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I think it would be good this evening if I began by briefly recapitulating my message from last night. The theme that I chose that I feel the Lord gave me was a spiritual law that I believe works throughout the entire universe. I pointed out that there are physical laws that we all recognize which operate in every circumstance in which they apply. As, for instance, the law of gravity. No sensible person today expects the law of gravity to cease working at their convenience. You step out of a fourth floor window, it’s no good expecting you won’t fall because you know you will.
There’s a law at work in that situation. I pointed out that there are also spiritual and moral laws in the universe which are just as universal in their application—in fact, more so. And in which it is just as impossible to break. That if you go contrary to those laws you will not break the laws but the laws will break you just as with the law of gravity.
The particular law that I chose last night to begin to deal with, and I’m going to continue dealing with it tonight, is stated three times in the New Testament. And each time it’s stated from the lips of Jesus himself. It’s pretty simple: whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. This is a universal law that applies in any situation in any life at any time. If you exalt yourself you’ll be humbled. The King James says abased. Perhaps another word would be humiliated. But if you humble yourself you will be exalted. Put it in a simple phrase: the way up is down. But if you try to go up you’ll end by going down.
The great example we took of that last night was the created archangel whose name was originally Lucifer who was, perhaps, the most wise and the most beautiful of all the created angels. And as I understand, he was in charge of one third of God’s angels. But the scripture reveals in Ezekiel 28 and elsewhere that because of his beauty and his wisdom, his heart became proud, pride led to rebellion, he not merely rebelled individually but he incited rebellion against God among all the angels over whom he had charge. And he led one third of the created angels in rebellion against God. And for that was banished from the presence of God.
Now, tonight I want to focus on the positive aspect of that truth. Lucifer’s name was changed to Satan. Instead of being the son of the dawn, the one who brings light, the one who heralds the dawn he became Satan, the resistor, the adversary, the one who opposes God’s purposes and God’s people. He’s an example of the negative aspect of that truth. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.
This evening I want to look at the positive aspect, whoever humbles himself will be exalted. And there is the most perfect contrast in this respect between Lucifer who became Satan and Jesus who was and is by nature the Son of God, God himself. Satan reached up, slipped and fell. Jesus stooped down and was lifted up. If you can focus your mind on those two beings, you’ll see the most perfect illustration of this truth. But the truth applies in every area of every life in every time and situation. Let me say it again. The way up is down.
To look now at the positive aspect as illustrated by Jesus, I want to turn to Philippians 2 to a very well known and a very beautiful passage. A passage that I can never read without being personally challenged by its truth. I’m going to read, first of all, from Philippians 2, beginning at verse 5. I’m reading from the New International Version. I may make a few suggestions about alternative translations. In some respects I think the New American Standard is closer to the original in this passage. When I prepare my radio broadcasts I have both versions in front of me as well as the King James and I choose the one that suits me best. In preaching it’s difficult to carry a lot of different Bibles around so I stick to one version. Philippians 2:5:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus...”
And then in the verses that follow, Paul explains what he means by the attitude of Christ Jesus. The King James says let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.
“Who being in very nature [or form] God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped...”
There he is in direct opposition to Satan who did consider equality with God something to be grasped, reached up, grasped for it, slipped and fell—irretrievably.
“...but made himself nothing...”
The New American Standard says he emptied himself which is a more literal translation. One of the great hymns of Charles Wesley says he emptied himself of all but love.
“...taking the very nature [or the form] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Bear in mind that this letter of Paul was written in prison. I don’t suppose he had any particular comforts or conveniences and one of the things that causes me to marvel at the inspiration of scripture is the perfect balance of this passage which I’m sure Paul didn’t premeditate. He may not even have been conscious of what he wrote. But in this passage we see the seven steps down and the seven steps up. I want to pause for a moment and point them out to you. Look first at the seven steps down. And seven, as you know, is often in scripture the number of completion, of perfection. It’s also associated with the Holy Spirit.
