Would you like Jesus to be everything to you? Would you like intimate friendship with your creator? I’d like you to know one thing this morning – as your disposition conforms to what is appropriate and pleasing to God, he will draw near to you. If you are more humble – in your soul – God will be more satisfying.
There’s nothing more core to the Jesus-rejecting human existence than pride because pride is what powers a life without God. And there SHOULD BE nothing more core to the life of the Christian than humility because we know that only God reigns and only God gives life and only God sustains, and we are helpless and dependent on his mercy.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Pride is so natural to fallen human beings that it springs up in the heart like weeds in a watered garden. We may hunt down this fox and think we have destroyed it, but our exultation is pride. None have more pride than those who dream that they have none. Pride is a sin with a thousand lives and a thousand shapes. By perpetual change it escapes capture.”
The natural response for someone who knows God is humility. But, since we’re wired to be prideful, biblical humility faces massive resistance. In many ways biblical humility simply doesn’t make sense to us. And so, we need help.
Both pride and humility flow through the Bible, from beginning to end, as core concepts. In the beginning it was all good, and then the prideful, self-centered rejection of God threw us into a sin-filled downward spiral that if left unchecked only leads to eternal death. But God inserted himself into this suicide story to bring the dead back to life; to change hearts of stone into hearts flesh, and in a very real way moving us from pride to humility.
As we think about this together, I’d like to break it into three components: first – I’d like to talk about humility in general terms? Second – We’ll look at a few examples. And third – we’ll look at humility markers that we can focus on as we follow Jesus together.
With humility being a core tenant for the godly life, Scripture is flooded with verses and stories and extended teaching on this. So I’d like to start with two verses:
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. – Isaiah 66:2b
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. – Luke 14:11
In these two verses we have two aspects of humility. In the first verse we see that humility is a state of mind, or a state of being, or a mental or spiritual disposition. Humility is almost like a personality trait. “…he who is humble and contrite IN SPIRIT…” So God pays attention those who think of themselves the way they should.
In the second verse we see that humility is also an act of the will “He who humbles himself will be exalted.” So we need to gain a humble mind and spirit, AND we need to humble ourselves. And we’ll talk about that when we talk about humility markers.
If you want God to lift you up and open to you all the riches of the Kingdom you will need to humble yourself. If you want nothing more than to live for Jesus and serve him and to be a faithful disciple, you will need to humble yourself. If you want to reach the lost you will need to humble yourself. If you want to thrive through pain, or receive suffering with joy, you’ll need to humble yourself. And if you’re thinking, “I’m a pretty humble person.”, you’re not.
Do you ever feel like the Psalmist when he says:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. – Psalm 63:1
I hope you long for God this way. The path to an all satisfying God is the path of humility.
If we were more humble this church and my church would be new; our outreach would be new; the smell of Jesus would be stronger and who knows what God might do.
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As is true, however, with every massive and important concept, we usually try to boil it down to a few words that we can build an Instagram post around. Now, one problem in doing this is that it’s easy to think we’ve accomplished some magnificent thing when in reality, at least with humility, we have achieved very little. We can easily think that if I agree with something, or “like” something, or if I know what something is, then I also have a handle on it. That’s wrong. It’s just not that simple.
Biblical humility runs so counter to the way we’re wired that we will not win the battle by simply understanding what humility is. Pride is so deeply rooted in us that cultivating humility is more connected to war against sin, and living by faith than simply understanding what it is. It’s like knowing that sin is horrible and crushing and resulted in a sinless man absorbing the wrath of God for you, and then thinking that knowing this is the same as not sinning.
It’s like saying that the Grand Canyon is a really big hole in the ground. And while that’s true, it’s not nearly enough.
It’s like the gospel, easy to condense – Jesus dying on the cross for our sins – but impossible to fully grasp. In the end, a simple definition may be good and right, but much more is needed because biblical humility is totally foreign to our natural condition.
If we look at Scripture, it doesn’t give us a concise or simple definition that we can understand and be satisfied with.
Pride filters identity and attitude and action AND GOD through all the assumptions and promises of this fallen world as if those assumptions and promises are true. Humility filters identity and attitude and action AND GOD through all that God is for us – all that the gospel is for us. Pride wins when my mind is focused on me and humility can expand when we’re focused on Jesus. So, here’s my completely inadequate definition of humility – Humility is the disposition of self when we see God the way we should. Functional humility is possible when our thinking starts with God, and pride is certain when our thinking starts with self.
When we – through the power of the Holy Spirit – really understand who we are and what God did for us in the cross-work of Jesus, pride can’t stay. So, if you struggle with pride and humility – and we all do – you need to feel the gospel in a deeper way.
As we walk on the path that God’s grace has cleared for us, humility should be an ever-increasing reality because we increasingly know how helpless we are and how prone to sin we are, and how we love the easy/earthly way and not the right way.
One of my favorite preachers – Sam Storms, said, “Humility is the confession of weakness and emptiness that receives grace. God gives grace to the humble because they are so empty of themselves they can more readily receive [God’s grace] and be trusted with it than can the proud who are full of themselves.”
