The blog*spot of Dale Wayne Campbell, NOW coming at you from Auckland, New Zealand. (!)



Northcote Baptist Church

3 June, 2007 – Evening Service

I really appreciated Peter McGhee’s sermon on courage last week. Among other things he highlighted how all virtues are flanked on either side by vices.

Now, I think we have a tendency to think about virtues in terms of them being on the other end of the spectrum with an opposite vice – suggesting that one hand you have a given vice and on the other hand you have the opposite virtue, with the goal of being all the way on the virtue side. The English language works this way, actually. The ‘grammatical opposite’ of humility is indeed pride, but humility isn’t just a grammatical term! It’s a virtue! It has to do with character! And in terms of character, I think it works differently. I agree with those (including Peter) that view virtues as being centred between two vices.

Last week, Peter presented the virtue of true courage as being between the vices of rash over-confidence on the one hand, and false fear on the other hand. I want to suggest this week that – like true courage – true humility is found between two vices. But first, a word about humility.

We often think of ‘humility’ in terms of doing humble things, and might expect a sermon to instruct us ho to be humble. But humility is not a ‘thing’ you ‘do’. It is a virtue that is evidenced in certain circumstances. Humility may be one of the most elusive virtues, because the harder you try to show it, the less truly humble you are! As for myself, I think I’m progressing toward full humility quite well - probably further than most!!! :)

As a short aside I’ll quote from the Book of Moses – meaning the books that were written by him. Deuteronomy 34:10 – keep in mind that this verse is within the books of Moses – “But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses.” Good ole’ Moses showing the humility! Now for those that are worried about Moses’ character right now, let me put you at ease. This section of Deuteronomy records the events after Moses’ death, so it would have had to have been written by someone other than Moses. It just makes for a quick joke.

OK, now let’s look at the relationship between the virtue of humility and the pair of vices on either side of it.

I looked for a while at Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and let me tell you, there is more that has been written in the field of ethics than you care to read! Different people have discussed ‘humility’ with different categories and using different contrasts, and it all gets quite extensive very quickly. Nietzsche actually called humility a weakness and a false virtue, saying it hid people’s weaknesses. Others contrast ‘humility’ with ‘vanity’, having ‘pride’ in the middle as the desired virtue. So the connotations tend to shift a bit, I think. Peter McGhee lectures in Ethics, so talk to him if you have detailed questions!

Basically, humility has to do with how we view ourselves. I’d like to suggest that true humility is somewhere between self-AGGRANDISEMENT and self-ABASEMENT. It’s just as important not to think too highly of ourselves as it is not to think too lowly of ourselves. We – get – this – messed – up – so – often!

Psalm 8 contains a beautiful passage that I think expresses the proper balance. To those that are a bit on the prideful, arrogant side, verses 3-4 say, When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?

But lest we forget the dignity of being made in the very image of the Creator, verse 5-8 remind us how great we were created – Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands. You have put all things under his feet; all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea; whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

We weren’t made to grovel around constantly reminding ourselves that we’re ‘just human’ – as if that had anything at all to do with being humble. We were made to rule over the earth! If you don’t believe me, read Genesis 1 again! That’s what David is drawing from in Psalm 8.

All too often we speak of humanity as if it were a mistake or something that holds us back! When we think and speak that way, we are actually more in agreement with Greek philosophy than the Scripture! Now don’t get me wrong, sin is real and has greatly distorted God’s original intent, but the creation is still beautiful and declares the glory of God and humans are still made in His image. It has been well said: “it’s not that humans are the problem, they have a problem - sin.”

I’m not trying to minimise sin or the wrath of God. Most certainly not! God’s holy, righteous nature demands that he must hate and punish sin, but we must remember that God is angry not with how he made us, but with what we’ve done with ourselves! Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not because they were humans – made in God’s image, but because they had irreversibly shattered that image. I think the Flood and the destruction of Canaan should be understood in this light as well.

My grandpa has had to shoot and kill some horses that were dying in a field due to neglect. Their hoofs had overgrown. Therefore, they could not walk; therefore they couldn’t get enough food for themselves and were starving. They simply could lie on the ground as they literally were wasting away. My grandpa had horses of his own, and loved them. He literally hated shooting them, but he had to. Tom Wright describes this as happening with humans as well. In a sense, he says, when humans rebel and resist God and neglect each other, they become less and less human in doing so – bringing themselves to destruction. Again, humans aren’t the problem – they have a problem.

