Delighting in Lowliness

Text: Phil 2:1-13 (NKJV)                       

INTRODUCTION

Christians are often short-sightedness (2 Pet 1:9 ESV) about problems in their own spirituality which they can easily see in secular society.

I was reading a newspaper article recently about the feminist push to ban men-only clubs, and the word which kept coming up was “power”.

There’s something about power and influence that seems irresistible to those who can access it; the hunger for power is behind the chaos in federal politics in the last year.

This is plain, but when many Christian “Leadership” Colleges blatantly promote themselves as centres of excellence and influence we somehow miss out on seeing how this violates the S/spirit of him who said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.(Matt 11:29 ESV). Until the Church replaces its structures of achievement with lowliness of life it can never impact the foundations of our godless society.

This is the time when such things should be most transparent to us. Preaching last Sunday from John 1 about the Word becoming flesh I was reminded that God’s decision to become human (John 1:14 ESV) involved a permanent willingness to serve at the deepest level of his being.

The Son of God’s taking on of lowly humanity was infinitely more dynamic than the creation of the world because it was a transformation in God’s own life. Meekness is the medium through which the power of God’s kingdom flows (Matt 5:5 ESV) and the channel of our salvation.

In seeing the lowliness of God in Christ we are constrained to accept that humility is a property of God’s very being (cf. John 14:9 ESV), and quite frankly we struggle to accept this truth because its implications are so profound.

Let me use one very public example.

(Philippians 2:6-7 ESV) literally reads, “Christ Jesus, vs.6 who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be graspedvs.7 emptied himself”.

But many translations, e.g. ESV, NASAB, NLT, NRSV read, “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, emptied himself implying that the humility of God expressed in Jesus was something in contrast to his divinity.

No – it’s precisely because he is God that Jesus considered life to be all about giving rather than getting. Sinners don’t associate lowliness of life with God’s essential nature because we are people, to quote Paul, with “lofty opinions” (2 Cor 10:5 ESV) and we subconsciously think the Lord must be high-minded like us (Ps 50:21 ESV).

And living in a society where people are obsessed with defending our own sense of self-worth most Christians cannot appreciate the glory of humility. All these gross spiritual confusions began when humanity submitted to the Satanic word in Eden.

THE RESISTANCE

When Adam and Eve reached out to take the fruit of the tree of knowledge in order to “be like God, knowing good and evil.”” they exercised “high mindedness” in the most idolatrous sense.

Gen 3:5 ESV

If they had actually to become more like God as he had revealed himself, they would have exercised a “lowliness of mind” serving the Lord as he had served them by providing for all their needs.

Instead, they proudly chose self-promotion, became “puffed up with conceit and fell into the condemnation of the devil.(1 Tim 3:6 ESV). You may not consider yourself a proud person but whenever you compare yourself to others your pride is showing itself.

Paul warns; “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.(2 Cor 10:12 ESV).

Every act of comparison, whether we place ourselves above or below others, is in fact an act of judgement and Jesus warned, ““with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged”” (Matt 7:2 ESV)

The human situation is dreadful because we are ensnared in our own lofty opinions about our capacity to judge God, ourselves and others1)See Biblical References cf. Rom 1:24, 26, 28 ESV.

We make comparisons which lead into competitions that bring wars, domestic strife, envy, jealousy, work rivalries and the like.

Only the Lord can deliver us from our dreadful self-afflicted condition. The Lord warned me years ago about the dangers of self-assertion in the Church.

A visitor from interstate gave a prophetic word about a “sandgroper” spirit threatening revival in WA. But she had no idea what a “sandgroper” is.

The sandgroper is a burrowing insect whose attacks on the root systems of healthy-looking plants can prevent them becoming ripe for harvest. In applying this I believe the Spirit led me to James 3:13-18 ESV; “Who is wise and understanding…?

By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast… This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Selfish ambition is the opposite of lowliness of life and leads to conflict, division and the collapse of so many works of God.

THE PROMISE

From the time sin entered the world the Lord has been looking for (Isa. 66:2 ESV) for someone who understands that the way to share in his greatness is through lowliness. Flashes of this vision appear in the life of king David who testified, “your gentleness made me greatPs. 7:18 ESV2)See Biblical References 2 Sam 22:36 ESV cf..

But by adultery, murder and self-exaltation he failed to sustain this testimony (2 Sam 11; 24 ESV).

