In Search of Humility
“ Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil. 2:3-4)
A police officer in a small town stopped a motorist who was speeding down Main Street. "But officer," the man began, "I can explain..."
"Just be quiet," snapped the officer. "I'm going to let you cool your heels in jail until the chief gets back."
"But, officer, I just wanted to say..."
"And I said to keep quiet! You're going to jail!"
A few hours later the officer looked in on his prisoner and said, "Lucky for you the Chief's at his daughter's wedding. He'll be in a good mood when he gets back."
"Don't count on it," answered the fellow in the cell. "I'm the groom!"
This morning I would have us think about humility; a widely misunderstood virtue. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, humility was a sign of weakness, but for the Christian, it's the mark of a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.
The opposite of humility is, of course, arrogance; a vice that's all to common in our modern world. Arrogance is the by-product of thinking that you know better than anyone else, what is right.
A good example of arrogance was demonstrated in 1969, in Pass Christian, (a city located on the Mississippi Gulf Coast). A group of people had gathered in the Richelieu Apartments to have, what they called, a ‘hurricane party’. The occasion for the party was an approaching major hurricane that was about to slam into that coastal city.
Evidently a few of the residents of the apartment building had decided to ignore the approaching danger, and use the occasion to host a party while the hurricane raged on outside. The Richelieu was a small apartment building located a mere 250 feet from the shore of the ocean.
Police chief, Jerry Peralta was out on patrol helping his officers warn residents of the approaching danger. As he pulled up in front of the apartment, he heard the sounds of merry making. Glancing up, he saw several men stand out on a second floor balcony. Yelling up to them, Peralta said: “You’re going to have to vacate this apartment as quickly as you can, because a major hurricane is approaching.”
In response to his warning, the men merely laughed. Then one of them shouted back to the chief: “This is my land. If you want me off, you’ll have to arrest me.”
Although he could have, Peralta didn’t arrest anyone that night, but neither did he convince those revellers to leave.’ As the men continued to mock him, the chief carefully recorded their names, so that in case anything should happen, he could notify their next of kin. At 10:15 p.m. that night, the front wall of the storm slammed ashore, with a record 205 miles per hour wind; the strongest ever recorded in that area. The waves crested at more than 28 feet.
The next day, news reports showed that the worst damage had occurred in the neighbourhood of that apartment. Upon investigation it was found that nothing remained of the three-story structure accept the foundation. The only survivor was a 5 year old boy, found clinging to a mattress, the following day. Now that’s a classic example of arrogance; the refusal to listen to the advice of others because you think you know better.
Jesus came face to face with arrogance on the day He entered the temple courts and was confronted by the chief priests and the elders of the people who demanded to know, ‘by what authority he dared to instruct the people and performed miracles. These religious leaders thought that, because of their training and exalted positions, they were the ones with the authority; certainly not this itinerate preacher from Galilee. Unfortunately, their arrogance blinded them to the reality of the One standing before them, who was none other than the Son of God.
Arrogance afflicts many people; sometimes unfortunately even those within the church. It is very easy for a Christian, living a moral life, contributing to worthwhile charities, and attending church regularly, to think that he or she is better than those out in the community who aren’t religious. But the moment we assume that state of mind, arrogance clouds our vision and can cause us to fall from God’s grace.
Numerous times, during His ministry, Jesus spoke about the importance of humility; and so this morning we’re going to spend a few moments, examining what it means to be humble.
I HAVING HUMILITY MEANS LETTING GO OF SELF
Self survival is a basic instinct that we all possess. As infants, we cried when hungry or wet, or in pain, to make our needs known to the world around us. It didn’t matter whether it was the middle of the night or not. We gave no thought to whether mother was tired and in need of a rest. We had a need and so we made it known as loudly as we could. Later, as we grow up, the importance of self-confidence is impressed upon us. We're told that if we want to succeed in life, we have to have self-confidence. Those who lack self-confidence are seen as weak and vulnerable.
But then along comes the Apostle Paul who instructs us to be humble. How do we reconcile humility with our basic personal needs and the importance of self-confidence?
In answer of that question, we have to look no farther than to Jesus Christ. No one would ever question Jesus’ self-confidence. He could stand before priests and kings without any tinge of self-doubt. Furthermore, He knew He had the authority of almighty God; but He didn’t let that power go to His head. He didn’t brag about it. Nor did He use it to manipulate people or to achieve any personal gain. Instead, He humbled Himself, taking on the role of a servant, to show us both the love and care of God.
