Growing In Godliness Blog
By Larry Coffey
A few weeks ago, a friend told me about a man she knew who had decided he no longer wanted to undergo kidney dialysis on which his life depended. As a result, he died in less than 24 hours. She further stated he had instructed his family to have Frank Sinatra’s popular song, “My Way,” played at his funeral services. That song always makes me think about humility, or the lack thereof.
The lyrics of the first stanza of that song are as follows:
“And now the end is here
And so I face that final curtain
My friend I’ll make it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more
I did it, I did it my way”
There are three more stanzas to the song all of which end with “I did it my way.”
A number of themes are found in the Bible such as faith, love, obedience, and others which include humility. The Bible clearly teaches no one can please God who is not humble in spirit. We see many Bible examples of those who were not humble, those who did it their way. In Ex. 5:2, Pharoah says, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, l will not let Israel go.” God said to Pharoah, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” (Ex. 10:3) We know how that ended for Pharoah.
Nebuchadnezzar was the great king of Babylon. He rejected Daniel’s advice and said in Daniel 4:30, “Is this not the great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” He did it his way. While he was speaking, the kingdom was taken from him and he ended up in the fields eating grass. After learning his lesson, his kingdom was restored and his speech changed as recorded in Dan. 4:37, “I praise and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just, and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” In Acts 12, we have King Herod receiving praise and being exalted in pride, and he was eaten by worms and died.
The biggest threat to our efforts to be humble is success. It is hard for the Super Bowl winner not to think how great he is. Or, the CEO of a large corporation not thinking the success of the company is due to his unique skills. However, it is not limited to these kinds of successes. I have known gospel preachers who were sought out for gospel meetings across the country and being told what wonderful preachers they were, to allow that success to affect their humility. Dee Bowman told a story about a preacher friend. He said they were talking on the phone on a Monday and he asked how services had gone where the preacher spoke on Sunday. The preacher said great. He said it was probably the best lesson he had ever preached. When Dee asked the topic, the preacher said “Humility.” I suspect Dee was jesting. I do well remember Gerry Sandusky when receiving compliments for his preaching, always deflected the comments about himself by responding, “Isn’t God great?”
No one is exempt from the temptation to think highly of themselves. We all have degrees of success and it is easy to start taking credit for the abilities and opportunities God has given us. No matter what we may achieve, it is God that needs to be thanked. God said in Is. 57:15, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” Is. 2:11 says, “The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.”
Of course, our best example of humility is Jesus. In Mt. 11:29, he said he was meek and lowly in heart. In John 13, he washed the disciples’ feet. In Phil. 2:8 we read, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He said in Mt. 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
We must remember it is not “my way” that is important. Rather, it is God’s way to which we must humble ourselves and follow.
Jesus, Born to the Poor
By Paul Earnhart
God simply does not think as men think. If men had been planning a home for God's son they would surely have chosen a very wealthy family to care for Him. They would have wanted Him to grow up among highly cultured and educated people. And if He was to be a king, they surely would have planned for Him to live in an imperial palace in some great world cIty.
Instead, God chose for His son a poor young mother in an obscure village. Mary, His mother, perceived the significance of this choice. In her song, recorded in Luke she said: "My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on, all generatrons will count me blessed” (Lk 1:46-48). Later in the same song she said: “He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones and has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good thIngs and sent away the rich empty-handed” (Lk 1:51-53).
The Son of God grew up, not only as the foster son of a carpenter, but also a carpenter himself. Throughout His life on earth, He lived as a common man among common people. He had good words for the poor and humbIe, and He had no special respect for anyone simply because he was rich or famous. And the scriptures say that "The common peopIe heard Him gladly.“ By contrast, as a rule, the rich and famous, even famous theologians, mistreated Him and finally crucifIed Him.
If Jesus were now on earth in physical form, I have no doubt the theologians would oppose Him and people in power would be offended by Him. But the common people would still hear Him gladly. Are you humble enough to be included? This does not mean that the rich and famous cannot follow Him. But, to do so they must, like Nicodemus, be born again. And, like the apostles, they must be converted and become as little children.
