Posts tagged ‘Humility’

September 26, 2014

Persecution, humility and a perfect example…

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(Photo: Sunset over Crozon, Brittany, August 2013)

Sermon for Sunday 28th September 2014.

Philippians 2:1-13

A few days ago during an early morning time of prayer and Bible reading, I was struck by the stark difference there is in being a Christian here and being a Christian in say Syria, Northern Iraq, Nigeria or many other places at this time. We can sit and read our Bible in peace and safety, not worrying for a moment that we are in any danger – a deranged sword-wielding Jihadist is unlikely to bang on the door.  Yet daily we are hearing reports of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering unimaginable persecution; men are being crucified, women and children are being beheaded and worse.  Why?  Because they are Christians who live in the path of a great swathe of evil the type of which the world has never before seen.

Of course we do have persecution of sorts here, (though it is so different from what I have just described that the same word hardly seems appropriate). In Ireland the Christian who does not readily agree and go along with societies views on divisive issues such as the life of the unborn child, fair economic policy, marriage or the importance of the family in bringing up children, is scorned and ridiculed.  When we gently quote scripture and talk not only of grace and love but right and wrong, eyebrows are raised and eyes roll as if we are some quaint and old-fashioned sideshow.

I don’t know if we will ever suffer persecution here in the same way that our brothers and sisters in Africa and the Middle East are going through right now, but we can be sure that if we stand up for Christ even here then we are going to be increasingly in for rough treatment in the years that lie ahead.

It is with all this in our minds that we turn to the Epistle reading for today. The Apostle Paul is writing to the small group of believers in the Roman city of Philippi.  Paul himself is writing the letter from prison and he writes as one who has endured much for the cause of Christ.  He writes to a church that has undergone and continues to undergo much in the way of persecution.  He knows that they have suffered much and so he seeks to encourage them.  In so doing, we are left with these wonderful and Spirit-filled words of truth and beauty, which are a wonderful encouragement to us today, whether we are a Christian in Ireland mocked and gossiped about by her work colleagues for being a follower of Jesus or whether we are a Christian living in Africa or Asia who daily wonders whether this will be their last day on earth.

Paul starts off his encouragement by saying that they must as a Church be united. A church is united when Christ is the focus and the centre of everything that happens and when it is His love that is the driving force behind all that is said and done.   When things are done because of selfish ambition or conceit then the church is in trouble.  Sadly we see it far too often that people in the church do things for the wrong reasons; to promote their own views, or to get everyone noticing how important or humble or holy they are.  When as the church we take our eyes off the Lord Jesus, we start to disintegrate as a body.  He must always be the focus of everything that we do, and everything that we do must be done with the aim of giving glory to Him. Paul says that humility is the key ingredient. He says that we must consider others better than ourselves.  Let’s just think about this for a moment, how can we genuinely consider others better than ourselves?  Well if we are a Christian it is easy – we only need to consider the extent and the stench of our sin and of the enormity of God’s grace to us through the cross of Christ.  If we remember that we are forgiven sinners it will soon stop us from strutting around like a Christian Peacock going ‘look at me aren’t I holy’!!  As well as being aware of our sin, if we remember that other people, especially those who we dislike and extra-especially those who dislike us, are wonderful creations of God, made by Him in His own image, then we will have a much better perspective on reality and it will help us to be genuinely humble.  It is the soil of genuine humility, with everybody looking to Christ, that provides the only environment in which the Church will grow and thrive.

A woman was sitting in the waiting room for her first appointment with a new dentist. She noticed his diploma on the wall, which bore his full name. Suddenly, she remembered that a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name had been in her high school class so many years ago. Could this be the same guy she wondered? She quickly discarded any such thought when she met the balding, grey-haired man with the deeply-lined face. He’s way too old to have been my classmate, she thought to herself. Still, after he had finished examining her teeth, she asked, “Did you happen to attend Morgan Park High School?” “Yes I did”, he said, smiling with the recollection. “When did you graduate?” she asked. “1980,” he replied. “Why do you ask?” “You were in my class!” she exclaimed. “Really?” he said, looking at her closely. “What did you teach?”[i]

Sometimes we all need a bit of help to be humble, but it is important that we are. Have you ever heard Nicky Gumbel (Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton and author of the Alpha Course) speak?  Compared to most Christians, he could be excused for patting himself on the back a little, but even though God has used Nicky to reach thousands, if not millions of people with the Gospel, he always credits other people and most of all Christ when he speaks – perhaps that is why God is able to use him so effectively – because he is genuinely humble.

