Humility


 

 

When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.

1 Corinthians 4: 12

 

We might dream or wish to live in a civil world where people respect others without regard for what we believe, who we are, or how we view governance or other like issues. Yet, we know that this is not true. The hyper-aware nature of our times makes it hard to ignore issues; so, it also makes sorting out the people that we meet from the positions that they hold a lot more challenging. The world where we live is one wherein people are frequently defined and catalogued by our political, religious, and cultural point of view. We use broad brush strokes such as liberal or conservative, believer or non-believer, nationalist, evangelical, Muslim, socialist, and many others as if those terms fully fleshed out the definition of who a person is and of what worth they might be. Nothing of this sort is truly valid when it comes to the way that we view others or when we determine how we should respond to the world where we dwell.

 

We might think that these issues and concerns are the result of the way that our world has evolved for our fast paced, electronic communication oriented environment is one in which it is hard to ignore what is happening around the world and who is involved in making these things occur. Yet, Paul is talking about some of the same sorts of things as they were current events in his times, too. The nature of people as we live out our brokenness and our sinfulness has not changed much over time. We are hurtful, arrogant, and prideful now just as we were long ago. We seek to make little of others in order to contrast our personal greatness to them, and we don’t much care how much damage we might do to others while engaging in these acts. Far too often labels are used as a replacement for engaging in relationship building, for these wide-reaching descriptors make it far easier for us to sift out and sort people into those that we consider to be acceptable and worthy of knowing and those that we do not value enough to associate with. All of these thoughts, actions, and attitudes cause harm and deny the reconciling work of Christ through us and in the lives of others.

Christ’s reconciling

In fact, we will encounter people with whom we differ on many topics and in many other ways. This is the beautiful reality of the great diversity that God has designed into humanity. We are intended to live in a manner that values these differences and that allows for the expression of our various points of view and perspectives so that, in the end, a fully-formed and balanced perspective is brought to bear upon the concept of living in a loving and considerate manner as we travel through life. This brings me to the partial verse above. I think that Paul is granting us some wise instruction for how we can live in this world as true disciples of Christ. As in all things, our Lord is the example for us to look to and to model ourselves after in our responses to the world. It is inevitable that we will be spoken negatively about and treated unfairly or unjustly by others because of our beliefs and due to the way that those beliefs demand that we think, speak, and act. We may even encounter violence or other severe forms of persecution as a result of standing firmly for what is right in God’s eyes. However, even in these extreme situations, we are still to return loving blessings in exchange for angry and hurtful words, we are to hold onto Christ in all situations by and through His strength and power, and we are to respond to all forms of attack with the truth of the Gospel as we hold Jesus Christ up as our rock, shield, and fortress while praying for the salvation of the souls of those who are seeking to do harm to us.

 

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Then Jesus said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

Matthew 26: 38

 

There is pain, and there is anguish. Sometimes they collide with each other in a way that can completely overwhelm even the strongest person’s ability to hang in there and to keep going. This is where Jesus was on that night in a garden of prayerful anticipation of all that He was going to endure for my soul’s sake. For He was fully aware of how much the sacrifice that He was about to make would cost Him, and in preparation for that time of exquisite torture, Christ sought to connect with His closest friends. He asked them to join with Him in a time of prayerfully seeking the comfort and the encouragement of the Father.

 

Jesus continues to ask us to do this same thing. He wants us to gather near to Him, to take a seat on a humble rock, and to commit all of our attention and the focus of our hearts to speaking with the Father and to listening to His response. This seems like such a simple request; yet, it can become one of the hardest things that we will ever attempt to do. For myself, I am not very good at quiet reflection, and I am really poor at the sort of humility that Jesus asks of me. Christ ask me to take on a form of attitude that considers the hard stone seat of His designated rock as if it were a leather recliner. That attitude requires me to take delight in the simple fact that Christ wants to include me in this most intimate of times.

