Humble and Confident

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church

9/28/08

 

Philippians 2:1-13

2If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

12Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

 

            I would like to begin by sharing the lyrics from an older song.  And I can only assume

 

that this was meant as a prayer, because the lyricist begins with “Lord”.  It goes like this:

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

when you’re perfect in every way.

I can’t wait to look in the mirror

cause I get better looking each day.

To know me is to love me

I must be a hell of a man.

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

but I’m doing the best that I can.

            -Mac Davis

It just isn’t fair, is it?  Why would God make some people so perfect and then expect them to be humble?  Was God just setting them up for failure?  Maybe a few flaws here and there could have helped out a bit.

            Then there is the woman who Sonya worked for in college who I remember telling me more than a few times that she was “the most humble person she knows.”  Seems to me that if you brag about being humble, maybe you really aren’t.

            Now I don’t think that most of us are as conceited as the character in Mac Davis’ song, but we all need to be reminded from time to time that we are called to be humble as followers of Jesus Christ.  But the woman who Sonya worked for seemed to miss the point, maybe she doesn’t really know what it means to be humble.  Humility is important, I hope we can all agree on that.  But while it is important to remember to be humble, this doesn’t mean that we are not important, especially in the eyes of God.  So today I would like to look at the scripture above, weave in a few other examples from the Bible and my own life to hopefully get a better idea of how we can balance humility with self-confidence.

            Our scripture begins with one of Paul’s most beautiful, poetic calls to discipleship.  He and Timothy write to the church in Philippi, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”  Paul is saying that if these Philippians can work together in love in the name of Christ, that will make his joy complete.  And Paul goes on to give one of the keys to working together with other people in the church.

            Verse 3 tells us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”  Be humble, that is the key to working together with the other Christians.  Don’t do anything out of selfish ambition.  Don’t do anything because you want to make the other person look bad or make yourself look good, but regard others as actually being better than yourself.  Don’t just worry about your own interests, but the interests of others should be of importance to you as well.

            Now this isn’t meant to say that we can’t have opinions as Christians and that we shouldn’t stand up for what we believe, think, or feel.  But when we disagree, we do so in love.  We don’t look at someone else as being below us, less than us, but regard them as better than ourselves even when we disagree on something.

It seems to me that some people are more interested in winning an argument than actually figuring out what is right or best.  Consider this; my sister-in-law was on the debate team in high school.  In a debate match with another school the teams are given a point to debate.  And each team is assigned to either argue for or argue against this point.  It doesn’t matter if you really feel the other way from the point you are assigned to debate.  You win or lose the debate by arguing your point better than the other team argues the other side of the same point.

This also seems to be the approach in the presidential debates where the candidates are more interested in making the other candidate look bad than they are concerned with actually getting foreign policy, economics, and other issues to the point where the most good is done for the most people.  Winning the debate is everything, the subject matter sometimes seems secondary.

            This is the way some people seem to approach divisions within Christianity.  They argue a point, but maybe the other person makes a better argument and you see that your point or belief isn’t as strong as you once thought it to be.  But you can’t just stop and agree with the other person, can you?  Of course not!  You would lose the debate, and winning is the objective.  It doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong.  All that matters is who can win the debate, right?   

            This is precisely what Paul is arguing against.  Paul is telling us to do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but to regard others as better than yourself.  Respect what others have to say.  Learn from one another.  If someone helps you to understand something that you had misunderstood, be humble enough to accept that you were wrong.  Maybe you weren’t even wrong, but if someone can help you see something from a different perspective, that can help us to grow as Christians; to grow in our likeness of Christ.

            Early this summer, just out of Seminary, I walked into a situation where a couple of guys were talking about God.  And I don’t pass up too many opportunities to discuss theology.  So I jumped into the conversation.

            I didn’t know the guys well, but I knew that one guy had a high school education.  I don’t think the other guy could spell high school.  And here I am, having spent seven years in post-secondary education, my Master’s of Divinity degree still wet with ink, given the opportunity to talk theology with these “novices”.  I was going to teach them a thing or two.

            The one fellow started talking about the nature of God and Christian ethics.  And I don’t remember what he said, but I remember it being so far off base that all I wanted to do was to jump in and correct this poor, uneducated guy.

            But I didn’t.  I bit my lip, I shuffled my feet, and I listened to every last word that this man had to say.  And I must admit, I learned something from him.  His simplified theology was not entirely biblical nor had it been influenced by some great theologian he had read.  His theology was formed by his experiences.  He had a reason to believe the things that he believed and I believe that he had spent a significant amount of time thinking about God.  And though I could have argued with him on a few of the details, in the end we came out at pretty much the same place.  And I had learned something from this man.

            I believe that we can learn from everyone.  There isn’t a person alive that we couldn’t glean a little wisdom from.  And we can only learn from someone when we humble ourselves enough to listen to them and not simply try to win an argument.

