Humility


But he said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefor I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12: 9

We tend to like strength. It is something that is applauded, held up for praise, and sought after by most of us. It is natural to equate dominance and power to authority, and so, we put those who take charge and exert their superiority over others into positions of leadership without much in the way of question or challenge. Yet, we often fight against the forms that this power takes as it is put to use and exhibited, for the more authoritarian the person, the less that individual is likely to function in a manner that could be deemed as godly or Christ-like. The question, “Why is that so?” leads to consideration of sources and forms of real power and authentic leadership in our world.

Christ’s words for Paul give us some guidance in this question. Paul was remarkably well educated and trained, and he had then been instructed in all things that concerned knowing God and the fulfillment of that knowledge that had been established by and in Christ. Yet, all of this wisdom, position, and experience were of no use at all without God’s grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit residing within Paul. So, everything that Paul said, wrote, and demonstrated by the way that he lived was the direct result of Christ’s redeeming grace, sacrificial love, and guiding presence. All of Paul’s authority to speak to others on behalf of God’s truth and for the sake of righteousness came about because of his submission to Christ; so, it was the outworking of Christ’s strength and the authority to rule over the world that the Father had granted to Him.

We can evaluate our world from this same perspective. Where do we see submission to Christ, and how is that form of spiritual humility expressed by people in positions of power and authority? These are important questions to ask, and this characteristic of boasting only in personal weakness is one to seek after in people who are entrusted with leadership in all aspects of life in our world. Reality informs us that there are no perfect people in our midst, and no leader will ever be fully and absolutely submitted to Christ in this life. Yet, we can seek after those that come close and that, like Paul, are striving to set aside their personal power in order to more fully embrace and live out the Spirit’s leading and God’s will in their thoughts, words, and actions. Paul proved himself worthy to be followed because of his weakness in Christ. Are we each likewise seeking to empty ourselves of strength in order to become weak in this same manner, and do we seek to place people into positions of authority because they, too, are following Paul’s model of strength that comes solely from Christ?    

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Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.

Hebrews 13: 9

For people in the early days of the church, the topic of food, the way that it was handled and prepared, and even the manner in which it was eaten was important. If they came from a Jewish background, as many in the church did, then they had always lived under the guidance and the compulsion of the Law of Moses. If they came to Christ after living as a part of the gentile world, they had not been handling foods and selecting them based upon those standards and principles, and this was a mark of differentiation and thus one of division between the Jews and the gentiles. Yet, at the center of following Christ is unity in the Spirit, and thus, unity in the way that life is lived and the conduct of our days. Things that divide or that separate Christ’s people from each other are to be considered carefully and with great suspicion.

The use of foods as an example of this sort of thing was truly pertinent to the days at hand when Hebrews was written. Today there might be other issues and concerns that strike more closely to the heart of unity or rather that enter into heart of the division or separation of people who follow Christ. I am not speaking about core and foundational teachings such as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the existence of heaven and hell, or Jesus’ death and resurrection. Still, there are many issues that we can and do allow to disrupt the fellowship of people of faith in Christ. These teachings or ways of thinking are diverse in that they can force people to seek out divergent paths in our journeys as Christians, and they are strange in that when they are made important or even central to a specific group of people they divide us in ways that are unnatural to God and that are outside of God’s desire and intent to bring all of His people together in the unity of the Spirit and in the expression and proclamation of Christ in our world.

In all of life, we need grace. This is the Godly quality that is poured over each of us as we seek to enter into a relationship with God through Christ. We are granted a form of grace that brings about acceptance when we deserve rejection, that embraces us in love as we have earned animosity and separation, that proclaims us righteous despite the sinful nature of much that we think, say, and do. This is the grace that was made perfect and complete by Jesus on His cross of torture and pain and that was given full birth with Christ’s resurrection and victorious rule over all of creation. Now, it is this same grace that provides us with the wisdom, understanding, and love that is required for us to enter into relationships with other followers of Christ without regard for the issues and the concerns that might otherwise keep us distant and separated from each other. Christ’s grace gives His people the strength that we need in order to live outside of the worldly constraints that build barriers between people as grace becomes a gift that we can grant to one another in the name of the one who gave it to us, Jesus Christ.  

In Thee, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be ashamed; in Thy righteousness deliver me.

Psalm 31: 1

If only I could say with honesty that there is nothing that I have done in my life that I am or that I should be ashamed of; however, truth makes a lie of any such notion. There are too many times when my courage has failed to overcome and when my integrity has collapsed, and there are also a long list of situations where my arrogance and pride have concealed from my view the wisdom that God makes so freely available to all who will listen and obey. Yet, Christ has gone before me to the Father and pleads my case before the throne of God; thus, my sins are washed away, and I am told to hold my head high and to walk through life knowing that I am loved, protected, and cared for by God. 