There is in the Old Testament, if we read it closely, a prophetic word of the coming of someone whose sheer lowliness will lead into unlimited greatness. In Isaiah, the Lord God and a man share the exalted status of being “high and lifted up”.  This expression is used three times in the book.

First in the vision of the glory of “the Lord sitting upon a throne,high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple(Isa. 6:1 ESV), the second time concerns the coming Servant of the Lord, “that shall be high and lifted up(Isa. 52:13 ESV) and finally a promise that God’s abiding glory will be shared with the lowly, “thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity…:I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.(Isa. 57:15 ESV).

What seems to have escaped the readers of the Old Testament was that Isaiah’s coming Servant of the Lord would become exalted like God through being pierced, crushed, rejected and put to death in our place (Isa. 52:14 ESV ff.).

It’s all there in the text but that humiliation is the route to exaltation was too much for the proud human spirit to accept.  Only after Jesus had died and been raised could sinners take it into their proud hearts that the lofty Lord on his eternal throne and the humble Jesus of Nazareth are one in glory3)See Biblical References John 12:39-41 ESV cf. Luke 1:51 ESV.

THE REALISATION: INCARNATION

Only Jesus could say, without fear of contradiction, vs.28Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. vs.29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. vs.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”(Matt 11:28-30 ESV).

Only Jesus could say this for he alone is lowly in his deepest being. As God in the flesh Christ is all humility.

Let me use an example.

If you want to know what people think of themselves watch who they talk to.

I remember various occasions when it became painfully obvious that certain folk had no time to talk with me because they had “more important” folk to converse with.

Who did Jesus chat with?

Fishermen, tax collectors, sick and bereaved folk, Samaritans, prostitutes and commoners, as well as Pharisees, centurions and others (Mark 12:37 ESV).

When Adam and Eve compared themselves to God in Eden they fell, but when the devil provoked Christ to do a miracle, become ruler of the world, put himself on public display by throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple his efforts were fruitless (Luke 4:1-13 ESV) because the Son’s sole concern was that the manifestation of the glory of his Father4)See Biblical References John 7:18 ESV; John 8:50, 54 ESV.

Jesus’ lowly mindedness meant the whole space of his thought life was filled with no other greatness than that of the Father (John 14:28 ESV).

For this humble mindedness to be perfected in his humanity however5)See Biblical References Heb 2:10 ESV; Heb 5:9 ESV; Heb 7:28 ESV Jesus had to die.

he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross(Phil 2:8 ESV). To proud minds there is nothing honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or worthy of praise (Phil 4:8 ESV) in the cross.

But the revelation of the mystery of the cross is not found in our minds but in what is going on in the mind of the crucified Christ.

His cry of dereliction, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mark 15:34 ESV) is a quote from the first verse Psalm 22, which goes on to describe the tormented thoughts of the afflicted person. “I am a worm and not a man(Ps 22:6 ESV).

The crucified Jesus entered into the condition of those stubborn unrepentant wretches, to quote both Old and New Testaments, “whose worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” under the everlasting wrath of God6)See Biblical References Isa 66:24 ESV; Mark 9:48 ESV cf. Ex 16:20 ESV; Job 25:6 ESV.

In his limitless humility as our sacrifice Jesus was plunged into the bottomless pit. Against the cynicism of natural human expectations there is no way that death could be the end for Jesus.

In God lowliness cannot be separated from elevation, vs.9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, vs.10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, vs.11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(Phil 2:9-11 ESV).

It is the glory of the Father (Rom 6:4 ESV) to exalt the humanity of his Son into equal place with himself far above all other titles, positions and powers. The revelation of the wisdom of God in the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus should spell the end of all our comparisons and competitions.

APPLICATION AND CONCLUSION

Which is why leading into his great Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:5-11 ESV Paul exhorts us to have “lowliness of mind(Phil 2:3 KJV).  

To be genuinely low-minded is to share in the utter unselfishness of the cross.

It is therefore a scandal when you go to a pastors’ gathering and one of the first questions asked is, “how big is yours? (ie. Church)” Comparisons of the size of congregations, of theological knowledge, spiritual giftedness, the richness of worship and so on a denial that, “Christ is all, and in all(Col 3:11 ESV).

