Micah 6:1-8, Philippians 2:1-13
September 27, 2015
Somewhere along the line we lost the virtue of humility. Like always, we still tell people today how important it is to have self confidence, and ambition. We tell people how important it was to learn leadership skills and self assuredness. But along with all of that, we used to teach people how to have a healthy view of themselves, and to be humble, and to rely on inner strength. But somewhere along the line, we lost that last part.
Several decades ago, we talked about what people called the “Me Generation.” Do you remember that? And in the time of the “me generation,” people learned to look only to, and think only of, their own little universe. They began to focus on “the self.” They took “assertiveness” and “self-actualization” courses. They even began to do what I said back in the 80’s. They began to “institutionalize” self-centeredness. They began to make it “the norm.” They began to make self-centeredness almost a virtue. Professionals began to tell us that “The only way you can deal effectively with the rest of the world, is to do what’s right for you first.” I’m serious about that! I’ve actually heard people say exactly those words!
Somewhere along the line, we lost the idea of humility. I remember having a conversation with a teenage girl sometime in the ‘80’s. And it was frustrating, because I was trying to explain the idea of “humility.” And she was resisting it. To her, that sounded too much like “humiliation.” That was a very real thing in her life, and was something she saw that was to be avoided. Ironically, I remember her asking over and over, “What’s in it for me to be humble?”
There’s a difference between “humility” and “humiliation,” isn’t there? “Humiliation” is a negative thing. It should be avoided. “Humility,” on the other hand, is a positive thing. Humility used to be a “virtue.” It was seen as a strong and desirable human quality. And, humility was something that God wanted us to have! And he still does! The prophet Micah asked, “What does the Lord require of you?” Do you remember that one? What does the Lord require of you? “To seek justice, and love mercy, and,” what? “to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Why does God want that for us? Because he wants the best for us! He gave us this life. He created us to glorify him and enjoy him forever! And he wants us to live life to the fullest! And, in his wisdom, he knows that a lot of people, caring only about themselves, will create a lot of misery in the world. Saint Paul knew that too. So he told the Romans “not to think more highly of themselves than they ought.” (Romans 12:3) Here, he told the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
“Have humility!” he said. “Be humble people!” Jesus was the greatest example of that. And Paul went on to explain that, too. “Have this mind among you, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” (Philippians 2:5-7)
Think about that. Jesus is God! Yet he showed the highest form of humility. And he lived it. Think about how he went quietly to his execution! He showed inner strength we can barely imagine, but to which we can and should aspire! Isaiah prophesied this quality of the Messiah hundreds of years earlier. He said of him, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)
That’s the inner strength that underlies humility. It’s hard to have the virtue of humility without it. Paul knew that, too. He said, “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content…” How? “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
That’s the key. It is “him who strengthens me!” In all that “me generation” stuff, we were told the importance of building up and living by our own strength. But, we found out later on, that it doesn’t work! And a lot of people had real difficulties when they tried living by their own strength.
We can only have that humility, when we realize where our inner strength comes from. We can only have that inner strength when we can say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my strength and my salvation!”
And there’s something else here. When we do that, when the Lord is our strength, we can also have peace. If you follow along through Philippians, you will find Paul talking about that peace. When we have the strength of God inside of us, we have the peace of God – peace that does, what? It “Passes human understanding.” And that peace will “keep our hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Our hearts and our minds will have that strength and peace from God. And do you remember how that verse starts, “Have no anxiety about anything, but with prayer and supplication…” Anxiety is the opposite of peace, isn’t it? And the humility, born of seeking God’s inner strength, does more than just make you humble. It gives you that peace.
That’s hard do come by on our own. As I’ve often said, inner peace is something for which the world is desperately searching! Remember the report I told you about before that told of the three most often used medications in this country. They are, anti-depressants, stomach acid reducers, and sleep aids! What does that say about the lack of peace in our world? It is by the inner strength of God, strength that leads us not to think too highly of ourselves, that we can have that peace.
Now, I know that many of you are there. You understand the virtue of humility. You know that inner peace. You do think more highly of others than yourselves. And I applaud you. And I look up to you. You are examples for others to emulate. And we need those examples, just like we needed the example of Jesus in order to understand all of this.
But the fact is, that this is too easy to forget. When times are tough, and sometimes when times are very good, we forget where our strength lies. So maybe this today serves as a reminder. Maybe this is not so much “rediscovering humility” as it is “reinforcing humility” – humility which you’re already living. I know I need this kind of reminder from time to time. I’m sure you do, too.
So, be reminded. Remember the three words we’ve focused on today. “Humility,” “Inner strength,” “Peace.” They all work together. And they are what God wants for us. Because he wants for us, the very best!
Eternal God, we thank you for your indwelling spirit, and the strength you give us to live our lives walking humbly with you. Help us to know that peace that passes all understanding. May it truly keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. For we pray in his name, Amen.