Originally posted on Facebook–January, 2011
Two principal characteristics of faith-based living as a Christian are humility and love. Both humility and love are referenced frequently in Christian sermons and homilies. So too, are they common terms within society. However, the predominantly accepted definitions of these words held by the world, and those that are referenced and alluded to through scripture do not perfectly align. Trying to flush out the differences between the worldly definitions of humility and love versus the biblical counterparts would require more than one blog post. To conclusively define the biblical concept of love alone and elaborate on the differences between it and those views held by various cultures would be an exhausting endeavor on an inexhaustible topic. As a result, volumes have been written on both humility and love. In much of my own writing, I revisit these topics regularly. In a prior post, I attributed personal maturation during my twenties to the outgrowth of humility. If anything, the messages and experiences of these past few months only affirm that perspective. It is the relationship between humility and love that is the focus of what I am currently writing. By no means do I consider myself an authority on the topic, but I have always believed that sharing one’s thoughts on meaningful subjects creates the opportunity for open dialogue. Moreover, when convictions are tied to those thoughts, it encourages the participants of any dialogue to speak on their current understanding of a subject with the greatest depth possible. Given my personal belief in Jesus as Lord, I try to understand the bible by reading through the insightful lens that Jesus provides us through His life. And it is Jesus who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Therefore, I do believe that if you are seeking truth, it will ultimately lead you to Jesus. Many—dare I say all—of Paul’s letters to the early church communities would support this school of thought. Speaking of Paul, I have heard a number of sermons on the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians. It implies there is a strong relationship between humility and love, through the example of Jesus’ life:
Philippians 2:1-11 (NAB) If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vain glory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Humility does not equate to false modesty, nor is it belittling one’s strengths or exaggerating one’s weaknesses. Again, my understanding of the word “humility” is presented in the above referenced scripture from Philippians. David McNeely, a pastor at Perimeter Church, explaining humility through this scripture, said, “True humility isn’t putting yourself down, but knowing and acknowledging who you are rightfully—who you are accurately; and putting others ahead of yourself, with respect and dignity.” Taking from this same sermon, McNeely refers to Jesus’ words in the book of Matthew, augmenting this viewpoint:
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
These verses from Matthew only provide further support to McNeely’s definition of humility. First, Jesus is telling us that he is an example for us to follow, describing himself as “meek and humble of heart.” Second, He is telling us that if we adopt a similar identity of meekness and humility, we will be able to find rest in Him; no longer trying to independently do it alone. When we submit to Jesus–and accept His love—we allow Him to lead us on the path we WANT to walk. Ponder this truth: Jesus is of all power and all understanding—omnipotent and omniscient, yet He puts others ahead of Himself. Jesus never denies his sovereignty, regularly speaking with the authority of God. He refers to Himself as the Son of Man—the Son of God—throughout scripture. Jesus acknowledges the glory that He is to receive from the Father. One example from the book of John that affirms both the aforementioned statements is when Jesus hears Lazarus is ill; eventually raising him from the grave. His response to the news of his beloved friend’s illness speaks volumes:
John 11:4 But when Jesus heard it He said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Does that sound as though Jesus is belittling His power? Does this fit the definition of humility that many of us imply in our typical use of the word? Now, it is necessary that we realize that Jesus’ actions are in agreement with the definition of humility I referenced from McNeely earlier. Jesus can call Himself the Son of God, because He IS the Son of God. And though He is the Son of God, He does not oppress his people. Instead He treats them with dignity and respect—He loves them. At Passover, before His death, Jesus shares the importance of humble action and exhibiting a servant’s heart, washing the feet of his disciples; explaining the lesson this behavior models:
John 13:12-17 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
Jesus consistently put the lives of others ahead of His own, the greatest example of which is the crucifixion. The Son of God, our Lord, took on the role of humble servant and conquered the sin of the world through His sacrifice. His love conquered sin. His love was exemplified through His humility and corresponding selflessness. So what does humility look like for us? We are not Lord, though some—if not all of us—may act like we are, on occasion. While this seems a cheeky comment, I would argue that all of us battle the idolatry of self-identity. The First Commandment requires us to “love God and love others (which I believe validates love for God).” Jesus provides us with more clarity and direction on how to love:
John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
When we focus our hearts on others, we take it off ourselves. This state of mind and corresponding behavior leads us away from self-idolatry. Consequently, as Christians, it opens our eyes to the love that Jesus has for us. It should be our desire to become inherently active in pursuing right action, not from duty—but from love. There is a quote from C.S. Lewis that I believe says this best:
“A perfect man would never act from sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a (healthy) leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.” ~ C.S. Lewis, Letters, 18 July 1957
Great news! We should love others. Awesome!! Has anyone perfected this practice? Anyone? If not, then the question now becomes, “How do I learn to increase in my ability to love?” Steve Brown, a well-known bible teacher, while visiting Perimeter Church, profoundly said, “You can’t love until you’ve been loved. And you can only love to the extent with which you’ve been loved” (Sermon: Why Can’t We All Get Along Without Losing Our Convictions? Perimeter Church, June 12, 2011). Consider the implications of his statement. Could this be part of the impact seen by generational sin? If one does not love, then they will fall into sin. If one is not taught love, not having been loved, they cannot love…
…nor can they know God:
1 John 4:8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
This is another reason why performance cannot bring us into relationship with God. Jesus says as much:
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
To know our Lord, we must know love; more so, we must love. Paul draws from this insight when describing love in one of the most quoted verses of scripture. Also, note how he is defining humility—as it relates to love—within that same scripture below:
1 Corinthians 13:1-7 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Therefore, we can never have complete relationship with God in His kingdom from personal performance. We cannot love perfectly, given we are in sin outside of Christ. Moreover, based on this same logic, we cannot fully know God, because God is all-knowing—we are not. Christ, however, as part of the Holy Trinity—He is. This is why Jesus alone can break the seal on the scroll that is spoken of in Revelation:
Revelation 5:1-5; 5:12-13 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”…and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,” Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
Therefore, to love and know God, we must have a servant heart, working WITHIN the body of Christ—through faith in Christ. While performance may not be what provides salvation, it is the visual representation of love—or fruit—that can be seen from those who follow Christ in Spirit. And to grow in one’s faith, it is important to practice what we KNOW from the example of our Lord (see again Philippians 2). I believe it is this dependence on Christ that Paul was trying to communicate by metaphorically referring to the community of Christ’s believers as “the body of Christ.”
Romans 7:4; 12:5 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God…so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
What a beautiful gift of love! And as the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to understand the love of Christ—to understand everything that He gave to us through His life and Crucifixion—the more capable and wanting we become to love others as a member of Christ’s body, with personal humility and faith in Him. We serve as His eyes, seeing where needs exist; where sin must be met. We serve as His mouth, boldly speaking Truth where it is absent. We serve as His ears, hearing and responding to cries for help. We serve as His arms, providing comfort and a loving embrace for those who need comfort. We serve as His feet, to mobilize; going to those that cannot come to Him, but need Him regardless. Walking alongside those who need support, carrying those that cannot walk any further… We serve as His mind, resisting temptation and strategically fighting sin in this world; being as cunning as a serpent and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). We serve in love out of our love for Christ. And from this we receive the greatest glory, and the greatest blessing; coming into perfect relationship with our Lord through the Holy Spirit.