Genuine Humility is Self-Forgetfulness

“The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.–C.S. Lewis

This past Sunday afternoon I preached on humility. Here is a shortened version of what I said in my sermon:

Guarding Against the Opposite of Humility: Self-Glorification

The opposite of humility is pride and pride is in essence self-glorification. We need to be on guard against pride because pride is in all of us and it’s our biggest enemy. The late New Testament scholar John Stott once wrote, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. . .Pride, is more than the first of the seven deadly sins; it is itself the essence of all sin.”

Is Stott being too strong? No! It seems that when we consider the whole of the Bible indeed pride is our greatest enemy. As we said, pride is essentially self-glorification and this is what Satan tempted Adam and Eve with in the garden: “if you eat the fruit, you will be like God.” Indeed, the sin that God seems to hate the most is pride. C.J. Mahaney, in his book Humility: True Greatness, writes:

“From my study, I’m convinced there’s nothing God hates more than this. God righteously hates all sin, of course, but biblical evidence abounds for the conclusion that there’s no sin more offensive to Him than pride. When His Word reveals those things “that the LORD hates” and “that are an abomination to him,” it’s the proud man’s “haughty eyes” that head up the list (Proverbs 6:16–17). When the personified wisdom of God speaks out, these clear words are emphasized: “I hate pride and arrogance” (Proverbs 8:13, NIV). And consider the divine perspective on pride revealed in Proverbs 16:5: “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” Stronger language for sin simply cannot be found in Scripture.

And consider also the fact that James and Peter both tell us: 6“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6; 1Peter 5:5). Indeed, pride is in all of us, it’s our biggest enemy, and we must hate it and oppose it in ourselves as God hates it and opposes it. We need to be on guard against pride.

Guarding Against the Counterfeit of Humility: Self-Loathing

But we also have to be on guard against counterfeit humility. If the opposite of humility is pride, which is in essence self-glorification, counterfeit humility is self-loathing, hating oneself, always talking down about oneself to others, shunning or shrugging off compliments all the time. Some people confuse self-loathing with humility. But it’s a counterfeit or false humility. Because the truth is that self-loathing and self-glorification really aren’t that different. They both share the same root, namely obsession with oneself.

Genuine Humility: Self-forgetfulness

So what then is genuine humility and how do we grow in it?  Genuine humility is not self-glorification or self-loathing, which are both obsession with oneself. Genuine humility is self-forgetfulness. C.S. Lewis once wrote: “If we were to meet a truly humble person. . .we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (quoted in The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulnes: The Path to True Christian Joy, by Timothy Keller).

What is the opposite of pride then? The opposite of pride is not self-loathing but the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit that comes from hearing the Gospel over and over and over again. We see this in Philippians 2 where Paul tells us that Christlike self-forgetfulness is the pattern of genuine humility: Phil. 2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Notice how the truly humble person is not one who is obsessed with oneself. The truly humble person is more concerned about other people than oneself. What does that look like? Paul says, they aren’t selfishly ambitious, they count others as more significant than themselves, and they look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others. I’ll leave it to you to apply these principles to your own life, or if you’d like you can listen to how I apply it in my sermon. Let me just conclude by pointing you to Christ, as Paul does.

The Cross of Christ: Gospel Motivation for Self-Forgetfulness

Christ points the Philippians to Christ as the supreme example of humble self-forgetfulness. And he doesn’t just point us to Christ he says, this is who you already are in Christ: 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 

This is the beauty of the gospel. Christ, who always was glorified in heaven and always deserved to be glorified as God, gave up His glory to save us from our vain attempts at self-glorification. And He did it through His own self-forgetfulness, by seeking and serving our interests above His own, even to the point of death on a cross! And because of His humble self-forgetfulness he was then glorified, not by Himself, but by his Father: 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is the supreme pattern of genuine humility. It’s found in Christ! And this is who you and I already are, in Christ, by faith. And so, the Biblical exhortation is, “become who you are in Christ” knowing that God sees you in Christ and that you already have what He has.