By Victor A. Osorio
Many of us in the congregation are studying the Sermon on the Mount in various groups. The Sermon on the Mount is the best sermon ever preached. Jesus said in 10-15 minutes more than what the volumes of books that have been written on the sermon ever could.
Jesus begins the sermon with a grabbing introduction – what we call the “beatitudes.” The introduction has emphatic repetition about being “blessed.” It presents eight character traits we should possess, followed by eight promises that will follow if we do.
But what is “blessed”? Most say, “happy.” And, well, so does the Greek. But what do we mean by “happy”? A passage that drives home this concept well is in Luke 11:27-28. “Happy” is the concept of knowing where we stand at all times because we are “God approved” (Psa. 1).
The first four beatitudes correspond to our relationship with God. They are vertical.
Take the first, poverty of spirit (Mt. 5:3). It is a personal acknowledgement of our spiritual bankruptcy before God. We know we are empty before God, and bring nothing of value to the relationship. It is the attitude displayed by the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 and confirmed in Isa. 64:6.
The second builds on the first – those who mourn (Mt. 5:4). The Greek word “mourn” here is a passionate lament. It is the strongest word for “mourn.” We mourn over our sins when we realize the deficiencies that make us so bankrupt before God. We are aware that we are not what we need to be and mourn for what is missing. It is how Isaiah and Paul felt in Isa. 6:3-5 and Rom. 7:21-25, respectively. While it is humbling, notice the result is comfort – both in this age and the one to come.
Third to be blessed are the meek (Mt. 5:5). Meek are not the weak. After all, Moses was said to be the meekest man alive (Num. 12:3). And the only time we have recorded where Jesus explains his temperament, He said He was meek (Mt. 11:28-30). Meekness is when we allow another’s interest to advance over our own, even when we do not have to (e.g., Abraham with Lot on choosing the land). It is strength under control. Just because a wild horse is broken, does not mean it loses the great strength that once fueled its wild nature. But it chooses to give up to the reins.
Fourth, highlighted are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt. 5:6). It is only when we realize that tending to our spiritual needs is more important than our physical needs of eating and drinking that we will be truly satisfied.
The first four characteristics are followed by our relationship with our fellow man. These are horizontal.
It is the merciful who will receive mercy by God. Grace is a loving response to someone who does not deserve it (Barnabas with Saul). Mercy is a loving response to someone who does not deserve it, and cannot do anything about it (e.g., the story of the good Samaritan). But we cannot just recognize others’ needs, we must do something about them (James 2:5; 1 Jn. 3:17).
To see God, we must be pure in heart (Mt. 5:8). That is, we must be free of duplicity and hypocrisy. Our faith must be authentic.
With others, we must also be peacemakers (Mt. 5:9). That does not mean we compromise truth. Or, we are for peace at any price. It means we are people who relieve the tension, not intensify it. We seek solutions, and do not just focus on problems. We calm the waters, not stir them up. We seek win/win without compromising God’s word. The result is that people will know we are believers.
Finally, blessed are those who are persecuted or reviled (Mt. 5:10). It is not a matter of if, but when. The world will despise our godly beliefs and lifestyle, because through these we shame the world and convict it. Just as the world persecuted Jesus, it will do so to us (Jn. 5:20+). We must have soft hearts, but tough hides.
So, can we be “happy”? We certainly can. Knowing we possess the characteristics that make us approved by God can deliver us happiness, regardless of our circumstances.
Humbled For Service
By Matt Hennecke
The Word of God is an amazing, life-changing tool. Consider, for a moment, the apostle Paul. When we are first introduced to him, he is described as “young” (Acts 7:58). His youth may have contributed to what seems to be a certain cockiness. He seems to have been a self-assured young man who seemingly “knew it all.” It is not unusual for young men (and women, too, I guess) to see everything as black and white, right and wrong. Paul (or Saul as he was then called) was certain that Christianity—like Christ—had to be eliminated. Acts 9:1-2 reveals Saul was obsessed with threats and murder: Self-assured. Cocky. A know-it-all. And flat out wrong.