All right. In verse 7 the first step down, he emptied himself. He laid aside all the attributes of divinity. The second step down, he took the form of a servant. He who was the Lord became the servant. However, there are various kinds of servants in the universe. He could have become equal with the angels and been a servant. The scripture says in Hebrews he was made a little lower than the angels. So the next step down, he was made in human likeness; he became a man, not an angel. The fourth step down, he was found in appearance as a man. He could have taken on what I would call the Adamic perfection. He could have appeared as Adam appeared in majesty and beauty and glory before the fall. But he didn’t appear like that. Because when he walked the streets of his hometown, Nazareth, there was nothing special externally to distinguish him from all the other people of the town. And when Peter ultimately identified him as the Messiah and the Son of God, Jesus said flesh and blood has not revealed this to you. There was nothing in his external appearance to make him different from the other men of his day. So he was not merely a human, but he was a man like the men of his time. The fifth step down, he humbled himself. Not merely was he a man of his time but he was a humble man of his time. He was not a prince, he was not a wealthy man, he was not a political leader, he was not a military commander. He had none of those aspects or functions which impresses people in the natural.
I heard years ago of a brother in the Lord in Britain upon whose heart the Lord laid the prayer which he raised in response to the Lord: “Lord, show me your hand.” And he kept praying this. He didn’t know why but he prayed, “Lord, show me your hand.” And one day the Lord answered the prayer and showed him his hands. But it was a surprise because he anticipated that he would see the nailprints in the hands. But the way the Lord showed him his hands was the hands of a working man: rough with the use of the hammer and the saw, the other instruments. Just a plain working man. He was a humble man.
The sixth step down, he became obedient to death. Not merely lived as a man but died as a man. The seventh and the final step down, death on a cross. The ultimate of humiliation, shame, rejection and agony. So those are the seven straight steps down to the lowest place of all, the place of the criminal, the reject. Rejected by men and even rejected by God the Father on our account.
Now, in verse 9, look at the first word. What is it? Therefore. You see, this is the outworking of a divine law. This is not an accident. Jesus was not exalted because he was God’s son. He was exalted because he earned it. See that? There’s two therefores in this passage. I’ll show you another one in a moment. Even Jesus was subject to this law. There is no one in the universe who is not subject to this law. Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Now let’s look at the exaltation which also has seven aspects to it. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, number one. Number two, gave him the name that is above every name. The King James says a name but the correct translation is the name. There’s only one name that’s above every name. And that’s the name of Jesus. The third aspect, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow. And then four, five and six are the different areas of the universe in which knees will bow. Fourth, in heaven. Fifth, on earth. Sixth, under the earth. The three great areas of the universe are all going to acknowledge the exaltation of Jesus by bowing their knees. And seventhly, finally, every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Seven steps down and seven steps up. But he could not take the steps up until he had taken the steps down. I invite you to meditate on that therefore. Therefore, God gave him the highest place in the universe. For many years I thought it was all worked out in advance. Jesus was just going to do certain things and God would automatically exalt him. But I saw that it wasn’t so. Jesus had to meet the conditions to be exalted. And if he had to meet them, believe me, you and I have to meet them, too.
Now, what I want to say this evening really in essence is that this principle, this attitude, has got to be worked out in our lives. Paul introduces that passage by saying your attitude should be the same of that as Christ Jesus. And then he describes the attitude. What is the attitude? Being willing to go down and down and down.
Now, if you have a translation similar to mine, the 12th verse which is the application to our lives begins with what word? Therefore. You notice the second therefore? Therefore, it’s going to work for you and me. That’s what it says. It worked in Jesus, it’s got to work in us. The same attitude that was in Jesus has to be in us.
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed...”
Humility leads to obedience. And pride leads to disobedience. Pride was the source of rebellion in Satan.
“...not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
So the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling is the working out of this principle. That we have to humble ourselves to be exalted.
And then Paul shows what kind of conduct and nature it will produce. Verse 14:
“Do everything without complaining or arguing.”
The spiritual man praises, the carnal man complains. You never can be right with God when you’re complaining. Just bear that in mind.
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure...”
We’re not blameless and pure but we can become blameless and pure.
“...children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation...”
I suppose most of us don’t have any problem about seeing that we live in a crooked and depraved generation. But the responsibility on us is to be the children of God without fault in such a generation.
“...in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life...”
And I was deeply impressed when I began my radio broadcast by that truth; that if we’re going to shine, one of the things we have to do is hold out the word of life. We cannot live self contained, self pleasing, self sufficient lives and ignore the needs of the world and shine. Shining involves holding out the word of life to those that don’t receive it.
