September 28, 2008
Humility and Obedience
“I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do great things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might become wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given Life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers and true needs were fulfilled.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed”
These are words written by an Unknown Civil War Veteran. They speak deeply of humility and God’s abundant blessings. These words resonate with our scripture from Philippians as they echo the scripture’s emphasis on obedience to God and humility.
Unity is one theme that runs consistently throughout the letters of Paul to the churches he serves. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul is once again urging unity among the followers of Jesus. Paul asks these Christ-followers to be like-minded, having the same love and being one in spirit and purpose. He urges them to not be selfish, but to keep in mind the interests of others as well. Then he points his followers to the ultimate example of selfless love that can be found in Christ Jesus.
I like Paul’s emphasis on the mind here. He tells them “be of like mind,” and then in verse five he tells them, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” We come from a tradition, the Disciples of Christ, where it has always been ok to love God with your mind. God has gifted each of us with a mind to think about and interpret the scriptures. Our mind also helps us make sense of our world in light of God’s love. Jesus even reminded us that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We were created by God to use our minds. And it seems to me that Paul is calling us to tune our minds to the frequency of Christ.
What follows Paul’s call to be of the same mind is a beautiful piece of writing about Jesus. Some scholars call it the “Christ Hymn”. The words of this “hymn” are the heart of the Gospel for Paul, and they describe what work Christ was doing in the world.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
What would it mean for us to have a mind set similar to the one Christ had? If the Christ hymn is any indication, then it would mean emptying ourselves and ridding ourselves of ego and conceit. Being of the mind of Christ would also mean being obedient to the will of God, and being willing to make any sacrifice you were called on to make and behalf of that will. Having the same mind as Christ Jesus means two things for certain; we are to be humble and obedient.
Humility: Jesus is a true example of humility. Paul reminds us that Jesus had all the status and power of knowing that he was equal to God, in fact that he was God, but instead of exploiting that power, he humbled himself to become the servant of the world. Christ limited his power to become fully human, to enter into the world as a child and to walk with us in our human experience. Jesus’ servant- humility is a model for us.
In our human experience, I think humility comes in a couple of different forms. Sometimes we are humbled by experiences that happen to us, by something the world hands us. In other words, there are circumstances that cause us to be humbled; like the loss of a job, or the loss of financial security that forces us to depend on others for assistance. We may be humbled by losing; losing a race, losing a game, losing a promotion, losing a relationship or a loved one. We may be humbled by the consequences of our own choices, when we wake up one day knowing that we’ve hit rock bottom. Sometimes we are humbled by our circumstances.
Think of the biblical example of the prodigal son who is humbled by losing everything. This is the son who went to his father asking for his part of the inheritance early- so that he could go live it up in the world. And he does- he has a great time in what is only described to us as “dissolute living.” And then humility smacks him in the face. He realizes as he sits there eating what the pigs are eating that he has hit rock bottom.
What happens next in the story speaks of the other kind of humility- the kind of humility that you practice. The son picks himself up and returns home- with a speech prepared, humbling himself before his father. He says, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
The practice of humility is one of the fruits of the spirit, one of the marks that you are living in God’s love. Humility is the attitude of thinking no more, or no less of yourself than what is actually true; not lifting yourself above others. Humility is realizing that you are one of God’s children- just as worthy of love as any other of God’s children. In the example of Christ Jesus, think of how opposite he was than the earthly rulers of the day. Instead of holding himself higher and above others, he went out of his way to seek out and associate with the lowly.
Think of the humility that it takes to serve someone else. Jesus showed this kind of humility when he washed the feet of his disciples. Even though it made them uncomfortable, Jesus bowed down and became their servant and washed their feet with humility. In the same way, Jesus was the recipient of someone else’s humility. Remember when the woman came to Jesus with the alabaster jar? She came to anoint him with oil as he prepared to journey to the cross. Showing humility can mean placing yourself in the roll of serving someone else. By serving someone else, you show them great love and respect.
In looking at stories of humility this week, I came across a website that had some tips on how to practice humility. Here are three great tips for being humble (from the artofmanliness.com): 1. Give credit where credit is due. In other words, don’t take credit for something you didn’t do- shine the light on the one who deserves the credit. 2. Don’t name drop or experience drop. Hold back on sharing your strengths to allow for the stories of others, your time to share will come. 3. Do what’s expected, but don’t make a big deal about it. Do the things that are expected of you, that you’ve committed to do without calling attention to yourself. Those are three very practical tips on how to practice humility in our daily lives.
Obedience: Another way to have the same mind as Christ Jesus is to practice obedience as he did. Jesus was obedient to the will of God even though, as the Christ hymn states, he was equal to God he submitted to the God’s plan for him to become human. Being human meant being born as a baby to a human mother, living in a family, and dealing with other humans as he tried to teach and minister to people. Obedience for Jesus also meant the other inevitable part of being human; death. Jesus was obedient to death Philippians says, even death on a cross. In the Gospels we see Jesus struggle with this reality in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked (my own paraphrase here), “If it could be any other way God, please allow it to be.” But despite his struggle, he was willing to carry out God’s plan, to be obedient to the will of God.
How obedient are we to the will of God? Do we even know what the will of God is in our lives? Being obedient takes time and patience, and most of all listening. If we are to discern and understand what God wants for our lives, then we can’t do all the talking when we pray. We need to create opportunities to listen to God. We need spaces of silence where the voice of God, whether booming or still and small can be known to us. One way to be more obedient to God is to listen more to what God is trying to say.
I don’t know about you, but I love to hear stories about Dee’s rebellious teenage years. They crack me up- and also make me think God has a sense of humor that she has been called to be your senior minister! Do you know why I don’t tell you stories of my rebellious years? Because I didn’t have any!! I know I did things wrong, I didn’t clean my room when I was asked, I came home late on occasion, and my worst offensive of course was my smart mouth- but these do not make for good stories for sermons! One of the things I know about myself and any of my friends can tell you is that I am a rule-follower. However, being a rule-follower is different than being obedient to the will of God. Being in tune with God’s will for your life is a much more active process that requires you to have a personal relationship with God. Walking daily with Christ, praying, reading your Bible and being in Christian Community are all ways that you can go about figuring out what God’s will is for your life. After you discern God’s will for your life, then you can practice obedience to that will as Christ did.
On occasion, being obedient to the will of God might mean not being obedient to the ways and pressures of the world. So, I’m telling you that it is ok to rebel against the ways of the world sometimes! William Willimon, the former Dean of Chapel at Duke University said this to his students:
“Some of you are young, and most of you, because this is Duke, are on your way up. And there will be that day (get ready) when somebody my age will look across a big oak table and wink, and speak of ‘the way we do things in the firm.’
Or it will be over cocktails, she will sigh about what ought to be but then will firmly assert, ‘Of course, you’ve got to face facts, go along to get along, right?’
And then maybe, because you belong to Christ and not to the firm or the HMO or IBM or GM or whatever, you’ll say, “Sorry.”
Having the same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus means sometimes not having the same mind as the world. Having a mind like Christ means that you can be, as Paul says, “In the world, but not of the world.” The mind of Christ means that you don’t have to laugh and play along when someone tells a racist or sexist joke, that downgrades one of God’s children. You don’t have to play along and run over the little guy to get ahead in life. Christ wouldn’t have. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
I pray this morning that we would each have the courage to have the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus. I pray that we would practice humility toward others, and obedience to the will of God. May we treat others gently and listen to God closely, that we might be of like mind, and be one in the body of Christ.