The Lord's Day Morning
September 16, 2007
“Complete My Joy, With Humility”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Let me invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter two. We’ll be looking at verses 1, 2, and 3 today, especially concentrating on verse 3. We've been working through this letter for a number of weeks now…a number of months now.
The center section of the letter begins in verse 27. Throughout this section the Apostle Paul is exhorting us to live the Christian life. He has especially impressed upon us the fact that we cannot experience the joy that God intends us to enjoy in the congregation of His people unless we are pursuing actively the living of the Christian life. We have said on a number of occasions now that the key to experiencing that God-intended joy in the congregation of believers is a God-centered, gospel-based, grace-enabled shifting of our attention away from ourselves and on to others, in which we aim to manifest and maintain our spiritual unity (given to us by the grace of Christ) and strive together to slay pride and purpose to serve one another in self-denying and self-giving love.
In this passage, already we've seen in verse 2 the Apostle Paul gives an earnest plea for Christian unity. Now, he's not asking us to create that unity; he's asking us to acknowledge the unity that Christ has created. God has made us to be male and female, slave and free, Jew and Greek, one in Jesus Christ. As we rest and trust in Him and are united to Him, He has united us all into one body together. And what the Apostle Paul is saying is live that out. Manifest the spiritual reality of your unity that has been created through the gospel. Maintain that unity. Don't do things to disrupt that unity, and on the contrary, do things to foster that spiritual unity
As he has called our attention to this unity in verse 2, and as he has said that that unity is absolutely essential for the joy that we're supposed to experience in the congregation of the Christian life, he has also said that the key to that unity is humility. There will be no shared experience of gospel unity in the local church apart from humility. Humility is the key to that unity. That's what he is going to talk about in verse 3.
Now before we read God's word, let's pray and ask His help and blessing.
Lord, again we find ourselves coming to You to study a passage that is not that hard to understand, but it's very hard to do. This passage teaches us things that are easy to talk about, but very hard to put into practice. So, heavenly Father, we don't want to go away from our study of Your Scripture knowing more stuff but not being transformed by truth. If that is going to be the case, O God, if we are going to be changed, it will take the help and work of Your Holy Spirit, so I beg that of You — for me, and for all of us as we now reverently attend upon Your word. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the word of the living God. Hear it.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Apostle Paul teaches us in this passage that if we are to experience the joy and spiritual oneness that God intends for His people, and if we are to thereby witness to the reality of gospel grace in the world, then we are going to have to pursue humility, because humility is the key to unity.
John Stott, a number of years ago, said, “In every aspect of the Christian life…” (and when John Stott says “In every aspect of the Christian Life” I'm really interested in what he's going to say in the rest of the sentence! You know what he says?)
“In every aspect of the Christian life, pride is our greatest foe and humility our greatest ally.”
In every aspect of the Christian life, no matter what we are doing, pride is always an enemy to us, and humility is always an ally for us. That alone reminds us of how important it is to cultivate humility, but here the Apostle Paul gives two arguments or motivations to our humility.
First you’ll notice him say “Count others more significant than yourselves.” As he urges us to humility, he refuses to leave humility as some sort of an abstract idea in your mind. He gives you something concrete. How could you express humility? Do you just sort of walk around feeling humble? No, you practically, deliberately, tangibly treat others as more significant that yourself. So the Apostle Paul gives you a tangible enfleshment of what it means to be humble.
Then (and we're not going to get there today), in verses 5-11, he says, ‘Consider Christ. Let me show you what humble is. Let me show you your Savior, who spoke the world into being, to whom all the peoples of the world owe the obedience of Lordship, because He is their maker…who humbled Himself, dying at the hands of those He came to save, that they might share with Him the glorious presence and communion with the living God forever and ever.’ He says, ‘Behold humility. That's what humility looks like.’ So the Apostle Paul knows that the way to Christian humility is not for the preacher to stand up and say, “OK, today's application is be humble,” not because that's hard to understand, but because it's hard to do. We need every bit of leverage, we need every bit of motivation, we need every bit of instruction, we need every bit of application, we need every idea that we can marshal to fight the fight of humility, because it is absolutely lien to us living in this fallen world.