You see, the Gospel provides both the pattern and the power to live a life of humility.How does it provide the power? The Holy Spirit speaks to you in the Gospel and says, “In Christ, you have everything you could ever want and need: In Christ, you are accepted by the God of the universe. In Christ, you have His fatherly pleasure. In Christ, you have the greatest love that anyone could ever long for. In Christ, you have the greatest name that anyone could ever seek to attain. In Christ, you have the greatest security, the greatest joy, and the greatest inheritance.” There is nothing you can selfishly grasp at in this world that isn’t already yours and more in Christ. You already have it now by faith and you will have it by sight when he returns. And it’s all a gift of free grace! And so, forget about yourself. Lose yourself to find yourself in Christ. And from the abundance that you have in Christ, magnify His worth by loving God and serving the interests of others above your own.

The opposite of humility is self-glorification. The counterfeit of humility is self-loathing. Genuine humility is self-forgetfulness and becoming who you are in Christ. How do you cultivate humility and how do you fight against pride?

Conclusion: Growing in Humble Self-Forgetfulness

There are a lot of things you can do, by God’s grace and strength, to cultivate genuine humility in your life.

  1. Use the means of grace (The Word and sacraments)
  2. Study God (“Who am I that YOU are mindful of me?”)
  3. Study sin and grace (“But for the grace of God, there go I”. . .”Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!”)
  4. Identify the grace of humility in others (We learn best by example. . .Christ is the supreme example. . .But Paul also says: “practice what you see in me, as I imitate Christ”)
  5. Encourage and serve others each day
  6. Invite and pursue and welcome correction (this is not my favorite, but still important)
  7. Every day acknowledge your dependence on God and your need for God through prayer, giving thanks at all times.
  8. Reflect on the wonder of the cross.

I could elaborate on each of these points in great detail, but this final one is probably the most important one. This is where Paul points us in Philippians 2 as noted above. And this is where other great preachers and teachers of the faith have pointed us as well. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote the following about the surest way to pursue humility:

“There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross. “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner…that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust…. Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.”

John Stott also wrote:

“Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, “I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.” Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.

And may we decrease so that Christ might increase in us for the glory of God and the good of others. Amen!

Jesus is Our Greater Good Samaritan

This past Sunday I preached on the fruit of compassion in the Christian life. My primary text was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The point of that parable is not first and foremost, “stop being so cold and callous to your neighbors and start being more like the Good Samaritan.” No doubt we are commanded by Jesus to “go and do likewise” (v. 37). But this parable is given in the context of a lawyer (an expert in the Old Testament) who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (v. 25). Indeed, it’s emphasized that he was seeking to justify himself (v. 29). And so, the point of the parable in the first place is to drive people who want to justify themselves by their own works to seek eternal life outside of themselves and to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, because Jesus is our Good Samaritan. We fail miserably at loving others as we would ourself and by works of the law no one will be justified (Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:19-26). But if we believe in Him, we already have eternal life and will be raised on the last day when Jesus returns (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:40).

So the parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable of the second greatest commandment, love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39). And the parable is meant to drive us to our knees in repentance and to seek our salvation outside of ourselves through faith alone in Christ alone as a gift of free grace. But not only is Jesus our Good Samaritan, he is even greater than the Good Samaritan for us. This is a point that Phil Ryken puts beautifully in his commentary on Luke:

“When Jesus came to our aid to give us life, we were not merely dying but dead, dead in our trespasses and sins. Jesus came out of his way to help us, not just crossing the road, but traversing the infinite distance from heaven to earth. Furthermore, it took him more than a day or two of his time and a couple coins from his pocket to gain our salvation. It cost him the sufferings of earth, the blood of his body, and the agonies of his soul on the cross. Jesus traveled a much greater distance, to help people in much greater need, at much greater cost. He is equally committed to seeing our salvation through to the end, for he has promised to come back and carry us all the way to glory.”

