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Series: Clothe yourselves with humility

We are beginning a series on humility today. The title is “clothe yourselves with humility.” It comes from 1 Peter 5:5b which says, “clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.” I like this imagery of being dressed in humility; of having humility all about us, and all over us.

Today the question is, ‘What is humility?’ And primarily we are looking at this in relation to others, as Peter says, “toward one another” or fellow believers.

The word humility in Greek (the ταπειν word group) means “lowly.” Our English word “humility” comes from the Latin “humus,” which means “earth.” It can mean dirt and thus carries with it the idea of being low, as in on the ground, not lifted up above the ground. So there is a spatial component here:

  • to be humble is to lower yourself before others (on the ground).
  • but to be proud or arrogant is to lift yourself above others (above the ground).

Let’s fill this out in some very practical ways by looking now at –

Four aspects of humility

– four specific ways to lower ourselves in relation to each other.

1. Humility means not seeking honor for yourself. First we look at Matthew 23:8. Just before this verse Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for doing things to be seen by others and he says, “they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplace and being called rabbi by others.” And then he says to his disciples in our verse, “you are not to be called rabbi (that is, honored teacher), for you have one teacher (Jesus the Messiah) and you are all brothers and sisters.” Unlike the Pharisees we are not to seek after titles, places of honor. We are not to try to be seen and acknowledged by others.

Luke 14:7-10 says this, “Now Jesus told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”

Jesus is saying, don’t choose places of honor or status; don’t go seeking after or claiming recognition by others. “Go and sit in the lowest place.” Let someone else lift you up, which leads us to our next verse.

Proverbs 27:2 – “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” It is fine for great things to be said about you, just make sure it’s not your mouth saying it. Let it come from someone else.

And then finally, Paul says this in Romans 12:10 – “Outdo one another in showing honor.” It’s like a competition. Instead of seeking your own recognition, honor others. Can you give more honor to them than they can to you?

To be humble means you don’t have to lift yourself up by seeking honor, titles, status, recognition or by boasting. It means you lower yourself before others by honoring and lifting them up.  

2. Humility means putting yourself on the same level or lower than others. We already saw how Jesus said in Matthew 23:8 that we are all brothers and sisters. We are all on the same level.

In Colossians 3:16 Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom . . ..” We are to receive teaching from others. Sometimes we teach, and sometimes others teach us. And also Paul mentions admonition here. This means being able to receive correction from others. Sometime we correct others, sometime we are corrected.

And then we have James 3:17. James talks before this verse about jealousy and selfish ambition. Then he talks about the wisdom that comes down from God, and a key characteristic of this is that it is “open to reason” or it can be translated, “willing to yield.” So James is saying, don’t be stubborn just holding on to what you think is right. We are to listen to others and receive their input.

Finally, Paul says in Ephesians 5:21, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This means that we are able to receive the wisdom and the leadership of others. We all have different roles and at different times and in different contexts of life we will need to follow the lead of others. Mutual submission means that when it’s our time to lead we lead, and when it’s our time to follow we follow.

To be humble means you don’t have to lift yourself up to be above others, always teaching, always correcting others, always holding to your opinions, always leading. It means you can lower yourself and receive from and follow others, your brothers and sisters in the Lord. 

3. Humility means serving others and their needs. Jesus tells this parable in Luke 14:12-13. “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” We are to do good to others, and bless those with needs. Here it is feeding the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. And we don’t do this with strings attached, God can bless us in return.

In John 13:12-15 Jesus models being a servant. “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.’” Washing feet was slave work. And so Jesus models here that we are to lower ourselves to serve each others needs, even something as practical as washing someone’s dirty feet so they can come into a house.

Finally, 1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” Each of us has a gift from God that we are to use to serve and bless others.

To be humble means you don’t lift yourself up to be served by others to have a feast for you, to have someone wash your feet or to be served by the gifts of others. You lower yourself to serve others and to care for their needs.

4. Humility means going without what we want for the good of others. 1 John 3:17 says, “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” You give of what you have materially for those in need; you even go without what you want for the sake of others.

In Ephesians 4:2 Paul says, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” This means putting up with the annoyances or burdens of others in relationship. Instead of taking the easy way and not being in relationship, we stay in relationship because it is right and good to do so.

In 1 Corinthians 6:7 Paul talks about lawsuits between believers. He says, “to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” We don’t have to insist on getting our way or maintaining our rights. We can sacrifice for the good of another.

Humility means you don’t lift yourself up to insist on what you want or what’s good or easiest for you. You lower yourself to go without and sacrifice for the good of others.

And then I just want to point out that –

There is a downward progression in all this

– that is, these four aspects or components of humility. 1. You stop seeking to be above others lifting yourself up with status and boasting. Then, 2. You put yourself on the same level or lower than others. You come down to the same level as everybody else. Then, 3. You lower yourself further to serve others, coming up beneath them, as it were, to lift them up. And then 4. You do this sacrificially, giving up what you want and what you have for their good.

Finally, when we look at these four aspects of humility and the downward path that they present, let me say that –

This is the path of Jesus

 Turn to Philippians 2:5-8. This passage talks about Jesus’ lowering of himself.

1. He did not seek honor. v. 6 – “though he was in the form of God, (he) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” He set aside his rightful glory at the right hand of God.

2. He came down to our level. v. 7 – he “made himself nothing.” He became a mere human being like the rest of us.

3. He came to serve us. v. 7 – “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” He lowered himself below us to lift us up.

4. He gave up his life for us. v. 8 – “and being found in human form, he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He sacrificed everything for us.

So to walk in humility is to walk in the way of Jesus. And that’s because Jesus is humility. And the way he teaches and models for us is the path of humility. So we are really clothing ourselves in Jesus, when we clothe ourselves in humility.

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