Posts Tagged ‘humility’

Series: Clothe yourselves with humility

Today we finish up our series on humility. Remember with me these basics:

The proud are those who raise themselves up:

  • to be honored because they think they are better than others
  • to be above others; to be separate and in charge
  • to be served by others
  • to have what they want, what’s best and easiest for them

Notice how all of this is self-centered.

The humble, however, are those who lower themselves:

  • to forsake seeking honor
  • to be with others on the same level
  • to serve the needs of others and to lower themselves to do this
  • to sacrifice,  as they serve, lowering themselves still further

Notice how this is completely other centered.

Well, we have talked about what it means for us as individuals to clothe ourselves with humility, but today we ask the question, “What does a humble congregation look like?”

And we are working with the same four components of humility that we have just reviewed.

1. A humble church remembers its own lowliness

As a group we know that we are not better than anyone else that might come to our door, or any group of people that we reach out to.

Luke 18:9-14 says, “Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”

It’s easy to forget that we are forgiven sinners ourselves. And that God loves those who have needs and problems just as much as he loves us. And that if we don’t have those same needs and problems, it’s because of the grace of God. And it is this same grace that we are to share with those who come to us.

Paul had to deal with a church that had some who were proud. This is what he says in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 – “For consider your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

He calls them to remember their lowliness. And that God loves the lowly, and works his will through them – so why try to lift yourself up?

  • A proud church thinks it’s better than others.
  • A humble church knows that it is not better than anyone who comes to its doors or that it seeks to reach out to. It gives up lifting itself up, just as Jesus set aside his glory in heaven to come to us (Philippians 2:6-7).

2. A humble church is with the lowly

What I am trying to say here is that we don’t just relate to those who are like us, or those we are comfortable with, we also and especially relate to and are with the lowly.

Who are the lowly?

  • Those who are rejected. In Jesus’ day these were the sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and lepers.
  • Those who have low social status. in Jesus’ day this included women, children and slaves.
  • Those who are weak. In Jesus’ day this included the poor, the unlearned, the sick, the demonized, the mentally ill, older people and the disabled.

Who are the rejected today? Who are those with low social status? Who are those who are weak today? I would suggest that the list is much the same. And we are called to be with them in relationship, not to pull away as if we are better.

Think about the example of Jesus’ ministry. He said in Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed . . ..” He also said in Matthew 9:12-13 – “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

James talks about some who were proud in James 2:2-4. He rebukes those who favored the rich over the poor in their fellowship. He says, “if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

  • A proud church sees the lowly as beneath them. Sometimes it even pushes them away or treats them with contempt.
  • A humble church follows Jesus’ example and is also in relationship with the lowly.

3. A humble church serves the lowly

We serve by lowering ourselves to meet the needs of others and to lift them up. And what I’m saying is that we don’t just serve those who are like us, or those we are comfortable with, or just people who are already in our group We also and especially serve the lowly.

As he said in Matthew 9:12 he is the doctor who seeks to make the sick whole, not those who are healthy:

– Jesus’ preached to the lowly and invited them to receive God’s grace, forgiveness and acceptance. He preached “good news the poor” – Luke 4:18.

– He helped with their needs through healing and casting out demons. Through him the Spirit brought “recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” – Luke 4:18.

– He included the lowly in his congregation of disciples, for instance Matthew the tax collector – Matthew 9:9.

  • A proud church wants to serve certain people, those like us, who will benefit our congregation, our programs, who fit into our social events, who make us look good.  If the lowly are served it is at a distance and not with personal contact.
  • A humble church serves the lowly, following Jesus’ example who “came not to be served, but to serve” – Mark 10:45.

4. A humble church sacrifices for the lowly

As we lower ourselves to serve others, it will cost us and to sacrifice means we are willing to do this for the well-being of others. And what I’m saying is that we don’t just sacrifice for those who are like us, or those we are comfortable with, or just people who are already in our group. We also and especially sacrifice for the lowly.

Jesus tells a parable about the lowly in Luke 15:4-6 – “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” Hey, it’s way easier to hang out with the 99. It takes work to go a find those who are lost. It takes a sacrifice of time and effort.

But of course, the supreme example of his sacrifice for the lowly is when he laid down his life on the cross. And we are to lay down our lives and this includes sacrificially serving the lowly. Jesus gave up everything for the lowly. What have you given up?

  • A proud church wants what makes it comfortable and takes the easy road.
  • A humble church make sacrifices to serve those in need, following the example of Jesus who “came not to be serve but to serve and to give his life” on the cross – Mark 10:45

Now, congregation we have many opportunities to be a humble church. . .. May God help us to grow in our willingness to be with and to sacrificially serve the lowly.

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Series: Clothe yourselves with humility

Remember with me – humility means “lowliness.” It comes from a word that means the earth, so the idea is that you are low to the ground. It means lowering yourself before others. Not raising yourself up above others.

We also talked about four components of humility:

1. You don’t seek honor and praise for yourself. You don’t need to lift yourself above others – brandishing titles, boasting or trying to get noticed. Rather you lower yourself to give honor to others and lift them up.

2. You put yourself on the same level or lower than others. You don’t need to lift yourself up above others always to be in charge or in control. Rather you lower yourself so that you can follow and submit to others.

3. You don’t seek to be served, lifting yourself above others. Rather you lower yourself to serve and bless others.

4. You don’t insist on what is best or easiest for you, lifting yourself above others. Rather you lower yourself to sacrifice for the needs of others.

The title today is, Humility. It’s worth it! This is important to emphasize because who wants to be on the bottom and not the top? Who wants to be last and not first? Who wants to go without recognition or give up power? Who wants to serve and sacrifice for others – instead of others serving and sacrificing for us?