AMEN! Jesus is the Greater Good Samaritan! Indeed, He’s the greatest and the only one who has ever lived who is perfectly good! And so, when Jesus says, go and do likewise to us, it comes to us in a different context. It comes to us not as those who are seeking to justify ourselves by our own good works, but as those who are already justified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. We are clothed in his perfect righteousness and we have already passed from death to life through faith in Him. And so, our motivation to “go and do likewise” is “we love because He first loved us” when we were beaten, bloodied and left for dead. And if he had such compassion and mercy towards us, let us show the same kind of compassion and mercy towards others out of thankfulness for God’s amazing grace in Christ!

In the Spirit’s strength and with the gospel fueling every effort, let us love anyone in need, anyone at all, whom in the providence of God we may be able to help, no matter what social status, no matter what religion, no matter what political party, no matter what nationality, no matter what gender, no matter what age, no matter if we like them or not, no matter if they are deserving of our love or not, no matter if its convenient or not to love them, and no matter if they have done us wrong in the past. Every person has been created in the image of God and by reason of their dignity as image bearers and even more by reason of the love of God that has been poured out upon us in Christ, we are to have compassion on them and love them as we would want them to love us if we were in need. But let us always remember that we are justified by faith alone, we have the Spirit’s enabling power, and we love because he first loved us (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 5:16, 22-25; 1 John 4:19).

Is Christian courage the absence of fear?

I recently have been preaching on the Fruit of the Spirit and have reached the end of Paul’s list of nine fruits in Galatians 5:22-23. For various reasons I have decided to extend my sermon series for a few weeks to include some “bonus fruits.” Paul’s list is not exhaustive. He says, “against such things there is no law,” implying that there are more fruits than the nine he lists. And when you think about it, surely we could add such fruits as humility, compassion, forgiveness, and others. One “bonus fruit” of the Spirit I recently preached on was the fruit of courage. I spoke of courage in the face of persecution, conflict and disaster and we could certainly add other situations.

As I continued to reflect on fear and courage in the Christian life after my sermon, I wished that I had nuanced things a little better. Here is what I mean: Is fear in a fallen world in and of itself a sin or is there a place for responsible fear/concern? When we talk about courage in the Christian life, does that mean that you aren’t afraid or worried about anything at all? I would say no. In fact, I would call that a counterfeit form of courage. Christian courage is not the complete absence of all fear and worry. That’s a sort of Stoicism, in other words, the absence of emotions, and a sort of “oh well, whatever will be will be.” The absence of fear and worry may also be a form of being hopelessly optimistic where wisdom calls for a more realistic approach to life. Or when it comes to conflict, the one who appears to be courageous in the face of conflict, may just not care about what other people think or feel.

I think when it comes to real Christian courage it means recognizing that something is indeed terrifying but trusting that God is MORE terrifying and that if God is on your side, who or what can ultimately be against you? The Bible says to Christians, “be angry, and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). While it may not be as explicit, I think it also says to Christians, be afraid in a fallen world, but don’t sin in your fear. The question is not whether or not we worry or fear, but what do we do with that worry or fear and whom do we ultimately fear? There is a kind of worry and fear that is sinful, a form of practical atheism or deism (i.e. acting as if God didn’t exist or that he is aloof) and there is a kind of worry or fear that arises out of a genuine love and concern for people and the problems of this world. The same Paul who said, “do not be anxious about anything,” said of Timothy in the same letter that he is “genuinely concerned/worried” for the welfare of the Philippians (Phil. 2:19-21). And Paul was commending him for his genuine concern/worry! Paul also spoke of his own “anxiety for all the churchesin 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:28). It is this kind of responsible loving concern/fear/worry that leads us to pray and to experience the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” so that we have courage in the face of genuinely fearful situations (Phil. 4:6-7).

And when we view fear and worry in this way, we then can say that this kind of courage in the face of genuine concern is truly a fruit of the Spirit that only Christians can possess and express. And that is because in these situations only a Christian bows his knees to his heavenly Father and prays, “Father I know that this is a big concern, but YOU ARE FAR BIGGER than this concern, and you are able to be my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, you have proven this to me in Christ, whom you sent, to free me from my biggest concern, namely your just and eternal wrath, and so I trust that if you are on my side, who can be against me, you who did not spare your only Son, how will you not also with Him freely give me all things, for I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from your love for me in Christ Jesus my Lord, Amen” (Ps. 46:1-3; Jn. 3:16; Ps. 27:1-3; Rom. 8:31-39). In this fallen world, fear and courage can and do coexist in a Christian, just as sorrow and joy coexist in a Christian, but ultimately courage conquers and casts out fear in a Christian because of the Spirit that has been given to us (Rom. 8:15-17; 2 Tim. 1:6-7).