The very first sin was pride. It was pride that caused Eve and Adam to look at a piece of fruit and have this inner dialogue: ‘Let's see. What do I want? A piece of fruit? Or everlasting fellowship with God, who made me, who loves me, who takes care of me, who is infinitely beautiful, infinitely just, infinitely kind, infinitely loving? OK, now let's see…piece of fruit? God? Piece of fruit? God? Hmmm. Piece of fruit wins!’ Only rampant, blind pride can make that kind of decision, and yet that kind of rampant pride is everywhere, and unfortunately we're blind to it.
James Nedam a number of years ago told a story that has been used by countless preachers and teachers over the last few years, and maybe you've heard it, too. But it struck me so deeply when I first heard the story, and then read the story later. It's so applicable to this, I want to share it with you today. He tells the story of a man who's sitting in a coffee shop or a breakfast restaurant, and he's observing this man. And he is impeccably dressed. He is in an Armani suit, his wingtip shoes are sparkling from a recent shine, his shirt is heavily starched and pressed, and he is complementing this gorgeous suit with a power tie. He is clearly an important man. His every hair is in place. His mustache is exquisitely coiffed, and he keeps looking at his Rolex watch. He clearly has a very important meeting to get to. He's reading The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, and suddenly he gets up and he begins to walk out of the coffee shop (or the deli), and the person watching him notices that in the midst of this impeccably presented man, there's one flaw. He's been eating a bagel, and there's a glob of cream cheese on his mustache. And he doesn't know it. He's off to his power meeting, and he has no idea that there's this glob of cream cheese there.
Well, let me ask you this. Is pride the glob of cream cheese on your mustache? [Figure out some other image for you, ladies!] Very often, though this is a master sin and all of us struggle with it, pride gets us a thousand ways. You know, when you have great wealth you’re tempted to cease to depend upon God because you become comfortable depending upon your wealth. But wealth in and of itself does not make a person prideful. Some of the most humble people I've ever met are wealthy. But it does tempt people not to depend upon God. On the other hand, a person without great wealth could spend their time envying the person who has wealth, and in that envy actually manifest the heart of pride: ‘I'm better than that person who has great wealth.’ And so pride attacks one through conceit, the other through rivalry or through envy, or through jealousy.
By the way, did you notice the Apostle Paul talk about that in this verse? “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit.” The Apostle Paul is acknowledging that pride can hit you a hundred different ways. Intelligent people can take pride in their knowledge and in their wisdom, and in knowing things that other people don't know, and being able to think in ways that other people can't think, and they can find their security in that. And they can manifest pride.
Or, maybe it's just that you crave attention, and you want more attention than the others around you. Have you ever noticed that there's a phenomenon very often at dinner parties, where no matter what story you tell, there's somebody there who has a better story?
“You know, my friend bought a Jaguar.”
“Yeah? Well, my friend has a fleet of Jaguars.”
“Ah…my buddy went to Ft. Lauderdale to a five-star hotel for vacation.”
“Yeah. I flew in my private jet to the Riviera.”
Have you ever heard Brian Regan, the comedian, do his “I Walked On the Moon” routine? It's about people who are always one-upping you in a dinner conversation. You know, you tell them something and they've got a bigger story. You tell them that you've met a star…well, they've met five! You tell them that you've got a buddy that has a lot…they've got a buddy who has more. There's always something better. And Brian Regan, in this comic skit that he does, says, ‘I've always wished in those times at a dinner party that I was one of the tiny handful of men who have walked on the moon, so that I could just sit there eating my hors d’oeuvre, kind of chewing, while the guy went on and on about how many cars and how many houses and how many vacations…and then I could just say, “Yeah. I walked on the moon.”’
