The Difficult Quality of Humility
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:27)
by Bob Burridge ©2011, 2014, 2019
Some things are all turned around in the world we live in. Instead of being living witnesses of the greatness of our Creator, as fallen people we are arrogant, self-serving, and self-indulgent. The person most envied by the lost world is often the one who doesn’t put up with others, and always gets his way. He’s the most aggressive self-assertive person who often tends to be rude and disrespectful. Others better look out if they upset him. The great goal, even in some religious movements, is to increase our own self-importance.
That’s not the way God tells us to be. He made us to be considerate of others, to have a kind attitude, and to be humble before God. It’s the way we were designed to function best. It’s the only way our lives can be truly happy.
The quality we call humility is not very popular — except in bumper-stickers and trite wall hangings. In real practical daily living, maybe without admitting it to ourselves, it’s equated with weakness. In reality, as God sees it and as we should see it, it takes a strong mature person to be humble.
Humility is hard for us, because in our fallen condition it’s hard not to put our own interests first.
The most perfectly strong person was Jesus Christ. He humbled himself to save the unworthy and undeserving. He opens our eyes to behold his love, and to appreciate his work of redemption without which we would justly remain alienated from God forever. When we’re restored to fellowship with God by grace, we’re stirred to understand how we should love God first and to love others more than we do. We come to realize the magnitude of God’s mercy.
Paul wrote a most encouraging letter to the Christians at Philippi. It’s hard to remember that this letter was written from prison in Rome. Of all the things a prisoner could have asked for to make him happy, far above his own comfort, possessions, and freedom, Paul wanted to know that God’s people were dedicated first to the cause of Christ.
In his letter to the Philippian church he laid out some basic Christian principles. One of the most basic qualities is the one we call, humility. Humility is knowing our rightful place in the amazing drama of God’s unfolding plan. In Philippians 2:3-4 Paul said, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Next in that same chapter, verses 5-9, he reminds us of the example of Jesus Christ. In verse 5 he tells us how our own thoughts should be modeled after the attitude of our Savior. He writes, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”
He’s saying here that we should bring our minds into agreement with that of Christ in this matter of humility. Jesus is our perfect example of the right human attitude toward God and others. There’s an interesting connection between what God is and what we ought to be. He created us in his image so that we would fulfill a special part in how creation declares his glory.
Jesus is our example and enabler. He repairs that image of God in us. As we grow to be like him we also see better what God is like toward us. In his example, he shows us what we should be and what God already is.
Jesus laid aside certain things to redeem us.
Philippians 2:6-8, “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
This is the message of the next question in our study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Question 27: “Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?”
Answer: “Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, The wrath of God and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.”
The present participle “being” in Philippians 2:6 means that Jesus has always been God. He didn’t stop being divine when he was born into this world. He remained an eternal member of the Triune God. In order to effectively pay for his people’s sins, he had to be both fully human and fully God at the same time. Dr. Lenski said, “Even in the midst of his death he had to be the mighty God, in order, by his death, to conquer death”
It says he took on the form of a servant. Not just in name or in title. He actually served his creatures. He knelt down and washed the feet of the disciples. He patiently taught the ignorant, and took the insults of his enemies.
In his birth he took on a complete human nature, the characteristics of one of his own creations. He took on a true human appearance. That doesn’t mean he was just “playing human.” He really took on our nature. He is one person drawing from 2 natures (Human and Divine), a mysterious yet glorious union, “… yet without sin.” (as it explians in Hebrews 4:15)
He humbled himself to accomplish our salvation. The display of his glory, and the enjoyment of his heavenly environment were set aside. He took the place of depraved, convicted, and condemned moral criminals.
Isaiah 53 is a rich description of what Jesus endured for us his people.
Isaiah 53:3, “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”
Isaiah 53:6, “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him”
Isaiah 53:8-10, “… He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked — But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. …”
Why would he lay aside his display of glory and the privileges of deity? Why would he go through all that? He did it to take up guilt that was not his own, to suffer and to experience ultimate humiliation, execution as a criminal.