Humility is a hard sell. It goes against everything the world tells us about getting ahead and being on top. And it goes against everything our flesh tells us, that we are more important than others, and that our needs and comforts should come first.

And so that’s why I want to encourage you today to know that humility is worth it. It really is.

It’s worth it, first of all, because –

God blesses the humble in their humility

For instance, God shows favor to the humble. James 4:6 say, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5). I know I want God to give me favor.

God pays attention to the humblePsalm 138:6 says, “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.” I know that I want God to hear me and have regard for me.

God reveals himself to the humble. Psalm 25:9 says, “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” I know that I want to know God’s way and what is right.

God is close to the humble. Isaiah 57:15 says, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place,  and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit . . .’” I know that I want God’s presence in my life.

And God strengthens the humble. Isaiah 57:15 goes on to say that God dwells with the humble “to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” I know that I need God’s strength in my life.

Now, this is not an exhaustive list of the blessings of humility. But it makes the point – it’s worth it! Because God will be with you, God will help you and God will bless you.

But, even more important than this is the fact that –

God will one day exalt the humble

Jesus talks about this in Luke 18:14, as well as in many other places. This verse says, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Three observations: 1) the phrase used twice “will be” is a divine passive. That is, it is a deferential way of talking about God. What Jesus is saying is that God will bring down the proud. And also, God will lift up the humble.

2) The key point here is that if you raise yourself above others – by boasting, by trying to be on top, by trying to be served and sacrificed for, you will be humbled by God. But (and you need to get this) if you give this all up and are humble, God will give these things to you. God himself will act to raise you up – to give you honor, to give you status, to put you in charge and to give you comforts and joy.

Notice that there is a “V” shape of the Christian life.

v shape1We focus on lowering ourselves to where we are sacrificially serving others. And then God acts to raise us up in his good time and way.

3) There is a reference to the resurrection of the righteous in this verse. The word “exalted” can also be translated “raised up,” as in raised up on the final day.

Now, God can raise us up in this life too to give us honor. 1 Peter 5:6 says, “humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” There is a time and place even in this life that God does this.

But the real exaltation will come on the final day, at the time of the great reversal when God humbles the arrogant and powerful and raises up the lowly in the resurrection to life eternal.

And let me end by saying that this will happen by looking at the example Jesus. As we saw before in Philippians 2:5-8 Jesus humbled himself step by step making himself lower and lower.

1. He did not seek honor – 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 – 7 – he “made himself nothing.” He became a mere human being like the rest of us.

3. He came to serve us – 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 – 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.

But then the great reversal came for him, his resurrection from the dead. Philippians 2:9-11 talks about this. It says, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 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.”

Notice again the “V” shape of this. He lowered himself. And then God raised him up. And what I am saying is that if we follow in our Lord’s footsteps – we too will be exalted on that final day.

When we give up the meager things of this world, the honor and status it gives, God will give us honor and status in the world to come, when it really counts.

  • If you just look at it according to a worldly perspective – it isn’t worth it.
  • If you just look at it from the perspective of the flesh – it isn’t worth it.

But from the perspective of the kingdom of God it is so worth it, because this world is passing away and our lives are like a mist that comes and goes in a day, but the kingdom is eternal.

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Series: Clothe yourselves with humility

Last time we asked, “What is humility?” To put it briefly it means that we lower ourselves before others to serve and sacrifice for their needs. Today our topic is – a little help as we seek to be humble.

And we begin with Romans 12:3, where Paul says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think . . .” This certainly teaches us to be humble. But I also want to be clear as we get started here that this isn’t about saying we have no value. Each one of us has immense value, even beyond our understanding. We are all made by God. We are all loved by God. God has given each of us gifts. And God has a plan and a purpose for each one of us.

So, when Paul says, “do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think,” he means have a right view of who you are, that is, use “sober judgment” as he goes on to say. Each of us needs to have a sense of our value before God, without needing then to lift ourselves up in pride over others. In fact, for some of us, our falling into pride may well be an evidence that we don’t have this inner confidence in our value before God, and we are trying to compensate for this lack by boasting or lifting ourselves up to be seen by others.

Whatever the case may be this isn’t about berating ourselves, it is about walking in the truth about ourselves which should lead each one of us to a place of humility. Here are five things to remember that should help us in this.

1. You too have failed

Sometimes we are tempted to think we’re pretty good. Especially when we compare ourselves to others. Right? You can always find someone that’s worse off than you, at least in your mind.

Well, the truth is stated well in Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Each one of us has missed the mark and still do. In this regard we should all be humble. We are only forgiven sinners.

So don’t put on airs or pretend this isn’t true. Take a good look in the mirror and see the whole picture of your life – not just the good parts. Remember, you too have failed both God and others.

2. You too have weaknesses

All of us have strengths, but also weaknesses – areas where we continue to struggle in our lives or where we don’t excel. And it is human nature is suppose, to see this more readily in others, but not in our own lives. Or we compare our strengths to the weaknesses of others.

Well, the great apostle Paul had weaknesses. He proclaimed the gospel but he was not considered to be a good public speaker. As his critics said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his speech is of no account.” The Spirit of God worked through him in power, but he was considered to be a person of weak presence. As his critics said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his bodily presence is weak.”

If this is true for Paul, it is certainly true for each of us. If we stop looking at others and are honest about ourselves we will acknowledge this freely. When you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember, you too have weaknesses.

3. Your obedience is both required and enabled by God

Do you ever think, ‘Hey I’m doing pretty good. I’m witnessing, serving and following God’s will, even when it’s hard. Hey look at me!”

Well, Jesus says this in Luke 17:7-10 – “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” If you have done what God wanted, guess what? You only did what you were supposed to do in the first place! This is no cause to celebrate in terms of being proud. You get no extra credit or brownie points.