“...in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”
That’s a very solemn thought which comes to any minister, I’m sure, at times who is sincere. Is what I am doing worthwhile. And many times almost any person in ministry here would acknowledge that he’s tempted to believe it isn’t worthwhile. And it’s possible that it might not be worthwhile. That’s a real fact. It depends on what we’re producing. Paul said if I don’t produce this in you, then all my labor that I bestowed on you is in vain. It’s a very solemn thought. It’s possible, I believe, for a man to spend his whole life in ministry to people, but if he doesn’t produce the right kind of people his life’s work has been in vain.
As a younger preacher I used to be more concerned with what I preached. Now I’m more concerned with what I produce. Because the tree is known by the fruit. It’s no good producing good sermons and having good programs if we don’t produce good people.
Now the essence of what I want to say in following this up here is that humility is not an emotion. It’s not a pious feeling. It’s a decision of the will. And it has to be worked out in action. A lot of people have got the wrong idea about humility. They kind of walk in church on Sunday mornings, feel themselves over and say am I feeling humble? Don’t bother about feeling humble. Just decide to be humble. Make the decision. You hear people pray from time to time, “God, make me humble.” I question whether God can do that. I think there’s only one person who can make you humble and that’s you. And if you don’t decide to do it, it won’t happen.
Look at two passages in the epistles of James and Peter that are very parallel. James 4:10:
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
Here’s the same principle again. But notice it says humble yourselves, you do it. And in 1 Peter 5:5–6:
“Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.”
That’s only the beginning of that verse. There is a certain obligation on the younger to show respect and submission toward the older. But that’s not the whole application. Then that principle is applied to all of us, young or old.
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
There’s the same principle again. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. You want grace? Humble yourself. But if you come to God with pride, the Bible says God knows the proud from afar. And that’s where he keeps them. Pride never has access to the presence of God. So Peter goes on, verse 6:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, [notice the therefore] under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
And bear in mind it’s God who determines the time when you will be lifted up. Jesus didn’t raise himself from the tomb, he waited for the Father to do it. One of the biggest tests in our lives is humbling ourselves and waiting for God to respond. And he usually doesn’t respond just when we think he ought to. The version I read there says clothe yourselves with humility. Phillip’s translation says, wear the overalls of humility, which is an excellent translation because the Greek word that’s translated clothe yourselves means put on precisely a certain type of apron. And it was an apron that was only worn by slaves. So any person wearing that apron immediately indicated to everybody I’m a slave. And Peter says put on the apron of slavery. Let it be apparent that you’re a servant. Wear that clothing that marks you out as a servant. And he says humble yourselves. In other words, become a servant. Seek to serve.
Now there is one passage in the Bible where God speaks about humbling people. It’s in Deuteronomy 8. But I think if you look there with me you’ll see that what God did was to create the circumstances in which Israel was given the opportunity to humble themselves. And I also believe the record of the scripture indicates that most of them never did it. Deuteronomy 8:2–3:
“Remember how the Lord your God led you, all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. [Notice humility always leads to obedience.] He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
So God put them in the wilderness in a very special set of circumstances where most of the things that they were used to were no longer available. Why did he put them in that set of circumstances? To humble them, to give them the opportunity to humble themselves before God and submit to his dealings. But as I’ve said, it’s my impression that most of them never did humble themselves although the circumstances were there. So my conclusion is that God can humble us in the sense of making the situation in which we need to humble ourselves. But the ultimate decision rests with each one of us. Humble yourself. And let me tell you, for sure, that if you pray, “God, make me humble,” he’ll arrange a situation in which you have to humble yourself. And then don’t complain because that’s the answer to your prayer. “Lord, make me humble.” It sounds so good in church on Sunday morning but on Monday morning when your boss bawls you out for nothing that’s any fault of yours, that’s the answer to your prayer. And what are you going to do then? That there in 1Peter also, chapter 2, verse 19 and following.
“For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.”
That’s a beautiful translation. Why should you do that? It wasn’t fair. You’ll endure it if you’re conscious of God.
“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you, suffer for doing good and you, endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called...”
