Sermon: "A Humble God"

3rd in the "Jesus Among Other Gods" series.
Delivered December 14, 2008 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

audio The audio file of this sermon is available for download and listening in MP3 format.
Sermon Text: Philippians 2:5-11 and Isaiah 53:1-3

Part of song played:
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble
When you're perfect in every way.
I can't wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day.
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man.
Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble
But I'm doing the best that I can.

Yeah! You know I told you that I don't normally listen to country music, but that's before George, Pastor George, introduced me to country music that really touches my heart.

We're in a series that focuses in on the incarnation, and we're looking at what God has done in becoming human and what that reveals to us about the very character of God. Today we're looking at the issue of humility. We as Americans have a sort of ambivalent experience and attitude about humility. On the one hand we really love it when people are humble.

I can remember when Joe Flacco was starting to really show that he had some promise as a quarterback, and all the newscasters would interview him and stuff, and they'd write or they'd say on TV just how great it was that this smart quarterback, this guy who could do so much, had so much promise, he was humble as well. You know when somebody's really good, when somebody's a winner and they are humble, whoa! We want to be by a person like that.

On the other hand, though, we have an amazing tolerance for people who are prideful, self-centered, demanding... anything but humble. You just have to be a winner first. If you're really great in what you do, if you're the best in your field, it doesn't matter where it is, business, movies, music, athletics, the arts, Donald Trump, Tom Cruise, Terrell Owens, divas of all kinds... we'll put up with it. You can be totally self-centered as long as you're a winner. If you're really good at something we'll put up with it because even though we like humility, we believe it's optional. What's important is winning. What's important is being the greatest.

When somebody loses do we value their humility? No way. They should be humble; they're losers. Be our guest. But we as Christians live in this culture. Yet we're supposed to be viewing humility as a basic strength, as a basic part of our character. It's not optional; it's supposed to be standard equipment for the Christian, but living in a society like this with all of these different inputs into us, different images of what life is all about, I think sometimes we misunderstand what humility is.

Now first there are the obvious things that we can kind of clearly see aren't the real things. You know there's the false humility. We've all seen it... a person who is absolutely full of themselves. They're so pleased with their achievement and the attention that they receive. They expect all the privileges and perks and they demand it of other people... very hard to deal with. Yet when you get them into the interview they smile and they say, "Oh, it was really nothing. I'm just lucky to be here." You can just tell that there's no connection between their lips and their heart. That isn't humility. That's hypocrisy.

There is another kind of thing that masks as humility for at least a few moments until we can see through it and that's just having a bad self image. A person has achieved a lot but they can't admit it to themselves. They can't enjoy what they've done. They can't accept any praise or encouragement about it because in their heads there are far too many voices saying, "You are worthless." That person may appear to be humble, but they're really wounded. There's something inside of them that needs to be healed.

So that leaves the more common understanding we have of humility that humility is a matter of admitting our weakness, admitting our imperfection, admitting our failure. Then we take this humility, and we view it as a crucial tool in our relationship with God. As we see it, we have to realize our imperfection and weakness and failure before God in order to be able to relate to his glory. God deserves us being humble. So that's why God always tells us to be humble. What he is, in essence, saying is, "You want to know me? Then be humble." When we think of humility this way it becomes hard sometimes to give praise or to receive it because our eyes are always on the weaknesses.

This form of humility focuses on the failure. There is a whole lot of truth that any right definition of humility is going to include our weakness and failure. It's going to have to include our imperfection because without a doubt this is true about us. Whatever else humility is, it's going to have to be based on truth, and the truth is we are weak, we are imperfect, we fail. But humility has to be more than that. It has to be more than just a focus on imperfection because Jesus was humble.

Today we're going to look into perhaps the most important passage in all of Scripture dealing with the issue of humility. It comes in a letter from the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi. This is a church that he helped form in the earliest part of his ministry. This was a healthy church. Despite all the cultural influences on it, this church thrived. This church had a health and a beauty to it. Paul bragged about this church to other churches, but that did not mean they were perfect.

Imperfection and weakness is always there. Paul sees a problem in them. They have a disagreement developing within the life of the church that could develop into something much more, something much more damaging. So he tells them to be humble in their relationships with one another, and he points to Jesus Christ as the model of what this humility should be like.

So we're going to look at the specific section where Paul is pointing to Jesus Christ as the model for our humility. It's in the book of Philippians, chapter 2; we're going to begin at verse 5.

Let's pray. Lord, as we go into your Word, open our eyes, open our hearts. Help us to respond with faith. For we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

Philippians, chapter 2, verse 5, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death... even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

In verse 5, Paul points us to Jesus. "Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus." We need to look to Jesus to see what real humility is all about, because Jesus was humble. In verses 6 to 11, Paul uses what is most likely a pre-existing poem or hymn about Jesus. We think this for a number of reasons.

