Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Humility (Page 1 of 4)

What Should Motivate Humility?

What Do You Want?

Do you desire joy for yourself? Do you desire glory for yourself? Do you desire your own exaltation? Do you want to be great? Then, believe it or not, humility is your ticket. In fact, you should seek humility more than anybody!

This past Sunday I was blessed with the opportunity to preach at Grace Fellowship Church in Rexdale — the church which planted us almost a year ago now — and I had the challenge of preaching on humility. There is so much to say about a topic like this that I felt that I was barely scraping the surface. One of the places I wanted to go, but simply did not have time, was the whole area of the motivation for humility. I wanted to talk about that because biblical motivation for humility can be so counter-intuitive…

What Did Jesus Want?

In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul holds up Jesus as the paradigm of humility. He alone had equality with God, but didn’t grasp on to it. Instead he was willing to come be mistreated, rejected, despised, beaten, and murdered, bearing the hatred of people and the just wrath of his Father. That is humility. A willingness to subject himself to whatever his Father has for him; he alone models perfect humility and contrition, he alone trembles at the word of his Father (Is 66.1-2).

So if we’re to imitate Jesus it would be helpful to know what motivated Jesus, right? What moved him to go to the cross in all humility?

For one thing, he desired joy (Heb 12.1-2). He also desired glory (John 17.5). He also desired vindication and exaltation, in the view of people (John 17.24). He also wanted to be great (Mark 10.43-45). Not what you would expect to hear, right? And it begs the question…

Should I Want That Too?

The short answer is ‘Absolutely!’ The reason those things seem so wrong for us to desire is because we are so full of sin that we typically associate the desire for those things with whatever means we determine necessary to get joy, glory, exaltation, and greatness. We’re typically so convinced that God doesn’t want us to have those things that we ultimately want that we refuse to trust him to give them to us. We seek them by our own means.

But the essence of the message of Jesus is this: Trust God, he is for you. He will exalt those who are his… in the mean time, stop fretting about what other people think. Stop fighting for position here and now. Entrust yourself to God fully and be content with his providence. He will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you (1 Pet 5.10). He will freely give you all things; nothing is too good for you (Rom 8.31-32)!

So What Should I Do?

So what is the New Testament message on the motivation for humility? Stop fighting for glory and honour here and now in your time and your way; embrace God’s providence, and trust him to exalt you in his time and in his way (1 Pet 5.6-7).

Believe it or not, God wants your joy, vindication, and glory more than you do. He sent his Son to prove it. So stop contending for his supremacy and seek your exaltation through humility and service. He is for you more than you are.

Jonathan Edwards on Spiritual Pride & Humility

Nick Hill posted this back before Christmas, but I reads it tonight and thought it would be worth posting here again. I can never think enough about how to kill pride and cultivate humility.

Spiritual pride is: “the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those that are zealous for the advancement of religion…. Spiritual pride disposes us to speak of other persons’ sins, their enmity against God and His people, the miserable delusion of hypocrites and their enmity against vital piety, and the deadness of some saints, with bitterness, or with laughter and levity, and an air of contempt; whereas pure Christian humility rather disposes, either to be silent about them, or to speak of them with grief and pity. Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others; whereas a humble saint is most jealous of himself; he is so suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart. The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints, that they are low in grace, and to be much in observing how cold and dead they be, and crying out of them for it; and to be quick to discern and take notice of their deficiencies; but the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home, and sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with others’ hearts; he complains most of himself, and cries out his own coldness and lowness in grace, and is apt to esteem others better than himself”

[Jonathan Edwards as quoted in D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge, Letters Along the Way: A Novel of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993), 264].

Good for My Humility… ?

This morning I lost at squash. That’s normal. How badly I lost at squash was a whole other story. In previous weeks I had thought that I’d been making progress, getting better. This morning, however, I don’t think I could have made a shot if we had’ve been using a beach ball.

That’s embarrassing. It’s super-frustrating for lots of reasons. For one thing, I hate knowing that I’m ruining the game for the people I’m playing against, who are actually good and would have a lot more fun playing against other people that are good. For another thing, I’m not a bad athlete. I mean, I’m no Neon Deion or anything, but I can generally at least play most sports when I set my mind to it.  Apparently not so much with squash.

As I was showering I thought to myself, ‘Well, at least it’s good for my humility.’ And that made me feel a little bit better. But then I thought again and realized I was wrong. The event itself is not good for my humility any more than winning every game 9-0 would be good for my humility.

The only thing that makes one event or another ‘good for my humility’  is what I choose to do with it. How will I respond? If I respond with self-pity, I’m developing pride. If I get angry, I’m fleshing out my pride. If I get sullen and withdrawn, I’m acting out on pride that says I should have better than what I actually do have. But if I take a step back and apply truth, I can take either failure or success and make it an opportunity to grow in humility.

What kind of truth do I need to apply? I need to ask questions of hope, joy, life, and meaning.

Why does losing at squash make me feel hopeless or worthless? What was I looking for in that game that is being denied? Why would I believe that joy could be found in being esteemed as a good athlete? Why in the world would I think that my identity should be tied up in how I can play a game?