I’ve heard Don Basham say a lot of Christians never realize that’s part of their calling. To this you were called. To what? Suffer unjustly. Why? To cultivate humility. God will arrange the circumstances, you better be open when God does to see what he’s doing.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
So humility ultimately must come through a decision of our will. And that decision has to be worked out in action, not in words, not in emotions. Jesus said, and it’s one of the passages where he quotes this principle, he said if you’re invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit at the top table, sit at the lowest table. Then there’s only one way you can go and that’s up. I love the words of John Bunyan, I’ve quoted them many times. “He that is down need fear no fall. He that is low, no pride. He that is humble ever shall have God to be his guide.” You can’t go lower than the floor. If you’re there already there’s only one way you can go and that’s up. And where it says humble yourselves before the Lord, this is a matter of personal relationship before the Lord. I find that one of the best things I ever do is get on the floor before the Lord and lie there on my face. And say to the Lord, Lord, I want you to know that I know that this is where I belong. And wait there until you feel a release in your spirit from the Lord.
Now, I want to speak in a practical way about two ways that this principle has to be applied in our lives, the principle of humbling ourselves. The first is when we come to God initially. The second is as we progress in the spiritual life. I want to begin by speaking about how we come to God. Matthew 18:1–4:
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
What do you think their motivation was? Could I qualify?
“He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you, change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
What did he mean? Well, the next verse is his explanation. And there’s another therefore.
“Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
What is there about a child that’s humble? Children are not always very sweet in their behavior, they can be quite ornery, quite quarrelsome, but they’re teachable. They don’t have a lot of hang-ups and preconceptions and prejudices. They’re open. They’re not ready made. And I believe that’s what Jesus meant when he said if you come to God and you want to come into the kingdom of heaven, you’ve got to come like a little child, there is no other way.
Look in 1Corinthians 1. Paul describes the kind of people that belong to the Corinthian church. Let me emphasize the Corinthian church was charismatic. 1Corinthians 1:26–29:
“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”
Is there anything wrong with being wise or influential or of noble birth? Nothing whatever. What’s the problem? Those things normally produce pride. It’s not the wisdom but it’s the pride that comes from the wisdom. It’s not the noble birth but it’s the pride that comes from noble birth. That’s why the proportion of such people amongst the total company of God’s people is very small. Not that God has got anything against wisdom or influence or noble birth, but those things tend to create in the people that have them the barrier of pride. So Paul goes on:
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, [Why? Very simply stated in the next verse.] so that no one may boast before him.”
All pride must be excluded. And God made his choice on that basis. You see, the principle is universal.
Let me turn again to the gospel of Luke. There’s a lot in Luke about this principle. Perhaps more than in any of the other gospels. Luke 18, the story of the rich ruler that came to Jesus. Luke 18, beginning at verse 18:
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother. “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. [and I believe he was speaking the truth.] When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” “When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.”
It always impresses me that that’s not the way people usually respond to being wealthy. But in the presence of Jesus his values suddenly changed.
“Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Now there’s a lot of speculation about what Jesus means about a camel going through the eye of a needle but I believe there is a simple, plain, correct answer. When I lived in Israel in l946 and around that time, I had friends, a married couple. He was an Anglican priest. His wife was a Jewish believer and the daughter of a Jewish believer who had lived in Israel. And she told me that her father said he could remember the time when the Jaffa gate was not open. It was open, strangely enough, to let the Kaiser in sometime in the early years of this century. And there was a great iron door that closed the Jaffa gate to the old city. The great iron door was closed every night when the sun set. And of course, that continued for years. It’s only comparatively recently that people have gone out after dark in Jerusalem. And if a traveler came on a camel after dark, they would not open that great iron door. But in that iron door was a much smaller, little door, just about maybe four feet high and two feet wide. And they would reluctantly open that door and the man would dismount from his camel and enter, strip the camel of all its baggage and everything that it had on it, get the camel down on its knees and on its knees without anything on it it could just barely squeeze through that door. Now that door was called the needle’s eye. So when Jesus spoke about a camel going through the eye of the needle he wasn’t using some extravagant and unreasonable expression. He was speaking about something very vivid. And Jesus said a rich man who comes to God has got to come like that camel. He’s got to be stripped of everything, he’s got to get down on his knees and he can just squeeze in because there’s no room for pride in that doorway.
