I. Introduction – Joy Through Humility
Thanks for letting me teach today and share what the Lord has taught me. Our lesson today is on humility, a subject I’m well versed in. I’ve studied and practiced humility for years, and have become exceptionally proficient in humility.
I took an online course called “How Humility Will Make You the Greatest Person Ever,” scored top of my class ahead of all those other losers. And last year, I entered my first Humility Contest and won first prize.
Well, as you’ve probably guessed, we’re going to discuss the virtue of humility today. Our scripture verses are Philippians 2:1-15, but these verses have a lot to unpack. These verses discuss so many topics in so few verses and we’ll try to get to all of them, but we’ll focus on the concept of humility.
Paul has been teaching the brethren of the church of Philippi, that their purpose in this life is to live and work in unity for the benefit of one another for that is the demonstration of the gospel of Christ and of the indwelling of the holy spirit. This good news should bring joy to the believer.
II. Joy Encouraged
Let’s get started, Philippians 1:1-2,
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
I think my high school English teacher would have a fit if I wrote a sentence structure like that. There are four “ifs” in a single sentence.
What’s with all these ifs? If there is any encouragement in Christ? If there is any consolation of love? If there is any fellowship of the Spirit? If any affection and compassion? Is Paul questioning these characteristics?
Well, it turns out, these aren’t questions. For the word “if”, Paul used the word
Which, literally, is Greek to me. But people smarter than me tell me that this word doesn’t express doubt or questioning. These smart people tell me this is a first-class conditional clause expressing confidence, assurance, and certainty. Paul certainly had other Greek words he could have used that translate to “it may be true” or another word that translates to “it could possibly be true”. But this first class conditional clause means Paul is certain.
What Greek word did Paul use for “there is” in the phrase “if there is any encouragement in Christ?” It’s a trick question – there is no Greek word. English translators added it in so that the sentence read properly in English. A better word than “if” would be “since” as in, “Since you have encouragement in Christ, since you have fellowship of the Spirit, since you have affection and compassion.”
So what are these things we have as believers? I think it’s instructive to look at each Greek word because the translations cannot capture the beautiful expression of these gifts. Since we have
- Encouragement in Christ. The encouragement in Christ is based on us being in Christ. We recognize that it is not us, all glory and honor belongs to him. And in exchange, we get encouragement, but the Greek word here is “Paraklaysis.” It is the same root word that is used to describe the Holy Spirit, “Paraklete.” It means to “come alongside, walk with you, and give comfort.” As believers, we do not go through life alone. Jesus is always with us. He encourages us. He walks beside us.
- Then we have “consolation of love.” The Greek word for “consolation” is “Parmuthean.” It means “to calm and give comfort.” We should realize that, despite our worldly troubles, we can always find comfort in Jesus Christ.
- Then “fellowship of the Spirit,” or the Greek word “koinania” which means sharing, participating, and giving.
- The last of these four is “affection and compassion,” and in Greek, “splagchnon” and “oiktirmos” and sometimes I just wonder if ancient Greeks made up words that were hard to pronounce on purpose. “Oiktirmos” is easily translated as “compassion and mercy”, but “splagchnon” is more like our insides, our guts, our heart and soul. Have mercy and compassion with everything you are.
All of that brings us to this conclusion from Paul in Philippians 2:2–
make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
I think there is joy when we are with like-minded brothers and sisters, united in purpose and belief, content in our Creator. I don’t know how you feel lately, but out there in the world, it seems to be increasingly difficult to share our like-minded thoughts and feelings. When we talk about our hope in Christ Jesus, the world helpfully explains we are to shut up. And then I’m here, surrounded in unity, and I can more understand Paul’s joy in the belief of others.
III. Humility Demonstrated
Then, in Philippians 2:3-8,
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross.
I’m going to admit that I struggle with obedience, at least the type of obedience that pleases God. I’ve read this passage before, and marveled at the obedience of Christ, knowing what must be done, and sacrificing himself so that I might live.
But previous times, when reading this passage, I focused on the obedience. But this week, I read the whole sentence – he humbled himself by becoming obedient.
What is humility? Well, let’s start my discussing what humility is not. It doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself. It doesn’t mean putting ourselves down. It’s not an inferiority complex. It doesn’t mean being timid. It doesn’t mean being unopinionated. It’s not even hiding your talents or denying you have them.
There’s a paraphrase of a CS Lewis line in one of his books that I like that describes humility perfectly. It’s not an exact quote, but it’s often repeated this way:
Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself.
Humility is thinking of yourself less.
It’s hard to practice humility because we too often interpret this to mean denying yourself or flagellating yourself or telling yourself you are a horrible person. That’s not humility. That’s self-degradation, that’s self-punishment. I think to understand and practice humility, you have to understand the value God places on you.