And then consider also that it is only by grace that we are able to obey God – as the Spirit works within us to do this. Philippians 2:13 says, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” If we do what is right it is only because God enables us to do so.

So if you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember, you can’t boast about obeying God.

4. Any good thing in your life is from God

Maybe you have musical gifts and people applaud you and praise you. Maybe you have a spiritual gift that everyone admires – you are an encourager or a great Sunday school teacher. Should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”

Or, do you think that you are special or better than others because you have succeeded in life, in terms of finances? The world thinks this way. But should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As Deuteronomy 8:17-18 says, “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth . . ..”

Are you blessed in other ways? Maybe you have had a unique life journey. Maybe you have experienced things that most others haven’t. Should this lead you to lift yourself above others? No. As James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights . . .”

Remember, every good thing you are or have is from God. No matter what it is, it is from God, not us. It is all grace, grace, grace. We have it because of God’s love.

5. Compare yourself to Jesus, not others.

Like I said, if we compare ourselves to others we can always find someone that we think is worse off than us and so we can exalt ourselves over them. But this misses the point entirely. Other people are not our standard. Jesus is our standard!

As the Father said of him on the mountain in Matthew 17:5 – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” He is the one who has pleased God. He is the one who is rightly exalted. Not me, not you, not anyone else who has ever lived. We have to get our focus right.

Remember the powerful effect Jesus had on people as the holy one of God? In Luke 5:8 Peter said “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The presence of Jesus points out clearly how unholy we are.

So listen to Jesus. Study his teaching and example. Spend more time in his presence and you won’t have to worry about pride. If you are tempted to think more highly of yourself than you ought, remember to compare yourself to Jesus and be forever humbled.

So just a bit of help from the Scriptures this morning for all of us on our journey to humility. So that we don’t clothe ourselves in pride, arrogance, haughtiness and conceit – lifting ourselves above others wanting to be served and to have others sacrifice for us. But rather that we clothe ourselves in humility, modesty, meekness and lowliness – lowering ourselves before others to serve and to sacrifice for them.

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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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If you have ever read 1 and 2 Corinthians, especially straight through, you know that Paul and the Corinthians had a stormy relationship. In fact this accounts, in large part, for why Paul wrote so much to them. There is a correlation between the amount of trouble and the amount of writing Paul had to do.

He had founded the church, but then left for other parts to preach the gospel. And in his absence the Corinthians started to think they were pretty smart. And also other Christian workers came to them and the Corinthians began comparing them against Paul, and seemed to like these others more than they liked Paul. And so some began to question him and pick him apart and there were various disagreements between them.

For instance:

  • There was a misunderstanding about his travel plans that upset them. Some were asking, “Why didn’t he visit us like he said he would?” (2 Corinthians 1:15-23)
  • Some thought they knew more than him about several topics of the Christian faith even though he was an apostle of Christ. (idol food, sexual immorality and the resurrection)
  • Some thought he boasted too much. (2 Corinthians 3:1; 10:8)
  • There were issues of trust regarding the offering being taken for the Jerusalem church. Can he be trusted to deliver this money? (2 Corinthians 8:20-21; 9:-21; 1 Corinthians 16:3-4)
  • Some thought that he was a poor speaker. This is interesting because we would never think this, but they were judging him by Greek standards of rhetoric and speech. In 2 Corinthians 10:10 Paul quotes some of them as saying “his speech is of no account.” (1 Corinthians 1:7; 2:1; 2 Corinthians 11:6)
  • Some thought he was weak; that he didn’t make a good impression. Again in 2 Corinthians 10:10 he quotes some of them as saying, “his bodily presence is weak.” (2 Corinthians 10:1)

All of this conflict is why Paul speaks of making painful visits  with them (2 Corinthians 2:1) and writing painful letters to them (2 Corinthians 2:4).

The core issue in all of this is the Corinthian’s pride and arrogance – in themselves and in their ideas about how he should be a minister.This shows up in 1 Corinthians 4:8, where he says sarcastically, “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!” They had a very high view of themselves.

Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 4:18-20. “Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

With this background in place let’s look at our passage and its warning in v. 12. I will break it down into four parts:

1. The Israelites “had it all” too

vs. 1-4 – “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

  • The Israelites shared in a baptism. They passed through the red sea, just as the Corinthians were baptized.
  • The Israelites shared in the Lord’s food and drink. They ate manna and drank water from the rock, just as the Corinthians partook of the Lord’s supper.

They too enjoyed the privileges and blessings of the Lord, like the Corinthians.

2. Yet they failed and were judged

v. 5 – “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” They did not enter the promised land.

Paul then gives four examples of how they displeased God:

  • v. 7 – Idolatry. “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’” This refers back to the golden calf incident in Exodus 32. (v. 6 is quoted)
  • v. 8 – Sexual immorality. “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” This refers to Numbers 25 when the Israelites engaged in sexual immorality with the Moabites.
  • v. 9 – Testing God. “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents.” This goes back to Numbers 21, where they complained against God and Moses about his provision of manna. They wanted God to prove himself by giving them more and better food.
  • v. 10 – Complaining. We must not “grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” This refers to Numbers 14 and possibly also Numbers 16-17. In each of these cases the Israelites grumbled against God and Moses and were judged.

What is Paul’s message? The Israelites had it all, the blessings and privileges of God. But they were not careful and gave in to evil desire. Only two of them – Joshua and Caleb made it into the promised land. The rest were judged.

3. These stories are examples for Christians

And he emphasises this in two places in this passage. v. 6 – “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” And then also v. 11 – “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” Paul is saying, what happened to them can happen to you – Corinthians.