People manifest their desire to find their security in all kinds of things. It may be wealth, it may be influence and power, it may be an entryway into the halls and corridors of power in society. It may be beauty. It may be intelligence. It may be being liked. But any of those things can become an opportunity, a channel, for pride. And so no matter what condition we are in, we are vulnerable to pride. In fact, some people who are extremely humble in some areas are capable of being prideful and arrogant in others. Just recently I had a couple of friends come to me to ask me to help with another friend who is being greatly used of the Lord in ministry. But they came to me because his pride is ruining his relationships with those with whom he works. And because I was a close friend of him, they wanted me to do something about it. But there's a person who's being used of the Lord in one area, and yet in another area pride is manifesting itself. And we are all vulnerable to pride, and that is why Paul knows that the exhortation “Be humble” is not enough. He gets very specific.
Now Paul is always battling pride and cultivating humility, and he only does it in two explicit ways in this passage: one, encouraging you to practically count others as more significant than you; the other, pointing you to Jesus and the cross. But what I want to do is I want to look specifically at applications of this truth for us today.
Now let me just say I had sixteen points in the first sermon! We have twelve minutes to go. We’re not going to get them done. So I'm going to be doing editing as we go on. If you want to get more of it, you can read C.J.'s book or you can look at my online web log entry and you can get them all. I don't know how many of them we’ll get done…maybe we’ll get ten of them done, we’ll see. We’re going to go through these very quickly.
How do you cultivate humility? How do you fight against pride?
One, reflect on the wonder of the cross. If you don't get anything else, if you don't get anything else out of this message, humility only comes — gospel humility only comes — at the foot of the cross. If you don't sit hard by the cross, if you’re not constantly surveying the wondrous cross, if you’re not constantly saying to yourself, ‘Alas! And did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die for me?’ If you’re not amazed by that wonder, amazed by the wonder of His love, amazed by the wonder of His grace, you will not be able to combat pride in your life. Staying by the cross is the greatest weapon that the Christian has against pride.
Don Carson, who is one of the greatest Christian scholars in the world today, was interviewing Carl Henry a number of years ago, before Dr. Henry died. Dr. Henry was probably the most important leader of evangelicalism in the English-speaking world during the last half of the twentieth century. He founded Christianity Today magazine; he was a close acquaintance of John Stott, of Billy Graham; he was a leader in anchoring evangelicalism in biblical truth; he wrote a massive theology book that even intelligent people can't read because the vocabulary is so wide. And Dr. Henry was also known by his closest associates to be a humble man. And while Dr. Carson was interviewing Dr. Henry, he said, “Dr. Henry, you have been at the center of attention in evangelicalism for over a half century. How have you stayed humble?” [What an embarrassing question to ask a man!] Dr. Henry quickly tried to take the focus off of him, and he simply said back to Don Carson, “Don, it is hard to be prideful when you’re standing at the foot of the cross.” It was instinctive. You could tell that he had been deliberately cultivating this idea in his own life, that he needed to consciously stand near and under the cross of Christ, because nothing that we can do looks very big when we're standing in the shadow of that cross. No virtue that you possess looks very big when you’re standing in the shadow of that cross. Do you want to slay pride? Meditate on the cross. Reflect on the cross. Glory in the wonder of the cross. Become a student of the cross. Point one.
Point two: Use the means of grace. If you want to slay pride, if you want to grow in humility, use the means of grace. Recognize that God's word, the sacraments, and prayers are altogether designed to kill pride. When we come and we hear God's word read, we're being reminded, ‘Oh, yeah…I'm supposed to live life according to the way that God said, not the way I want to do it. I'm supposed to say ‘Your will be done,’ not ‘My will be done.’’
When we come to the sacraments, we're being reminded that even our faith is weak, and it needs to be supplemented by God giving us a visible confirmation of His promise, because our faith is so pitiful and weak. And when we pray we're acknowledging that we're not in control of this world, but God is, and we're totally dependent upon Him. We’re needy, and so we lift up our requests to Him.
