Would you like to be known as a humble person? There are few qualities that are admired nearly as much as humility. A humble person is considered a virtuous (good) person. We love world-class athletes and sporting heroes who are great at what they do, yet humble. We acclaim a true champion with the accolade, “They’re so humble!” Humility is prized today as one of the greatest virtues a person can attain. However, there was a time when humility was seen as weakness and something to be ashamed of — resembling its linguistic cousin — humiliation — and non-one ever wants to be humiliated! But then something dramatically changed the way the world regarded humility. Jesus the Christ entered the world. He exhibited a humility which involved the selfless care of others. This is what people saw (and experienced) when they encountered Jesus. Thus, no one challenged His claim of being humble when He declared-
Take My yoke on you and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29 NET
Jesus gave the world a different perspective on humility. Those early followers of Christ became renowned for their embracing of humility. They set the example for future generations of Christ-followers to live humbly in service of others. Many of these godly Christ-followers were ordinary people who didn’t seek wealth or fame or even public attention. Their pursuit of humility was genuine and often resulted in costly selfless serving of others. Their lives became admirable and inspired millions of others to seek a relationship with the Christ and to follow His life of humility and service to others. There are many things that can be taught in this life, but there are some things that can only be caught by seeing it for yourself in someone else whom you come to admire.
With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love Ephesians 4:2
IS TRUE HUMILITY TRULY ATTAINABLE?
Would the New Testament command followers of the Christ to do something that was impossible to do? Hardly! Would the New Testament command people to strive to attain an attitude, a virtue, that was unachievable? If you can demonstrate that you have become a considerate and gentle person, can you claim to be one without sounding arrogant (the opposite of humility)? Can someone take seriously the command to be humble and truly claim that they are without negating their claim in the process? Is it more humble to claim that you are not humble even if you are (and then, can a truly humble be truly humble if they lie about not being humble)? Perhaps the answer to these questions lies in what humility truly means. Consider these biblical commands to be humble:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Philippians 2:3
¶ Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience Colossians 3:12
Considering these New Testament commands, we soon realise that the commands to be humble are couched within lists of other reasonably attainable commands: treat others kindly, be considerate of others, have compassion for people, be patient with others. Since these things can be done (and claimed to have been done), this supports the idea that humility can also be achieved. Perhaps then, the one who has demonstrated their obedience to the New Testament to be humble may not necessarily be proud or arrogant if they declare that they claim to be humble.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11
Humility is a hallmark of a true follower of Christ, because it was so integral to the character that Christ displayed. It is one of the goals of the Christian life. The two other most important Christian virtues, holiness and love, are the means by which a son or daughter of God becomes humble. In fact, this triumvirate of the Christian virtues lies at the core of what it means to live Christianly. Each of these virtues speaks to how we treat, think of, and relate to others.
To live a holy life is to treat others respectfully in the light of our respect for God (Rom. 12:1). Thus, sexuality is expressed within the respect that we have God for decreed its exclusive boundaries within the covenant of marriage (1Thes. 4:3; Heb. 13:4).
To live a life of love is to treat others in a way that seeks their highest good and is considerate of their welfare (1Cor. 13).
To live a humble life is embody both of the virtues of holiness and love and in the process not seek to promote yourself but to help others who may not have anyone promoting them and their welfare. It demands that we not assume judgmental opinions about others, but seek to learn their stories and use our power for their benefit.
HUMILITY AND POWER
Can you be a powerful person (with position, privilege, influence) and also be a humble person? The answer from Christ seems to be, “Yes.” But it is a yes that comes with warnings. Power tends to corrupt people. Humility makes a person virtuous. Humility embraced by a powerful person makes them an admirable person. In John Dickson’s book, Humilitas, he defines humility as using one’s power for the good of others. He gives many examples of how this has been the case in the lives of those universally acknowledged as humble. His story of the three white Detroit teenage boys who got on a bus in the 1930s and thought it might be fun to taunt the solitary black man who was sitting quietly at the back of the bus is brilliant example of humility. The boys jibed the black man attempting to pick a fight with him. They called him all kinds of names and threw various insults at him. The black man just sat there unfazed and silent. When the bus came to the stop where the black man stood to his feet to get off, the three boys noticed for the first time that this black man was bigger than they had realised. Much bigger. As he stood us they noticed that he wasn’t quite the scrawny man they had assumed. As he walked past the now silent boys he took something from his pocket and gave it to one of the boys. After he go off the bus, the boy looked at what this black man had handed him. It was a card. It read – JOE LOUIS,Boxer.