The amazing thing about all of this is that though Christ had nothing to be afraid of, being the eternal Son of God and the one who perfectly obeyed God in the flesh, He wrestled with the worst fear imaginable in the Garden of Gethsemane on our behalf (Luke 22:39-46). He was genuinely afraid of the cup of God’s wrath for His people and yet he pressed on in the the most amazing and true courage any human being has ever exhibited in this world. The question is not so much did Christ experience fear in the Garden, no doubt he did, but what did he do with that fear? He took it to his heavenly Father in prayer. And He entrusted himself to Him who judges justly and works all things ultimately for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose (1 Pet. 2:23; Rom. 8:28). It was for the joy that was set before him, the joy of being raised and returning to his Father’s right hand in glory, the joy of seeing the innumerable multitude of His offspring from all nations whom he would justified through his blood, the joy of bringing great glory to his Father, that he endured the cross, despising it’s shame (Jn. 17:5; Isa. 53:11; Phil. 2:9-11). And He who now rules all things for the sake of His church is interceding on our behalf and knows the kinds of fears that we face in this world as our sympathetic High Priest (Eph. 1:19-23; Heb. 4:14-16).

Therefore, let us trust that His work was not in vain and that surely Christ has conquered all of our fears and we can trust that, because of Him, our heavenly Father will surely work all things for our ultimate good in Christ (Rom. 8:28-39). Beloved in Christ, be afraid in this fallen world, BUT don’t sin in your fear, take it to your heavenly Father in prayer and trust that He is for you in Christ and that, by His Spirit, He will grant you the courage to face life’s terrifying situations and will bring you into the unimaginable glories of the age to come for the glory of His Triune Name! Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly (Rev. 21:1-7; 22:1-5, 20)!

“The Heart that Wags the Tongue: Gossip among God’s People”

I have been preaching through the various fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:16-26. This past Sunday I preached on the fruit of self-control in two parts. In the afternoon sermon I focused on one important area where we all need to grow in self-control, namely the taming our tongues from James 3:1-12. In that passage James highlights the fact that our tongues are disproportionately influential compared to the rest of our body parts and that because the tongue holds so much potential power for harm, we dare not neglect the discipline of guarding our speech. And one kind of evil speech that we often struggle with, women AND men, is gossip. I addressed this to some extent in my sermon and I quoted from an article on gossip (that I found in the Journal of Biblical Counseling) in order to help God’s people determine when something is gossip. I also said I would post the rest of the article on-line when I got a chance and so here it is: “The Heart that Wags the Tongue: Gossip among God’s People”, by Brenda Payne. I found it very helpful not only because it highlighted the Bible’s view of gossip from all of the Scriptures, but especially because Payne helps us to see when talking about someone behind their back becomes gossip and how we need to seek God’s grace and strength to fight against this kind of evil speech. May this article help you to pray and live, by God’s grace, the words of Psalm 141:3: “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”

When is the last time you prayed for more gentleness?

George Bethune once said, “Perhaps no grace is less prayed for, or less cultivated than gentleness. Indeed it is considered rather as belonging to natural disposition or external manners, than as a Christian virtue; and seldom do we reflect that not to be gentle is sin.” I am currently preaching through the various fruits of the Spirit that Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23 and this Sunday I am on gentleness and even though Bethune wrote those words in 1839 they ring true for today. When is the last time you prayed for more gentleness? At least for myself, I know that I need more gentleness in my life and have rarely prayed for it.