As he journeyed to Damascus, he had his first dose of humility. A light and a voice cast doubt where before there had been none. For three days he ate and drank nothing. His journey of humility had begun. He was baptized into the very Body which he had sought to destroy. Talk about eating crow. Imagine the shame and the dawning realization of just how wrong he had been.
But Paul’s journey of humility had only begun. His own writings reveal the transformative power of the Word. The Word is amazing, for it first convicts us and then lifts us. Paul’s transformation—indeed, his journey of humility—is seen in his writings. Note the progression:
• In 1 Corinthians 15:9, written about 56 AD, he calls himself the “least of the apostles.” This was still an elite group of men. The least of twelve is still pretty good company. It would almost be like saying, I’m the least of the Super Bowl champion team.”
• Then note what he writes five years later in Ephesians 3:8. He says he is “the very least of all saints.” The circle of comparison has gotten larger—much larger—but is still comprised of a minority.
• Then two years later he writes, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:15). In his own words, we learn Paul has been completely humbled. By the time he wrote 1 Timothy he says is was the foremost of ALL sinners.
How did this journey of humility come to be? By constant contact with the inspired Word and by contemplation of the gold standard Himself – Jesus Christ. Paul was changed. If we will let it, such is the transforming power of the Word in us. Paul was transformed by the Word and the Word will transform us so we will have our high self-opinion replaced with total gratitude for Jesus Christ; and thus humbled we will become, as Paul did, vessels of service to our Lord.
Ready To Listen
By David Norfleet
For anyone that has been in a relationship for very long, you know it is easier to stick your foot in your mouth than to take it out. We often or frequently need help with how to communicate with others effectively. James does so by providing inspired instruction that will help in those situations. He wrote in James 1:19, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” If we would heed this instruction it would help in all our inter-personal relationships, but especially our relationship with God. And that seems to be James’ primary application as he points to the word of God in James 1:21, “…in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.”
So, what does it means to be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” with respect to God’s word?
To be quick to hear points to an eagerness to learn and a willingness to accept the things God has to say to us. We want instruction. We want counsel. We want wisdom from heaven. We need help. This idea is more of a disposition than an action, and it begins with humility – a recognition that we don’t have all the answers, but God does. Peter wrote in I Peter 2:2, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Jesus knew of the importance of this quality in His followers so He wrote in Mark 4:24, “Take heed what you hear.”
How does being slow to speak relate to a reception of God’s word? It is generally true when you're talking or even thinking about what to say you are not listening. There is proven value in speaking less and listening more (Proverbs 10:19; 17:28), but it is critical when attending to God. In this text being slow to speak may actually mean “slowness to start speaking,” and have specific reference to ill-considered reactions to what God has said. How will we ever receive God’s instruction if we do all the talking or if we thoughtlessly react to justify ourselves, negate Scripture’s demands, or explain the Bible away? Our attitude needs to reflect the words of Samuel, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” (I Samuel 3:9-10)
What do you do when God’s word steps on your toes? Maybe you’re reading it, or hearing it preached. It says something that you don’t like, because it confronts the way you think or live. Do you get angry and defensive, thinking, “What right does that preacher have to say that? How dare he tell me how to live!” Do you have these “flash-reactions” when your conscience is pricked? That is why it is so important to be slow to anger, as an angry spirit is not a teachable spirit. As James would write, “…the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
Popular author Francis Chan stated, “Whenever I read the Bible and come across something that I disagree with, I have to assume I am wrong.” He understands that the word of God and our reception of it is vital as it reveals, reproves, corrects, trains, revives us, directs us, keeps us from sin, and reveals God to us (Ephesians 3:1-4; II Timothy 3:16; Psalm 119:50, 105; Psalm 19). It is no wonder the psalmist would write, “I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for your commandments.” (Psalm 119:131) If we could only get out of our own way God wants to transform us through His word, James tries to help us with that by reminding us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.