 

There is no question in my mind that this life is saturated with the tears of hard times. We all experience physical hardships, emotional turmoil, and spiritual struggles, and they often seem to conspire together to come at us from all sides at once. Jesus experienced all of this Himself, and He knows and goes through every harsh and painful moment of our lives with us. Still, He speaks to us with the same request on His lips as He uttered on that singular night so long ago. Jesus asks us to come and to join Him in keeping a watchful eye and a listening heart focused on the comfort and on the answers that the Father will give to us. My Lord, Jesus, is with me for every moment and in every situation that will come to me in this life, and in this reality my soul finds its rest.

 

For he himself is our peace, he has made us both one and has broken down in the flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

Ephesians 2: 14

 

It seems that I have consulted with myself and granted permission to me to stretch the application of this verse some in order to make a point. Additionally, I am not sorry for my actions. This verse is part of a much longer sentence that runs across several of our verse divisions, and the point involved is a discussion about the way that Christ’s sacrifice has eliminated the Jew and Gentile divisions and separations that existed in his day and that were enforced in the Law. This point had a much broader application than just the way that people of different religious beliefs would live, for it also engaged with issues of race, nationality, gender, and societal status. I believe that God’s desired outcome in giving us the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, is far more inclusive regarding the issues that divide people than just religion or any of the other concerns and causes that might have been prevalent in the time when Paul wrote his letter to the church.

 

We live in a world today that is far more divided than it has been at any other time in history. We also operate in a manner that is guaranteed to continue existing divisions and to promote even greater ones as we go along our way. The communication tools that we have at our disposal are powerful entrenching tools when it comes to constructing these canyon-like separations, and we have fabricated rules for using these means of communication that allow for words, comments, and commentary that would have been largely unacceptable in the past to be viewed as normative today. It seems that no one holds anyone else to a standard of behavior when it comes to what is said and that none of us are willing to impose restraint upon ourselves, either. We have entered into a time when our political discourse is neither civil nor is its objective really to bring us to a place where reasoned thinking leads to mutually satisfactory processes and decisions.

 

So, here is a radical proposal. It would seem that Paul stated a concept for healthy human interaction that was one that God threw out to us a very long time ago. That is, in Christ we have our answer to all that separates and divides us. Through His blood we are all brought together before the Great High King, and it is His law of love, grace, justice, and redemption that becomes our new, final, and permanent rule of law that considers all and that prevails in everything. In this kingdom of God’s, if it does not speak Christ, I do not say it, and if my words do not seek to create understanding and unity, I rethink and restate them until they accomplish this goal as a higher purpose than just driving home my point. When I am gathered around Christ’s eucharistic table in company with those who may see an issue differently than I do, our goal is no longer winning the debate; instead, it becomes sharing in the Lord’s feast of unity that is formed around His Gospel. Even when I do not share this faith with the person that I am engaged with, my objective in all matters should be to demonstrate Christ in what I think, say, and do. Divisions are made my people, they are fueled by Satanic fire, and they are always contrary to God’s will and outside of His desire for the way that His people would live in our world.

 

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8: 16, 17

 

People like tangible things. We want to be able to see, touch, smell, and taste everything that we encounter, and I must admit that I am not different from this. I like for my world to be comprised of things, situations, and experiences that are understandable by virtue of being seen, having dimensions that I can grasp, being formed of substantive material, and admittedly, being mostly under my control. One of the truly challenging aspects of the life that Christ calls upon His people to live is that it defies much of this description as it is a life that is formed and established in the spirit, is guided and informed by Christ’s Spirit, and it operates mostly in the realm of the spiritual.