            But there is a danger in living out Paul’s instructions to regard others as better than yourself.  And that is in how much better we consider others better than ourselves.  Because there exists a danger at the other end of the spectrum.  That is the danger of low self-esteem; low self-confidence.

            My first semester of Seminary I took a class called “Formation in Personhood”.  This formation class was a time for us to learn how to share our life experiences with one another, pray for each other, and grow together in our likeness of Jesus Christ.  It was kind of a touchy-feely kind of class where we dug deep into our emotions.

            So while that maybe wasn’t my favorite class ever, I do remember something very clearly from our time in small group.  I remember the professor teaching us about self-confidence.  And she told us that Mennonite college students tend to have lower levels of self-confidence when compared to other colleges.  And she said that she believes a large part of this is because of the Mennonite emphasis on humility.  “Don’t think too much of yourself; think more highly of others than of yourself…etc.”

            Now I don’t know how you measure self-confidence or self-esteem, but I can see how an emphasis on humility can have a negative effect on one’s self-esteem.  But that doesn’t need to be the case.  Let’s look at what Paul writes in verses 5-8:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form , he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even on a cross.

 

God came to earth in human form, a form which we call Jesus.  We humans are not God, so for God to become like one of us is for God to humble himself to take on human flesh.  And God in flesh humbled himself to the point that he allowed himself to be crucified by human beings, creatures that were lower than he.  Jesus is the ultimate example of humility.

            Jesus taught that if someone strikes us on one cheek that we are to turn the other to them as well, allowing ourselves to be looked down upon.  Jesus, who the gospel of John teaches us had a hand in creation, became a servant to those he created, washing the feet of the disciples; the creator taking on the role of a servant.  He humbled himself to eat with those that society had rejected, the tax collectors, prostitutes and the sinners.  He who knew no sin died a sinner’s death on a cross between two thieves.  Jesus modeled humility for us par excellence.

            But we never have any sign that Jesus lacked self-confidence.  He was able to stand up to the Pharisees and the Scribes, the High Priest and Pontius Pilate.  We never have any reason to believe that Jesus wasn’t confident in himself, but yet he is the standard for our humility.  So I think that we need to come to an understanding that having self-confidence does not mean that you are not humble.  These two things are not mutually exclusive.

            Yes, we need to remember to treat others with respect, to treat others as we would like to be treated.  We must be humble and not look down on other people, but that does not mean that we are not confident in ourselves.

            Remember that you were created in the image of God and to this day humanity still reflects His glory.  Why did God humble himself so much as to become human in the first place?  Because he loves those that he has created.  God gave us life because God loves us.  Even before we were born he knew us, kitting us in our mother’s womb.  So when it seems like we don’t matter to the rest of the world around us, when our lives seem insignificant, remember that you matter to God.

            So the difficult thing is for us to have self-confidence, but not at the expense of our humility.  We must find a way to foster both humility and self-confidence at the same time.  Here are a few ides.

  1. Do service work.  Help someone that can’t help their self.  Go to the Valley Mission and volunteer to change bed sheets, to serve a meal, or to be a friend to the friendless.  I don’t believe we should ever do service just to feel better about ourselves.  I get a little turned off by people that go into a shelter to do some work one day a year to get their fix from helping others and then don’t go back again for another year.  Not that I want to discourage people from serving in a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, but if you are serving others just to feel good about yourself, you’re missing the point.  By serving others, giving them food, drink, or clothing, we are doing these things for Jesus.  We are serving the master, our Lord, the very one who came here to serve not to be served.  Service helps to keep us humble and it can help foster a sense of self-confidence.
  2. Listen to someone you normally wouldn’t listen to.  That person that you usually try to avoid or not make eye contact with in the grocery store because you know they are kind of needy and they will talk your ear off…take time to listen to them.  Is your time really that precious?  Can you not spare 5 minutes to hear what they want to share with you?  Jesus made time for everyone.  When the disciples tried to send away the children, the prostitutes, the woman with the alabaster jar, the people that an important guy like Jesus wouldn’t have time for, Jesus said “Let them come to me.  I’ve got the time.”  Making time for people we normally avoid helps to keep us humble.
  3. Remember that you are loved by God.  Don’t ever forget that you are beautiful to God.  You were created in his image.  And God took on human flesh to redeem all of creation.  He did so out of love…for us.  John 3:16 tells us that God loved the world so much that he sent his only son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.  We matter to God.  We don’t matter more than another person, but we don’t matter any less than any other person either.  That should provide us with some of the self-confidence we need.

God loves us.  But we must stay humble.  It is a balancing act to find that appropriate balance between humility and being self-confident.  But as Jesus showed us, being humble doesn’t mean that we cannot be confident in ourselves.  Humility means being willing to give time to those society has rejected, doing jobs we would rather not do, and listening out other people even when we think we know better.

Let us grow in humility, being willing to do the things that Jesus did, let us also be confident enough to stand up for what we believe, let us be confident in our self and in God’s love for us.  Because we were created in the image of God, a God that loves us.  May God bless us as we seek to live within this tension.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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