God loves you, God adores you, God loves when you turn from sin, God loves when you trust in Him and accept His forgiveness. In fact, He loves you so much, He adopted you. You are an adopted child of the Living God, the Creator of the Entire Universe. To think badly of yourself, you are criticizing God’s handiwork. So stop it. You are worth more than a sparrow.
But don’t take pride in that – you are adopted not because of anything you did. God did everything – He created you, endowed you with skills and gifts, and redeemed you from your sins. You deserve no credit for being adopted. God deserves it all.
And there’s our dividing line and why it is so difficult to practice humility. The opposite of humility is pride. Pride in our abilities, our accomplishment. As if we had anything to do with that. Pride is the ultimate source of all evil, I believe. Pride tells us we don’t need a creator, we can do it ourselves, we have it all under control. Pride is what led to Satan being expelled from heaven with a third of the angels. Satan is described as a beautiful, bright morning star, but Satan mistook his beautiful light as something he was responsible for. Satan’s light was a reflection of the perfect light from God. Without God, there is no reflection of light. Just darkness.
As I considered Satan’s fall due to pride, it seemed to me that maybe my understanding of the great heavenly battle was incomplete. In my mind, Heaven verses Hell, God vs Satan, was over the battle of good versus evil. But I think the roots of that conflict are in humility versus pride, or self versus God. Satan’s pride led to a belief in one’s self which led to his fall and the beginning of evil. The humility of Jesus was a belief that the Father’s will was perfect, leading to obedience and all things good. Maybe pride is the root of all evil and sin, and humility is the root of all goodness and virtues.
We’re one week past the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the most profound single example of evil that I can think of. I remember the day; I was running a technical discussion on a centrifugal compressor application, 20 people in the room. Couldn’t break away, didn’t see the news. The admins brought in coffee about 9am or so, said something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I imagined something like a little two-seater Cessna breaking a few windows. At lunch, the admins brought in more news, and something about a second plane. I still couldn’t picture it, what are the odds that two people accidentally flew into a building?
When I got home that evening, I turned on the news, and the images made me sick to my stomach. The second jet flying into the World Trade Center was unmistakably evil. The people on board, the people in the building. The shear evil that would delight in the loss of so many lives.
But there was a light to humanity that day. You’re probably familiar with United Flight 93 where 40 passengers stormed the cockpit and crashed the plane, preventing the hijackers from steering the plane into the Washington Capitol 18 minutes away. We know them as heroes; courageous, sacrificial heroes.
There is a memorial there today at a US National Park built at the crash site. There’s a tall tower there now called “Tower of Voices,” 93 feet tall to commemorate Flight 93. Inside the tower are 40 windchimes that softly ring across the valley, each windchime representing a passenger. The motto for the park is “Common Field One Day, Field of Honor Forever.”
Were they courageous? Of course. Few stories told are as courageous as these. But I submit the courage stems from humility. The definition of humility is putting others above oneself. I doubt a single passenger reacted to their predicament with “I’m going to be famous” or “A windchime named after me? That’s awesome.” No, they realized it was time to make a sacrifice for the benefit of others. The ultimate in humility leads to every other virtue, including courage.
The opposite is pride. How does God feel about pride, or putting one’s self first? We know God’s discipline for the nation of Israel over the Old Testament years, but it’s discipline for the one He loves, not destruction. In the book of Obadiah, the prophet tells Edom that the Lord will destroy the Edomites. While Israel is being punished because they do not follow all of God’s laws, Edom isn’t following any of God’s laws. Edom feels they are invincible, powerful, and mighty. In Obadiah 1:3-4, the Lord says to Edom,
The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rocks
and make your home on the heights,
you who say to yourself,
‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’
Though you soar like the eagle
and make your nest among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,”
declares the LORD.
What was Edom’s great sin? Pride. Let’s read Obadiah 1:12 and see what Edom did instead of helping their neighbor:
You should not look down on your brother
in the day of his misfortune,
nor rejoice over the people of Judah
in the day of their destruction,
nor boast so much
in the day of their trouble.
Apparently, Edom laughed while God was disciplining Jerusalem with the army of Nebuchadnezzar. Edom decided that was a great time to laugh, help themselves to the plunder, and when they found Jews fleeing the city, the Edomites killed them or handed them over to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Sort of like coming across an old lady trying to cross the street who is obviously bewildered and confused. Instead of helping, Edom pushes the old lady into traffic and steals her handbag. All of this behavior and attitude rooted is in the pride of Edom.
So where is Edom today? No, really, where is Edom today? You don’t know, either? They soared like eagles, they built their nest among the stars, but in Obadiah 1:5, the Lord says he will obliterate Edom and there will be nothing left. Where is Edom? In 164 BC, Judas Maccabeus overthrew the nation of Edom and by the time of Christ, Edom no longer existed. The last recorded Edomite in the bible tried to kill Christ as an infant. Herod, descendent of Edom, still suffering from pride.
Here’s a thought exercise. If we made a list of the worst sins, what would they include? Murder? Adultery? Imagine you read about a church deacon that was arrested for robbing a convenience store. Now imagine a prayer warrior proud of the number of people he’s led to Christ.