I’d like to turn to the Old Testament to 2Kings 5 and look for a moment at the story of a man who thought he could come to God in a big way. This is about the third sermon I ever heard when I got in touch with Pentecostal people. And it was a tremendous anointed message on Naaman. I’ve always remembered the picture. We’ll just look at certain aspects of the story, beginning at the 1st verse of 2Kings 5.
“Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.”
How many people there are in whose lives there’s a but. He had everything but. He was a commander of the army, he was highly regarded, a valiant soldier—but. He had this horrible, unclean, incurable disease: leprosy. He had in his home a little Jewish girl that had been taken captive by the Syrian band and this Jewish girl was really a model of the grace of God. Instead of being resentful against those who had taken her captive, she was concerned about them.
“And she said to her mistress: If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! [that’s Elisha] He would cure him of his leprosy. Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means go,” the King of Aram replied. [He didn’t want to lose one of his best officers.] “I will send a letter to the King of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing.”
He came to God in a big way. My Bible here says that ten talents of silver is about seven hundred and fifty pounds. And six thousand shekels of gold is about a hundred and fifty pounds of gold. That’s $400 dollars an ounce, it’s more than I can do in my head to work out how much that is. But it was a vast sum of wealth. All right. He went with the letter to the King of Israel and the letter read:
“With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you, may cure him of his leprosy.”
There’s really an element of humor in this story. The King of Israel was appalled. He said what can I do? He tore his clothes. He said he’s just seeking a quarrel with me, that’s all. But verse 8:
“When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robs, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.”
Oh, I would that God’s people could say that today! And thank God when they can.
“So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house.”
What do you think Elisha did? Come in, you’re welcome! Take a seat. Elisha didn’t even go to the door. What was Elisha doing? What was he dealing with? Pride, that’s right. There’s a real art in dealing with pride.
“Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, [What an insult! The most important client who had come in five years! What modern physician would do that?] “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.”
See, Naaman was like so many of us. He had God all preprogrammed, just sure of how it was going to happen. I’m sure you’ve never done that. Never! You know, God, I know the way it’s going to be. Nothing happened. You’re not even aware whether God is on the scene at all.
“Are not the Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel?”
How many of you have seen the Jordan River? It is not beautiful. It is very, very muddy. I was baptized in the River Jordan in l942. And when I stood there in the water I sunk up to my ankles in this liquid mud on the bottom. I can really understand Naaman’s reaction. That muddy stream when we’ve got beautiful crystal clear streams in Syria that flow down from the mountains? What a ridiculous suggestion.
“Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed? So he turned and went off in a rage.”
This is an excellent translation when it comes to the historical events. There’s nothing to equal the New International Version.
“Naaman’s servants wen to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?”
Of course he would. If he had had to come up with a fee of all that gold and silver he wouldn’t have hesitated. The trouble was it was too easy. Too simple. And it still is for many, many people today.
“How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”
Thank God Naaman had the sense to listen to his servants. He was beginning to learn what? Humility, that’s right.
“So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.”
Think what’s involved. Here he is in all his military uniform with his four stars, epaulets, medals... and he has to take them all off. And what’s below the surface? Leprosy. He had to reveal it to his servants, to the people standing on the bank, everybody. What was he learning? Humility, that’s right. And then another lesson here for me is this: That there’s no such thing as partial obedience. How many times was he told to dip? Seven. What do you think would have happened if he said after five times, well, nothing is happening, this thing doesn’t work, I can just as well stop. My personal conviction is nothing changed before the seventh time and then everything changed. And remember when God says seven times he doesn’t mean six and he doesn’t mean eight. He’s very precise and he required precise obedience. So, he was like a little young boy again. He thought he could come to God in a big way. But thank God he was willing to learn. How many are not!
All right. Now let’s look at this principle as we progress in the spiritual life. We don’t learn it all the first time—or do we? I certainly had to humble myself. God created the situation, if anything could have been designed to humble a professor of philosophy from Eton and Cambridge, believe me, God had the situation prepared. When I think back I really did humble myself. I went as low as anybody could go. But you know what I thought afterwards? I thought God was pretty lucky to get me. It took me quite a long while that God had taken on a lot of responsibilities when he took on me. When I look back now, if I’d been God I would never have started on that project. So we don’t learn it all just when we come to God. There’s an ongoing process of humbling ourselves.