The Apostle Paul shows us that the best example of humility is that of Christ Himself.  Verses 6 – 11 are thought to be words of an early hymn and if so what a hymn it is!  Jesus willingly and out of love for His Father and out of love for us gave up the glory of heaven.  As a member of the Trinity He gave up all the power and knowledge that went with His deity.  He emptied Himself and was born as a tiny, helpless human baby.  As we know, He lived a perfect life, never committing sin (1 Peter 2:22) and He was totally obedient to His Father in heaven.  He obediently went to the Cross and to the unimaginable pain and suffering that He bore for us there.  Look how the words change going into verse 9; from utter humility, dead on a Roman cross, He is resurrected from the dead, God highly exalts Him from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high.  The day will come when every knee will bow to Him, “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (v.10,11).  This is referring to the Day when Christ shall return, known as the “Second Coming” or the “Day of Judgement”.  Talking about such things today will get people rolling their eyes at us, even sadly sometimes amongst people who go to Church.  But we make no apologies for Scripture; we are plainly told by Christ in the Gospels (for example in Matthew 24) and in many other places as well (see Acts 1:11, 1 Corinthians 11:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, James 5:7-9, Revelation 3:11 etc.), that Christ will return and on that day, people in heaven will bow their knees before Christ and those who are left on earth at the time of His coming will bow their knees to Christ, and those who are ‘under the earth’, (referring to those in hell) will also bow their knees to Christ.  Not only will all knees bow (willingly or unwillingly) at the mention of His Name, but every tongue will also (willingly or unwillingly) confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord”.

What about us? Do we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord?  Do we bow before Him in humility, worship and wonder?  One day everyone who has ever lived will together bow their knees before Him.  The question we must ask of ourselves today is – Will I do so willingly or unwillingly?[ii]  Let us pray … Amen.

[i] http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2007/july/8073007.html (Altered)

[ii] Question adapted from: Bentley, Michael. “Shining in the Darkness”, Philippians simply explained. Welwyn Commentary Series, Durham. Evangelical Press 1997, p.80

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November 2, 2008

The Pride of Humility

Panasonic FZ50, f4, 1/100 sec, ISO 100, EV 0, 88mm, (Click to enlarge)

Please pray with me:

Father, we ask that you would grant us the wisdom to understand, the courage to face things as they really are and the power to change, Amen.

Martin DeHann said: “Humility is something we should constantly pray for, yet never thank God that we have.”(i)

Saint Augustine said: “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”(ii)

Archibald Alexander said: “Humility is to the Christian what ballast is to the ship: it keeps him in his proper position and regulates all his thoughts and feelings.”(iii)

The Lord Jesus was so disappointed with the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. They had been given a really important task. They were supposed to teach and explain God’s laws and commandments and help people as much as possible to live by them. They had been entrusted with the responsibility of teaching, leading and guiding the people in the ways of God, of showing them His love, His grace, His compassion and forgiveness. The reality though was often very different. In looking at yet another encounter that Jesus had with the religious leaders (Matthew 23:1-12), we might be tempted to think that this was all a long time ago in a faraway place and in a culture very different from our own. That may be true, but the warnings and lessons learnt from this Bible passage are startlingly relevant and contemporary.

The Lord Jesus concisely and clearly lists five problems with the religious leaders, all of which could apply equally today:

First of all, they did not practise what they preached. Isaiah put this in a nutshell when he said: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13a). We need to be careful that our faith isn’t just us putting on a good performance of being a Christian, like wearing a mask or making sure that everyone knows about it when we do some act of kindness or charity. The Pharisees loved to tell people how to live but didn’t back that up by living that way themselves. Do we call ourselves a Christian? If so, then how well exactly do we know Jesus and how much does He work in us and through us?

