Wednesday, October 1, 2014

True Humility






Philippians 2:1-13

As many of you know, we began a marriage course here at Christ Church a few weeks ago. On Friday nights a group of couples in our parish have been meeting to share a meal together, watch a DVD teaching, and work on exercises with their spouse designed to strengthen their marriages. My wife and I are going through the course ourselves. The words of our Epistle reading this morning speak to one of the consistent themes that I have noticed in the course. Paul writes,

“Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

A necessity for a harmonious marriage--any relationship really--is the ability to put the needs of our spouse before our own. If each partner is directed first and foremost to the interest of the other rather than acting out of selfish ambition than each one will feel loved and affirmed by the other. If each partner considers their own sin to be the biggest problem in their marriage, rather than conceitedly thinking that all the fault lies with their spouse, than conflict will draw them closer together rather than farther apart. 

Much is often made of the Bible’s instructions to wives in Ephesians 5 to submit to their husbands, but submission is a two way street. In the same passage husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her. In other words, husbands should be willing to sacrifice their own desires for the sake of their wives.

What is true of Marriage is true of Christian relationships in general. The pattern for our life together as Christians is mutual submission. We are called to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Jesus is our model of this life of submission and self-sacrifice. As his disciples we are called to be imitators of Jesus’ perfect humility. We are, in Paul’s words, called to have the mind of Christ.

What does it mean to be humble? Some have an entirely negative and even morbid idea of what humility is all about—associated exclusively with the consciousness of sin—but if Jesus is our supreme example of humility, this must be mistaken.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”  Humility doesn’t mean having a low opinion of your own worth. An overly introspective self-accusatory attitude is merely another species of pride.

The missionary and Christian author Andrew Murray has a wonderful book on humility. In it he writes, “If we are indeed to be humble, not only before God but towards men, if humility is to be our joy, we must see that it is not only the mark of shame, because of sin, but, apart from all sin, a being clothed upon with the very beauty and blessedness of heaven and of Jesus…When we see that humility is something infinitely deeper than contrition, and accept it as our participation in the life of Jesus, we shall begin to learn that it is our true nobility, and that to prove it in being servants of all is the highest fulfillment of our destiny, as men created in the image of God.”

In other words, Humility is a divine attribute. As we grow in humility, we grow more and more in the likeness of God, specifically God the Son. Again Murray says, “Christ is the humility of God embodied in human nature: the Eternal Love humbling itself, clothing itself in the garb of meekness and gentleness, to win and serve and save us.

In order to impress this truth upon his own readers, Paul quotes from a hymn that must have been well known to his hearers. The hymn extols the humility of Christ, “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.”

Similar to the opening words of John which read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” the author of the hymn is writing about the Son of God before he entered the world and became man in Jesus Christ. He possessed the very essence of divinity, being equally God with the Father. He didn’t consider equality with God something he had to desperately seize or cling to like a robber clings to his spoil.

Our Father Adam, on the other hand, was raised up above every other created thing and given the honor of direct fellowship with God, but he was neither secure nor content with what he was given. Instead, he arrogantly grasped for equality with God and as a result he fell. 

Prideful men feel they have to grasp at greatness. They always have to be first even if it means stepping on others to get there. They demand to be treated with special respect by others. They may come across as cocky and full of themselves but the reality is that they are deeply insecure. Christ, on the other hand, had no insecurity about his status. He didn’t have to argue for or defend his supremacy and so he was free to give himself to others.

He did not consider his own life as too precious to be poured out even for the sake of us sinners. He condescended to be clothed in our sinful humanity. He did not shun even the virgin’s womb. He consented to be born in a manger among straw and dung. He allowed his holy hands and feet to be nailed to a Roman cross and he died in agony. He wasn’t thinking of himself, he was thinking of you and me. He was thinking of his Father’s glory.

Following the example of Jesus means willingly giving ourselves in service to others in the same way. It means not seeking our own glory but the glory of God. Ultimately it is not our work but the work of God who is at work in us, enabling us both to will and to work for his good pleasure. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Just as Christ emptied himself of his divine glory to come in the form of a servant, so must we empty ourselves in obedience to him and love for one another.

Those who grasp after glory in the end will be humbled.  But those who pour themselves out for the sake of others will receive honor.  Jesus himself said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

If you have been reading the daily office this past week, you read the story of Haman and Mordecai in the Book of Esther. Haman was a high ranking advisor to the King of Persia. He was consumed with hatred because Mordecai refused to bow to him. He wanted him dead. Mordecai on the other hand found favor with the King after saving his life. The King wanted to honor Mordecai and so asked his advisor Haman, “What should be done for the one the king desires to honor?” In his pride, Haman thought “Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?” He said, “Let a crown and fine robes be put on him and have one of the king’s noble officials lead him through town on horseback proclaiming, ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’ To Haman’s surprise the King said, “Go and do this for Mordecai the Jew!”

In his attempt to grasp for honor, Haman was utterly humiliated but Mordecai, who sought the well-being of his people, was exalted. 

No one humbled themselves more than Jesus and no one stooped lower for the sake of others. Likewise, no one has been exalted higher than Christ. God gave to him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.