Thursday, July 2, 2015

I'm great! And I'm greater than you! I'm the greatest person in this whole town!

Not really, of course. But in reading Ephesians I learned something about humility.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

We are called to walk a certain way in the world. It must be a walk worthy of the calling. What makes the walk worthy is the demonstration of our:

--humility
--gentleness
--patience
--tolerance in love
--diligence for unity
--in bonds of peace

Boy, Paul can cram a lot into one sentence, can't he. Where we receive all that from is Christ. Let's look specifically at humility. It is the first quality mentioned. Humility is urged upon the faithful throughout the New Testament, repeatedly.
These characteristics, of which humility is the foundation, form a progression, the genuine exercise of one leading to the exercise of those that follow. Tapeinophrosun√© (humility) is a compound word that literally means to think or judge with lowliness, and hence to have lowliness of mind. John Wesley observed that "neither the Greeks nor the Romans had a word for humility." The very concept was so foreign and abhorrent to their way of thinking that they had no term to describe it. Apparently this Greek term was coined by Christians, probably by Paul himself, to describe a quality for which no other word was available. To the proud Greeks and Romans, their terms for ignoble, cowardly, and other such characteristics were sufficient to describe the "unnatural" person who did not think of himself with pride or self-satisfaction. When, during the first few centuries of Christianity pagan writers borrowed the term tapeinophrosun√©, they always used it derogatorily -  frequently of Christians - because to them humility was a pitiable weakness." ~John MacArthur, Commentary on Ephesians
In Christianity, humility is a foundational virtue. When we read in Acts 17:6 that the rioters dragging Paul and Silas and Jason to the authorities characterized them as "having turned the world upside down."

But humility before an equal or a lesser was morally suspect. It upset the assumed equation: merit demanded honour, thus honour was the proof of merit. Avoiding honour implied a diminishment of merit. It was shameful. SourceIn one sense we understand that means that uproars and chaos followed them wherever they went (a chaos the Jews themselves fomented). But trouble did follow Paul wherever he and the other missionaries and evangelists went. It's like when we look at each other in today's time and shake our heads and say "Things are getting crazy!"

In the other sense though, Christianity DID turn the world upside down. Everything was opposite. Jesus taught that:

The meek shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
The last shall be first (Matthew 19:30)
The first shall be last. (Matthew 19:30)
Pray behind closed doors, not marching around in the marketplace to be seen by men. (Matthew 6:6)
Give secretly, sounding no trumpet. (Matthew 6:2-4)
Rejoice in trials and tribulations. (James 1:2)
Think of others more highly than yourself. (Philippians 2:3)

To obtain an idea of how entrenched the Romans and Greeks were in pride and public recognition, one example is the Roman Triumph. This event was a spectacle that honored and sanctified the returning military general and his troops from a victory. Sanctify, because a triumph, which included a lengthy parade and celebration, was also a sacred rite in their pagan religion.

In the pagan world, personal achievement deserved lengthy and public praise.

As for the Greeks, their word was philotimia, literally, the love of honor. John Dickson in his book Humilitas, wrote
...one of the most difficult concepts to get across to late Western students is the concept of an ancient honor and shame culture, a culture where not truth nor life is the top value in the hierarchy of values, but rather obtaining honor is. The Greek word is philotimia literally the love of honor, and it dominated the matrix of values in the Greco-Roman world, in particular the male part of that world tasked with obtaining, maintaining and sustaining the honor of his family and their family name etc. “Uppermost in a father’s mind in the ancient world was not whether his son would be happy (in the modern sense) or make money or live morally [or tell the truth], but whether the boy would bring honor to the family, especially to his father, and to himself.” (p. 86). One was to seek to build respect and garner praise for one’s family and its name. The greatest fear in such a society was being publicly shamed— such as Jesus was on a cross. (source)

Ali's "I am the greatest" speech. Photo source
So imagine Peter and Paul and Silas and Titus, preaching humility to Greeks and Romans who not only have a flesh nature which loves pride, but have a family pressure to boast, a culture that exalts boasting, and a pagan religion that sanctifies personal achievement. Imagine how difficult it was for them to hear, "Pick up your cross and follow me." They were being asked to behave in the opposite manner of everything they knew and were taught, to drag around the very emblem of shame, and follow the most humiliated Man of the ancient world, Jesus hung on a tree.

Jesus turned the ancient world upside down.

He still does. We battle with our flesh nature and find it hard to be humble. I know I do. I want to tell people and the world of my achievements. Yet any of my achievements before I came to the cross are really as dung to Jesus, and anything I achieved after the cross was done for Him and in Him and because of Him. So what do I have to boast about? Nothing.

O THOU TERRIBLE MEEK,

Let not pride swell my heart.
My nature is the mire beneath my feet,
the dust to which I shall return.
In body I surpass not the meanest reptile;
Whatever difference of form and intellect is mine
is a free grant of thy goodness;
Every faculty of mind and body is thy undeserved gift.
Low as I am as a creature, I am lower as a sinner;
I have trampled thy law times without number;
Sin’s deformity is stamped upon me,
darkens my brow, touches me with corruption:
How can I flaunt myself proudly?
Lowest abasement is my due place,
for I am less than nothing before thee.
Help me to see myself in thy sight,
then pride must wither, decay, die, perish.
Humble my heart before thee,
and replenish it with thy choicest gifts.
As water rests not on barren hill summits,
but flows down to fertilize lowest vales,
So make me the lowest of the lowly,
that my spiritual riches may exceedingly abound.
When I leave duties undone,
may condemning thought strip me of pride,
deepen in me devotion to thy service,
and quicken me to more watchful care.
When I am tempted to think highly of myself,
grant me to see the wily power of my spiritual enemy;
Help me to stand with wary eye on the watch-tower of faith,
and to cling with determined grasp to my humble Lord;
If I fall let me hide myself in my Redeemer’s righteousness,
and when I escape, may I ascribe all deliverance to thy grace.
Keep me humble, meek, lowly.

Valley of Vision, PRIDE. (p. 88)





2 comments :

  1. I love "The Valley of Vision." It touches my soul to know how far I have fallen from the Puritan humility. As John MacArthur said in his sermon To A Doomed Nation . . .we are a lot less important than we think we are. If we start from there, we might find the beginnings of humility. He touched a cord in me. This message Elizabeth is timely.
    Sandy

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  2. Great article Elizabeth.

    I've always had some concern that humility is often seen as being less than firm in ones convictions when in fact Biblical humility is anything but! Humble does not mean weak anymore than aggressiveness means being strong.

    Jesus was the ultimate example of humility in action.

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