These boys had just encountered the future undefeated heavyweight boxing champion of the world. In fact, not just any heavyweight boxing champion, but the longest undefeated reign of any heavyweight champion in the history of boxing — who is widely acclaimed as the greatest boxer of all time. These boys had nearly picked a fight with a man who would knock-out cold 52 of some of the toughest men on the planet. Yet, Joe Louis Barrow, ‘the Brown Bomber’, had used his power for their good!
But Joe Louis is not the greatest example of holding your power in restraint for the good of others, as an aspect of humility. Jesus is. Christ was not bragging when He said, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). Christ is therefore the greatest example of withholding your power for the good of others. But we should not be confused into thinking that humility is weakness. Having the power to hurt someone but choosing to restrain this power for their good is an act of humility. (There are times of course when evil must be restrained for the good of others which requires resistance and sometimes force which does not negate humility.) Most of us will be repeatedly tempted to use our power to hurt others who hurt us. When we yield to these temptations it undermines our pursuit of humility. Let us consider how we might pursue humility when we are tempted to get defensive and snap back at someone, or when we might use sarcasm or gossip to demean someone, or when we might present ourselves as being better than we actually are.
INSPIRATIONAL EXAMPLES OF HUMILITY
Having said that Joe Louis was a great example of humility, and that Jesus Christ was the greatest example of humility, I want to close my exhortation to regard humility as attainable by the example of a Polish priest by the name of Jerzy Popieluszko. Jerzy faced great oppression from the Polish Communist government in the early 1980s. Communists at this time treated Polish Christians with blatant brutality. But Father Popieluszko taught his congregation to love their persecuting enemies and not hurt them back. So powerful and popular were his sermons that they were shared widely around Poland on cassette tapes (ask your grandfather what these were). Then one day, the Communist Secret Police could take it no more and they kidnapped Jerzy and brutally murdered him and threw his battered body into a reservoir. The Sunday after his death, thousands gathered to hear Father Jerzy by a cassette tape of his last sermon, broadcast on loud-speakers by his church, in which he appealed to his flock to obey Christ and “do good to those who persecute you” and not to do harm (Luke 6:27-29). The Police braced themselves for the anticipated riots to follow. But none came. The people had heeded their pastor’s words to obey Christ and the result was that, within six years, communism collapsed in Poland.
Thousands of Polish people gathered to pay tribute to the late Jerzy Popieluszko
Humility is lowering yourself rather than belittling yourself.
Humility is being honest without exaggerating.
Humility is listeningand talking.
Humility is more asking and less telling.
Humility is helping more and still being prepared to be helped.
Humility associates with the unlikely not just because it blesses them, but because there is also a blessing in doing it.
Humility is prepared to join with others and blend into the crowd even when the spotlight is on someone else.
Humility admits dependency upon others—especially God and His mercy and grace.
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” First Peter 5:5
Humility must be attainable because we are commanded to exhibit it. “Humble yourself” the apostle Peter told his audience (1Pet. 5:6). The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that this was indeed what he had done when he came to them (2Cor. 11:7). He then proceeded to remind the Corinthians of his ministry among them in a fair and honest assessment of it. We shouldn’t confuse sharing such an honest assessment of ourselves as bragging. But neither should we think that we need to do it to anyone who would listen. In this instance, Paul was responding to opponents who were undermining the gospel and the faith of the Corinthians in it. May God help us each to be humble and all that that entails. And may we, by His grace, attain to this kind of humility and thereby reflect Christ more accurately to an increasingly confused, conflicted, broken world. And one final thing, just be careful who you pick a fight with on your next bus trip – or better still, make it a habit to not pick on anybody (especially heavyweight champions of the world!).
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WORLD’S MOST WICKED CITY WHEN THESE GUYS TURNED UP
At our recent evangelism conference, Dr. Malcolm Gill, from the Sydney Anglican Cathedral, shared how the early Christians targeted the most vile, evil, cities in the world as places where the gospel needed to be taken. The three largest cities in the world during the time when the Church being birthed were: Rome, Alexandria (in Egypt), and Antioch. Of these three, Antioch was among the most vile, dangerous, evil, debauched cities at that time. It was a violent, promiscuous city where every imaginable form of sexual immorality was common. To make matters worse, Antioch was one of the world’s major slave trading centres. I wonder how many Christians today would choose to move to such a city in order to raise their families? Not many I suggest. But in the first century, several brave Christians moved to Antioch to share the gospel and what happened as a result literally changed the course of human history! And what they did should encourage us to see how God might use the gospel through us to transform our cities!