Squash is a bit of a silly example, but it serves to display a point that I think is worth thinking about.

One of the tremendous honours that comes with pastoral ministry is being privy to the different struggles and hardships of people’s lives. Whether it’s just living in a fallen world where we have trials of various kinds or battling against horrible sin, people all around are struggling with hardships. What I’m eager to point out here is that it is a lie of Satan to think that merely going through hardships will be good for developing humility. Circumstances can be used as tools to develop humility as you choose how to respond to life, but circumstances themselves will never do the hard work of preaching to your heart.

Circumstances may point out the vanity and superficiality of joy in this world and in this life, but the only thing that will produce humility is taking the truths of God’s word and applying them to your heart.

For the Christian, our identity is in Christ. Our hope is in his finished work. Our joy is in fellowship with God. Life is found in communion with his Spirit. Our purpose is entirely wrapped up with Christ and his purposes for us.

So what situations are ‘good for your humility’? All those which you choose to take as opportunities to remind yourself of your meaningless, purposelessness, hopelessness apart from Christ. Each and every situation which provides you opportunity to remind yourself that your joy, hope, comfort, peace, and identity are tied up in the gospel of Christ. Every one of those circumstances becomes good for for your humility because it’s a circumstance that you use to preach your need of Christ’s finished work on your behalf to yourself. And there’s nothing more humbling than that.

Blacks, Whites, and Greys

It’s a funny thing to me how lessons seem to weave themselves into our lives at seemingly ‘random’ points in time (which, of course, shows me that they’re not random at all). Over the past eight weeks or so, as I’ve been preaching through James, I’ve been amazed at how clearly he contradicts our contemporary worldview and way of looking at life. In our culture there are no black and white issues, only greys. Members of PETA, who say it’s wrong to kill for food, probably still smack mosquitoes. What’s wrong in one situation may be okay in another. There are all kinds of greys.

James, however, continually teaches by setting up worldviews as opposed to each other. Either you’re steadfast or you waffle, either you are a doer or a hearer only, either you have a pure religion or a worthless religion, your source of speech is either a fresh spring or salt water, your wisdom is either from God or from Satan, and so on. You’re one or the other, black or white. There is no middle ground, no fence to sit on.

The funny part about all of this is how I’ve been growing in my understanding of the many issues where thoughtful, biblical, Jesus-loving Christians disagree about moral issues. Do you drink or not? Do you do home-school, public school, or Christian school? What kind of language is okay and what is not? What type of guidelines should we use when we dress? These things are anything but black and white, and real Christians really disagree.

So what do we do? Do we respond with insisting that there is a ‘black and white’ answer for every issue? Do we argue incessantly about it until people see it our way? Do we just stress privately because everyone else is wrong?

I think the answer of humility is found in a passage like Romans 14:

Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 

In other words, your brother or sister who sees things differently than you isn’t your servant, and you’re not his or her judge. They do have a master and a judge, but you’re not him. To judge them as if they need to give an account to you is to contend for supremacy with God. It’s pride.

Not judging is only the beginning, however. More than not judging, we must also be careful to be proactive in love:

Therefore let us not pass judgement on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 

To flaunt your freedom is the opposite reaction to judging and condemning, but it’s equally unloving. ‘If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.’

The admonition comes again: ‘Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.’ What Paul is saying here is that when we value our freedoms so much that we’re not willing to give them up for the sake of loving a brother or sister and ‘not grieving’ them, then we’ve valued our own freedom more than we’ve valued one of God’s children.

The humble, Christian response to the ‘greys’ is to lovingly refuse to judge, and then to lovingly resist the urge to flaunt our freedoms in front of others who don’t enjoy the same freedoms.

This calls for love and humility all around. On different issues I’ve found myself sometimes being the one tempted to judge, and sometimes being the one tempted to stumble. I can say from experience that neither side is easy. But Christian community is a beautiful thing when, by the power of the Spirit, Christians are walking in this kind of self-denying, self-sacrificing love, living out humility. It’s been a delight to see it in action at GFC, and I can only pray for more.

From Legalism to Licentiousness (and back again…?)

Over the last few Sunday evenings at Grace Fellowship Church, my friend Paul McDonald has been opening up Galatians 5.13 for us. The verse reads like this:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 

Over the flow of the book of Galatians, the apostle has been arguing that we are now free from bondage to the law and from all forms of legalism. This is fantastic news! For Christians of my generation, I often think that we take our Christian liberty for granted. We haven’t had to fight the battles for allowing women to wear pants, or for instruments other than piano / organ; we haven’t had to deal with the real rabid KJV-only types or the ‘don’t drink, don’t play cards, don’t watch movies’ mentality of the previous generation.

We have our freedom. We enjoy our freedom. But I often think we take it for granted.

The trouble is that when we take our freedom for granted, it’s only a very small step from freedom to licentiousness. Having moved on from legalism, much of our church culture now seems to glory in the fact that there is ‘no law over us,’ so we can do as we wish.

In Galatians 5.13, Paul seems to be saying, ‘Don’t give up your freedom (since that’s why you were set free), but don’t glory in your freedom at the expense of your brothers and sisters.’ Just like everywhere else in the NT, the old, written code is replaced by the law of love.