It’s not a problem for us to exert ourselves as human beings – morally, spiritually, physically or otherwise; but it is a problem for us to exert ourselves independently of God! As Psalm 8 says, we have been made ‘a little lower than God’! In other words, if you look around, you’re not going to see anything that comes closer to being God than a human being. No one is calling upon plants or animals to solve the problem of poverty. No one is depending on cats and dogs to sort out the violence in the world. This is the job of God’s image-bearing creatures – you and I.

I actually think that being made in the image of the Creator should lead to the appropriate kind of humility that we need. We are not, nor ever will be God – we are His Image. So, we have NO valid reason or motivation to think too highly of ourselves. On the other hand, we aren’t simply worthless collections of atoms – we are made in God’s Image! Makes sense, doesn’t it? God opposes the proud, and gives grace to the humble.

So, pride is bad – and self-hate is just as bad. OK. Now I want to show how both pride and low self-esteem can be a bit sneaky. We all have probably seen pride in its most obvious form – i.e. someone who has no problem letting everyone know just how cool they are! But there is another kind of pride that is masked with a kind of false-humility. This is a little more sneaky. Someone may think they are really cool, but always ‘play the cards’ so they appear really humble.

It’s also true with low self-esteem. We know what low self-esteem in its most obvious form looks like – someone who honestly thinks and acts like they are worthless. But there is another version of this that is masked with a kind of false confidence – a false bravado. This is quite sneaky. Someone really feels miserable about themselves, but exerts a lot of effort to convince everyone – including themselves? – that they are actually quite cool.

Of course, this is most common in Western, affluent culture. We have ‘stars’ and ‘famous people’ to compare ourselves with. On MySpace you can compare your profile with others – more comments, more friends, etc. This rank and file individualism is the very toxic wasteland that has people always thinking about how ‘they’ look or how ‘they’ measure-up to the culture around them.

This individualism show up in all kinds of ways in the Church. Our notions of ‘spirituality’ have everything to do with how spiritual ‘I’ am, what experiences ‘I’ have, how spiritually fulfilled ‘I’ feel, etc. instead of the kind of spirituality suggested in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, self-control.

As a matter of fact, both the false-humility AND the false-confidence mentioned earlier are most certainly present in the Church – except they are uber-spiritualised. We’ve got all these modern notions of what a ‘spiritual’ person looks like. We’ve got all these expectations of what ‘spiritual’ people do. Talk about pressure to perform!

Perhaps the most troubling thing I see in this regard is the rampant positivism in many churches today. This is not humility! If things aren’t going well, a humble person admits it and doesn’t use various positive Christian words to cover it up. God forgive us for being too structured and too busy to allow and encourage this kind of honesty and humility. God forgive us when our systems of church actually encourage fake-ness and positivism.

We must be a community in which people can be REAL – sharing their faults – and ALSO at the same time a community with doesn’t leave people unchanged. Now THAT is a tough balance. We have to be BOTH accepting and challenging. Forgiving and Rebuking.

So, we’ve talked about how being made in the image of God leads to appropriate humility. We’ve talked about the false-humility and false-confidence that is so fuelled by the individualism of our culture. And, we’ve talked about the need to be REAL in our church communities. To use technical language, we’ve discussed three things relating to humility: anthropology, sociology and ecclesiology.

But, I must say that a sermon can have an infinite number of ‘ologies’, but if it doesn’t have a good Christology, then it’s going to be an incomplete sermon. So, in closing, let’s review these three categories as we consider Jesus Christ right smack-dab in the middle of each.

Anthropology. Humanity. What does it means to be human? Jesus Christ is the MAN. The image of God (in which we are all created) doesn’t get ANY clearer than Jesus Christ, who (as Philippians 2 says) being in very nature God, didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even the death of the cross.

THAT is a robust Anthropology. Go forth in THAT kind of humility.

Sociology. Culture. How do we relate to the world? Jesus Christ is the word made flesh – the light that has come into the world, and in the same way we need to ‘incarnate’ ourselves INTO the world – our light needs to shine in the darkness. But the darkness (in our case, the darkness of individualism) cannot overcome the Light of Christ, who (John’s Gospel says) was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him… But as many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.

THAT is an intentional, incarnational Sociology. Go forth in THAT kind of ethic.

Ecclesiology. Church. How are we to BE the church? Jesus Christ is the One full of Grace and Truth, and we must be so in our actions and attitudes toward one another. With Grace, we must forgive and accept each others’ failings; both being real, and encouraging realness in others. And with Truth, we must challenge and correct one another; all the while being open to this ourselves. We must love with the fullness of Christ, for (as John’s Gospel says) of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

THAT is an Ecclesiology of Grace and Truth. Be THAT kind of church.

May we, in our Christian communities, in relation to and life in the World and in our robust Image-of-God humanness, look to Christ as our pattern for true humility.




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