And this point is made all the more secure in that the Corinthians were struggling with the same things that the Israelites in the wilderness struggled with. And that, even as they thought so highly of themselves.

– some were involved in idolatry, as he will warn them later in our passage, when they eat idol food in a temple they are actually connecting themselves to the demons behind idol worship. (1 Corinthians 10:14-22)

some were involved in sexual immorality – indeed they were even OK with a couple involved in incest being a part of their congregation (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 12:21)

some were testing God – this might refer to how they were partaking of the Lord’s supper wrongly, bringing judgment on themselves (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

some were grumbling against Paul as a leader, not receiving his counsel, thinking they knew more than him, and picking him apart.

And so he warns them in relation to all of these things –

4. Take care lest you too fall!

v. 12 – “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” You who think you have it all together, who think that you are standing firm, learn from this that you too can fall. You may now experience the blessings of God. But you risk being excluded from the promises of God – just as most of the Israelites did not enter the promised land.

And the issue is their pride and arrogance:

Their pride blocks them from being able to see their own problems, struggles and failures. Right? Pride makes us really good at finding other peoples’ problems, but really bad at seeing our own. And this was true in how the Corinthians treated Paul.

And their pride keeps them from receiving input and correction from Paul, so that they can change.

The lesson for us

Beware overconfidence! We all need faith and confidence in our relationship with God, but watch out for overconfidence. Beware pride! Beware arrogance!

All of us have weaknesses and we stumble in many ways. But when we are arrogant it blinds us to our problems and it keeps us from receiving input and correction from others. It is just as Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

So then, let us learn humility. Let us confess our struggles. And let us receive from one another correction and help – so that we can all receive the promises that God has for us.

William Higgins

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The title today is “Knowing our place in God’s plan.” Now the phrase “knowing our place” doesn’t sit well with many Americans, being free spirited and independent as we so often are. We don’t like this idea of having “a place.” We say, “I’ll be who I want to be and do whatever I want.”

But the Scriptures teach us that we will only find true peace when we find our place in God’s will for our lives. There is a paradox here: the one who does whatever they want is actually a slave; a slave of sin, which eventually makes us miserable and destroys us. But the one who is a slave of God, doing what God wants,  is free; free to find true peace and contentment.

That’s because God made us; God designed us to walk in his ways. And specifically God has given each one of us gifts and callings. And it is only when we align our lives to his will that we will know true contentment and joy. Even if things are hard, we can know we are right where we should be.

John the Baptist knew his place in God’s plan. He was crystal clear. So I want us to look at two passages from the Gospel of John to see what we can learn from him.

John 1:19-27

John is not the Christ. 19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

So this delegation from the powers-that-be come from Jerusalem to check John out because he is drawing big crowds. This was a cause of concern for them, since they were mindful of keeping the peace with the Roman overlords.

And as John answers all their questions, he reveals that he has a really clear understanding of who he is, and who he is not. Beginning in reverse order of who he is not – he is not “the prophet.” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 and how it speaks of a prophet like Moses who would come. And he is not Elijah, or at least he is not literally Elijah come from heaven after going there in a fiery chariot.

But most importantly he is not the Christ, or the Messiah. v. 20 – “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” He is very clear.

The lesson here for us regarding who we are not is that we also are not the Christ. This seems so basic that it shouldn’t have to be mentioned. And I don’t know anyone who would literally claim to be the Christ, apart from mental illness.

But there are some who, I think, have a “Messiah complex.” People, and yes, Christians, who think they are God’s gift to the world. Who have an all too high opinion of themselves. Who think that they know best about every situation; who have an answer to any problem; who think that everything hinges on them, and that without them things will just fall apart. They are here to save the day!

And then more commonly there is our simple self-centeredness. Where we live for ourselves and our self-interests. We make ourselves the Lord of our lives so that we are functionally claiming to be the Christ and Lord of ourselves and our domain. We don’t learn from Jesus, we don’t listen to Jesus, we don’t submit to Jesus. We just do what we want and what’s best for us.

In both of these cases we learn from John the Baptist that we too must submit ourselves to Christ and his Lordship.

  • He is the Savior, God’s gift to the world – not us.
  • He is Lord – and we are not.

This is the most basic first step in finding our place in God’s plan. We subordinate ourselves to him. This is the path to peace and joy.

Well even though he is not the Christ, John does have a role to play. He knows who he is not, but he also knows who he is. 22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John is quoting Isaiah 40:3. He was given the unique role of preparing the way for Jesus as was prophesied by Isaiah. His job was to clear the obstacles out of the way for the coming of the Messiah. And he did this through calling people to repent of their sins and find forgiveness.

He is not the Christ, but he does have a role to play in God’s plan.

Our second lesson then is that we have a role in God’s plan too. In a parable in Matthew 25 Jesus makes the point that all of us have various responsibilities to work for him. Vs. 14-15 say, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”

In Romans 12:4-6 Paul teaches us that we each have been given gifts to serve God. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them”.

So we are to be clear about who we are not, but we also need to be clear about who we are – what God has called us to do, what gifts God has given to us. And we need to use them. What is your role? What is your specific place in God’s plan? I encourage you to find out; find your place and then do what God has called you to do.

John’s humility before Christ. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

There are several “comes after me” statements from John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. In 1:15 he says, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.” In 1:30 he says, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” And here we have, “He who comes after me – the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” In each case they refer to Jesus’ superior status or rank over John.

v. 27 is the most specific. To take off and put on someone’s shoes was considered slave work. And so John is saying that he is not even worthy to be a slave of Christ. Now, Jesus said of John that he was the greatest person in the period of the Old Covenant (Matthew 11:1). But even so, John knows his lowly place in relation to Jesus.