Secondly, the religious leaders were not willing to do what they asked of others. What’s the point of encouraging people to abbey God’s laws if you don’t do it yourself? How we have seen the media revelling in the hypocrisy of famous preachers who have made stands against adultery, homosexuality etc., only to be found to be engaging in the very acts which they condemn! Or how about the religious leader who promotes keeping Sunday special who goes shopping after church or who teaches about the importance of sacrificial giving and only puts pittance into the collection themselves!

The third problem was that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees loved to show off. They wore little leather boxes on their foreheads, which contained verses of scripture – a little strange we might think, but nevertheless a practical way of trying to be constantly reminded of God’s word. However the problem Jesus saw was that they were wearing the Phylacteries to get attention “Oh look how holy and devout I am” they might as well have been saying. I can remember when I was a new Christian and going to Bible studies with my shiny new Bible I used to feel a bit unholy because I would look at some of the other Bibles and marvel at how worn-out they were; the paper covers would be torn, the pages (even the Old Testament) would be all dog-eared and generally they would have a battle-scarred look, like they had come though a few hedges backwards! Wow, I thought, these people must have read their Bibles hundreds of times and probably know the whole thing off by heart by now! Call me cynical, but looking back I can’t help but think that some of those Bibles were deliberately roughed up a bit and were carried proudly around like badges of honour. Nowadays of course my Bible too looks like it’s a hundred years old and been owned by a succession of devout monks, not because I am super-holy, but because as well as reading it, I have dropped it, spilt tea on it, left it on the roof of the car whilst driving off and with the help of two small boys it has been much written on and rummaged through…

The fourth problem was that they revelled in grand titles and they loved to be given much honour at banquets and in the synagogues. This is like the clergy person today who loved to be called “Reverend”, or the medical practitioner who glows when called “Doctor”, or the academic who delights in being called “professor”. What is Jesus’ response to this attitude?

You must not be called ‘Teacher’, because you are all members of one family and have only one Teacher. And you must not call anyone here on earth ‘Father’, because you have only the one Father in heaven. Nor should you be called ‘Leader’, because your one and only leader is the Messiah. The greatest one among you must be your servant. Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great. (Matthew 23:8-12 GNB)

The Lord is making it clear that He is in charge. He is our teacher and we are his students – we go to church, we go to Bible studies, home groups etc., to learn from Him. His life is our model, our pattern and our example for the way to live. The Lord is not saying that we should do away with all earthly titles and positions of authority, He is warning against the yearning for rank, of putting ourselves or letting others put us on a pedestal. The attention of Jesus’ followers must not be on human titles and distinctions but on God in Christ, who alone is worthy of all praise, reverence and honour.

There was once a church that realised the importance of humility, so it formed a committee to find the most humble person in the church. Many names were submitted and numerous candidates evaluated. Finally, the committee came to a unanimous decision. They selected a quiet little man who always lived in the background and had never taken credit for his years of devoted service. They awarded him the “Most Humble” badge for his faithful service. However, the next day they had to take the badge away from him because he had pinned it on and was wearing it with pride!(iv)

The fifth problem was that the religious leaders misunderstood the purpose of ministry and service. One of the things that so clearly makes the follower of Jesus different from the norm is the way that greatness is achieved. Rather than putting ourselves first, rather than racing to be at the head of the pack or the top of the pile, we are encouraged to humble ourselves and to seek greatness through service. Success therefore is not measured in terms of wealth, academic achievements, business victories or any other quantifiable asset; it is measured in terms of submission to Christ and of service. The greatest Christian is the one who has learned to be a servant, to have the heart of a servant, the attitude of a servant and the actions of a servant(v). Of course Jesus Himself is the perfect example – He practices what He preaches, he doesn’t ask of us anything that He Himself has not already undertaken and He wants us above all to know, understand and believe that He loves us so much that He humbled Himself upon the cross that we might receive forgiveness, eternal life and freedom, freedom to love and freedom to serve…

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(i) http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/h/humility.htm
(ii) The Complete Gathered Gold, John Blanchard, Evangelical Press, 2006, p.319
(iii) Ibid.
(iv) http://www.kentcrockett.com/cgi-bin/illustrations/index.cgi?topic=Humility (adapted)
(v) http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_a_hypocricy_of_the_pharisees.htm

Helpful Books:
Michael Green, Matthew for Today, Hodder & Stoughton, 1989.
William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary – Matthew, Banner of Truth, 1989.