Being as old as I am, over the years I have collected a few friends who are quite famous. I once asked one of them, who once visited our church here, what was the secret of her success. She replied with refreshing honesty, “a talent for blatant self-promotion”. She learned this, she said, from her university studies which were basically a “a degree in showing off”.
More and more it appears that what people need to be successful in this upside-down world is not great talent or skill or wisdom, but rather this talent for blatant self-promotion.
This is entirely the opposite of what God requires in his right-way-up Kingdom in an upside-down world.
. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
In the last few weeks we have looked at two parables Jesus told. The parable of the Great Banquet, where the guests were making ridiculous excuses instead of enjoying the wonderful feast. Jesus followed that with the parable of the lost sheep, which we thought about last week. He then went on to tell the parables of the lost coin and the lost son, the prodigal son, which we will save for another time. But according to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus told all these stories at a particular dinner party.
Luke 14:1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.
And it was at that dinner party, just before Jesus told the parables we have looked at, that he said the words we read this morning.
Luke 14 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Those who humble themselves. I heard about one minister who had a wonderful sermon on “humility” but he never got round to preaching it because he was always waiting for the day when there would be a large enough congregation to properly appreciate it. I don’t know enough about humility to preach a sermon on it – so this morning I simply offer some reflections on the things Jesus taught about humility.
Humility is seeing ourselves as we really are before God. Humility is NOT false modesty.
A great professor was once called as an expert witness at a trial. During cross-examination a lawyer demanded, “What are your qualifications as an expert witness in this case?”
The normally modest and retiring professor replied quietly, “I am the greatest living expert on the subject under discussion.” Later a friend gently chided the professor for his uncharacteristic answer. He replied, “What did you expect me to do? I was under oath.”
Humilty does not mean pretending to be modest. Humility means seeing yourself as you truly are, God sees you.
On a visit to the Beethoven museum in Bonn, a young American student became fascinated by the piano on which Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works. She asked the museum guard if she could play a few bars on it; she accompanied the request with a lavish tip, and the guard agreed. The girl went to the piano and tinkled out the opening of the Moonlight Sonata. As she was leaving she said to the guard, “I suppose all the great pianist who come here want to play on that piano.”
The guard shook his head. “Padarewski [the famed Polish pianist] was here a few years ago and he said he wasn’t worthy to touch it.”
Humility means seeing yourself as God sees you. Compared to other men and women we may seem to be doing fine. But compared to the greatest, we get a more truthful measure of ourselves. And compared to God Himself, compared to the Lord Jesus Christ, we are less than nothing!
William Temple said, “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself one way or the other at all.”
The apostle Paul saw himself as God saw him.
I am the least of the apostles. – 1 Corinthians 15:9
I am the very least of all the saints. – Ephesians 3:8
I am the foremost of sinners. – 1 Timothy 1:15
So Paul wrote this to the Philippians
2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
God’s salvation is not given to the great and the good or the powerful or the successful. Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat reminds us that God turns the established order upside-down.
Luke 1:51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty
Only the humble will receive God’s blessings. The door of life is a door of mystery. It becomes slightly shorter than the person who wishes to enter through it. So it is that only the person who bows in humility can cross its threshold.
A.W. Tozer (1897–1963) said this, “Because Christ Jesus came to the world clothed in humility, he will always be found among those who are clothed with humility. He will be found among the humble people.”
Jesus is our example and our standard and our goal.
Philippians 2:5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,7 but made himself nothing,taking the very nature of a servant,being made in human likeness.8 And being found in appearance as a man,he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
If Jesus made himself nothing and became a slave, Christians should be prepared to do the same. We must be prepared to take the lowest place.
In John 13 we find Jesus, about to break bread and pass round the cup by which we still remember Him today. His disciples were so busy jostling for position, trying to get the best place next to Jesus, that they had forgotten one simple preliminary – something which you will realise on the dusty roads they have in places like Palestine and Africa and India is not only polite but necessary. They all still had dirty feet. Nobody had done the slave’s job, physically unpleasant and socially demeaning. Nobody had attended to washing their feet. So we see Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, in the upper room on the night before He was crucified, doing the job of a slave, washing His disciples feet.
