Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Humility vs Pride

Philippians 2:1-11

Pride goes before a fall! It’s a familiar saying and like many other familiar sayings in the English language, this one also comes from the Bible. Proverbs 16:18 – “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Yet these familiar words are not simply a wise saying or merely good advice. More than that, these words are a profound reminder to us about the seriousness of pride! For it was pride that brought about the Fall – of Satan, humanity and all of creation! It was the pride of Satan and humanity in Adam and Eve that plunged what was once God’s very good creation into death! I’m sure we all know that pride is kinda bad… but have you ever thought about pride as being deadly? Out of the so-called seven deadly sins, pride is the deadliest! It was pride that brought death to us!

And pride has its roots in Satan. But he wasn’t always evil or wicked. According to Ezekiel 28, Satan was an awesome creature – created by God. Ezekiel 28v12 – You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. vv13-14 – he was dressed in beautiful jewels and was appointed to be a guardian cherub in the garden of Eden. The LORD continues in v15 – You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. And v17 – Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendour.

Isaiah 14 tells us a bit more. Isaiah 14 from v12 – How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of the assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

Satan was not content to be the most awesome of all God’s creatures. It was not enough for him to serve his Creator. It was too demeaning for him to merely be a guardian angel, watching over Adam and Eve in Eden. No… surely one who is full of wisdom and perfect in beauty deserved more… much more… Surely he deserved to be ‘god’! Pride took over and led to Satan’s downfall!

And it’s the same pride that took hold of Adam and Eve! In Genesis 3, Satan tempted Adam and Eve with the very same twisted logic of a proud heart – Put yourself first – your own desires, your own interests. You deserve more! You should think of yourself a bit more! Forget about serving God… be gods yourself! Don’t listen to God, decide for yourself! You will not surely die from eating the fruit. The LORD’s doesn’t want you to eat it because he knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God!

Well, the rest is history! Being like God sounded great to them! Adam and Eve rejected the true and Living God, and took the first step in enthroning themselves as god of their own lives… they will decided for themselves what is right or wrong, good or evil! They ate that which was forbidden, and along with Satan and the rest of creation, came under the curse of death!

Since then, like a hereditary disease, we've all inherited a massive dose pride and have all too readily embraced this Satanic and deadly way of life. Humble-pie hardly appeals to anyone’s taste. Fallen humanity has always preferred self-love, self-satisfaction, self-promotion, self-importance. Me, myself and I! In our pride, we’ve always made sure that we put ourselves first! Our default position is to be served rather than to serve! So much so that even when Paul writes to the Philippian church, he says in 2v21 that everyone looks out for his [or her] own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

It’s sad to read about how personal egos have caused problems for the church then. Philippians 1v15-17 – there are people who preach Christ out of envy and rivalry… out of selfish ambition. And then in chapter 4vv2-3 we read about two women, Euodia and Syntyche – who used to contend for the gospel alongside each other with Paul, no longer get along. How does our pride manifest itself here at Emmanuel? Is there something that’s too demeaning for us to do for the sake of others? Are there those whom we don’t get along with because we think we are better than them? Is there a limit as to how much time, money and energy we are willing to spend for the sake of Jesus and others? Would we willing to meet the needs of others and ensure their well-being even if it has a detrimental effect on our social status, health and wealth?

It’s pride that stops us from putting others first because we think that fundamentally we’ve got to look after ourselves before looking after others. One popular song tells us learning to love yourself the greatest love of all. And we’re told again and again… you’ve got to stand up for your rights! The world’s assumption is that we have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and we’re never gonna give up these so-called unalienable rights without a fight!

Yet… Jesus never paid much attention to such assumptions. In Philippians 2vv6-11, Paul reminds us of Jesus’ way of life. He bears witness to Jesus Christ, the one man who never ever succumbed to a life of selfish pride; who’s never embraced Satan’s way of thinking, who despite the most severe of temptations to do so never ever sought to exalt Himself or put His own interests above that of others.

v6 – 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.

This is the awesome truth about Christmas. We’re not merely celebrating the birthday of some founder of religion. Jesus is the founder of the universe. He is the eternal Son of God. He’s the divine Word of God who was with God and was God in the beginning. He’s the one by whom and for whom everything was created.

This is a profound mystery but Christmas is about celebrating the real and physical union between God and humanity! Christmas remembers His birth as one of us, but you know how we sing Lo He abhors not the virgin’s womb? Well, Jesus had very humble beginnings as one of us as He left the majestic glory of heaven to make Himself nothing. The Light of the World began life as one of us by spending 40 weeks in the darkness of His mother’s womb.

He who has no beginning began life as one of us growing cell by cell in one of the most dangerous of environments, and then he went through the trauma of being born… and he wasn’t exactly born in the most comfortable of surrounding! Perhaps suitably so, the Lamb of God was born in a manger amongst those who would be slaughtered to sustain the lives of others! And the first noise the Divine Word of God made as one of us was the incomprehensible, needy and helpless cry of a baby. And then the Lord of the universe’s fledgling life was immediately under threat by the murderous earthly ruler, Herod.

