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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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As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection today, we rightly think of the glory of our risen Lord. We think, for instance, of how he was transfigured into a glorious new existence. Revelation 1:13-16 describes him in this way – “one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. . . and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.”

We also rightly think of his glory as he is seated at the right hand of God being honored and glorified above all.

But we need to remember what came before all this. First he walked a lowly path without glory at all. And there is a connection between this lowly path and the glory of the resurrection. And the connection is this – the one has to come before the other; lowliness before glory.

And this is something that we need to take note of, all of us who have set our hope on being raised up on the last day. And in fact, Jesus calls us to this very thing – to take note of his teaching and example and to follow him on the lowly path that leads to resurrection.

Let’s look at this path this morning to see what it consists of. Before the glory of the resurrection, comes –

 The way of humility

Jesus taught us to be humble. He said, “He who humbles himself will be exalted” – Luke 14:11. In context here, he is talking about taking the lowest place at a banquet; that is, not seeking out honor or social status.

This saying is also used in Luke 18:14, James 4:10 to talk about recognizing our failures and sins and repenting of them. This is a part of what humility means.

So Jesus is saying that it is the humble who will be exalted by God to a place of honor. And this certainly includes on the day of resurrection.

Jesus also modeled the way of humility for us. He gave up seeking out social status and honor and put himself on the bottom; he took the lowly place. For instance:

  • He became human. Although, John tells us, in the beginning he “was with God, and (he) was God . . .. he became flesh and dwelt among us” – John 1:1; 14. As Paul said, “though he was in the form of God, (he) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing” – Philippians 2:6-7.
  • He was homeless. As he said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20.
  • He was dependent on others for food and shelter. Luke 8:2-3 speaks of several women disciples “who provided for (him and his disciples) out of their means.”

Jesus took up a very low social place. And just as he taught, he was raised to a place of honor at the right hand of God.

So we learn from Jesus’ teaching and example that first comes humility, and then comes exaltation; being raised up by God to a place of honor on the final day.

And without humility we will not be exalted. For Jesus also said in Luke 14:11, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” that is, by God. If we are busy lifting ourselves up in this life we will not be lifted up by God on the final day. It is only those who humble themselves who will be exalted in the resurrection.

Also, before the glory of the resurrection, comes –

The way of serving others

 Jesus taught us to minister to the needs of others. He said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” – Mark 9:35. He is talking about lowering ourselves to the lowest place in order to serve the needs of others.

Jesus is saying that those who make themselves last, are the ones whom God will make first on the final day.

Jesus also modeled being a servant to others. He placed himself below others in order to minister to their needs. As he said, “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve” – Mark 10:45. He served those who were lowly in that day – women, children, outcasts and the poor. He sought to bless them and lift them up. He served as:

  • He taught people God’s way – Luke 4:43
  • He healed people – Matthew 4:23
  • He set people free from demons – Mark 1:27

He became last of all and servant of all. And just as he taught, he was raised to the first place in all of creation, above all powers and authorities. He is indeed the first-born of all creation – Colossians 1:15.

So we learn from Jesus’ teaching and example that first comes servanthood, being last, and then comes being first.

And without being last, we will not be made first by God. For Jesus also said, “the first will be last” – Luke 13:30. If we are busy putting ourselves first in this life, we will find ourselves in the last place on the final day. It is only those who serve others that will be given the highest status in the resurrection.

Still yet, before the glory of the resurrection, comes –

The way of suffering

Jesus taught us that we will suffer for our faith in him. He said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” – Luke 6:22-23. We are to accept whatever suffering comes our way because of our faith in Jesus.

And Jesus is saying that those who accept suffering will be “blessed.” Their “reward is great in heaven” waiting for them on that final day.

Jesus also modeled for us the path of righteous suffering:

  • He was slandered, being called a false prophet and a blasphemer – Mark 14:64
  • He suffered injustice from the Jewish and Gentile authorities – Mark 15:15
  • He was shamed being spit on, mocked, ridiculed and taunted – Mark 14:65; 15:16-20
  • He was beaten and scourged – Mark 15:15

Jesus suffered greatly. And just as he taught, he was blessed for his suffering. He received his reward when God raised him from the dead.

So we learn from Jesus’ teaching and example that first comes suffering for our faith, and then comes the blessing of God – an eternal reward from God on the final day.

And without accepting suffering we will not be blessed. For Jesus also said,  “Woe to you” speaking of those who compromise, so that they don’t have to suffer for their faith. He teaches us that the only reward and blessing such will have is what they get in this life. There will be nothing for them in the next life – Luke 6:24-26. It is only those who accept suffering for their faith who will be blessed in the resurrection.

Finally, before the glory of the resurrection, comes –

The way of death

Jesus taught us to lose our lives. He said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” – Mark 8:35. In context, to lose your life is to deny yourself, to take up your cross; to give up your earthly life for Jesus. And we are to do this in smaller way even daily – Luke 9:23.

The phrase, “to save your life” comes to us in different versions: It means that you will “find it” – Matthew 16:25; you will “keep it” – Luke 17:33 on the final day. It means that you “will keep it for eternal life” – John 12:25. Jesus is talking here about resurrection.

Jesus also modeled for us losing his life:

  • He gave up his life every day. He denied himself to serve others as we have seen.
  • He was crucified and killed –  Mark 15:34, 37.

And just as he taught, having lost his life, having taken up his cross, he saved his life. He found his life in the resurrection.

So we learn from Jesus’ teaching and example that first comes losing one’s life, and then comes saving one’s life.

And without losing our lives, we will not save our lives. For Jesus also said, “Whoever seeks to preserve his (earthly) life will lose it” – Luke 17:33. It is only those who take up their cross, who lose their lives in service to God, who will find their lives in the resurrection.

So for us who have set our hope not on this life, but on the life to come and the resurrection of the dead – Jesus shows us the way. He is, after all, the Risen One. And he shows us the path that all must take. First comes lowliness, servanthood, suffering and death. And then and only then comes resurrection – new life, blessing, being first, and exaltation.

May God strengthen us to take the lowly way, so that we may each find the glory that God desires for us.

William Higgins

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