This applies particularly in the matter of leadership. The great qualification for leadership in the church of Jesus Christ is willingness to humble yourself. Let’s look in Matthew 20, beginning at verse 20.
“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.”
She was kneeling down but she wasn’t very humble. There’s a lot of outward acts that might suggest humility but it’s an inward condition.
“What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” [That’s a pretty simple request.] “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. [And they didn’t know what they were saying.] Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.
Why do you think they were indignant? That’s right. So there was nobody that came out of this with an A rating.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
So you see, the rule of the kingdom is: if you want to go up, you go down. The further down you go the higher up you come. And it’s progressive. You come into the kingdom by humbling yourself. But when you’re in the kingdom, if you want to be promoted, you go down. You become the servant of all. So that rule goes on applying in the Christian life all the way through.
I have noticed in my experience that there are subtle differences in the way people approach me. For instance, I remember a lady that came to Lydia and me once and said, I want to help you. I’m not saying she wasn’t sincere but I have to say she proved to be a disaster. Lydia afterwards said what she really wanted was me. I think of somebody else who said to me, I want to work with you. And something in me said be careful. But I think of others who said to me, Brother Prince, I want to serve you. And you know, I’ve discovered that those are the people who are a blessing. There’s a tremendous difference in the words with which a person approaches. I’m afraid of people that want to help me. Because although they may be sincere, they’re usually out for something for themselves. Now this could be misunderstood. I mean, it’s just a matter of how the person comes. But the way to be a blessing to somebody is to humble yourself. And I doubt whether you can really be a blessing as long as you’re not willing to humble yourself because that pride stands in the way of the blessing that God wants to make you.
I want to look at the example also of Paul in 2Corinthians 12:7–10.
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”
Of course, there’s been a lot said about that but I don’t intend to add to it. I simply want to point out that God loves his people so much that he’ll do everything he possibly can to keep them from becoming proud. And sometimes the thing that you might object to and complain to God about is the evidence of his love and concern for you. Paul says:
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”
Some people’s attitude is that any spiritual person always gets his prayers answered. By that standard, Paul wasn’t a spiritual person, was he? Because he prayed three times. Well, he got an answer, do you know what it was? No. Some people don’t realize that no is also an answer.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
That’s the revelation. You want God’s power? It’ll be manifested in your weakness. Paul then comes to a therefore. And notice all the therefores we’re finding this evening.
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Why should he delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions? What did they do? They humbled him. They brought him lower. He said every time I go down, I get more of God. When I am weak, then I am strong. When I boast of my infirmities, God’s glory rests on me. But when I rely on my own ability and cleverness and experience and strength, then God withdraws.
Probably you have heard Charles Simpson’s story, but it’s a good one—when he was preaching in New Zealand? And he had a fantastically successful meeting. Everything went right. The anointing flowed, the people responded. And as he was on his way home where he was staying, he said to himself, now that was the real me. And he goes on to relate the story of how the Lord said to the Holy Spirit, just show him who the real he is. And he said the next night there was no anointing, there was no blessing, the words dribbled down his chin and he went home but he realized that God had shown him who the real he was. So, when we rely on ourselves, our strength, our wisdom, God says okay. Carry on. But without me. See what you can do.
The principle is summed up in John 3:30 in a simple sentence by John the Baptist, a man who learned and applied this principle. Speaking about his relationship with Jesus, the Messiah, for whom he had come to prepare the way. He says:
“He must become greater; I must become less.”
That’s progress. It’s always becoming less that Jesus may become greater.
I was impressed by a sentence that I read once from Moody, the evangelist. He said as a young man in the service of the Lord, I used to imagine that God had his gifts stored on shelves and that the best gifts were on the top shelves and I would have to reach up for them. But he said later on I came to realize that the best gifts are on the lowest shelves and I have to stoop down for them. That’s a very beautiful way of expressing it.
Finally in my message I want to take this principle of humbling ourselves one step further. And I want to show you that we have to apply the principle not only in our relationship to God but also in our relationship to other people. See, for a long while in various sections of the church, we had all the right words towards God. But we failed to see that it didn’t work with God if it didn’t work with people. The test of what we are in our relationship to God is how we relate to other people. And this applies to humility as much as any other aspect of Christian life. I’ll just give you two scriptures about that from the New Testament. Go back to Philippians 2 for a moment and just read the 3rd verse which leads on to the passage we looked at together.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.”
