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Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, October 1, 2017

Humility, and Why God Insists on It

Text: Philippians 2:1–13

This past week, I was at the VCU Medical Center in Richmond for a procedure. I was shown into a changing room and given two of those hospital gowns that seem designed to show you off to the world. I was told to put one with the opening to the front, and one to the back. The gowns were baby blue. I don’t remember what the pattern was, but it did not make a masculine statement.

The procedure required that an IV be inserted in my arm. After several unsuccessful tries, they called a nurse who was known for his ability at poking veins, and asked if he would mind trying. He said, “Sure. Bring him up.” So two hospital employees with a wheel chair came to get me, and drove me through the maze of elevators and hallways of this sprawling complex of buildings. So there I was in my baby blue hospital gowns completely in someone else’s hands rolling past a hundred people on the long trek. I felt very humble. I wasn’t feeling very handsome or bossy, or entitled, or in control.

For most of us, humility is not easy. But humility is one of the themes that runs through the Bible. We see it in some of the great servants of God in the Old Testament, people like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon and David. It is a quality that God demands of His people. The Prophet Micah said, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Today, I want to talk about humility, what it is, and why God demands it of His servants. These questions come, of course from our passage from Philippians, Chapter 2, where Paul celebrates the greatest act of humility in all of history: the Incarnation, the coming of God to be in our midst.

Let’s take a look at verses 5–8:

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, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:5–8]

Never has humility been exemplified as well as it was by Jesus Christ Himself, the second person of the Trinity, the only Son of the Father, the Word made flesh, God with us, the Savior and redeemer of the world. In His obedience to the Father, and the way He lived His life, Jesus exemplified humility.

And Jesus taught humility to His disciples:

What is this thing humility? Well, with Jesus as our model, we know that humility is not timidity.

Our passage from Philippians gives us some guidance on the nature of humility.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [Philippians 2:3–4]

“Do not do anything from selfish ambition or conceit.” Conceit is a component of the sin of pride. Many Christians have said over the centuries that pride is the most basic of all sins. It is first on the list of the “seven deadly sins,” the ones that will surely bring you down. After all, was it not pride that caused Adam and Eve to want to eat the forbidden fruit? Didn’t Satan tempt them by saying, “…when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, you will be like God….”? (Genesis 3:5)

Now I have been challenged by people who say, “Aren’t I supposed to take pride in my home, so that it is neat and clean and presentable?" People say, “Can’t I take pride in the accomplishments of my children and carry around pictures of my grandchildren?" That is not the sinful pride of which the Bible speaks. The old English word for the sinful kind of pride was “vainglory.” That means seeking glory for yourself out of vanity. So, motivation is a large part of pride. Your home can be a source of sinful pride if you brag about it all the time and give the impression that your excellence and hard work and resourcefulness have won you this prize. And yes, your pride over your children’s accomplishments can be vainglory if you talk about them in a way that suggests that your good genes and your excellent parenting have led to their success.

But when you are not motivated by bringing glory to yourself, you are showing the character of humility. That is why Philippians 2:3 talks of counting others as more significant than ourselves. And verse 4 talks of looking not only to our own interests, but to the interests of others. Those are things we can see and care about when we are not seeking glory for ourselves.

Another Epistle that addresses humility is Colossians, where in Chapter 3 verse 12 it tells us:

Put on, then as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive. And above all these, put on love, which binds all things together in perfect harmony. [Colossians 3:12–14]

We see here that, for the believer, humility is inextricably bound up in a set of Christlike values: compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness and love. We are called by God to be compassionate and kind and patient with others. We are required to forgive as Christ has forgiven us. And we cannot do those things if we lack humility.

Humble reaching out to the least and the lost has been what the Church is known for throughout history. Our modern hospitals today, which we view as models of caregiving and healing, originated in Christian love. It was the monasteries and abbeys of medieval times that began to see their ministry as healing and caregiving to people who were sick and dying. During the plague, no one would come close to the afflicted, except the Christian monks and nuns, who humbly treated them with compassion and patience and kindness and love.

So humility is that virtue that allows a person not to think of himself more highly than others, to take others’ needs into account. Humble people are not motivated by glory seeking. They do not think of themselves as superior or entitled. They do not need to have people bow and scrape to them, or even to say how good they are. Rather, the humble servant of God is one who understands that they and every other human being on this planet is in the same boat. And where does that knowledge come from? It comes from walking humbly before God, recognizing that neither we nor anyone else is righteous in our own right, but that God has forgiven us, and we are saved by grace alone.

Let us think for a moment about why God so highly values humility in His servants. The first place to look, as is often the case, is the Great Commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength. That says that your entire being should be focused on God.

And then Jesus tells us there is a Second Commandment like the first: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. He tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, which teaches us that everyone is our neighbor, and demonstrates the extreme caregiving that love entails.

If we keep both those commandments, to love in the extreme our God and our neighbor, that doesn’t leave much room for obsession about ourselves, does it?

We may say we love God, and feel as though we are keeping the first commandment. But it is possible that such love is not what God is talking about. Do we love Him for the gifts He gives us—the food on our table, the car in our garage, the roof that doesn’t leak, our health, our job, our children? Do we love God, or do we love what He can do for us? Do we love God because we are convinced He accepts us as we are and demands no change in us? That is what modern liberal theology is teaching today in many of our churches. But if we love God for what He can do for us—if we love Him for accepting us just as we are—who are we really loving? We are loving ourselves.

To love God as the Great Command demands of us is to love God for what He truly is. No false notions of a permissive old grandfather in heaven.

We love Him, because He is who He is. And we are His creatures, whom He has made in love.

And in order to even begin to keep that commandment requires that we be humble.

God has not made it difficult for us to love Him. He sent Jesus to live and die as one of us, so that we could see the face of God. How can we not love what Jesus showed us about the God of all Creation—His humility, His kindness, His compassion, His patience, His forgiveness and His love?

All that is what we can see when we love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. We become people who reflect those same qualities that Jesus exhibited. And it becomes natural for us to do the kinds of things Jesus did.

We talk a lot about our mission here at Light of Christ Anglican Church.

We pray every Wednesday for God’s guidance on how He wants us to share His love and His truth. You may still be thinking about where you can serve in these kinds of ministries. If so, just remember that it all begins with humility, which will open you to loving God completely, and loving your neighbor as yourself.

And what is God’s endgame? For what purpose is He redeeming the world one soul at a time, instead of letting us all perish? Let’s turn to the last part of our passage from Philippians. After telling us of the humility of Christ, coming to earth and dying on the cross, it says this:

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. [Philippians 2:9–11]

We are living for God’s glory, not our own. Any privilege of intimacy we have with God, any power from the Holy Spirit, any call to do great things for God, is for His glory. It takes humility to submit to this truth. But when we do, the pieces all fall into place. And what could give the humble Christian any more joy than to see God glorified?

©2017 Jeffrey O. Cerar

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