 

Yet, we are not left with nothing solid or tangible to rely upon as we consider what it means to live out our lives as followers of Christ. We are provided with real evidence such as that which would be presented in the most exacting of courts of law, and this evidentiary material is placed before us to examine at the most intimate and personal of levels of our hearts and minds as it is laid open for our spirits to search and to interrogate. In Christ we are different people, and this occurs from the inside of our hearts and is then expressed by our inner selves and by our outward actions. We are made alive in spirit and we are given a living and vital understanding of righteousness that flows directly from the Spirit and is then informed and shaped by the Spirit’s revelation of the deeper truths contained within God’s Word.

 

In obedient following of Christ, our lives take on a form and are shaped by the way that Christ lived as well. He entered into the pain, grief, and desperation that fills our world, and He brought healing for these suffering souls by virtue of granting those who believe in Him a new reality that exists within the presence of God and that is lived out daily in His kingdom as full heirs and as chosen ones who are adopted into a new form of life that is experienced here and now and onward into eternity. This new life is not without its pain and suffering, for it is lived out in the shadow of the cross, and it is one wherein sacrifice and service to others are its guiding principles. However, in suffering along with others and for the sake of granting to them the hope, justice, and dignity that God desires to see conferred upon all people, we enter into the glory that God poured out on His Son, and we bring true glory to the name of Christ, the Redeemer of the world.

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,

but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Habakkuk 2: 4

 

Soufflés are interesting baked items. When they are perfectly done, they stand tall and have a delicious lightness in the experience of their taste. However, they seldom stay tall for long, and there is really not all that much substance present when you cut into them, for they are mostly filled with hot air that rapidly dissipates when its inner soul is exposed. Now, a well prepared soufflé is still tasty and worth eating even after it falls, but a puffed up person is another matter entirely. In this passage, Habakkuk is discussing the king of Babylon in contrast to people who follow God. Yet, the reality of what he says is still with us today. I would guess that almost all of us have known people whose greatest promoters are themselves and who are continually working to let others know how great their ideas are and how important they are when it comes to things that matter.

 

The soul, our internal spiritual self, requires care and nurture. It does not grow strong and wise out of the resources that we can give to it alone. We all need the input and the influence of God in order for our souls to become substantial and be filled with a knowledge of the Lord that leads us into living a life that is oriented toward eternity. This sort of depth cannot be founded on ourselves and is not formed up out of the content of our hearts and minds alone. God takes what we have been given as our birthright and He works within us to shape and to mold it so that we begin to function in a manner that more closely resembles Christ. The Spirit reveals deep truths to us as we seek after them, and this revelation provides the substance of Godly truth to our souls that we can rely upon in making decisions and in setting the course for our days.

 

It is in this seeking after the Lord and His wisdom that people who truly live out of their faith in God differ from others. This is what made that difference between Babylon’s king and God’s people in Habakkuk’s times. The substance of a soul that is founded upon God’s truth and that conducts the affairs of life based upon the guidance of God’s Word stands tall but never proud in our world.   In stark contrast, the arrogance of people who are standing proudly before the world as they declare themselves to be great and whose glory is based upon the shallow accomplishments of human endeavor does not contain the sort of eternal basis and strength of character to withstand the test of righteous application in our world. These people do not meet God’s standards for love, care, justice, and living out His truth, and their glory will last for only a moment and then it will follow after the king of Babylon as it is blown away into oblivion as the dust that is its true identity and worth.

Wondrously show your steadfast love,

O Savior of those who seek refuge

from their adversaries at your right hand.

Psalm 17: 7

 

There are enemies at the gate, and enemies at the door to our houses. There are enemies all around us in this world and even beyond its bounds. This is one of those hard aspects of real life, and it is the sort of thing that we do not always fully appreciate, either. Although there may be a number of these life foes that we can see and who concern us in tangible and even obvious ways, there are myriads more of them that are outside of the visible and beyond the readily tangible. Yet, even with their existence being in the realm of spirit and much of their negative work being accomplished in the area of spiritual life, they are real, and their impact upon people is powerful and significant. The impact that they have on God’s people may be far greater than we realize; yet, their true power is minimized by the presence of Christ, and because of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross, they have no lasting authority over this world or the one beyond.