Humility is having complete trust and purpose in God and not in a self-focused vision for life.
Our call is to:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, – Colossians 3:12
… walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. – Ephesians 4:1–3
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:5
…have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. – 1 Peter 3:8
And the good news is that the Holy Spirit helps us here.
(2 Cor 9:8; Acts 1:8; Col 1:9-10; Phil 2:12-13; 1 Cor 15:10; Heb 13:20-21)
EXAMPLES OF HUMILITY
THE APOSTLE PAUL in his first letter to the Corinthian church said, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle…” (1 Cor 15:9)
To the Christians at Ephesus he wrote, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…” – Ephesians 3:8
And to Timothy he wrote, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” – 1 Timothy 1:15
Paul recognized his position before God and man, and it was one of undeserved grace. He did not see himself as better than anyone.
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DAVID responded to God’s creation with humility:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? – Psalm 8:3–4
For David, just looking at the amazing work of God in nature raised a question. How could it be that the God who does all of this could care for a sinful people.
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THE PROFIT DANIEL was an amazing biblical character worth our attention. He was given the ability to interpret dreams and he received magnificent prophetic visions that bolster our hope in God today. And he was told that he was heard by God when he turned to understanding with a humble disposition (Daniel 10:12)
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THE APOSTLE PETER was told by Jesus, after fishing all night and catching nothing, to drop his net on the other side of the boat. And when Peter did that, the catch was so heavy they couldn’t get it into the boat. Luke writes that when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)
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A GENTILE ROMAN SOLDIER showed remarkable humility
When [Jesus] had entered Capernaum, a centurion (Roman soldier) came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. – Matthew 8:5–8
This gentile understood more than almost anyone else. And Jesus said no one in Israel had faith like this.
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THE SINFUL, SINFUL TAX COLLECTOR we read about in Luke 18:9-14 couldn’t even bring himself to look up as he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”, while the theologian next to him focused on all he had become and all he did. The theologian was full of himself while the tax collector was done with self and the tax collector walked away justified.
The tax collector had no righteousness of his own. And the theologian, on the other hand, was full of pride. He came to God standing on who he had become through years of effort and discipline. He saw himself as better than the tax collector.
So, how do you see yourself this morning? Do you act like you’re better than someone who is addicted or poor or divorced or struggling in the faith? Do you feel superior to someone who has wronged you? Have you forgotten who you really are? A helpless, God-rejecting sinner saved only because the great Sovereign had mercy on you.
This contrast between the religious leader and the tax collector speaks volumes if we’ll just hear it.
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AND JESUS IS OUR PRIME EXAMPLE as he humbled himself and came to be killed by those who hated him so that they could be forgiven and God could be exalted.
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Before I move on, I’d just like to be clear about something. Biblical humility does not mean that we’re shy, or insecure, or that we’re open to every alternative path. Biblical humility means that we look to Jesus and not ourselves and that we trust him and not ourselves, and that we count others as valuable. You can be bold and humble at the same time. You can be absolutely sure of your hope and humble at the same time.
FIVE MARKERS OF HUMILITY
- THE HUMBLE PERSON IS OBEDIENT
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, [Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, – Philippians 2:5–9
Jesus’ obedience cannot be separated from his humility.
Obedience seems to be a “trigger” word. The word “obey” can seem to mean I’m being told to do something I don’t want to do and I’m being pressured to comply. Is this how you think about obedience to Jesus? Do you want salvation but not obedience? The death of Jesus on your behalf is your salvation. The cross rescues you from what would kill you and destroy your soul. His death for you should fill you with JOY and HOPE and NEW PURPOSE and LONGING to walk a new path where you embrace what he has for you and where you trust him to be what you need.
God called Noah to an upside-down life when he told him to build a boat, and Noah obeyed and build the boat.
God called Mary to an upside-down life when he told her about her role in bringing Jesus into this world, and Mary said, “…I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Humble obedience.
God called a 75 years old Abraham to an upside-down life and leave his family and his home and go to Canaan, he went, as the Lord had told him (Gen 12:4).
Humility and obedience go hand in hand. Walking the path we’re on is a new path where obedience is the only way forward.
2. CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE MARK THE HUMBLE
- …if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:14
A humble person confesses sin and repents as an ongoing activity. It’s been my experience, however, that often, the longer a person is a Christian, the less repentant they become. Why do you think that is? Do we all – as Christians – become the pharisee in Luke 18? This is so important that when Jesus was teaching the disciples to pray, he included this as part of the outline, “…forgive us our sins…”.
NOW THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT – In the book of James we’re told to confess our sins to each other (James 5:16).
…confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. – James 5:16
Confessing sin to each other so that we can pray for each other and be healed is an important biblical concept. If we are desperate to beat sin, we will confess it – not only to God but to one another so we can be healed. Do you struggle with sin? (the answer to that is YES). You shouldn’t be struggling in secret. Don’t underestimate your adversary. He is looking to KILL you. You should bring others into this so they can pray for you and help you.