John models for us here how we are to be humble before Christ. Even though we have a role, and it may be a great one, we are under Christ. We too are not worthy to be Christ’s slave. We are as low as you can be. Not a master, not just a free person, not just a slave, but unworthy to be Christ’s slave.

As Jesus says in Luke 17:10, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” We are “unworthy servants.” This is our place in relation to Christ.

And then we come to our second passage –

John 3:26-30

Here we see that John’s place is to exalt Christ. 26And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30He must increase, but I must decrease.”

When some heard of Jesus’ success, they thought John the Baptist might be jealous. But John recognizes that whatever our place is, it is given by God. “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” He has his own place, given him from heaven, just as Jesus has his own place given from heaven.

He also makes the point that he is not in competition with Jesus – he is not the Christ as he has been clear all along. Rather his place is to go before Christ.

John describes himself as the friend of the bridegroom, who is Jesus. And as the friend he takes joy in the success of the bridegroom and his blessings. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John’s goal is to exalt Jesus, not himself.

He is content and filled with joy in doing this. As he says in v. 29, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

The lesson for us is that our place is to exalt Christ, not ourselves. Life is not about us; our accomplishments; our name; our legacy. Always striving, grasping, panting for more and more. It is about Christ and who he is and what he has done. We must decrease, and he must increase.

And like John, when we do this our joy will be complete. When we are in God’s place for us we will have joy, peace and contentment.

William Higgins

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Series: Be at peace with one another!

We are back into our series on Jesus’ teaching in the gospel of Mark. And today we begin in on a passage found in Mark 9:33-50, which will take us a few weeks to work our way through.

We’re gonna look specifically at vs. 33-37 this morning, focused on arguments about who’s the greatest in the church community. But before we jump in, let’s back up and look at –

The bigger picture

Mark 9:33-50 is a part of a yet larger section of teaching that comes between Jesus’ second and third prediction of his death. This is teaching for his disciples about living life after his death and resurrection – after Jesus is gone. It’s preparation for this. The first part of this has to do with the household of the church: Mark 9:33-50 – which is our focus. The second has to do with earthly households: Mark 10:1-31 (marriage – vs. 1-12; children – vs. 13-16; wealth – vs. 17-31).

Now let’s look a bit more at what Jesus says about –

The household of the church – Mark 9:33-50

You have a handout that outlines the passage. This is where we’ll be going in the next few weeks. The common theme is relationships in Jesus’ community of disciples. And the point of this whole passage is found at the very end, in  v. 50 – “Be at peace with one another.”

As you can see in your handout, he covers three relationship problems: arguing over who is the greatest, rejecting those who are not from your group and looking down on those who seem unimportant. Then he stresses in the clearest possible way the danger that awaits those who cause division and strife in his community in, what I am calling the three amputation sayings and the three salt sayings.

So this is what we are looking at and we begin with the first kind of conflict, the disciples arguing about –

Who’s the greatest?

v. 33 – “And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’” Capernaum was Jesus’ home base. It was a fishing village on the  sea of Galilee.

Jesus checks in on his disciples to see what they were discussing. Maybe it was an especially intense conversation and he wants to see what’s going on.

v. 34 – “But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” They were silent because they knew better than to openly argue about such a thing.

Jesus has been teaching them about the coming of the kingdom of God and they expected to have an exalted place in that kingdom, based on their service to Jesus now.

And that expectation was right. As Jesus indicates in Matthew 19:28 – “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

But who would have the highest place? Whose throne would be the best? Whose would be next to Jesus and whose would be furthest away?

v. 35 – “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’” Jesus sits down because this is what teachers did in that day. He has something to share with them about the true path to greatness – which is very different than what people in the world think.

The way to be great is to be “last of all and servant of all.” This is an important teaching that is repeated in different ways by Jesus:

  • Mark 10:43-44 – “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”
  • Luke 22:26 – “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.”
  • Matthew 23:11 – “The greatest among you shall be your servant.”

If in the world you become great by putting yourself forward to be recognized, clawing your way to the top while pushing others down, being arrogant and self-focused – in the kingdom you become great by lowering yourself and being the last of all.

If being great in the world means being served by others – in the kingdom being great means serving others.

Jesus is saying to his disciples – it’s OK to seek to be great, but you’re going about it in exactly the wrong way.

  • Don’t focus on raising yourself up and being recognized and served.
  • Focus on lowering yourself and serving others’ needs.

For this is what greatness means in the kingdom of God. And these God himself will raise up to be honored.

And then Jesus gives an illustration. v. 36 – “And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms . . .” Apparently the child is from the house where they are.

Remember that in biblical times children were not held in the same high regard as they are today in the West. They were often seen as no more than slaves, until they grew up. They had no power or social status. They were not put on a pedestal. They were on the bottom – lowly and last.

And so what does Jesus do? “Taking him in his arms” can also be translated as “embracing him.” Jesus hugs the child. A simple act of love; the giving of attention and affection. Jesus is saying, “This is what I’m talking about.”

Then he gives the lesson. vs. 36-37 – “. . . he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’”

 To receive someone means to welcome them. To welcome them in the name of Jesus is to do this on behalf of Jesus; as his representative; as his servant.

Jesus is saying that greatness comes from accepting the lowest social status in order to serve others – in this case a child. You put yourself below the lowly one, so that you can love and minister to their needs. Instead of the lowly ones focusing on you and lifting you up, you focus on them and lift them up by serving them.

And what you will find is that you will not be serving no-bodies, you know, people who can’t help you out in return (Luke 1413-14), you will be serving Jesus and indeed the Father.

Let me ask the question, then –

How do we seek out worldly greatness?

How do we try to be better than others in our church community? It’s usually not open. Like the disciples we know that we shouldn’t openly pursue this. But we do have subtle ways of seeking to put ourselves above others.