And as He grew up, He had no glorious occupation – the Divine Craftsman of the universe used His hands to make furniture for others! And then what happens when He began His ministry? He served people – healing them, teaching them, feeding them… time and time again He put the needs of others above His own. And of course He was only practicing what He preached – The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve… and ultimately to give His life as a ransom for many.

And we must not imagine that this was easy for Jesus. He was tempted by Satan time and time again to think of His own desires and interests first, to use all the powers available to Him for His own glory… after all, Aren’t you the Son of God? You deserve much better, don’t you? And surely, you don’t deserve to suffer!

And the temptations to think of His own interests as more important than others only intensified as His death approached. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the battle was so intense that Jesus was sweating blood. The obedient Son of God so feared for His life and so wished that His Father might have a different way that three times He fell to His knees and asked if there was a way out. Yet each time, Jesus uttered these famous words – Yet not my will but yours be done! He who was equal with the Father, who’s been with the Father and loved by the Father from eternity never demanded any royal treatment but humbled Himself before His Father’s will.

And so Jesus was arrested, mocked, beaten, spat on, made fun off, stripped naked and nailed to the Cross. People mocked – Save yourself if you are the Son of God. Come down from the Cross and we will trust in you! And all the while, Jesus had the power to do so. He was the commander of the mightiest army in all creation. Hundreds of thousands of angels under His command, waiting for His word, ready to come and help their divine commander and decimate His enemies and yet, He never gave that command or cry for rescue.

But He did cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was a cry of anguish, the agonizing cry of a man who died a cursed death under God’s full fury against sin. v8 – Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Why? Why in the world would the divine and eternal Son of God who has the freedom to do anything at all choose to humble Himself so completely? Precisely because He is God! You know how when we are really under pressure and stress that what we really are like becomes clear? Well, here when under the most intense pressure, we see what the Living God really is like. Free from any sin, free from pride, free from Satan’s ways, free to serve and love! Because he considered us as more important than Himself, He did not look to His own interests but to our interests. He didn’t save Himself so that He can save us. He didn’t come down from the cross so that we will never have to face God’s wrath. He laid down His life so that we can have life! He humbled Himself in order to exalt us!

And this is the only way of life that has any real and lasting significance. Pride versus humility – the verdict has been declared! Satan’s way of life that is so full of pride and selfish ambition is passing away. Those who continue to follow him are only heading towards an eternal destruction. But, as Jesus Himself preached, and demonstrated by putting His own teaching into practice, true life and glory and fulfillment are found only as we completely forget ourselves and are caught up in the life and will of the living God. In losing His life in accordance with His Father’s will and laying down His life for our sake, Jesus has gained life forever. He has been raised from the dead and restored to His rightful place.

vv9-10 – 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.

This is the glory of our Triune God. Jesus is exalted because He humbled Himself so completely, and the Father is glorified because He gave up His One and Only Beloved Son. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are worthy of all honour and worship precisely because of their humble self-sacrifice, service and love.

At the beginning we saw that Satanic and human pride brought about the Fall and death of all, yet the humility of God redeemed us from that curse and brought us new, exalted and eternal life.

Remember how Adam and Eve wanted to be like God and in their pride tried to grab divinity for themselves? They didn’t need to try and ascend to the place of the Most High God on their own! It was always part of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’s plans to bring humanity fully into their life. The Father sent His only Son to be like us in order to make us like Him. Or as 2 Peter 1v4 puts it, the Father sent Jesus that we may participate in nothing less than the divine nature.

United to Jesus, His exaltation is our exaltation. And right now, it is a man who sits in the throneroom of the universe, ruling over all things for the sake of His Church. More precious than anything else, as bothers and sisters of Jesus, united to Him by the Spirit, we share the very same relationship that He shares with His Father and the Spirit. Our Father in heaven knows what we need and we never have to fight for anything on our own. And we never have to make a name for ourselves or make sure are respected by society because we have already been given dignity and honour by being children of God and co-heirs with Christ. Like Jesus we can empty ourselves for the sake of others because of the sure and secure promises that we have in Jesus!

Perhaps for some of you here today – maybe you’ve been coming to church for a long time but have not really experienced the joy or reality of a relationship with Jesus and fellowship with the Spirit. If you’ve been moved and affected by the humility of Jesus, and want to humble yourself before Him, don’t put that off. Speak to Him in your own words. Tell Him you want to leave your old way of life and follow Him. Call out to Him and He will only be all too willing to answer.

As for the rest of us vv1-3 – If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others as better [or more important] than yourselves.

And v4 – this is a watered down translation – Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Some have claimed that this verse tells us to look after our own interests so long as we also look out for others. It makes it easier to swallow, doesn’t it, when we can also look after our own interests alongside those of others. But… in line with v3’s call to humbly consider others as more important than ourselves, and in view of God’s demonstration of humility in Jesus, v4 is more literally and accurately translated as – Each of you should look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

v5 – our attitudes should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…

Is this difficult? Of course it is! Do we fail? All the time! The solution and remedy to when we are proud and unable to put others first is to look again to Jesus, to beg for the help of the Holy Spirit, and cry as Jesus did, not my will but yours be done, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

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