That’s how we relate to other people. And in Ephesians 5:21, a short verse.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Or fear. Either word is legitimate. So the proof of our reverence for Christ is what? That we submit to one another. If we will say we are submitted to God and we will not submit to other people we are deceiving ourselves. Because the proof of our submission to God is our attitude and relationship to other people.
I want to give you two beautiful examples to close with, each from the book of Genesis. The first is in Genesis 13 and we’ll begin at verse 5. This speaks about the relationship between Abraham and Lot, his nephew. Abraham’s name had not yet been changed at this time so he is still referred to as Abram. Beginning at verse 5:
“Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together.”
There was no pasture that could provide food for all their flocks and herds. And there weren’t enough water supplies in any one area to meet the needs of all their livestock.
“And quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.”
Why do you think that’s put in? It’s really not part of the narrative, is it? What’s the point of saying the Canaanites and Perizzites were also in the land? What does it mean? It means it’s very dangerous for God’s people to quarrel when the enemy is just around the corner. And if it was ever true, it’s true today. We cannot afford the luxury of quarreling because believe me, the Canaanites and Perizzites and a lot of other ites are just around the corner. And they will exploit any division or disharmony amongst the people of God.
“So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you, and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
Now bear in mind Lot was Abram’s nephew, he was junior. Also, Abram was the man whom God had called, Lot had simply followed along with Abram without any real calling. Abram was the man whom God had chosen to be the father of his special nation, to bring forth the people who would bring forth the Messiah. He was God’s elect. What humility to say to his nephew, you have first choice. Whichever way you go, I’ll go the other way. Do you think he was taking a risk? Do you think he could have lost his inheritance? Suppose Lot had chosen the land that God had ordained for Abram? What would have happened? See, that’s the essence of humility, is you don’t make those calculations. What will happen if I submit to so and so? If God requires you to submit to so and so, what happens is not your business. It’s God’s business. But only your submitting can release the grace of God into that situation. It’s always a risk. Doing anything God tells you is a risk. God’s always telling us to do the risky things. But it’s a much greater risk not to do them. You’re caught between two risks. I remember a lady who said to me once about something she felt the Lord was speaking to her about. She said, if only I knew absolutely for certain, I’d do it. I said, if you knew absolutely for certain there’d be no faith. You’ve got to take a risk. Shall I tell you a risk that most of you have taken? Getting married! Believe me, that’s a risk! You might not be honest enough to say so, but it’s a risk. It’s also a commitment. You say well it’s risky to commit myself to a man. It is, very. But it’s much more risky to enter a marriage without being committed. In fact, I would say that’s a sure way to problems.
God has not arranged our lives so that we’re risk free. And frankly, for myself, I don’t want to live risk free. I appreciate a little excitement. Sometimes I think I get more than I want at a given moment.
What was the result? Abram said you choose. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right. And vice versa. Verse 10:
“Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord. [Now notice the next verse:] The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.”
Do you see? When he humbled himself, when he left the decision to God, God said now I can show you what I have for you. But until he made that decisive step, he could never see his inheritance. God has got it beautifully worked out. God says you humble yourself, I’ll take care of the consequences. Don’t try and work it out for me. Don’t make up your mind and vow you’ll humble yourself if—that’s not humility. God, I’ll do what my pastor asks if I get my way. Sure you will. That’s not what God wants. God wants you to say I’ll do what my pastor asks—period. It’s a commitment, it’s a risk. There is no other way. It really blesses me to see how Abram trusted God with the results of his humbling himself. We have to do that, there’s no other way.
Jesus trusted God. He died, the Father raised him up. If the Father had never raised him up, he would have never come back from the tomb. He humbled himself, God exalted him. You humble yourself, God will exalt you. Don’t try to exalt yourself. Don’t work it out for God. When you get your hands on it, God takes his off.