He took on the guilt of crimes not just against little local laws, not against federal laws, or those of international laws. He took on all the sins of his people, crimes against God, and against his holy creation order. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
This was the most astounding act of humility ever. Fulfilling the eternal plan of the Triune God was greater than his personal comfort.
In 2 Corinthians 8:9 the Apostle wrote, “… though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
The Sovereign Creator and Preserver of all things had to borrow his birthplace, housing during his ministry, a boat to travel in and to preach from, a donkey to ride on, a room in which to celebrate the passover, and a tomb for His burial. What love! He gave up the display and enjoyment of his heavenly glory to rescue lost criminals!
Commentator Dr. Wuest said, “The only person in the world who had the right to assert his rights — waived them.” Yet how we cling to and demand all sorts of personal rights. We whine and cry when we feel our rights are in any way imposed upon. We crave self-glory and our own pleasures, but instead of glory we earn shame. We demand blessings, but we only qualify ourselves for cursings. Our personal goals and pride replace the cause of Christ’s glory
A false humility looks for pity, and for others to envy us for our humility. But as with Jesus, true humility is to set aside self for the advance of God’s Kingdom and Plan.
The point Paul is making
here in Philippians 2:5-9,
is that we should be humble too.
We need to have the same mind as did Jesus Christ in his humble coming to redeem us. Andrew Murray teaches that there are three great benefits to a properly motivated humility, “(Humility) becomes me as a creature, as a sinner, as a saint.”
1st — we need to humbly accept our part in God’s vast creation. We see the vast power, intricacy, and wonder of all that God made.
We can’t explain it all in our studies of nature. Science at best can only describe what it sees, and theorize about how it fits together. Psalm 8:3-4 exclaims, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?”
We see how little and weak we are compared with all the universe surrounding us. We each live in only a tiny dot on an astoundingly long time line that streaches out into eternity.
2nd — we are humbled as sinners. In our fallen condition we can’t appreciate the truth of our own condemnation, or of our need for redemption. Aside from our savior’s supernatural work in us, we wander in a world we’re unable to understand. We want a god — but not the God of the Bible. We crave a false god who’s there to make us comfortable.
When our hearts are brought to a true saving faith in Christ it humbles us as we see what we really are. We are a fallen race, blinded by our prejudices and excuses. We are unworthy of being in the presence of the all-holy God. We are not able to repair the infinite damage in our souls. The truth of our fallen condition humbles us before the Eternal Sovereign Lord.
3rd — we’re humbled most by God’s grace. Andrew Murray wisely said, “it is not sin that humbles most, but grace, and that it is the soul — led through its sinfulness to be occupied with God in His wonderful glory as God, as Creator and Redeemer, that will truly take the lowest place before Him.”
This is the message we have here in Philippians 2:5-9. It’s not when we look up and are awed by the distant stars and galaxies that humbles us the most. It’s not when we look down and see our own wicked thoughts and moral failures that humbles us the most.
It’s when we look up at the Savior on the Cross, and appreciate how he humbled himself for us as mere unworthy creatures that we’re most humbled and bowed down in awareness of his most amazing and undeserved love.
The great Creator of all that is, is our Redeemer. He whom we have so constantly offended did so much to rescue us condemned rebels. He came into his own creation, took on the form of his fallen creatures, suffered human insults and torture, and who died in our place — these are the things which are most humbling of all.
Humility isn’t so much that we are nothing, but that given that, Christ is something amazing. This mystery of grace teaches us to lose ourselves in the overwhelming greatness of redeeming love. It humbles us and consumes us in the light of his everlasting mercy.
How can we who are redeemed in this way
justify our self-centered lives?
How can we continue to put our own comforts and pleasures above living as God tells us to live in every area of our lives? How can we disregard the sacredness of worship, withhold our offerings? treat others rudely? neglect learning what his word says? reduce our prayers to short moments, or to those times only when we’re in need?
True humility is to set aside self for the advance of God’s Kingdom and Plan. We need to take time throughout every day, from when we first wake up until we go to bed at night, to consider the amazing love and grace that redeemed us and adopted us into God’s eternal family. That’s the focus our souls were created to have.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
(Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)