We often hear the phrase: power corrupts, or money corrupts. We know it's true because we see examples of it all around us. A politician rises through the ranks to a senior cabinet position. Or another man becomes extremely wealthy because of his talent for business, or his investment savvy. And then something happens to these people. Their power, wealth or influence goes to their head, and they begin to use their new found authority to take advantage of those around them, or to become totally self absorbed. That’s human weakness at its worst.
But the apostle Paul calls the followers of Jesus to a higher level of behavior. He calls us to let go of our selfish ambitions, and to do everything with a view to looking after the interests of other people. To have, as he puts it, “the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”
It is possible to hold positions of power and influence and still be humble. But to be humble, we have to first, let go of our selfish personal interests.
II HUMILITY MEANS ADMITTING MISDEEDS
One of the marks of a truly humble person is the willingness to admit when he is wrong, and then be willing to do something to correct that wrong. Letting go of the arrogance that stands in the way of a right relationship with God is an important step towards achieving humility. But it is often a very difficult step.
There’s a story told in the book of Samuel, of a shepherd boy named David, who, because of his bravery, slays the giant Goliath, the Philistine who was taunting the army of Israel. David’s integrity and loyalty results in God calling him to be the King of all Israel. Things go well in the early days of his reign. David demonstrates superior ability both as a military leader and a compassionate and fair king. But as so often happens to those who gain power and influence, David becomes arrogant.
One day, while strolling on the roof of his palace, he sees a beautify, young woman bathing on a nearby roof. He lusts after her, and asks his servants who she is. He learns that she is Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of his bravest and most loyal soldiers. But such is the arrogance of David that, in spite of learning that she is married to Uriah, he orders his servants to bring Eliam to him. Later, when Eliam becomes pregnant because of David’s action, David does what many arrogant people do when they commit a sin. He tries to conceal it. He orders Uriah sent home from the military campaign where he has been fighting, in order to report on the progress of the battle. But when Uriah has made his report, he tells him to go home to his wife; thinking that Uriah will later think the new born child is his. Uriah, however, is too committed to his king and country, and when he goes home, he refuses to sleep with his wife, saying: “How can I enjoy the love of my wife, when my comrades are engaged in battle.”
Learning that his attempt to conceal his sin has failed, David then arranges for Uriah to be put into the most dangerous part of the battle, knowing that he will be killed. And that’s exactly what happens. So, in point of fact, David has virtual murdered this loyal warrior. Knowing full well what he has done, King David now has to live with this on his conscience.
I’ve told you this story, because it is out of this experience that David wrote the words of Psalm 51. Listen to the opening words of this Psalm:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” (verses 1 to4)
It is often said that it takes a great man to admit that he is wrong, but that’s exactly what King David did. And so David’s humility before God overcomes his arrogance and sin. So the second mark of a truly humble person, is the willingness to admit you are wrong and to seek to make amends.
III LOOKING OUT FOR OTHER PEOPLE
Paul gives us a third and final step on the road to achieving humility, when he says: “in humility value others above yourselves, and not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others.”
There are two ways to engage in acts of benevolence. One we see demonstrated from time to time by people who possess extreme wealth. This is the kind of act that is proceeded by news reports and much fanfare, and also rewarded by a substantial tax deduction. There may be some sincerity in these acts, but they lack humility. Another way to engage in benevolence is to go about it quietly, maybe even in secret; with no wish to gain personal reward from your generosity. It is of this latter form of benevolence that Paul is speaking when he says: “value others above yourself”.
In November of last year, an elderly man, who had lived his life with holes in his clothes; who never owned a car always travelling by public bus, amazed Seattle’s Children’s Research Institute when it received a charitable trust valued at 188 million dollars. Unbeknown to all but a few family and friends, this 98 year old had lived a life of secret philanthropy. For more than 60 years, he had used his incredible skill at picking stocks to turn the nest egg he had received from his parents into a huge legacy for charity. Now, after his death, the public finally has learned his name; he is Jack MacDonald.
The president of the Seattle Children’s Foundation describes Mr. MacDonald as a truly humble, understated man who regularly visited the hospital and sympathized with the patients and their families. “He was drawn to the patient stories,” he said. “There was a lot of hope in those stories and that really resonated with him.”
Said the Apostle Paul: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Phil 2:5-7) Then following this great passage on humility, Paul concludes with these words: “ 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.” (Phil 2:12-13)
Not everyone can live a life as humbly as Jack MacDonald. Not everyone has the courage to admit guilt in the way that David did. But we can all try to follow Christ’s example, and perhaps then, with the support of the Holy Spirit, our path will lead us to true humility.