Here’s an example: a pastor who’s focus is on success, defined as having a bigger and bigger church and being recognized by others; a kind of celebrity. In other words this pastor has a worldly definition of success. Now, it isn’t wrong to grow or to be recognized. But the point of ministry is to place yourself below others to serve them, not above them to be recognized. To lift them up, not to be lifted up.

A church member who wants a certain role. And so pushes to get it, manipulates, pressures and politicks for it. This is really just self-promotion – seeking the honor of the role, not seeking to serve others.

Rivalries between church members. You know, over who is more gifted, or more faithful? Rivalries for the admiration of other members, or agreement on key issues that the church is discussing – creating factions.

A church member who wants to be recognized. You have worked hard and no one seems to notice. And so you are angry and a little bitter. And so you start laying out hints to get others to notice you. Again it is not wrong to be recognized. And maybe others are failing to appreciate you. But it’s wrong to seek to be recognized or to set your heart on gaining that. That is the way of the world.

When we take up the agenda of worldly greatness we strain, damage and destroy our relationships with each other. And the church is weakened and distracted from doing what God calls us to do. Any group that is focused on such things is not going to be able to be focused on loving God and loving each other and serving God in the world. So you can see the importance of us having good relationships with each other.

Jesus’ word to us

Stop seeking worldly greatness among yourselves, and “be at peace with one another” – v. 50.

Only seek kingdom greatness, which will eliminate the conflict over who has the most status and who should be recognized.

And then let God exalt you at the right time. Don’t even worry about this. Keep on lowering yourself to serve and leave the agenda of recognition in God’s hands. It may not come until the final day, but wait for it. It will be worth it.

William Higgins

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John the Baptist is our Advent focus this year. John prepared the people for Jesus’ coming. And he can also prepare us as we get ready to celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas and also as we await the second coming of Jesus; his second advent, which could happen at any time.

Last week we saw how he prepares us through his message of repentance. We are to set aside our sin and our excuses for our sin, and commit to do God’s will in all of our lives. And then, just as the people did in John the Baptist’s day, we can come and confess our sins and find forgiveness.

Today we focus on how John’s example of humility prepares us. But first, a bit more on the person of John the Baptist. We looked at some things last week, but today we take note of –

John’s exalted status

John was chosen by God and given a special role in God’s scheme of things; God’s plan for this world. And not only this, he is spoken of very highly in Scripture.

1. His birth was announced by an angel in the Temple – Luke 1:13. How many people can claim this?

2. He received the Spirit ‘in utero’ as it were. The angel said, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” – Luke 1:15.

3. His birth was special. When people heard about the circumstances of his birth, about his mother being older and unable to have children and his father not being able to speak and then speaking to name him “John,” they said, “‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him.” – Luke 1:65-66.

4. It’s the testimony of Scripture that “He was a righteous and holy man” – Mark 6:20.

5. He baptized Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17. An amazing privilege.

6. He was the first to confess Jesus’ identity. He said, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” – John 1:34.

7. He was immensely popular. “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” – Mark 1:5.

8. He was respected by the king. Herod arrested him, but nevertheless, “Herod feared John . . . and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly” – Mark 6:20

9. Jesus said about him, “He was a burning and shining lamp” – John 5:35.

10. Jesus said, “John came to you in the way of righteousness” – Matthew 21:32.

11. His father prophesied great things about him at his birth. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” – Luke 1:76-77.

12. He is the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. Jesus said, “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” – Luke 7:26-27.

13. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3. “For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” – Matthew 3:3.

14. He is the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6. This speaks of Elijah coming before the day of the Lord. “And the disciples asked Jesus, ‘Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?’ He answered, ‘Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased’. . . Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” – Matthew 17:10-13. (Also, Matthew 11:14; Luke 1:17)

15. John is the dividing line between the old and new covenants. Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” – Luke 16:16.

16. John was the greatest of the old covenant. Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” – Luke 7:28. That is, those among the old covenant. Think about it. John is greater than Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah!

It’s difficult to find someone in Scripture spoken of more highly, and certainly none in terms of the words of Jesus. What an amazing person! And what an amazing ministry he had!

Now lets’ look at –

How John’s example prepares us for the coming of Jesus

And what I want to say here is that he presents an example to us of true humility. And given his exalted status and all the accolades, this really stands out.

He saw himself as unworthy in comparison to Jesus. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” – Matthew 3:11. He sees himself as not even worthy to do slave service for Jesus; carrying his sandals.

He claimed no titles. “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’” – John 1:20-21. Now, Jesus called him the prophet and Elijah. But John was uncomfortable with these titles. He simply saw himself as the one who prepares the way.

He felt unworthy to baptize Jesus. Scripture tells us, “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” – Matthew 3:14.

He willingly let his disciples follow Jesus. “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” – John 1:35-37.

John always deferred to Jesus. Someone said to John, “Rabbi, he . . . to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” – John 3:26. Would he be envious? John answered them, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” – John 3:29. He’s simply the friend of the bridegroom. The party’s for the groom, not the friend. And he’s happy for Jesus. Finally, and succinctly, John said this about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:30.

What an amazing portrait of humility! He was socially humble, claiming no status. He was economically humble, being poor. He was personally humble, as a virtue in his relations with others. And he was humble before God and submitted to him. “Whatever you want God, that’s what I want.”

And this stands out all the more in contrast to king Herod and the Pharisees and Sadducees, where we see pride, self-righteousness, and self-sufficiency.

But notice that John, in his humility, was blessed by Jesus when he came. But all these others, because of their pride, found themselves opposing Jesus and being opposed by Jesus. They lifted themselves up and so they were not ready for the coming of the Lord.

What about you? Where is there pride, self-righteousness or self-sufficiency in your life?