All of the means of grace do what? They slay pride. So when you come to the church on the Lord's Day to worship God, remember that one of the things that will be happening is you are drinking in the means of grace: word and sacrament and prayer. Pride will be being slain, and you will be being reinforced for the fight against pride all week long.
Thirdly, study God. Study God. Jim Packer taught us many years ago that the secret to soul-satisfying Bible study is not asking first the question, ‘What does this passage mean for me in my daily life?’ but asking first the question, ‘What does this passage teach me about my God?’ because that puts everything else in perspective. The Bible is fundamentally about God, and when I study God, I don't look so great. I don't look so big. And in a church and in a time where people think of God as small and us as big, there is nothing more humbling and helpful than studying God.
Fourthly, study grace. How can you be prideful if you believe in grace? Grace says you’re a sinner, you need help. Grace says you’re the problem, not the answer. Grace says you can't deserve or earn salvation, but God can freely and graciously and lovingly give it to you in Jesus Christ. Grace slays pride. That's why “prideful Christian” is an oxymoron. Fourth, study grace. So, reflect on the cross, use the means of grace, study God, study grace.
Fifth, study sin. Especially your own sin. Not the sins of others. Study sin. Rabbi Duncan, the famous professor of Old Testament in Hebrew at the Free Church College in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the nineteenth century, required all his students to read John Owen's famous treatise on indwelling sin. And as he gave the book and put it into their hands, he would say, “But, gentlemen, prepare for the knife.” He was saying that Owen, like some sort of a spiritual surgeon, was going to perform surgery on their hearts and expose their sins to them in ways that they’d never understood before. Now, in the end was that going to depress them? No, not in the end. It was going to lead them to joy, and to humility, and to delight in God's grace. But it was going to hurt along the way.
There's a famous story of Alexander Whyte, the famous Scottish preacher in Edinburgh at the turn of the century — late 1800's, beginning of the 1900's…turn of the twentieth century — who had a friend come into his office. A traveling evangelist was in town, and this traveling evangelist at his meetings had accused a number of the Church of Scotland ministers in town of not being believers, including a friend of Alexander Whyte's. And the man came in, and he said, “Dr. Whyte, did you know that he said So-and-So down at the Such-and-Such church isn't a Christian?” Dr. Whyte stood up out of his chair, and he said, “How dare he! The scoundrel! The villain! I know Such-and-Such personally, and he's a wonderful Christian gentleman!” And then his friend said, “But, Dr. Whyte…ahem…that's not all he said. Ah…he said that you weren't a Christian, either.” Now what do you think Dr. Whyte's response was? This is a man who was one of the greatest preachers in Scotland, who had deliberately for the last thirty years committed himself to learning what? The doctrine of sin — he said that's what I want, to get my master's degree in the doctrine of sin. Dr. Whyte sat back down, and he said, “Go, then, my friend, and leave me. For I must go before God and examine my soul.”
Now what I want you to get out of that is this…it's not to be morbidly introspective. The point is this. When another man's honor was besmirched, Dr. Whyte was ready to stand up and defend him. When his own character was assaulted, instead of defending himself, he went immediately to Christ, immediately to God, immediately to the cross, immediately in prayer, and said, ‘Lord, judge my heart.’ Why? He was humble, because he had studied sin. And he knew his own sin. He knew what his sins deserved, and it had made him a humble man.
Identify graces in others. Do you celebrate humility when you see it in others? You know, when you look at someone and you say, ‘Look at her. She is a respected medical doctor in this community, and yet when she is not on call she is washing socks for her children. Isn't that beautiful? She can be out saving somebody's life, and she's washing socks, or preparing a meal. What service, what humility.’ Or, ‘Look at him. He's a highly respected attorney or businessman in the community. He could be meeting with clients and accomplishing great things, and yet there he is sitting in a funeral parlor because a friend's wife has died. He has taken the middle of the day off, and canceled appointments with clients so he could minister to that friend.’ Do you look around you and see examples of humility and service and just exult in them? Glory in them? And then say, ‘Lord, I want to be like that. I want to be like people like that.’
