The world says we need self-confidence more than anything else. Well, no. There are things more important to our lives than self-confidence. So, what are those things? Pastor John answered this question in a sermon back in 2009, a clip suggested to us from Hannah in Canton, Ohio. It’s a good one. Here’s Pastor John back in 2009, preaching on humility.
How important is humility? Listen to John Calvin. This is an amazing quote. I’m going to read this quote from Calvin. He’s really quoting two of his heroes, so you don’t hear Calvin’s voice directly; you hear theirs. But he’s quoting it because he agrees with them.
I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom: “The foundation of our philosophy is humility,” and still more with those of Augustine:
“As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What the third? Delivery: so, if you ask me in regard to the precepts of the Christian Religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.” (Institutes 2.2.11)
Where Everything Good Grows
Now, my question to that quote is: Why do John Calvin, Augustine, Chrysostom say, “first, second, and third, humility”? Humility first makes sense, but then why do they keep laying it on, like fourth, fifth, sixth? I think they could say that. Here’s the reason, I think. The reason is because humility is the soil in which everything good in the Christian life grows, and if that soil goes away, everything good withers. It’s unique in that regard. Let me give you some illustrations.
- Faith — Would anyone depend on Christ as a needy, weak, and sinful person if God hadn’t given him humility?
- Worship — Would anyone earnestly make much of the worth of God, instead of craving to be made much of himself, if God hadn’t given him humility?
- Obedience — Would anyone surrender his autonomy and submit obediently to the absolute authority of Scripture if God hadn’t given him humility?
- Love — Would anyone seek the good of others at cost to himself if God hadn’t created in his heart humility?
On and on and on we could go. So, it’s first, humility; second, humility; third, fourth, fifth, sixth, humility; because everything — everything good that we want to flourish and grow in the Christian life or in the church — grows in this soil. And when this soil is ruined, things wither.
Three Objections to Humility
I want to just give you a taste. These are sort of personal, I suppose. I could choose so many examples. I want to give you a taste of what the humble life feels like as we close, with three objections that the world would raise, perhaps. I know that from time to time these have been raised. Whether people you know would raise them, I don’t know. But they give me a chance to illumine what the humble life looks like.
Objection #1: Humility makes you gloomy, dismal, downcast, unhappy.
No, gospel humility frees you from the need to pose, calculate, posture, sniff out what others think, so that you’re free to laugh at what is really funny, with the biggest belly laugh imaginable that makes your face contort and look ridiculous.
“God’s grace in the heart of the humble believer who depends utterly on God produces incredible industry.”
I am so thankful for the home I grew up in. Both my parents are with Jesus. I sat at the table with my grandmother, my sister, and Mommy and Daddy. That’s what I called them till the day they died. Daddy would come home with his jokes from his evangelistic crusades. We would hear stories of the triumph of grace, with tears running down his eyes, of how an alcoholic was converted on the last night of the meeting. Mingled in there he would tell me jokes that he heard, and my father laughed hardest at his own jokes than anybody else did, and it worked to draw you in with amazing effectiveness.
I remember sitting at dinner tables with my father. He was portly. He always described himself as toothpicks in a watermelon. When he laughed it was like Santa Claus. My mother at the other end would begin with a loud soprano: Ha! And then it would just break over, and both of them would have tears running down their face, uncontrollably laughing. My sister and I were drawn into this glory. There weren’t any humbler moments in the world, because they had totally lost control. No calculations whatsoever for How am I being perceived?
This is a freedom that can only come to the humble. Proud people don’t get red in the face and fall off their chairs with contortions of laughter. They will maintain their dignity. Well, in the parable of the prodigal son, when the father saw the son coming, he pulled up his robes between his legs and he ran. An old man ran (Luke 15:20). I disagree with the objection that being humble makes you gloomy. I think it frees you to be the happiest person you could possibly be.
Objection #2: Humility makes you fearful and timid.
No, the world thinks that because the best source of courage that they can think of is self-confidence. It’s the only source of courage they can think of. “If you destroy my self-confidence by telling me I’m a sinner, I’m weak, I’m dependent, you cut my ability to be bold, and courageous, and aggressive, and strong.” It’s because they can’t imagine another source of courage. There is a better source: God-confidence — not self-confidence, God-confidence. Do you want to be strong and bold? Be nothing and have God on your side. I don’t agree with the objection that the only or best source of boldness is self-confidence.
This is God talking in Isaiah 51:12–13: “I am he who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies . . . and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker?” Isn’t that an amazing sentence? Who do you think you are to be afraid? When we’re afraid, we don’t usually expect accusations of pride: Who do you think you are to fear man, and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker? “Man, if I am on your side, just humble yourself. I’m looking at you. I look to people that tremble at my word. When I look to you, they die if necessary, or they get converted if necessary.” No, no, no, no, taking away pride and self-preoccupation, self-confidence, and self-exaltation, taking all that away does not take courage away — not if you replace it with God, his promises, his grace.
Objection #3: Humility makes you passive.
The objection is that humility removes the driving motor of achievement, especially in America, the most achieving nation on the planet. If you spread this message of humility, lowliness, dependence, meekness, you’re going to ruin this economy.
No, the world thinks that because for them the driving motor of achievement is feeding the ego with accomplishments. That’s what it feels like: “If you take that away, what have I got left? I’m feeding my ego by achieving something. I’m going to climb this ladder. I’m going to make this bundle, and buy that house, and have that retirement. I’m going to drive that car. I’m going to wear that ring. People will know I made it.” If you take that away, what are you going to put in its place? I mean, that’s driving the motor of this economy. If you take that away, what are you going to put in its place?
“Humility is the soil in which everything good in the Christian life grows.”
First Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am. . . . I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” By the grace of God I am what I am, and I worked. This is the apostle Paul talking. While he had breath, he labored: “I worked harder than any of them.” He stayed up till who knows what hour making a tent so that he wouldn’t have to charge his churches. “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
The power of God’s grace in the heart of the humble believer who depends utterly on God produces incredible industry. The grace of God, the power of his grace, in the heart of a humble believer who depends utterly on God produces in him incredible energy and industry.