¶ Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. Acts 11:19
Dr. Gill explained in his conference session that in order to understand what happened to Antioch after the gospel arrived, it was necessary to understand what this ‘gospel’ was. To do this he unpacked Paul’s epistle to the Romans.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in poweraccording to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord Romans 1:1-4
From the opening four verses of Romans Dr. Gill highlighted that this epistle was an explanation of the gospel. At the heart of the gospel is Jesus Christ. The gospel is not merely a collection of ideas or just a wonderful story; it is a miraculous and supernatural message that has been invested with divine power. This, Dr. Gill stated, made God “the Prime Evangelist”. It is a message that invokes the power of the Holy Spirit to transform spiritually dead people into new-life-infused believers. The proof of its divine power and spiritually transformative outworking was evidenced by the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ who was revealed to be the Lord. Paul goes on to describe how all people wilfully stand alienated and estranged from God in their rebellion to God’s will (Rom. 3:10; 23). Despite this enmity with God, God initiated a rescue plan to redeem every sinner (Rom. 5:10). God now offers forgiveness, spiritual cleansing, reconciliation, and divine adoption to all those who accept His gracious offer (Rom. 6:23). But only those who confess their sinfulness, seek and accept God’s offer of salvation, and confess that Christ is their Lord will enter into the blessing of the gospel (Rom. 10:9-10).
THE REDEMPTIFICATION OF ANTIOCH
After Dr. Gill described the historical background of the city of Antioch, he drew on the account in Acts 11 where it describes how the persecution of Christians increased which led to many believers “being scattered”. What Dr. Gill highlighted was that it was ‘some men’ who went to Antioch and shared with Jews and ‘Hellenists’.
¶ Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. Acts 11:19-20
‘Some of those who were scattered’ where just ordinary people. They were not apostles. They were not pastors. They were not Bible College trained. They were simply ordinary people who knew Jesus and obediently shared the gospel with others. As people accepted the gospel they turned to Christ and they too shared with their friends and family about Jesus. This was the result-
And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. Acts 11:21
As these ordinary believers testified to the Antiochians, the Holy Spirit did what only the Holy Spirit can do and miraculously began to transform people. The Holy Spirit then oversaw the strengthening of the work in Antioch by sending one of the world’s most encouraging men – Barnabas – to establish these new believers into a church.
The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. Acts 11:22
Barnabas may not have been an evangelist. We know from Acts 4:36 that Barnabas was actually his nickname. His name was Joseph. He was a Levite from Cyprus. He was the perfect choice to go to Antioch to encourage his unnamed fellow countrymen who had found success in their evangelism. Barnabas’s role in the transformation of Antioch was critical. God may not have equipped you to preach or minister as an evangelist, Dr. Gill pointed out, but He may have enabled you to strengthen those who do. Barnabas my not have felt like he was anyone special or that he was doing anything particular special, but as he encouraged the believers to continue in their outreach, he also encouraged those who had recently to the Lord. Note what happened as a result –
When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Acts 11:23-24
We see from Barnabas’s observation of what was happening in Antioch that it wasn’t because these unnamed believers were anything special or particularly gifted individuals. The reason these few ordinary believers had been able to lead so many Antiochians to Christ was “the grace of God” (Acts 11:23). It’s a fair assumption that when these believers arrived in Antioch and saw how dark and hard this city was that they turned their faces to the Lord in prayer and beseeched Him to turn the heart of the Antiochians to Christ. The fact that God did answer their prayers was an act of His grace. Based on James 4:2 (“You do not have, because you do not ask”) one biblical scholar has noted, “You have a far greater chance of having your prayers answered if you actually pray!”
THE TRANSFORMATION OF ANTIOCH BEGAN WITH EVANGELISM
Evangelism begins with prayer. Evangelism leads to discipleship – helping someone committed to learning about God and His Word and living it, Dr. Gill said. But Barnabas couldn’t do it all by himself. He needed help so he took a calculated risk –
So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. Acts 11:25-26a
Despite the darkness, despite the spiritual hardness, despite the lack of fellow believers – the few Cyprian Christians who dared to tell someone about Jesus experienced the grace of God and saw hundreds of people, who were previously seemingly a million miles away from God, surrender to Christ and be utterly transformed. The result was that Antioch itself was transformed. So profound was the change in the spiritual climate of Antioch that it was in Antioch that followers of Christ first became known as Christians –
For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. Acts 11:26b
Dr. Gill concluded his session at our Evangelism Conference by reminding us of two important truths drawn from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and the account of the church at Antioch being planted. Firstly, it is God who saves people! He is the “Prime Evangelist”. We can therefore trust God whenever we share with someone about Jesus. Secondly, God uses ordinary people – you don’t have to know all the words — you just have to know the Saviour!
As we read through Acts we realise just how special the church at Antioch must have been. It became the Apostle Paul’s home church. It became the first church to send out missionaries and, as a result, all of the churches addressed in the New Testament were planted! And it all start because some unnamed ordinary guys prayed and shared and saw God do what only God can do. Perhaps we can too!