 

When these foes turn their angry attention to us, we can look to our Lord for protection, for guidance, and for healing from the wounds that they inflict upon us. Christ goes with us into life, and He provides us with His protection and guidance as we journey forth. There is no better preparation for the adventure that is life than prayer and meditation upon God’s Word, and we have no greater source of strength and encouragement for the tasks that we face than that which comes from Christ and through His Spirit. This world is a hard place to dwell, and it is even a harder one in which to reside as a true and faithful follower of Christ. So, seeking after the Lord’s will and wisdom in all that we think, do, and say is of vital importance. When we enter into all of life with Christ as our guide and as our protector, we have gained an unbeatable advantage over these spiritual enemies and over the human ones that operate under their influence.

 

The way that Christ cares for His people is truly wonderous, and it is miraculous as well. There is nothing else in our experience that compares to the love that is poured out upon people by God. There is also no power in our world that is beyond or above that which is used by Christ to save us from Satan and from his vast array of spiritual forces. In Christ we find salvation for our souls, and through His presence in us and with us throughout the balance of our days, we know protection and saving grace and mercy for all that will attack us along the way. Lord, let us turn to You for wisdom and for guidance as we chart our course today. Also, grant us grace for our missteps, mercy for our times of distress, humility of spirit in order to give all glory to You, and cover us in the protection of Your blood, Christ, as we cling to the wonderous and eternal salvation of Your cross.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4: 1-3

 

People will be people. This common expression contains a lot of painful truth, for even on our good days, we humans are a challenging and a difficult collection of creatures. We often do things that cause friction to arise among us, and we too frequently seem to focus on the negativity of our interactions and relationships rather than spending our time gazing upon the extraordinary beauty and great wonder that God has given to each of us as His hands shaped us. Even in the body of faith in Christ, we are given to a form of individuality that leads to separation and eventually that distance brings about the isolation that is one of Satan’s greatest weapons against God’s people. Paul has seen all of this, and he understood the dangers that came from going through life on our own, and he also knew the importance of surrendering self to Christ and to each other in the process of living out God’s will for our lives.

 

At the center of the Apostle’s statement here are the powerful words humility and gentleness. These are simple words that convey very large concepts. Humility is perhaps the most striking singular descriptor that one can apply to Jesus. He was God in human form, King and Messiah come; yet, He was also simple, caring, observant of the lowliest of people, and always submissive to the will of the Father. Jesus was able to surrender all comfort, relinquish every ounce of pride, and grant worth and great dignity to people who were unlovely and without value in our earthly system of evaluating people’s place and position. Jesus walked this earth in a humble manner, but even more than that, He lived out His days as humility’s definition. In addition, Jesus’ humility found expression in the gentleness of His touch. He sought to bring about restoration of relationship with God by the way that He engaged with others. His gentleness was expressed even in contentious and difficult situations as Jesus did and said everything with redemption as the objective and healing as the desired outcome.

 

The manner of walking through life that Jesus employed and the humble and gentle way that He went about it are, frankly, beyond the capacity and the capability of almost all people. We certainly don’t function like this in our natural state of being. Yet, we are called by Christ to be like Him in all ways; so, this must include the God-given characteristics of humility and gentleness. These are gifts that Christ will give to us as we seek after them. They come to us as we set aside our own desires and yield to His Spirit. They also grow within us as we seek out others and engage with them in a manner that sets aside our wishes, wants, and preconceived ideas in order to enter into the deep places of their hearts and minds and to walk through the day in observant understanding of who they are and what is important to them. This sort of approach to life does make us vulnerable to hurt and to disappointment, but it also expands our understanding of people and also that of our Lord. As Paul states, humility and gentleness are qualities that lead us into the deep love that Christ has for all people, and they operate together with love as the glue that bonds us together with the sort of strength that stands up to all that the forces of this world can hurl our way.

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