Let’s look at one other example. Jacob. Genesis 33. You really need to know a little bit about the background of Jacob’s career to appreciate this. Earlier in his life, Jacob whose name means cheat or supplanter, had cheated his brother Esau—he got the birthright, I wouldn’t say cheating. He simply bought it for a bowl of soup. It was pretty smart practice. But he actually cheated him out of his father’s blessing by pretending to be Esau. You know the story, I’m sure. He got nothing for it except to be in exile. And for twenty years he had to run from the land that his father had promised him. Then after twenty years serving his uncle, Laban, having acquired wives and children and flocks and herds, the Lord told him now is the time to go back. So he started back toward the Promised Land and when he got to the border he came to a place where he sent everything he had ahead of him. His wives, his children, his flocks and his herds. And it says Jacob was left alone. Perhaps we could read that. It’s in Genesis 32:24:
“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.”
This man, I believe, was God. Jacob believed that too because the next day he said I’ve seen God face to face. It was the second person of the Godhead. The one who was manifested in human history as Jesus of Nazareth. And notice the combination of gentleness and power. Jacob wouldn’t give way so eventually the man touched the socket of his hip and put him out of joint. See, just a little touch but it put him out of joint. Now Jacob was helpless. There was nothing he could do but plead for mercy.
“Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered [supplanter, cheat].
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” [it was a mystery]. Then he blessed him there.”
Now Jacob had the blessing not merely of the father, but of God.
“So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.”
And for the rest of his life Jacob walked with a limp. I’ve heard it said that God never puts sickness on anyone. And I understand that in a certain sense that’s true, but we have to face the fact that God made Jacob lame. For life. Why? Because there was no other way to do what? Humble him, that’s right. I tell you, if God really loves you and you’re not willing to humble yourself, God may have to do some very drastic things in your life.
I remember Charles Simpson and I and another brother were talking about a young man whom we all highly esteemed in the Lord. He’s a young man with a tremendous potential in ministry. But there’s a certain kind of brashness and self confidence about him. He’s very successful. But I remember Charles said briefly, “He doesn’t walk with a limp.” What a pity way to say it, he doesn’t walk with a limp.
Now, Jacob had met the angel who was God and received that blessing. Was that sufficient? No. Jacob had one more encounter. Guess who? His brother Esau. He heard that Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred armed men and the last time he saw Esau, Esau was after his life. So I suppose Jacob felt nervous. Going on in chapter 33:
“Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two maidservants. He put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. [Why were Rachel and her children in the rear? Because they were the ones he cared about the most.] He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.”
What was that? Humility. Why was it seven times? Many reasons, but to me the number seven always has a hint the Holy Spirit is there. The Holy Spirit had worked something in Jacob. The man whom God had chosen, the man who had the birthright, the man who had the blessing of his father, the man who had the blessing of the angel. When he met his carnal brother, bowed seven times. You know what I regard that as? The proof he had the blessing. I believe that’s the outworking of what happened between Jacob and the angel. Until he met the angel he would never have bowed himself. But he bowed seven times. What happened?
“But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”
We don’t need to read any further. But you see, you may be God’s elect, you may be the one that God has blessed, you may be the spiritual one in your family, in your fellowship, some place. You know what will prove you’re the spiritual one? When you can bow down to the carnal one. And then, the problems and the barriers that could not be solved in any other way can be resolved by humility. God resists the proud but he gives grace to the humble. Do you want God’s grace? What do you have to do? Humble yourself. Before God and who else? Men, the people around you, your wife, your children.
I remember years back in the early l950s when I was about 36 years old and Lydia and I were still bringing up our eight girls. I got very angry with one of our daughters who was about 14 years old at the time. And I just was not prepared to change my attitude. You know what happened? I got a strange feeling in my chest just about here like a sort of lump or pressure. You know what it says in the book of Ecclesiastes, you may not know it but it says anger rests in the bosom of fools. And I went around like this for 48 hours and I knew there was only one way I could ever get rid of that. You know what it was? To go to my 14 year old daughter and ask her forgiveness. And I did and I’m glad I did. I think if I hadn’t done that the blessing of God would have been withdrawn from my ministry. There are situations where the only solution is to humble yourself. And you can walk around and do it from every angle and pray as much as you like. You can pray up a storm. But at the end God says humble yourself. If you’re the spiritual one, prove it. Don’t expect the carnal person to do what the spiritual person should do. That’s your responsibility.
So what’s the principle? Let’s say it together. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled. But whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Which are you going to do?
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