But what is gentleness? R.C Sproul rightly points out that “the popular conception of gentleness and meekness is a person who is shy, timid, and fearful” But, “gentleness does not preclude the possibility of strength but presupposes it.” Jerry Bridges in his book, The Fruitful Life, writes, “Both gentleness and meekness are born of power, not weakness. There is a pseudo-gentleness that is timidity, and there is a pseudo-meekness that is cowardly.” We might call timidity and cowardly counterfeit fruit. The opposite fruit of gentleness is abrasiveness and arrogance. According to one Greek lexicon the Greek word for gentleness means, “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance (gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness).” Bridges goes on to describe gentleness in the following way: “Billy Graham defines gentleness as, ‘mildness in dealing with others. . .It displays a sensitive regard for others and is careful never to be unfeeling for the rights of others.’ Gentleness is an active trait, describing the manner in which we should treat others. Meekness is a passive trait, describing the proper Christian response when others mistreat us. . .Gentleness is illustrated by the way we would handle a carton of exquisite crystal glasses: it is the recognition that the human personality is valuable but fragile and must be handled with care.”

Once again, when is the last time that you prayed for or sought to cultivate this grace in God’s strength? In order to encourage you to pray for and cultivate this fruit of the Spirit with me, here are some Scripture passages on gentleness to highlight it’s significance in the Bible as an attribute of God that Christ bore perfectly on our behalf and that the Holy Spirit is now working in us as we look to Christ by faith.

The Gentleness of God

  • Deut. 32:1 “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. 2 May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb. 3 For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God!
  • Psa. 18:35 You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.
  • Hos. 2:14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderlyto her.
  • Isaiah 40 is probably the best passage in the Bible that shows the perfect balance of strength/power and tenderness/gentleness in God: Is. 40:1  Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. . .10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. . .21 Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; 23 who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. 24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. 25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.

The Gentleness of Christ

Much could be pointed to in the life of Christ to show is gentleness, such as how he approached the woman at the well with a perfect balance of toughness and tenderness, but here are two key passages that speak of his gentleness:

  • Matt. 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
  • Matt. 12:20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory;

The Call to Gentleness 

  • Psa. 37:10  In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. 11 But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.
  • Prov. 15:4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
  • Is. 29:19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
  • Matt. 5:5   “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 
  • 1Cor. 4:21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
  • 2Cor. 10:1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!
  • Gal. 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is. . .23 gentleness
  • Gal. 6:1  Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
  • Eph. 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
  • Eph. 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
  • Col. 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones. . .meekness 
  • 1Th. 2:7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God abut also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
  • 1Tim. 3:1  The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
  • Titus 3:1  Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.     
  • James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 
  • 1Pet. 3:1  Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives— 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing—  4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  
  • 1Pet. 3:15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 
  • 1Tim. 6:11  But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
  • 2Tim. 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,  26 and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.    
  • James 1:21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
  • James 3:13  Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meeknessof wisdom. 
  • 1Pet. 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tenderheart, and a humble mind

May God grant us the grace, by His Spirit, to be gentle, even as Christ was gentle and humbled himself for us and died on the cross for our abrasiveness and arrogance, was raised from the dead in power and is now seated at the Father’s right hand where he rules us and all things by His Word and Spirit with the perfect balance of toughness and tenderness. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

Patience With Annoying People

Here is my third point and conclusion from a sermon I recently preached on patience:

III. In Thankfulness To God, Be Patient: With People Who Annoy You

If love is patient and patience is being long-suffering and long-tempered, here we might say that love is long-tolerating. In other words, “love is not irritable” (1 Cor. 13:5).

We’ve all been there: your waiting in line at Wal-Mart/Super-store and the check out worker is a rookie in training, the person checking out is a little old lady who doesn’t know how to work a debit machine and keeps hitting the wrong button, and then something doesn’t have a price tag on it so you have to wait for a price check and then the rookie check out person makes a mistake and so he/she has to signal the manager for help, and as you look around for another line to jump into there’s only one or two other lines open and they are all filled up with people and not moving much faster and you get totally annoyed with the situation and the people involved. How do you then treat the check out person when you get up there? Because God has been abundantly patient with you in Christ, you show them patience. Love is not irritable.