Do you strive to be recognized, as opposed to lifting Jesus up? Do you have areas of your life where you think you don’t need Jesus? Are there issues where you think you know more than Jesus, and so you don’t listen to him or obey him? When he challenges you, do you resist because you are too arrogant to listen or yield?

John teaches us that getting ready for Jesus’ advent means getting rid of our arrogance and learning true humility before God.

Jesus said in Luke 14:11 “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” that is by God when he comes. But he also said in the same verse, “he who humbles himself will be exalted,” that is by God when he comes – just as John was exalted and blessed.

And if we follow John’s example, we too can be blessed, when we celebrate and worship our Lord this Christmas, and on that final day when he returns in great glory.

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(edited) How many of you would like your prayers to be more effective? When I say ‘prayer amplifier’ I mean something that will do precisely this; something that will make our prayers be heard on high.

I want us to look at two prayer amplifiers. And today, the topic is fasting.

Some basics on fasting

Fasting means refraining from all food for a time. Another way of talking about fasting is to say that someone is “eating no bread” (Luke 7:33) with bread standing for food. We call other things fasts today, but in the Bible it means no food.

The Day of Atonement fast is the only one required in the Law of Moses. This was an annual, national fast (Leviticus 16:29). Although a fast could be called in any time of crisis (Joel 2:12-13).

There are a number of examples of individual, voluntary fasts in Scripture. And in later Judaism this kind of fasting became quite prominent. In Jesus’ day many fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays (Luke 18:12).

Should we fast?

We don’t talk much about fasting anymore. But the answer to our question is certainly yes, with regard to individual, voluntary fasting.

You can see this first of all in Jesus’ teaching. Matthew 9:14-15 – “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”

Jesus is saying, since he is present with them, they are to be joyful and celebrate – like at a wedding. And in Judaism wedding guests were released from ordinary religious duties.

But after he is taken away, that is, after he is killed, “then they (his disciples) will fast.” And this refers to us as well. In the time that we live in, Jesus says, we will fast.

And then in Matthew 6:16 Jesus said, “And when you fast . . .” and then he goes on to talk about how to fast correctly. We will look at this Scripture again in a minute, but clearly Jesus is giving instructions that assume his disciples will fast.

You can also see that we should fast from various examples in the New Testament:

  • Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness before he began his public ministry.
  • The early church fasted – Acts 13:2-3. Paul and Barnabas were chosen for and then sent off to their missionary work with “fasting and prayer.”
  • Paul fasted – Acts 14:23, when he appointed Elders with “prayer and fasting.”

These examples of fasting become a recommendation to us to fast as well.

OK, so we should fast, but –

What’s the point of fasting?

One reason we don’t practice it more, I believe, is that we don’t understand what it’s all about; what we are doing when we fast. We have images of monks and asceticism; of useless torturing of our bodies like Paul warns against in Colossians 2:18; 23. But this isn’t what fasting is about.

Fasting is an expression of humility or lowliness. The point is that you want to humble yourself. You are putting yourself in a place of weakness. The language used in Leviticus to speak of fasting is literally “to afflict oneself.”

Sometimes this lowliness is connected to repentance. Joel 2:12 says, “’Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’” It is a way of abasing yourself before the Lord due to your wrong choices and is a part of repentance.

Sometimes lowliness is connected to mourning. David fasted as he mourned the deaths of Saul and Jonathan – 2 Samuel 1:12. And Jesus connects fasting with mourning in Matthew 9:15, a passage we just looked at. He uses the two words interchangeably.

The point in all of this is that fasting is an expression of humility and lowliness.

So when you combine fasting and prayer, and they are often connected in Scripture, it means that you are praying from a lowly place; that you are humbling yourself before God as you pray. This is the point of fasting and prayer. And –

This is why fasting amplifies our prayers

By humbling yourself, you are putting yourself in a place that gains God’s utmost attention. As Psalm 138:6 says, “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly.” Proverbs 3:34 says that the Lord gives “favor” to the humble. And James 4:6 says that God “gives grace to the humble.” God hears those who humble themselves before him.

  • That this is true can be seen in Isaiah 58:4, which says that fasting can “make your voice to be heard on high.”
  • And this can also be seen in Matthew 6 where Jesus talks about fasting as one of three ways to seek “the reward” of God’s attention, in connection with prayer.

When you add fasting to prayer it is a way of getting God’s full attention, as it were.

Now, this doesn’t mean that just because you fast, or fast for a really long time, that God has to grant your request. You can’t force God’s hand. For instance, David fasted so that his first child from Bathsheba might live, but the child died – 2 Samuel 12.

But it does makes sure that you are heard and the intensity of your desire is fully conveyed to God for consideration.

An example of the power of fasting and prayer can be found in the story of Ahab, who was perhaps the worst Israelite king of all. Elijah warned him that God was about to judge him and destroy his whole household. 1 Kings 21:27 says, “And when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly.” And then in v. 29 the Lord said to Elijah, “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days. . ..” God gives a very evil man a measure of mercy because of his humble fasting.

At the end here, let me give you some cautions connected with fasting. First, when you fast –

Beware of false lowliness – Isaiah 58:3-9

In v. 3 the people complain to God, “Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”

God’s answer in v. 5 is that outward expressions of humility, bowing down with sackcloth and ashes, aren’t enough. True lowliness doesn’t have to do with outward appearance.

And besides in vs. 3-4 we see that they weren’t truly lowly, but were lifting themselves up by putting others down; that is, they were oppressing others.

In vs. 6-7 they are told to start lifting others up and helping them – the poor, the oppressed and the hungry. Here, lowliness means to lower oneself to help the needy. This is what God cares about, not sackcloth and ashes.

