The Difficult Quality of Humility

The Difficult Quality of Humility

(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:27)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

There are things that are all turned around in the world we live in.

Instead of being living witnesses of the greatness of our Creator, fallen people are arrogant, self-serving, and self-indulgent. The hero is often the most aggressive self-assertive person who tends to be rude and disrespectful. The person most envied by the lost world is the one who doesn’t put up with others and always gets his way. Other people better look out if they upset him. The great goal, even in some religious movements, is to increase our own self-importance.

That is not the way God tell us to be. He made us to be considerate of others, to have a kind attitude, and to be humble before God. It is the way we were designed to function best. It is the only way our lives can be truly happy.

The quality we call humility is not very popular except in bumper-stickers and trite sayings. In real practical daily living it is equated with weakness and failure. 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 is hard not to put your own interests first.

The most perfectly strong person was Jesus, God united with an unfallen human nature. He humbled himself to save the unworthy and undeserving.

He opens our eyes to see his love and work of redemption without which we would justly remain alienated from God forever. When we are restored to fellowship with God by grace, we are stirred to understand how we should love God first and 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 is 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 is saying here that we should bring our minds into agreement with that of Christ in this matter of humility. He is our perfect example of the right human attitude toward God and others. There is 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 who 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 asks, “Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?”

The answer in the catechism is,

“Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under die 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 In Philippians 2:6 means that Jesus has always been God. He did not stop being divine when he was born into this world. In his birth he took on a complete human nature while he remained at the same time 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. 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”

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.

He took on the appearance of a human, one of his own creations. He was not “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.” (Hebrews 4:15)

He humbled himself to accomplish our salvation. The display of his glory, and the purity 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 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. The most precious eternal plan of 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 for in which to celebrate the passover, and a tomb for His burial. What love! He gave up 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 motives to humility. “(Humility) becomes me as a creature, as a sinner, as a saint.”

First, we need to be humbled as mere parts of God’s vast creation.
We see the vast power, intricacy, and wonder of all that God made.

We cannot truly 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 of created things.

Secondly, we are humbled as sinners.
Aside from his supernatural work in us, we don’t appreciate the truth of our condemnation, or of our need for redemption. We want a god, but not the God of the Bible. As fallen creatures we crave a false god who is there to make us comfortable.

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 even able to repair the infinite damage in our souls. The truth of our fallen condition humbles us before the Eternal Sovereign Lord.

Third, we are 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 is not when we look up and are awed by the distant stars and galaxies that humbles us the most. It is not when we look down and see our own wicked thoughts and moral failures that humbles us the most.

It is when we look up at the Savior on the Cross, and appreciate how he humbled himself for us as mere unworthy creatures that we are most humbled and bowed down in awareness of his most amazing love.

That the great Creator of all that is, is also our Redeemer — that he whom we have so constantly offended did so much to rescue us condemned rebels — that 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 — that’s what is most humbling of all.

It is not 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 desecrate his Sabbath? withhold his tithes? treat other creatures of God rudely? show disregard for the sacredness of worship? neglect learning what his word says? reduce our prayers to short moments or to those times when we are in need?

True humility is to set aside self for the advance of God’s Kingdom and Plan. Take time throughout every day, when you first wake up until you go to bed at night, to consider the amazing love and grace that redeemed you, and that adopts you into God’s eternal family.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”

(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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