No one in the early church understood and lived this balance better than the apostle Paul. As he would argue in his epistles to the Corinthians, he had every freedom and every right to take a wife, to eat what he wanted, drink what he wanted, accept payment from them for his ministry, etc. He had those freedoms! But, because he knew that he could better serve his brothers and sisters in love if he denied himself those freedoms, he didn’t take them.

One really practical area where this works itself out in church life (as Paul McDonald taught), is modesty in women’s dress. Just like the apostle Paul, women could rightly declare that they have freedom from outside rules in terms of what they wear. There are no NT regulations on skirt length, sleeve length, how far a blouse should be unbuttoned, etc. But the NT rule that does exist is love and service. Just like the apostle, women who love and seek to serve their brothers (and sisters) in humility, will limit their freedom for the sake of love and wear what is helpful in order to serve.

Of course, once this is understood, this gives opportunity for legalism again, because our flesh hears ‘Serve by dressing modestly’ and applies that to our hearts as ‘Since I (or my wife) dress(es) modestly, we should judge those who don’t.’ We then create a new set of standards to determine what is ‘modest’ and what is not, and measure other people against that criteria. And the circle is then completed: we’ve moved from legalism, to licentiousness, back to legalism again.

So what do we do? Well, first we must work on the log in our own eye. Examining our hearts must take first priority. Do I really believe in Christian freedom? Do I impose standards on people that the Bible doesn’t? Am I looking to things like dress to help ensure that I am justified?

Second, we should seek to apply the love of love. Am I grasping and clinging to my freedom at the expense of hurting brothers and sisters? Is my love of my freedom to dress and act how I wanted prohibiting me from serving? Is giving others occasion for sin (Lk 17.1-2)?

Third, we must remain humble and charitable. Just because the Lord is working on my heart and convicting me of sin in a particular area doesn’t mean that he has to work on other people in the same way at the same time. We need to remember that we didn’t use to know what we’re now convinced of, and apart from a work of grace we never would have known it. We must not use our convictions as a throne from which we can cast judgement on other believers.

Fourth, pray for grace to find the balance. I pray that God would give me grace in every area (not just dress) to find the balance between glorying in my freedom and giving up my freedoms for the sake of my church family. I pray that I would never return either to legalism or licentiousness–but that when I do, that God would forgive me again, just like he always has before.


It’s hard to know sometimes what to blog about when there are so many different things going on in life. Here’s a few things I’ve been thinking about.

I’ve thought about this on this blog before, but I was blessed with the opportunity to teach on it recently at a men’s meeting at our church. The more I look into my heart, the more it seems the Lord is pleased to reveal to me the hideousness of my own pride-filled, arrogant heart. You can download the pdf of the handout and application questions I gave to the guys here, if you like.

Letting Others Serve
It’s a funny thing, but you’d think that not wanting others to serve you would be a sign of humility. As I’ve been noticing in my own heart lately, though, it’s more a sign of pride. Why don’t I want others to help? For one thing, because I don’t want anyone to think I need help. CJ says part of pride is refusing to acknowledge our absolute dependence on God. I like to think I’m self-sufficient. That’s pride.

Another thing I’ve been confronted with a few times now is other people wanting to take over jobs for me, since I’ve become an elder at church. They want to employ biblical wisdom and free their elders up from other tasks so that we can focus on the word and prayer. But I don’t want to give these things up. Why? Because somewhere in my heart I feel like I do a good job at what I do and if someone else were to do it, they wouldn’t do it just the way I like it. Well that’s a load of hoogly. Just because something’s the way I like it doesn’t mean it’s best. And in reality, they’d probably do it way better than me anyway! What’s best for the kingdom is me moving aside and letting others serve.

Leadership Can Be Nerve-Wracking
We’re in what’s probably the busiest time of year for the leadership of GFC–annual meeting time. We’re looking at numbers, praying through plans, and discussing endless possibilities for future directions. This is my first year as an elder working through these things. Whenever I begin to think that any of these things–and therefore the welfare of the church–depends on us, as humans, I get stressed, worried, and fretful. This has been a good exercise for me in learning to pray things through, and trust Christ to build his church. I am learning (painfully slowly, but learning nonetheless) to trust in the Spirit to give wisdom. I am learning to trust the Father’s providence. He has given us much responsibility, and we will be held accountable for our leadership, but the worst mistake we can make is thinking that it all depends on us and our wisdom, and then forge ahead un-prayerfully.

CJ May Be Done…

As I posted before, CJ Mahaney’s blog has been featuring parts of his chapter on modesty from the forthcoming Crossway book called Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World.

You can read the summary post here. It contains an index with links to each of the seven sections and some additional application questions as well. The application questions are broken down into three categories: For your mind, for your heart, and for your life. Go check it out; it will be well worth your time.

While CJ may be done posting on this topic, I thought I’d point out some further resources on modesty of dress and why it is so absolutely important to the Christian walk.

It is my hope that these resources will help you form a biblically informed worldview, which encompasses clothing as a representation of what is going on inside the heart (of both women and men).

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