And yet, we so easily get irritated and respond in unloving ways when we are at the grocery store, the airport and our flight is delayed, in dealing with government employees who lost our paperwork, in dealing with our not so tech savvy parents when their Skype keeps crashing on their dinosaur of a computer, at restaurants when our food order gets messed up. And the list could go on and on. This is the stuff of a Seinfeld episode. When we are outside the situation it makes for a good funny story. But when we are in the situation, God calls us to patience. He calls us to love people who annoy us and not to be like George Costanza who gets so easily irritated with others.

Love is patient and kind. . .it his not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable. (1 Cor. 13:4-5). Jesus was not irritable and had every reason to be with his disciples who were so slow to learn. And he has every reason to be irritable with us for being so slow to learn from our foolish and sinful ways. We are to bear with one another in love, and to remember that “love covers a multitude of sins,” and annoyances, we might add (1 Pet. 4:8). And so, as I said last week sometimes we need to overlook an offense, whether someone has sinned against us or simply annoyed us with their personality (Prov. 12:16; 19:11). We are to be patient and bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:1-2).

How can we grow in the Christ-like fruit of patience? We must remember that all of our abilities we possess have been given to us by God, so we have no reason to feel that we are any better than anyone else. We didn’t choose the family and life situation we would be born into either. We didn’t create ourself in the first place. We are God’s creation and he has graciously given us what we have. And each of us must confess, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!”

Another thing to remember here is that we should practice the judgment of charity towards others, i.e. not imputing motives to them and interpreting their actions in the worst possible light. In other words, giving them the benefit of the doubt. So for example, if someone offends you because they only stuck around to talk to you for a few minutes after church and then left, a judgment of charity would say, “perhaps they were feeling sick and needed to get home because of what they ate at potluck.” Or if someone doesn’t return your e-mail, instead of saying, “this person is ignoring me,” the judgment of charity says, “perhaps it was sent to their spam junk box.” And we could list many more examples of how to exercise a judgment of charity with others. We should always give people the benefit of the doubt and never assume we know the motives of their heart.

And remember, you have made others wait at times. You have habits that annoy other people too (trust me!). And you are still be sanctified yourself and are not yet perfect. These are a few things to remember that will go a long way in cultivating patience with people’s shortcomings, bad habits, and annoying personality traits.

And once again, this doesn’t negate correcting another’s faults or confronting someone about an irritating habit or their sins. But whatever is annoying us about a person, we must first confront our wrong attitudes and deal with our own heart and make sure our desire to correct or confront a person is not from a spirit of impatience but from a spirit of love and concern for the welfare of the other person and with a readiness to forgive others as God in Christ forgave us. Only the gospel can ultimately motivate us to be truly patient and forgiving towards others.

And so, beloved, you are to be patient with others because God is abundantly patient with you in Christ. So in thankfulness to God, be patient: 1. With People Who Mistreat You, 2. With People Who Provoke You, and 3. With People Who Annoy You.

Conclusion

Who is God asking you to be more patient with this week? Is it your husband who is always home late from work, your wife who is constantly nagging you, your teenage or college age son who doesn’t pull his weight around the house, your daughter who complains and is ungrateful, your toddler who breaks things and ignores your instruction, your child who keeps you up at night, other people’s kids, your mom who embarrasses you around your friends, your dad who is inconsistent with rules and lazy, your flaky friend, your co-worker who annoys you or competes against you, your teacher who isn’t fair, your student who is slow to learn or is drama for you, your boss who is overbearing, your government leaders who don’t share your same policies, your church leaders who aren’t running things the way you would, or maybe your pastor who sometimes preaches too long?

No doubt we need more of the love of Christ in our life for all the impatience that is still in our hearts. May God help us by His Spirit to grow in patience because He has and continues to be so patient with us in Christ. Amen!

What is Christian Joy?