If God didn’t hear them before, as he says in v. 4 – “Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high,” fasting with true humility gets God’s attention. Isaiah 58:9 says, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’”

Second, as you fast –

Beware of false seeking – Matthew 6:16-18

That is, when you seek God with prayer and fasting, make sure you are not seeking to get other people’s attention instead. Jesus said in Matthew 6:16, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” They are trying to get others to see how devout they are. So they are actually seeking praise for themselves.

Rather, seek the attention of God alone when you fast and pray. Jesus said in Matthew 6:17-18, “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.”

If you don’t get what you seek, because you are seeking the attention of others, the promise is that, if you seek God you will be rewarded. Jesus said in Matthew 6:18, “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

So I commend this to you today. If you haven’t tried it before, do so. If you have, continue on. Lift up your concerns to God with fasting and prayer. If you have questions about the practical issues of fasting, I’m no expert, but I will be happy to try to help you.

William Higgins

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We are bringing our series on ‘How to overcome sin in our lives’ to a close today. Our focus has been on how to get rid of our sinful behaviors and habits which enslave us and keep us from experiencing all that God has for us.

And the message has been that there is freedom in Jesus! We can overcome. We can be fee. We can walk in the fullness that God has for us.

I have been sharing all of this with you so that you won’t sin. It is very much like what John says to his readers in 1 John 2:1, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” But then he goes on to address the reality of failure. He says, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” – 1 John 2:1-2. (NRSV)

If you do fail and fall into sin, John teaches us that Jesus can help. He died for our sins, so that we can be made right with God. And he is our advocate before God, seeking out God’s mercy for us; interceding for us.

But we also need to do something in order to receive what Jesus provides for us; to experience restoration and renewal. So today we look at –

What you must do

– when you fail and fall into sin.

1. Be honest. Our natural human response is to hide our sins and live in denial. Or if we can’t do that we find excuses for our sins, or we deflect attention away from our failure by focusing on the faults of others. We all see this kind of stuff a lot.

But a true mark of repentance is honesty. You must be absolutely honest with yourself first of all. Because without this you can’t make any progress in Christian faithfulness. And then you must be honest with God and others.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Honest confession leads to mercy.

2. Take responsibility for your actions. This means that you own your actions; they are yours. You don’t shift the blame to other people or circumstances or whatever. You are accountable.

After committing terrible sins, David prayed, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me . . . you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” – Psalm 51:3-4. He’s saying, ‘I did it. And whatever negative consequences come my way are my fault. Because I’m the one who did wrong.’

We see the same thing in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. When he came back and wanted to make things right with his father, he said, “Treat me as one of your hired servants” – Luke 15:19. He was ready to live there as a servant. He knew there were consequences for his actions. And he had squandered his share of the family estate.

Now, his father – in love and grace – accepted him back as a son, not a servant. But notice, he still lost all that he had, for all the rest that the father had was the elder son’s now, and that would not change.

So there are negative consequences that come on you when you sin. You reap what you sow. And you need to take responsibility for all this, because it’s a result of your actions.

3. Express your sorrow. When we fail and fall into sin, we cause God and others pain. And when we realize this it should cause us to be sorrowful. We should feel it, and have regret.

After James calls his readers to repentance he says, “Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection” – James 4:9. (NRSV) Paul calls this “godly grief” in 2 Corinthians 7:10, which is a part of the process of repentance.

4. Stop the behavior. There is no healing with God or others if you don’t turn from your sin.

You know the person who wants mercy, mercy, forgiveness, forgiveness – but doesn’t want to change anything in their life. This isn’t repentance. It’s manipulation.

If you have failed, what you must do is resolve never to do this sin again, and to do everything necessary to make this happen. All the things we have been talking about in this series.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “he who . . . forsakes his transgressions will obtain mercy.” Ezekiel 18:30-32 says, “Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. . . Turn then, and live.” When you stop the wrong behavior, then you can receive “mercy” from God and others; you can “live.” When you don’t, “iniquity will be your ruin.”

5. Ask God to forgive you. Ask God for mercy to pardon you. And this is the time to be truly honest with God, taking responsibility, expressing your sorrow and committing to stop the wrong.

Pray like the tax collector in Jesus’ story, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” – Luke 18:13. Or you can pray from the Lord’s prayer and personalize it – “Forgive (me) us (my) our sins” – Luke 11:4.

God’s promise to us is this: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – 1 John 1:9. And we can hold on to this promise knowing that God will keep his word to us – to forgive, to cleanse and to renew us.

6. Seek reconciliation with others. If your sin involved hurting others, a part of dealing with it is that you seek to make things right with them as best you can. Again this is the time to be honest, to take responsibility, to express your sorrow and to commit to stop the wrongdoing.

Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your sister or brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24 (NRSV). Prioritize making things right with the one you have wronged, even over worship of God. First go and be reconciled to your brother or sister; seek forgiveness. Restore the relationship damaged by your actions.

Now also, if you have harmed someone in a way that can be restored, make amends. The example of Zacchaeus’ repentance speaks to this. He was a wealthy tax collector who was despised because he made his profit off charging more taxes than were necessary. When he repented he said, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” – Luke 19:8. He tried to make things right. He made amends. And he is an example to us.

What should you do when you fail?

1. Be honest

2. Take responsibility for your actions

3. Express your sorrow

4. Stop the behavior

5. Ask God to forgive you

6. Seek reconciliation with others

This is how you get back on track. Not giving up because you have failed. Not wallowing in despair. But repenting in all these ways. And then moving forward with what God’s will is for your life.

Psalm 51 (1-4; 7-12; 16-17)

I want would like to end with a prayer of repentance from David in Psalm 51. He knew how to repent and we can learn from him.

L: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

P: Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

L: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

P: Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

L: Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

P: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

L: For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.

All: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

William Higgins

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