It’s understandable that the disciples were arguing over “which of them was the greatest7)See Biblical References Luke 9:46 ESV; Luke 22:24 ESV before the cross shocked them into repentance and brought down their lofty opinions (Luke 1:51 ESV); but why do we, this side of the death and resurrection of Jesus, “boast in men(1 Cor 3:21 ESV)?

Paul knew the way to stop such boasting was to lift up the limitless vision of our inheritance in Christ; vs.21For all things are yours, vs.22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, vs.23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.(1 Cor 3:21-23 ESV).

Are you ever troubled by feelings, as I used to be, that you should be more mature at this stage of your Christian life?

Or when you think of the achievements of other believers do you have a sense that you are missing out on something spiritually?

What really need is the lowliness of mind that will stop you making such comparisons because lowliness of mind cuts off spiritual depressions and arrogance’s at their root.

I am afraid that so much of current Christian thinking is all back to front.

The greater the vision the deeper the humility. Moses, to quote Scripture, “was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth(Num 12:3 ESV), because he had such a grand vision of God.

Because John the Baptist understood the stature of the Lord he pronounced, “He must increase, but I must decrease.””8)See Biblical References John 3:30 ESV cf. John 1:35 ESV ff.

In the minds of the genuinely lowly there is no room for any other greatness other than that of Jesus.  George Whitefield, who many consider the greatest ever preacher in English, cried out at the height of his fame, “Let the name of Whitefield perish, but Christ be glorified….

Let my name die everywhere, let even my friends forget me, if by that means the cause of the blessed Jesus may be promoted.”

This is not false humility on the part of so-called “God’s generals”; the power of the cross really can reorder the human mind 9)See Biblical References Rom 12:1-2 ESV; Phil 2:5 ESV.

Those who know this power never have to protect their own sense of self-worth by self-promotion.

Lowliness is the foundation for a vision of the glorious riches in Christ. Lowliness will always attract the delighting presence of the Father and the Spirit because in it they always see Jesus (cf. Isa 66:2 ESV).

Lowliness of mind will release huge material and human resources for God’s kingdom through the Church because no humble person can ever be covetous.

How then do we come to grow in and delight in lowliness?

Lowliness is not a virtue we try and cultivate; this would be a recipe for depression or pride, lowliness is a person whose life we are called to share, lowliness is Jesus.

As Jesus was crushed by God’s mercy for us, we must be crushed for the sake of others; for the Lord creates lowliness of mind (cf. 1 Cor 2:16 ESV) by a sense of failure, rejection, brokenness, sheer inability and being crushed10)See Biblical References Isa 53:5, 10 ESV; 2 Cor 1:8 ESV.

Only the power of the cross can destroy the arrogance that has been normalised in the life of the Church. I was visiting a website of some pastors I know the other day and was appalled at how they described themselves as passionate, visionary, remarkable and amazing.

But Paul says; “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world(Gal 6:14 ESV cf.)11)See Biblical References Gal 2:20 ESV; Gal 5:24 ESV.

I have a sense that we need to respond to what the Lord is saying in two ways. Firstly, to ask his forgiveness wherever we have compared ourselves to others, in any way.

Secondly, that we confess on behalf of the Church that where she high-mindedly testifies, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” in reality she is “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked(Rev 3:17 ESV)

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 30. Jan, 2018 Location: Zion Fellowship

Author: Dr. John Yates

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References   [ + ]

1. See Biblical References cf. Rom 1:24, 26, 28 ESV
2. See Biblical References 2 Sam 22:36 ESV cf.
3. See Biblical References John 12:39-41 ESV cf. Luke 1:51 ESV
4. See Biblical References John 7:18 ESV; John 8:50, 54 ESV
5. See Biblical References Heb 2:10 ESV; Heb 5:9 ESV; Heb 7:28 ESV
6. See Biblical References Isa 66:24 ESV; Mark 9:48 ESV cf. Ex 16:20 ESV; Job 25:6 ESV
7. See Biblical References Luke 9:46 ESV; Luke 22:24 ESV
8. See Biblical References John 3:30 ESV cf. John 1:35 ESV ff
9. See Biblical References Rom 12:1-2 ESV; Phil 2:5 ESV
10. See Biblical References Isa 53:5, 10 ESV; 2 Cor 1:8 ESV
11. See Biblical References Gal 2:20 ESV; Gal 5:24 ESV