Here is part one of a two part sermon series on Christian joy that I preached this past Sunday (if you prefer, you can listen to it here):

Charles Spurgeon, instructing a group of seminary students on sermon delivery, said, “When you speak of heaven, let your face light up with a heavenly gleam. Let your eyes shine with reflected glory. And when you speak of hell–well, then your usual face will do.” As funny as that is, there is some truth to it. Sadly, too often, Christians lack joy in their life. And I am hear today to exhort you with Paul the apostle, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). Elsewhere Paul wrote, For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). As Christians, joy ought to be a characteristic of our life. Others should know of your joy in the Lord. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit AND Jesus says in John 15 that one of the reasons that he came is so that His joy may be in us and so that our joy may be full (John 15:11). So once again we are called to rejoice in the LORD, and not just some times but ALWAYS. But in order to understand and appreciate and heed this command we need to understand what true Christian joy is this morning, which is fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Theme: Christian Joy

  1. What Christian Joy Is and Is Not (Part 1: morning sermon)
  2. How We Cultivate Christian Joy (Part 2: afternoon sermon)

1. What Christian Joy Is and Is Not

Phil Ryken says that, “Joy. . .is not so much happiness as contentment. Joy is the ability to take good cheer from the gospel. . . It is not, therefore, a spontaneous response to some temporary pleasure. It does not depend on circumstance at all. It is based rather on rejoicing in one’s eternal identity in Jesus Christ.” And is this not what Paul says in Phil. 4? He doesn’t just say, “rejoice!” He says, “rejoice IN THE LORD!”, not rejoice that things are going well for you right now or even though things are going bad for you right now, stop being such a Debbie Downer and rejoice anyway. NO! Paul says, rejoice IN THE LORD. In fact, speaking of contentment, Paul goes on and says: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13). And remember, Paul was writing all of these things while he was in prison for the sake of Christ and the Gospel.

Another way to define what Christian joy is and is not is as Tim Keller puts it: “Joy is delight in God and his salvation for the sheer beauty and worth of who He is. Its opposite is hopelessness/despair, its counterfeit is elation that comes with blessings not the Blesser! Mood swings based on circumstances.” So you see Christian joy is NOT simply a happy-go-lucky attitude despite what I am going through; Nor is it mere optimism for the future; Nor is it mere happiness in present circumstances that are good (these are all counterfeits to what real Christian joy is. . .not that these things are necessarily wrong. . .they just aren’t to be confused with genuine Christian joy because even a non-Christian can have these things). Furthermore, Christian joy is not incompatible with sorrow and grief. . . You see, the opposite fruit of joy is not sorrow as one would think. Rather the opposite fruit of joy is as Keller points out, hoplessness/despair.

You see, Christian joy is much more deep and profound than these things. It truly is a fruit that can only be produced by the Holy Spirit that only Christians can have. Simply put, Christian joy is rooted in the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ and is produced in us by the Holy Spirit through faith in God’s Word. R.C. Sproul: “The mandate of Christ, “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world,” is not superficial cheerfulness or irrational escapism but is grounded in cosmic reality.” And so, a Christian sermon on joy is not a superficial happy clappy pep rally despite our present circumstances. . .rather it’s a deep, heartfelt, Spirit-wrought rejoicing in the Lord that’s rooted in God’s Word to us about Christ’s present circumstances and our union with Him. Now, all of that said, where do we see this in the Bible?

Well, once again, the Bible reveals this to us in many places. Joy is an attribute of our Triune God. All three members of the Trinity delight in one another and they delight in the work of their hands in Creation and Redemption. But the supreme revelation of God for us is the person and work of Jesus. He is the one who bore the fruit of the Spirit perfectly in his life on our behalf, for our salvation, and as our supreme example. And He is the vine and we are the branches, apart from Him we can do nothing. But as we abide in Him and behold His glory we will bear much fruit by the Holy Spirit. And so we must look to Jesus to know what Christian joy looks like. And the author of Hebrews talks about Jesus’ joy in Hebrews 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).

