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The One Anothers - Humility

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[This is the third in several articles in the One Another series]

We have recently been looking at the thirty-five one anothers of the New Testament. And last time I categorized them into three main headings: love, unity, and humility. Now let's go backwards through that list, starting with a focus on humility. The verse to anchor this one another is found in 1 Peter:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5).

The example of Jesus anchors this as well, when we consider his command to wash one another's feet in John 13. There we have Jesus, the one of infinite worth, reversing everything by taking the towel and washing his disciples' dirty feet. Jesus calls all of us to imitate him in this. He calls us, not necessarily to imitate the exact action, but to imitate the heart of the matter. We are commanded to not be proud and selfish but to in humility serve one another.

Many of the one anothers fall under this banner of humility. "Outdo one another in showing honour" (Romans 12:10).

"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight" (Romans 12:16).

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).

But what exactly is humility? I like C.J. Mahaney's definition: "Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God's holiness and our sinfulness". It is not a state of self-hatred, nor one of monk-like zen. Humility is honesty before God. It is seeing ourselves in the light of our sin and God's holiness. And yet, we all struggle with pride. It is at the heart of what sin itself is. When man rejected God in the garden he set himself up in a place that he didn't belong. The serpent, himself fallen by his pride, enticed the woman with a promise which had pride as its hook: "You will be like God" (Genesis 3:5). And we have been corrupted by this same lust ever since. Where we ought to give thanks we grumble and complain. Where we ought to be content, we crave for more and more. When we ought to live in peace with one another, we bite and devour, consumed with envy. When we ought to give encouragement and bless others, we fault-find instead and plan only to bless ourselves.

Do you see how pride ruins everything? Not only our relationship with God, which is fundamental, but it also breaks all human relationships. In the world, in the family, and in the church, we see the damage done by our pride. It is into this brokenness that the redeemed should live out a different story. We are called to shine like lights in this world (Philippians 2:15). And this begins with a fundamental shift from pride to humility.

This fundamental change happens when we come to Christ. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones so pointedly said:

"There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross."

He then quotes the great hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

You cannot boast and repent in the same breath. You cannot stand tall at the foot of the cross. It is incredibly humbling to see that it was my sin that held him there, and that this perfect saviour would die for me a wretched sinner. The grace and mercy of God destroys our pride. But with all things in the Christian life this side of heaven, there is an already and a not yet. We are humbled at our conversion, and we will have no sinful pride when we stand in glory, and yet between these two great scenes we need to live out this humility more and more. We must put to death what is earthly in us (Colossians 3:5). And this includes pride, haughtiness, selfish-ambition, envy, covetousness, all of these sins that stand in stark contrast to humility.

So how can we cultivate this humility towards one another? What would it look like for you to do what Peter says and clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another?

Well first of all we can imagine that it would be a beautiful scene. Everyone putting eachother first, encouragement instead of fault-finding, contentment instead of envy, thankfulness instead of covetousness.

Often pride is seen in issues of leadership and authority. When God calls a man to lead, and calls others to follow, our sinful pride is never far away. Just remember the first sin – it was that of casting off authority, and taking it for oneself.

So how can this show itself in the church? One way is in a lack of submission to the authorities that God has put in place; a chafing against that authority. And let's be honest, while this is always a temptation, it can be exasperated when you have older men following a younger leader. It can be hard for a middle-aged or older man to take so much straight talk from a pastor in his twenties or thirties. And yet, this is what he is called to do. And the young pastor is called not to tread gingerly and fearfully but actually boldly. Paul exhorted young Timothy to go for it, while recognizing the temptation others would have to struggle with him. Paul writes,

"Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." (1 Timothy 4:11-12)

And yet later he does counsel Timothy to be wise and mindful regarding the different stations of life:

"Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity" (1 Timothy 5:1-2).

There is a temptation on both sides of authority – for those who submit to it, and those who wield it. Peter speaks to this in the passage we already quoted. He exhorts both the elders and in his case the younger men to watch out for pride. Peter exhorts the elders to shepherd humbly, "not domineering over those in your charge" (1 Peter 5:3). This is a pretty obvious temptation. Leaders are put to the front and face the brunt of both criticism and praise. They are the target of the enemy to be destroyed either through tearing down or through puffing up with pride. Humility guards against all of this. The truly humble servant of the Lord can take criticism without melting into a puddle and can take encouragement and praise without letting it balloon his head. This again is because he knows that his salvation and his calling is all of grace. He gets to serve the Lord, he gets to lead the people of God – it is all undeserved and therefore incredibly humbling.

Peter then adds an exhortation for humility to everyone, including those under the elders' charge:

"Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).

Not only are the leaders susceptible to pride, we all are. The person who leads can be puffed up with pride and arrogance. The person who is not tasked with leading can be consumed with envy, or resentment, or sulleness – that is also pride. The young man who is exhorted and corrected by the pastor can be tempted to lash out in frustration – that too is pride. As John Stott wisely said, "At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend."

And so we should ask, how can we keep close this greatest friend? How can we have this humility? And the answer is not naval-gazing, self-hatred, or anything like that. The answer is first to come back to the gospel and remember the grace of God. What do we have to be proud of? Everything is gift. As Paul reminds us, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:31). So look to Christ and keep near the cross. And secondly, this humility before God is then expressed in how we treat others. We submit to one another, children to parents, wives to husbands, church to elders, and all of it unto Christ (Ephesians 5:21). We serve one another (Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 4:10). We seek to outdo one another in showing honour (Romans 12:10). We take up the towel like our Lord and serve one another humbly (John 13:12-16). Let our prayer be that we would always be humble. That God would receive all the glory as we serve him and one another with humility. 

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Tuesday, 16 July 2024