Encourage and serve others each day — that's a seventh thing that you can do. Not only identify graces in others, but encourage and serve others every day. Do you purpose, ‘Lord, how can I use what You have given me to serve someone else?’ On the way home, men, do you pull off on the side of the road and prepare yourself to go into your house and serve your wife and your children, or do you expect to walk into the house and be served by them for the rest of the evening? Are you preparing yourself to serve others?
Eighth… (and this is really hard. I don't like this). Invite and pursue and welcome correction. I hate to repent. I hate it. C.S. Lewis once said, “Humility is actually quite a cheerful thing, once you get past the initial shock.” And that is exactly how I feel about repentance. It is hard, because in repentance I have to see what I really am, and I don't like to see that. I like to think of myself as a nicer person than that.
A few weeks ago, I did something really, really, stupid. And really, frankly, not just stupid…sinful. Now, look, I do these things all the time. But this stupid and sinful thing actually ended up discouraging some members of our church staff. And an elder who loves me very much came to me, and got in my face, and jacked me up. And I didn't enjoy it. In fact, when he walked out of the office, I was thinking to myself, “I did what was right! You don't know what you’re talking about!” I didn't say that to him, but I was thinking it. Two days later it hit me: everything he said was right; everything I thought was wrong, and there's only one thing I can do here, and it's ask forgiveness.
It's so embarrassing! And it's so humiliating. And it's so hard. Yeah…that's why they call it humility. I hate to repent. But do you invite and pursue and welcome correction? Are you teachable? People who aren't teachable, people who can't be corrected…people who respond…every concern of expression to them about themselves, their character, their behavior, they've got 73 arguments as to why they were justified in what they were doing, and if that doesn't work, there's the “well, you just don't understand…you don't understand what I'm going through.” Is that your response, or are you correctable, humble people? Or teachable? And only teachable people are humble. Invite and pursue correction. Do you confess your sin regularly and specifically, and are you correctable?
One last thing. Every day, deliberately acknowledge your dependence on God, and your need for God. Acknowledge when you get up in the morning that you need God for every step that you’re going to take; that any victory that you’re going to have during the day, any success that you’re going to have during the day, comes from Him and is because of Him, and is not because of your own innate ability.
Remember E. V. Hill, the great African-American minister, who would wake up every morning, and the first words that he wanted…he wanted three words coming out of his mouth every morning when he woke up on that pillow: “Thank You, Jesus.” He’d wake up, the eyes would open — “Thank You, Jesus.” Why? He was wanting to acknowledge his utter dependence upon Christ. And the fact that he was still alive and that God had given him life and ministry, and many, many gifts, was because of what Jesus had done. It wasn't because of him. “Thank You, Jesus,” he would say.
It's so important…it's so important that we speak truth into our own lives, that we pillage the Scripture and speak it back into our lives.
Don't you love what Martyn Lloyd-Jones says? He says, “Most of our unhappiness in life is because we listen to ourselves, rather than talk to ourselves.” What he means by this is that we sit around and we grumble and we murmur, and we listen to ourselves grumble and murmur. We listen to ourselves grumble and murmur instead of saying, “Self, God will take care of you. Self, God causes all things to work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose, for those who love Him. Self, nothing can separate you from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus. Self, cast your cares upon the Lord, and He will care for you. Self, God is in control.” Instead of preaching to ourselves, we listen to ourselves. Do you get up in the morning and preach to yourself, “Today I am going to believe in the sovereign care of God”? And, having announced that, can you be proud about that? Can you b be proud about your utter dependence upon God for every breath, every step, every accomplishment? Not unless you’re deluded.
No, my friends, we need every weapon we can find against pride, because the joy and unity that God intends us to experience is inseparably connected to humility. And our witness to the world is inseparably connected to our humility.
Heavenly Father, we find ourselves again just barely scratching the surface of the wonderful truth of Your word, but we ask that by the Spirit You would continue to deeply apply this gospel truth into our lives. In Jesus' name. Amen.