So, here’s the question; why don’t we do this? I’m guessing that a big reason we don’t confess to one another is that we want to keep our pride-filled images intact. We want to appear to be someone we’re not.
Can you imagine the change that would take place, if we were to confess our sins to each other? Everything would change:
First, the sinner would be helped. Through the act of confessing sin, and the prayer and counsel of other Christians who care, we would be healed.
Second, other Christians would be drawn into ministry. Other Christians would be doing what we are supposed to do – help each other, fight for each other.
Third, others would see how real Christians are supposed think about sin. When we minimize and cover up our sin, we’re just like everyone else. When we confess sin others would see that God’s grace results in humility and community and honesty and caring for each other.
Fourth, this would help us come closer to what a church family should be. We would live together in an environment that is humble, prayer-saturated, caring-giving, and Christ exalting. And we would need to struggle with the reality that mature Christians who are called to lead have deep struggles with sin. We all do!
3. YOUR ASSOCIATIONS SHOW PRIDE OR HUMILITY
…Do not be haughty (or arrogant or prideful), but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. – Romans 12:16
Who do you spend time with? Who are you interested in? Who do you encourage and help and understand?
I work in an organization with lots of smart, highly paid people. And where we can, we hire folks that have challenges but can still hold a job. I was in the cafeteria one day eating lunch and this group was sitting together and eating together as they regularly do, and everyone else was busy with their very important schedules and friendships when one of the IT folks – that I don’t think has any connections with this group – pulls up a chair, engages them and eats lunch with them. That was a noticeable moment for anyone who was even remotely paying attention. That never happens. That was completely out of the norm and that should have been me.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. – Philippians 2:3
Christians should be the model for the solution to many of the dividing, class issues that show up in our society and in our politics.
What about you? Who do you associate with? Jesus modeled this for us, right? He ate with and hung around with the poor and broken and rejected and sinful.
4. A HUMBLE PERSON WILL NOT BE ASHAMED OF JESUS
Have you ever struggled with formulating just the right words in an effort to share the gospel? Have you ever just struggled with how you might craft the right response, that would communicate the gospel, when the door was opened for you to share? And in the end you just did nothing? I’ve been there many times.
Maybe you struggle because you don’t want to be rejected or you don’t want to look foolish. And this is a problem because the gospel IS foolishness to those who are perishing. But it’s life for those God is calling. And the gospel is Jesus.
A humble person will be thinking little about human rejection or looking silly. A humble person will give himself/herself to the lost in order that some might be saved.
5. HUMILITY IS DEATH TO SELF AND LIFE TO SERVICE
Jesus said that a disciple is not above his teacher (Matthew 10:24).
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Jesus said, “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
Jesus said, “…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43–45)
Being humble will lead us into a life of sacrifice and mission. I mean, what do you think it means to be a disciple? Do you think any Christian should say, “I’m a disciple of Jesus but I lead a life of excess and convenience and safety.”? Jesus’ humility brought him to the cross and if we’re going to follow him, it will lead to a life of humble commitment to King and Kingdom.
You cannot be faithful while acting from a position of self-exaltation and self-preservation. You can fool others but you can’t fool God. True faithfulness is very connected to humility.
The humble person will give themselves to the work of the Kingdom – in everything. The humble person will joyfully follow in Jesus’ footsteps because they have been captured by him and following him is better than following anything this world offers.
Jesus is looking to conform you to his image, right? Pride has no place in this.
Have you ever been here and prayed something like, “Jesus I want you to consume me; I want to see people the way you see them; I want to love like you love; I want to follow you with all that I have and all that I am.”? Have you ever prayed something like that?
You must know that none of that happens without increased humility. We must understand that when we long for Jesus to mean more to us; when we desire to be more faithful followers of Jesus, we are asking for humility. Jesus cannot be more meaningful to us if we are not more humble. We only can follow as we should when he is bigger and we are smaller.
So, in closing, I’d like to do two things. First, I’d like to connect the concept of humility with the way we think about money (you’ve probably made this connection already). Since biblical humility will undoubtedly show itself in our joy in following King Jesus wholeheartedly, I’d simply like to ask you what your life is about? What is your vision for your life? Where would you like to be in 5 years, or 10 years or 15 years? What do you want your life to count for?
We cannot pursue Christ as we should while we still cling to a life that has dreams that have nothing to do with King Jesus. We cannot pursue the mission here as we should if are pridefully hanging on to an agenda that is self-seeking. And a self-seeking agenda is usually connected to money.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to actually follow Jesus. We are called to focus on him as our satisfaction and pursue the mission here, now, full time, knowing that there is glory and riches and rest coming. We don’t need what this world offers because we have Jesus. We have a treasure that makes money as valuable as a cup of sand.
The last thing I want to do is speak to those here who do not believe. I want you to know that 2,000 years ago, Jesus – God in flesh – humbled himself and came here to live in this mess like we do – but he didn’t sin. And he came so that he – the perfect human – could stand in our place and absorb the eternal consequences of a sinful, sinful people. He died our death so that we could live.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11
And you, as a lost and helpless sinner, can take Jesus as your shepherd this morning.
He also said, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16