On the one hand, there's a very clear metrical structure to these next few verses. In addition, there's some vocabulary there that Paul doesn't normally use. Then also, we know that in other books of the Bible, Paul uses hymns and poems that were already at use in the life of the Church, so very likely Paul is pointing to something that they're already using in their worship... a hymn about the incarnation, a hymn about the humility of Christ.

In verse 6 it says, "Jesus who in being very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped." What's in this version as "the very nature." In some other versions you might read it and it says, "Who was in the form of God." When we see that, we might think, "Okay, well it was in the form of, so maybe it's a facade; maybe it's a mask with a different reality inside." That's not what the word means. The word behind it is the word 'morphe.' What that means is an external appearance that shows an inner reality, that there's equality in that. What we're seeing on the outside is revealing the reality. So this translation "in very nature God" is a very good translation.

This Jesus who in very nature is God does not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Although this word could be stretched to mean to hold onto something that he already has, its stronger meaning is to reach out and try to seize something and grasp it. The picture here is that there is something about the full expression of the Deity, and the full honor that comes to Jesus that he willingly withholds from grasping in order to do something else within the will of the Father.

Verses 7 and 8 tell us more about what that is. Let's go back to verses... verse 6 tells us that there is a real relationship here. There is a reality that Jesus is in very nature God. It begins with the very truth of who he is, and then Jesus in that truth and in that reality is willing to let go of something, to not grasp something that rightfully and naturally belongs to him. Rights, privileges, recognition... he lets it go because Jesus is humble.

Verses 7 and 8 show us what happens next. Jesus "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death... even death on a cross!" He made himself nothing and again this phrase, "the very nature of a servant." What that means is that Jesus didn't put on some kind of superficial presentation of himself to say, "This is what I would be like if I were human, if I were a servant." No, he takes on the very reality of being human.

That's why we talk about Jesus being truly God and truly human. He takes on the reality, the very nature of a servant, not only a human, but a human who has come to serve. What it says here is that he humbles himself and becomes obedient even to death. To obey, to submit, to even die for the sake of other people and that is because Jesus was humble.

Verses 9 to 11 talk about God honoring that humility. "Therefore God exalts him to the highest place and gives him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father."

In this passage we see inside the relationship of the Trinity where the Son willingly submits, willingly takes the role of servant, and yet God the Father then exalts him and holds him up above every other name, and this brings glory to God.

So Paul tells us that our attitude is supposed to be like Jesus' because Jesus was humble. So what then does this passage do to our common understanding of humility that it's a matter of admitting our weakness, our imperfection, and our failure? That it's a crucial tool in relating to a God who is totally above all that in glory?

At the start of the sermon we heard the song, "Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way." I like the song. It's funny, but it's a lie. It's absolutely untrue because Jesus was humble. In Jesus, perfection chooses humility. The one who was in very nature God was humble, so humility has to mean more than just recognizing our weakness and failure.

It's going to include that because that's the truth about us. We will never escape the fact that we are imperfect. We are weak, and we fail. This will be true, but humility although it includes that, is more than that. Because here we have Jesus, the one we're to look to, who in his perfection has things that belong to him that he lets go. He lets go and he willingly takes the very nature of a servant. This is what God did in the incarnation. Jesus was humble.

You see, when God calls us to be humble, it's not that he's standing in pride above us in his splendor and glory and saying, "You are so different than me that you have to express that difference from me by being humble in the glory of my presence." Certainly there's that dynamic, but he calls us to be humble, not to emphasize our difference, but to invite us to be like he is. Jesus was humble.

Humility is in the very character of the Trinity. It says here that "Jesus who in being very nature God didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing." This is what God did. This is what the incarnation is all about. God is calling us to be like him, so we've got to put aside any sense that humility is optional... no matter what our culture says. It's not optional because it is God-likeness. We need to put aside any sense of resentment that God's somehow pushing us down in order that he might be pushed higher. It's not that at all. It's not forced on us. We're invited to share in it.

Remember what it says about Jesus... that Jesus knowing who he was and where he was going picks up the towel and serves. He's inviting us to know who we are as God's children... to know where we're going because of his grace. Then pick up the towel to serve. God invites us in. When he tells us to be humble it's like he's saying, "Come, be more like me, your Creator and your Savior." Lord, it's hard not to be humble or at least to want to be with an invitation from God like that.

Let's pray. Lord, help us now as we move into another time of response to you. Help us to respond, help us to see ourselves as we are before your grace and your glory. For we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

© 2008, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145