Sunday, October 09, 2005

Humility In The Hands Of The Master

Introduction: Once, just as an oratorio of his was about to begin, several of George Frideric Handel’s friends gathered to console him about the size of the audience. Not many people showed up.

“Never mind,” Handel replied. “The music will sound the better” due to the improved acoustics of a very empty concert hall.

Somehow that reminds me of another story.

Once, when an acquaintance praised Johann Sebastian Bach for his wonderful skill as an organist, he replied with characteristic humility and wit: “There is nothing very wonderful about it. You have only to hit the right notes at the right moment and the instrument does the rest.”

Humility, it seems, is that rare virtue that makes us clever, gracious, well-liked, self-assured—and sometimes funny.i

Paul also has something to teach us about humility.

Scripture: Philippians 2:5-11


Let me begin by making two observations.

  1. Today we are looking at what is thought to be one of the oldest known hymn in the Christian Church. Its origin is unknown, I do not know the music – but its structure strongly resembles what is known of 1st century hymnody.

  2. What I am about to saw is really a continuation of last week's sermon. We have already noted that Paul has called the Philippian church to humility – now he illustrates that call by looking at Christ's life and focusing on three characteristics of humility.

I. Humility is characterized by a willingness to give up what is ours

    A. It is very easy for me to remember that Jesus is human. We have the details of his birth. We see him hungry, we see him with his friends, we see him die.

    B. It is not too difficult for me to remember that Jesus is God – I see him healing, I see him changing water into wine, I see him walking on the water.

    C. What is hard to picture is Jesus as GOD – as being present at the moment of creation – he was. “Let US make man in our image.” It is hard for me to picture Jesus as being present at the end of time sitting on the judgement seat – at the right hand of God the Father – demonstrating all the glory that is rightfully God's alone.

  1. Amazingly, it is this second image of Jesus that is really His. Yet he left it because of his love for mankind.

(Ill.) I may find it difficult to make this transition, but John Wesley understood it. A lady once asked John Wesley that suppose he were to know that he would die at 12:00 midnight tomorrow, how would he spend the intervening time. His reply: “Why madam, just as I intend to spend it now. I would preach this evening at Gloucester, and again at five tomorrow morning; after that I would ride to Tewkesbury, preach in the afternoon, and meet the societies in the evening. I would then go to Rev. Martin’s house, who expects to entertain me, talk and pray with the family as usual, retire to my room at 10 o’clock, commend myself to my heavenly Father, lie down to rest, and wake up in Glory.”ii

    E. Jesus walked away from it all. He left his home. He left the presence of glory, to live with us. Not with the rich, not with the powerful, but with the ordinary, the common. He put his glorious home aside, so that he could become the one who would serve mankind.

    F. Jesus gave up what was His – have this attitude in yourself.

II. Humility is characterized by a willingness to do what is not ours to do

(Ill.) A French philosopher once noted, “Plenty of people want to be pious, but no one yearns to be humble.”iii

    A. But that did not get in Jesus' way. He was willing to do far more than was his responsibility – he was allowed to die on that cross, not for something he did, but for all that we have done.

    B. The one thing that Jesus knew so little about, he died for. The one thing that was not part of his nature, was the thing that sent him that Friday to the cross.

  1. I remember my kids reminding me from time to time, “But that's not my job.” Can you imagine what our live would be like, if Jesus had turned to His Father and said, “But its not my sin.”

(Ill.) Jay Kesler was the founder of the High School organization Youth for Christ. Dr. Kesler has said, “A life thoroughly committed to Christ, lived and tested over time, seasoned with experience and humility, is more powerful than most people ever imagine.” iv

    D. Kids have not yet learned about humility – Jesus understood and practiced humility. He was willing to do what was really not his to do.

(Appl.) All of us are, from time to time, asked to do those things that are not normally expected of us. Things which, if one considers fairness, we would not be asked to do. But, as believers who seek to emulate Christ, we will accept those jobs, we will accept those tasks, that are not are not ours to do.

III. Humility is characterized by a willingness to be what God wants us to be.

    A. Negatively, humility means giving up what we are due. Negatively, humility means doing that which is not ours to do.

    B. Positively – humility means letting God do with us what he wants to do. It means being willing to be what God wants us to be. Humility means being obedient to all that God expects of us.

(Ill.) One of the men that has impressed me by his Christian walk was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Boenhoeffer found himself as minority in WWII Germany – a Lutheran pastor that chose to speak against the horrors that were found in Hitler's Germany. Here was a man that chose to live his life for Christ, rather than let his culture shape him. Boenhoeffer once said, “Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe.”v

    C. Jesus illustrated that – both in how he lived, in how he died, and in the fact that he now sits, again, at the right hand of God.

    D. Being willing to be what God wants us to be means living with both the challenges and the blessings that God sends our way. If we spend our time fighting those things that God uses to shape us, we have not learned humility.

    E. If we spend our time looking only for the blessing that God, then we have not learned humility.

    F. Humility will allow us to demonstrate God's love to a broken world – not because we must, not because we are forced; but because we will are willing to be what God wants us to be – even as Christ was who God wanted Him to be.

Conclusion: Let me suggest that there are two different definitions for humility.

  1. Webster defines humility as “the state of being humble.”

  2. Another writer has defined humility as willingness to be obedient to God regardless of the personal

  3. Which definition do you want to live your life by? It is a choice each of us must make – not just today, but each day of our lives.

iMore real stories for the soul. 2000 (electronic ed.) (Page 108). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

iiTan, P. L. (1996, c1979). Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations : [a treasury of illustrations, anecdotes, facts and quotations for pastors, teachers and Christian workers]. Garland TX: Bible Communications.

iiiLa Rochefoucauld, Maxims. Quoted in Merriam-Webster, I. (1992). The Merriam-Webster dictionary of quotations. "A Merriam-Webster."; "Quotables from notables". Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster.

ivJay Kesler quoted in Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson's complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) (Page 388). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

vDietrich Bonhoeffer quoted inWater, M. (2000). The new encyclopedia of Christian quotations (Page 692). Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.


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