John 13:13 ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
There is a simple message which I first heard a very long time ago from missionaries who had come back from Africa. Ministry is not rendering a service, but becoming a servant.
Actually this is a message we all need to hear. After 35 years as a minister I still need to hear it. Deacons and Home Group Leaders need to hear it. Everybody who wants to serve Jesus Christ in the church or in the world needs to hear it. Everybody who is seeking to follow Jesus Christ the Servant King needs to hear this truth.
Ministry is not rendering a service, but becoming a servant.
Not just doing a job. But becoming a servant, even becoming a slave. The Bible uses the words servant or slave a staggering 967 times! God even describes some of the most important heroes of faith as My servant Abraham, My servant Moses, My servant David. The apostles in Acts preached about “God’s servant, Jesus.” Remember these words of Jesus.
Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Mark 10:43-45.
I struggle sometimes when I see some of the so called “great” Christian leaders in this celebrity-obsessed generation. Many of the church leaders of today are not well-known for showing Christ’s humility. The growth of megachurches, the popularity of events like Spring Harvest, the cash value of book sales and the spread of the internet, all play havoc with a pastor’s humility. Whether at the local, or the national, or the international level, the lure of fame and success often appear to triumph over the desire for Christ-likeness. With many “great servants of God” the desire for greatness overcomes the desire for servanthood. It is a mystery to me how anybody can believe that Christians can shape the church or the wider world without the fruit of humility. Of the many “great” Christian leaders I have observed, so few of them naturally choose to take the lowest place!
Over the years I have been privileged to meet a number of “great” Christians. Having tea with Bishop of Nebbi and then Archbishop of Uganda Henry Orombi was one such special occasion. But perhaps even more memorable than that was a meeting more than 40 years ago with John Stott. He was indisputably a great Christian preacher and teacher and leader. But more than that, he was probably the most humble and Christ-like man I have ever met. God was able to use John Stott mightily because he was humble! We must always serve with humility. There is always a temptation for people, to become proud of their service. “Aren’t you glad you’ve got me in your church God. Aren’t you pleased you put me to serve you in this place for such a time as this. Aren’t I useful to you!” If ever any of us begin to think like that, remember what Jesus said in
LUKE 17:10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ”
The great preacher and pastor F.B.Meyer said this. “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other and that the taller we grew in Christian character the more easily we could reach them. I now find that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other, and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower: that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts.”
We are to become servants of all – because that is the example our Master Jesus Christ has given us.
John 13 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
Slavery is not glamorous. Not exciting. Not even pleasant. It’s hard work, long hours with no reward. But we do it because Christ has set us an example which we should follow. And not just missionaries and ministers, but ALL Christians should follow that example. The example summed up in that prayer of Richard of Chichester:
Lord give us the grace to serve you as you deserve
To give and not to count the cost
To toil and not to seek for rest
To fight and not to heed the wounds
To labour and not to ask for any reward
Except that of knowing that we are doing your will.
That is what it costs when we stop just rendering a service and really become a servant! We all need humble actions. The servant heart which turns the other cheek and joyfully goes the extra mile. But even more, we also need humble hearts. We ALL need humble hearts.
And Jesus gives us a simple practical test to see how much progress we are making in humility.
Luke 14 12 Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
D.L. Moody said, “A man can counterfeit love, he can counterfeit faith, he can counterfeit hope and all the other graces, but it is very difficult to counterfeit humility.”
God challenges us all to humble ourselves
1 Peter 5:5 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”
Put on the apron of humility, to serve one another (Good News Bible)
So let us learn How to serve, And in our lives Enthrone Him;
Each other’s needs To prefer, For it is Christ We’re serving.
This is our God, The Servant King, He calls us now To follow Him,
To bring our lives As a daily offering Of worship toThe Servant King.