The Lord has also given me His Spirit to guide me into the truths of His Word and by His direct interaction with me into a way of living that can become more and more infused with God’s righteousness. As I realize that I have nothing to offer other than my willingness to seek, listen, and follow, Christ takes away the prideful aspects of my being, and He replaces them with a humble heart for serving His will. His righteousness overcomes my failings, and His holiness becomes ever more my desire.

The refuge that the Lord provides is a safe place where I can stop and still the pace of my days. It is a shelter from all of the chaos and the turmoil that swirl about in our world. Refuge means prayer, and it means quiet meditation; it can also be found in screaming at the top of my lungs to God in order to get the true feelings of the moment out and fully expressed. The Lord wants us to turn toward Him and away from our own strength; also, He wants us to draw upon His sources of truth, wisdom, and direction when we are trying to comprehend life’s daily challenges. When I turn toward the Lord, He covers me with His righteousness, and Christ gives my heart the sort of peace that allows me to see the Godly path to follow as I travel through my day. 

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51: 17

There ae many things that we can give to God. Among them are our money, time, skills and talents, and our lives in service to God’s kingdom. These are all useful, and they are appreciated by the people who are supported through the receipt of them. Yet, despite the value and even the essential nature of all of these gifts to the work of the ministry of Christ, there is one gift, a singular sacrifice, that God values above and beyond all others, and this is the surrender of our hearts to Him. In fact, if we have not truly given our heart to God, all of the rest of our sacrifices and gifts are of a far lesser value to the kingdom than when these signs of commitment are placed before God because of the focus and orientation of the heart.

When David wrote about a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart, he was not necessarily talking about a person who has been crushed and all but destroyed by the various forces of life that can come against us. David is referencing to the way that we all must face the reality of our innately deceitful hearts and our naturally stubborn spirits. These are the aspects of the way that most people are born into this world that Christ works to transform so that we can fully embrace our calling as His follower. These areas of pride and of self-orientation are aspects of our original selves that require the refining touch and the reshaping work that Christ gives to each of us so that we are prepared to offer our lives as this wholly acceptable form of sacrifice.

It is this gift of ourselves in total that delights the Lord. He finds each of us, with the resources that we possess and the skills and talents that we have available to use, to be a delightful offering to Him. He is not concerned about the size of the gift or about the quality and the nature of the work that is done for His kingdom. God cares about the depth of our commitment to Him, and He desires for us to be fully engaged in our relationship with Him. Christ takes the brokenness of spirit that we bring to Him, and He lifts us up and sets us on our feet with a clarity of purpose that shows to us the Lord’s path for today. Even when our past has been one that has many wrong turns and missteps in it, Christ pours out grace upon our heads, and He sends us into the world to serve God’s will in ways that are valuable and useful for the sake of the kingdom of God.  

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Galatians 6: 1

The thoughts contained here are very broad on the one hand, and they are rather exclusive or limited on the other. When he says, “If anyone” and “any transgression,” Paul is aiming at a wide spread and highly diverse target. Within the family of faith, many people will get caught up in transgressions at some time or other. We all sin and do truly fall short of the glory of our calling in Christ. Much of the time we catch ourselves, or perhaps stated more accurately, the Holy Spirit within prompts us to recognize the wrong that we are perpetrating against Christ and His holy church through our thoughts, words, and actions. Then repentance, often self-confession, and working on restoration of relationships that have been harmed or damaged is the course of action that we follow. Some of the time, this is a big process, but most of the time, it is something that just happens in the general living out of our days.

However, there are other times when the sin in our lives can be either too great or too subtle to be handled on our own. These situations can be very challenging for others in the body of Christ as we are left with a difficult task that involves discernment and that can lead to confrontation, which is almost never something that we enjoy doing. Yet, God does call upon us to be honest and direct with each other, and we are to engage with people in the area of the sin that we observe in their lives. Any and all of this sort of action requires that we be prayerful in discerning the truth of the situation and also in our approach to a brother or a sister who we believe to be engaging in such sinful living. This is all to be done in a spirit of restoration and with Christ’s grace setting the tone and the nature of our approach to the person with whom we are engaging. The message that we deliver should be one of love, care, and concern for the person and for their relationship with Christ and with His body.