Well, that one doesn’t seem so terrible, does it? Our human perception doesn’t rate “pride” very high on the scale of serious sins, but God’s perspective is not the same as ours. In God’s sight, pride is worse that stealing. It’s worse than drunkenness. Imagine saying, “He’s a good man but proud.” Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Now imagine saying, “He’s a good man but a thief.” Pride is the sin of sins, and all the more devious because the nature of pride is so hard to recognize in ourselves. We’ve probably heard Proverbs 16:18 before that says,
Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.
Or Proverbs 16:5,
The Lord detests all the proud of heart.
Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.
By itself, pride doesn’t seem so bad to us. God knows, though, that pride is a reliance and a dependence on ourselves instead of relying on God and will lead to a multitude of other sins. Human pride denies God the honor due Him. Human pride rejects the need for our Savior. Human pride says we don’t need God. Pride, therefore, is the root of unbelief, and that’s why pride is the sin of sins.
In Matthew 11:25-26, Jesus tells us that pride makes us “know-it-alls” and that it pleases God to hide things from people who think they are know-it-alls.
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
When we are self-reliant and proud, we are often not even aware of it. We tell ourselves we are being obedient to the Lord while living a disobedient life. We have excuses for our own sins, like “God made me this way.” We become unaware of our own hypocrisy. We become a “practical atheist” – one who attends church and bible study and openly confesses Jesus as lord – but then lives everyday as though God does not exist. And we all do that to some extent, each and every one of us, every time we sin and fall short of God’s mark.
Benjamin Franklin had a list of 12 virtues he practiced that he said led to moral perfection; temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, and chastity. One day a Quaker friend told him that Benjamin Franklin sure took a lot of pride in his moral perfection, so Ben added a 13th virtue: humility. Here is what Benjamin Franklin wrote about pride:
My list of virtues contain’d at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride show’d itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing, and rather insolent, of which he convinc’d me by mentioning several instances; I determined endeavouring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list.
In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.
Pride is something we all suffer from. If we think we do not suffer from pride, then it is possible pride is blinding us to our pride. Pride is real easy to recognize in others, though, isn’t it? It’s because when we see pride in somebody else, we’re smugly saying, *I* don’t suffer from pride like *he* does. Like Benjamin Franklin, we are being proud of our humility.
C.S. Lewis has this to say about pride:
According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, grief, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison; it was through pride that the devil became the devil; pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that- and, therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see Something that is above you.
The opposite of pride is being full of the Holy Spirit. The opposite of pride is saying, “it’s all about God.” The opposite of self-centered pride is humility.
How do we replace pride with humility? God provides the answer with the fruit of the Holy Spirit which includes humility. Instead of being focused on our own feelings, focused on the feelings of others. Lift up people with your words and actions. Tell people about their strength and what you admire about them instead of what you don’t like about them. Encourage them, or as Hebrews 3:12-13 puts it,
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
Don’t try to put them down or put yourself up; leave that to the Lord. James 4:10 says,
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.”
Proverbs 11:2 says,
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
IV. Humility in Christ
Who is our role model? Like always, it is Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:8,
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross.
When I study virtues, I’m humbled by – and when I say “I’m humbled by” that’s actually a form of pride because I’m talking about… myself, aren’t I? And humility is about others.
But when I study virtues, it seems I always underestimate how far to embody a virtue. For instance, how long should I exhibit patience? An hour? A day? A year? 2 Peter 3:9 says,
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
So far, the Lord has been patient with me for nearly 60 years. Patent with mankind coming on 2000 years since the death of Christ. So I learned patience isn’t a day or a year. Patience is just… patient.
And humility? Jesus is God, but humbled Himself to die for us. That’s true humility, and we should be…well, humbled by it. While we’re not asked, at least that I know of, of being humble to death, we have opportunities to practice humility every day. I once heard a pastor say that counseling should be unnecessary for a Christian couple. It’s easy to have a successful marriage; just put the other person’s needs before your own. Every problem goes away. Humility is the ultimate virtue.
Because Jesus embodies perfect humility, Philippians 2:9-11 says,
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
I know that in this perverse and crooked world, particularly these last few years, we have seen evil become emboldened. As we put on the full armor of God to battle evil, God wants us to live with all humility, not pride. It is not ourselves that will win this battle. In fact, if we think we are fighting this battle, we have lost. It is Christ who has already won, we need to declare victory in Him. Philippians 12-15,
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.
Humility is the root of all virtue. Placing God first above all else, then placing others. Love our neighbors as ourselves, love our enemies with all humility, for nothing we can do will save us, will save others. All humility is found in Christ alone. We work out our salvation in Christ alone. If we are blameless and pure, it is because of Christ alone. We are children of God because of Christ alone. We shine like stars in the sky because of Christ alone.
All glory to God through Christ alone. Amen.