Monday, May 9, 2011

Humility - the Lost Christian Virtue?

Long ago, back in the days when even liberals got their ethical framework from the Bible, we understood that the great Christian virtue, the central element of Christian character, was humility. Jesus' washing the disciples' feet in John 13 was the great example, and Philippians 2. 1-11 held a great place in personal ethics. The relevant section of that chapter reads:

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (ESV)

That is humility. Jesus, though Lord of all, made himself a slave for us. He came to serve us, and he still serves us. So we, as Christians, must do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit (Philippians 2:3, NKJV). Rather our "ambition" must be for the glory of Christ, not to do some great thing.

The story of King David is not a story about a man who was regarded as "not king material" by his father (as if any father who was not already a king or their heir to a throne should have the conceit to think that his son would be king) and his family, but the account of a humble man to whom the crown came unsought. David might have said with higher meaning what Dr. Gill said when he was awarded the Edinburgh degree of Doctor of Divinity: "I never bought it, I never sought it, and I never thought it." So it is with any honours or worldly success the Christian may achieve. The Christian has no self-esteem because he does not think of himself at all. He lives to the glory of Christ, and for the good of others. David was a great king because he realised that he was made King for the glory of God and the good of Israel, not for his own glory. Preaching through the life of King David, I have been struck by the fact that, from the anointing in Bethlehem to his enthronement in Jerusalem, he never takes action to seize the throne. He doesn't even take the initiative to fill the throne when it is emptied by the death of Saul. David had many occasions when he could have seized the throne, but he never did, even though he had the promise of God that he would be king. It seems that the man had no ambition at all to be King. Far from the ambitious go-getter of bad sermons, David was a humble man whose ambition was to glorify God and to serve Israel in whatever way God chose for him! It is as if he says at every turn, "God has said that I shall be King. If that is what God wants, then let God bring me to the throne in his own good time. If the people want me to lead them, I shall lead them and protect them, for they are God's people. If I am to be king, then I shall be the very best King that I can be, but I shall never make myself king." He is the very reverse of Napoleon, who took the crown and placed it on his own head!

The height of David's ambition is service to others, first of all to God, but then to his neighbours, even the rebellious and increasingly unhinged King Saul, who was a man who did glorify himself. In 1 Samuel 15.12 we are told that "Saul came to Carmel, and behold he set up a monument for himself." There I see the whole key to Saul's downfall - "Behold, he set up a monument for himself." But David wants to be the best army officer he can be for Saul! He loved Saul, and wanted to help him. Even in the episode with Goliath, David was not moved by the promise of the princess or freedom from taxes, but by his concern for the glory of God. For David life was all about the glory of God and the good of Israel, "And David knew that the LORD had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel."

And in all this David is a type of Jesus, who is "Christ for us", to quote the Scottish preacher Hugh Martin. All Jesus does is to serve the Church - and should that not rebuke our pride? If the Son of God is among us "as one who serves", how dare we entertain dreams of glory! Do you know to whom glory belongs? It belongs to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain for us: "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever, Amen."

Therefore every sermon that encourages "Pride of man and earthly glory" is an abomination - I do not think the word is too high. The pulpit is not for the strking of human egos, it is for the lifting up of Christ. The Christian's prayer should be that of Mr. Wesley:

"Sink me to perfection's height,
The depths of humble love."

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