This is most of a sermon on humility I preached in the Monday chapel service at the school where I serve. It’s taken from the lectionary text for the previous Lord’s Day. In many places I included illustrations and more content, but this gets the sermon across.
Text: Luke 14: 1, 7-11.
If someone were to compliment you own your humility, would you feel it was a good compliment? Or would you feel slightly insulted?
Such is our view of the virtue of humility that we arenâ€™t even complimented when someone calls us humble.
Christians are more likely to joke about humility than they are to pray for it. In a culture that tells us itâ€™s normal to be selfish to the point of excess, humility almost seems like some kind of personality disorder.
Christians are unavoidably confronted with humility in the teaching of Jesus. Our text this morning is one of many that call us to obey Christ and imitate Christ in the way of humility. â€œHe who humbles himself…â€ That is Jesus speaking to his disciples.
How much are you interested in taking on the characteristic of humility?
The basic problem in our version of Christianity is that we talk a great deal about Jesus and the Gospel, but we donâ€™t want to be like Jesus or live in imitation of Jesus. It might surprise many of us to discover that our unbelieving neighbors are clued into this. They understand the humility of Jesus, and they are puzzled that we are so uninterested in it; that we are so devoted to the style and image of our self-exalted, self-saturated culture.
Christians: we need to answer the question of why Jesus tells us to humble ourselves. Why is humility important in the Kingdom of God, in our relationships and families?
Jesusâ€™ story is about pro-active humility. Not humility that we adopt when weâ€™ve been humbled. That kind of humility is valuable in life, but it isnâ€™t the kind of humility Jesus is teaching. He is teaching us to choose humility when there are other options. He wants us to believe in a Kingdom where the humble are exalted by the One who humbled Himself for us and for our salvation. They choose humility now, and they choose it in ways you can observe at a dinner or a gathering.
Implied in Jesusâ€™ story is a wholly different view of an array of values weâ€™re all well acquainted with. How can you be happy if you arenâ€™t the center of attention? How can you be satisfied if people arenâ€™t making much of you? How can your life have significance if you arenâ€™t on the front row and your picture on the front page?
Jesus is asking us to make a different choice in regard to happiness, satisfaction and significance. He asks us to begin subverting the world-system thatâ€™s taken root in our minds, homes and bank accounts.
Three thoughts come to mind when I think about this for our community.
I. To be a Christian is all about â€œcoming down.â€
We cannot receive the Gospel if we do not come down from our view of ourselves and admit that we are sinners; we are guilty rebels. Whatever status weâ€™ve been standing on is abandoned, and we â€œcome downâ€ to the place where we can say â€œHave mercy on me, the sinner.â€
To follow Jesus is to daily, intentionally, â€œcome downâ€ into the way of a disciple. We are called to the opposite place that our culture wants to place us. This is why following Jesus canâ€™t be occasional or accidental. Itâ€™s intentional, and itâ€™s best done in a community of believers that will show us what the Kingdom way looks like.
Itâ€™s quite true that, for many of us, there is almost no end to the constant steps downward the path of humility will take us if we simply take the step thatâ€™s in front of us. In America, coming to believe the message about Jesus costs us nothing. But if you become a Jesus follower, then dozens, even hundreds of choices between humility that trusts Jesus and the exaltation of the world are before you.
Perhaps the best application for this point is to stop right now and ask the Lord, â€œWhat is the step of humility that is in front of me now? Show it to me.â€ I do not doubt that if you pray that way, and meditate in silence open to the answer, God will show you what youâ€™ve seen and passed over many times. Some move in the direction of humility that youâ€™ve simply avoided, but Jesus is pointing to as the place where humility begins for you.
II. The second thought is that humility is the opposite direction of our sinful nature. Taking the way of humility is going â€œagainst the grain.â€ Itâ€™s hard. Itâ€™s even hard to pray for it.
On this past Sunday, many churches had a sermon on this text and many of them used this prayer as part of the liturgy. (Prayer on overhead projection.) Itâ€™s a prayer for humility, and frankly, itâ€™s a hard prayer to pray. As you follow along as I read it, you are going to feel the resistance in your mind and emotions.
O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being loved, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being honored, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being praised, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being preferred, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me Jesus
From the desire of being approved, deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being despised, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me Jesus
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me Jesus
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
Can you agree with me that humility is a beautiful thing? People are attracted to it. We should be attracted to it.
Why arenâ€™t we attracted to it? Why are insisting on our rights all the time? Why are so unwilling to be passed over or to suffer at all? Why do we hold the Lord to a standard of â€œblessingâ€ thatâ€™s really a reflection of our idolatries instead of a submission to His will and a pursuit of His glory?
Why do we teach our children, by word and example, that success matters so much? Have you ever asked yourself whether you would prefer a child who is humble in the Holy Spirit or successful in the worldâ€™s eyes? More importantly, have you asked God to deal with whatever it is in you that finds that choice at all difficult?
III. Finally, humility is the only position where the Christian receives some of Godâ€™s best gifts.
â€œHe who humbles himself….will be exalted.â€ Do you hear that as â€œHumble yourself and youâ€™ll get the promotion?â€ â€œHumble yourself and youâ€™ll win the state championship?â€ Perhaps, but this doesnâ€™t sound like the way of Jesus, despite the endorsement of â€œFacing the Giantsâ€ and most of the TBN preachers.
God can humble us. Ask Moses. Samson. Jacob. David. Ask the Christians in this room who have walked with God for years. God can and God will. When he does, you will be in a position to receive some of the greatest blessings God can give. But our passage says, you can and should â€œhumble yourself.â€ Why? For the same reason.
I said earlier that humility is a â€œcoming downâ€ for the one following Jesus. That coming down can be coming down to work with the poor or the hurting. It can be to associate with the sinful or the overlooked. It can be to do the work that others do not want to do because of their pride. It can be the way of personal sacrifice or the way of apology and reconciliation.
All of these are ways of blessing. I donâ€™t mean doing the occasional good deed for the applause of the church when you show the slides. No, I mean the blessing that comes from Jesus in the places Jesus blesses people with his presence.
Any of us who are aware that weâ€™ve stepped down to serve at _____________ are generally also among the first to say we donâ€™t deserve the blessing of serving here. That seems to be a contradiction to the world, but not so to us. We know exactly why the blessing is here when, for many of us, it wasnâ€™t to be found on the way â€œup.â€
Itâ€™s because a place of humble service is the place of blessing. Not wealth or fame, but the place where God blesses the humble. In fact, God blesses so much, you donâ€™t feel very humble most of the time.
I canâ€™t make humility something you want and pray for. I canâ€™t make it beautiful to you. There are many Christians who separate humility from their theology entirely, and boast in being right. I think God would prefer they be wrong and know his humility.
The path for us to loving one another, to serving students, to reconciliation with one another and within our families, is the path of humility. I pray you see it, want to walk in it, and begin the journey with a step down youâ€™ve never taken before today.
Let us Pray.