Paul, once again.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility
These are the words of Peter:
And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Amen!
 Pat Williams, Humility (Uhrichsville, OH: Shiloh Run, 2016) 37.