All of this is to be done with a spirit of gentleness. This means that we are careful to remain non-judgmental in the process of calling out that which the Spirit has revealed and that God’s Word has described as sin in the person’s conduct of life. We need to be careful in all of this to keep our own egos under control and to eliminate the contemplation of owning the outcome of these conversations. Christ is the one who is acting in these situations, and we are doing what we are called to do by Him as brought forth by the Spirit and in His Word. This is where Paul warns us to be careful, for it is easy to become angry, frustrated, or judgmental during the process of engaging with someone regarding sin in their life. Thus, there is the restrictive concept expressed in the text whereby Paul instructs us to do any of this sort of thing with the guidance of the Spirit. So, when we are told that “those who are spiritual” should be the ones who confront sin in the body, I think that Paul is saying that any of us in Christ can do this, but that each and every instance of such engagement needs to be done with prayer and with the guidance of the Spirit of Christ. 

He has told you, O man, what it is and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6: 8

God is a clear communicator, and He makes it rather easy to understand the way of living that He desires for His children to follow. We are to be people who live in a just and a righteous manner without demanding justice for ourselves. We are to be people who show kindness, which is often called mercy, to everyone without the expectation or the prerequirement that they will be merciful to us. This is the nature of God, for He grants the total grace of His loving forgiveness to everyone who will accept it. He does this even knowing that from God’s perspective, we are all antagonistic and hostile to His will, for we are all, in our natural states, unjust and merciless.

God’s Spirit teaches, counsels, guides, and directs us toward decisions and responses to other’s actions that will reflect His concept of what is just and how to grant mercy. Justice and kindness are key threads in the cloth of life that God has woven and that He has wrapped around every one of His children. As we seek to live in the center of our relationship with Christ, His Spirit infuses our hearts with His essential truths and with the values and the ethics that spring forth from them. Christ calls upon us to become people who value the just treatment of everyone at a very high level; so, we need to seek to interact with others in a way that reflects the grace and the mercy that Christ has shown to us.

When we actually live in this manner it means that we are required to place ourselves and our concepts of our own importance on a level that is far beneath that of God’s. Then we can become humble students of the Master, and we are more readily able to stay humble through everything that comes our way. I will not have all of the answers, but Christ does. I won’t always respond well to what others do and say, yet God has already forgiven my failure and guides me into restoration of the relationships that have been harmed. When I see my futility and powerlessness in the face of oppression and hatred in my world, the Lord simply says for me to walk with Him, and He will provide the insight and the wisdom that I require to meet the needs of the victimized and the battered. As I am weak and lacking in knowledge and understanding, Christ is with me to provide everything that I need to be bold, courageous, and loving throughout the day. 

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

1 Timothy 6: 6

There is a moment or so in this letter during which Paul seems to be particularly harsh on people who are wealthy. For he will very shortly make the often misquoted statement saying, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” He also expends some ink on the fact that having wealth does not equate to contentment in this life. Yet, money, the possession or the lack of it, and even the processes that are involved in earning it are not really what the Apostle is concerned about. He cares greatly about the state of his reader’s souls and the condition of their hearts. Everything else is secondary, and all of the rest of it falls into order behind the primary issues of orientation, focus, and the application of the skills and energy that we have been given by God.

According to Paul, if we wish to be truly wealthy in this world, we need to seek after the sorts of riches that are eternal in nature. None of these eternal riches involve gold, silver, bank accounts, or investment portfolios. Yet, the lasting may be influenced by the manner in which we hold and use those perishable forms of wealth. Everything is influenced by perspective, and the net result of what we do is brought about by virtue of the motivation for our actions. Gain for the sake of personal glory, notoriety, or power is never going to bring about satisfaction for the soul. This worldly form of achievement will always fall away at some point along the journey of life. True contentment is found in giving ourselves fully to Christ. That is, we find the sort of heart and soul deep satisfaction in our lives most readily when we lay down our personal goals, wishes, and desires before Christ and yield all of our being to following Him and to service to God’s kingdom as He calls upon us to give it.

So, as we do this, the nothingness that we brought with us into this life is made into the greatest of riches imaginable. The emptiness of this world is enriched with the presence of the glory of heaven, and the vast storehouse of God’s bounty is opened up for us to use in bringing the love and the care of the Eternal Father into direct contact with the impoverished people of this world. It is in serving the needy that we find the true contentment that comes from walking in close proximity to God’s heartbeat for humanity. Those needs might be physical, financial, or spiritual in nature. In fact, they often include several elements of what it means to survive and to thrive in life; yet, all of these needs are things that Christ can deal with through the labor of our hands and the care of our hearts for others. Wealth is obtained through service, and contentment is found through serving Christ. The form of riches that does go with us beyond this world is granted to us by the Lord as we enter into His calling for the use of all that He has granted to us by way of resources, talents, and gifts.    

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