Here we see that Jesus had joy in his life. But as I said earlier joy in the Christian life is not incompatible with sorrow. It often overlaps with sorrow in our life. And we see that especially with Jesus. The author of Hebrews tells us that it was for the joy that was set before him that Jesus endured the cross. And when he says that Jesus had joy, he doesn’t mean that Jesus had some kind of superficial happiness on the way to the cross, and especially while he was on the cross. In fact, we know from Isaiah 53 that Jesus is characterized as being a man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief. But you see his delight, his joy, was in the knowledge that he was being obedient to His Father’s will and redeeming His people. Isaiah 53 also tells us that through suffering, Christ would see his offspring, and that his days would be prolonged and that the will of the Lord would prosper in his hand. He goes on and says, Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous” (Isa. 53:11). You see, Jesus didn’t take joy simply in suffering and dying on the cross. Rather, he took joy in knowing that he was redeeming his Bride. He took joy in knowing that one day he would see his bride walking down that aisle, white and glorious, at that wedding supper of the Lamb in the new heavens and new earth. And he took joy in knowing that it would please his Father and bring him great glory.

How do we cultivate the joy of Christ in our life, that same kind of joy that he experienced even as he went to the cross? We all long for that kind of indestructible joy, don’t we? J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the epic trilogy Lord of the Rings, in his essay “On Fairy Stories”, says that every good story is a reflection of the Gospel story. All good stories have some kind of catastrophe that gets to a point where it seems like the protagonist has no way out, where all hope is lost, and it’s all going to end in tragedy. But then there’s that great turn of events where the hero is saved, his enemies are conquered and they all live, what?. . .happily ever after. Tolkien even came up with his own word for this type of story. He calls it a eucatastrophe. Eu is a Greek prefix which means good. So a eucatastrophe is a catastrophe that turns to good in the end. And Tolkien says that the stories we love most are eucatastophes. And it’s true. I saw three movies this week with my wife (we went on a date night binge since grandparents are in town to babysit our kids). And all three movies had some catastrophe that turned to good in the end. And that’s because we are all longing for redemption. In this world of sorrow, we are all longing for indestructible joy in the end. And Tolkien says the only difference between those stories that we love and the Gospel is that the Gospel is the eucatastrophe that came true! The life, death and resurrection of Christ is the eucatastrophe of human history. And Jesus says to you and me today, as he said to his disciples: So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). 

But we don’t have to wait until heaven to experience that joy now. Jesus was originally speaking about his death and resurrection appearances. They had great sorrow when Jesus was in the grave but then he rose from the dead on the third day and appeared to his disciples and they rejoiced greatly to see him face to face once again, risen victorious over the grave. And Jesus gave them his Spirit so that no one would ever be able to take their joy from them (John 20:22). And he gives you and me His Spirit as well to produce the joy of the Lord in our hearts more and more until Christ comes again to bring us into the glory of the new heavens and new earth where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at God’s right hand (Gal. 3:13-14; Gal. 5:22; Ps. 16:11). In the words of Peter: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9).

Counterfeit Love vs. The Fruit of the Spirit

We can appear to love another person on the outside but deep down we only really love them because they make us look good and feel better about ourselves. And that’s counterfeit love. And you know it’s a counterfeit by how you respond when they no longer make you look good to others or no longer make you feel good about yourself. But you see, then you have the opportunity to truly love them as Christ loved you!

And so, you don’t just bail on your marriage, you don’t bail on your children, you don’t bail on your parents, you don’t bail on your church, you don’t bail on your friendships. Love doesn’t just bail at the first sight of cost to oneself! Martin Luther says this in his commentary on Galatians: “Whenever you are angry with your brother for any cause, repress your violent emotions through the Spirit. Bear with his weakness and love him. He does not cease to be your neighbor or brother because he offended you. On the contrary, he now more than ever before requires your loving attention.”

You see, the fruit of the Spirit is born in the context of community, especially when things aren’t going your way. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Love overcomes evil with good. It says, now I can really love you. I can demonstrate that my love is genuine. And now I can really magnify Christ in my life because love is patient and Christ has first been patient with me. Love is kind and Christ has first been kind to me. Love does not insist on its own rights and Christ first gave up his rights for me. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all thing, endures all things. This is love! This is who Christ is and this is who you, dear Christian, already are in Christ through faith and this is who you are to become in Him more and more by the Spirit’s enabling power. The fruit of the Spirit is Christ-like self-sacrificial love.

(This is a portion of my sermon “The Fruit of the Spirit is Love” from this past Sunday. To listen to the rest go here.)