I preached yesterday on the contrast between Power and Humility. Specifically, I pondered how Jesus could fully embody both simultaneously.
Much of Jesus birth narrative places him at odds with the political powers of his day.
Augustus Caesar was the most powerful man in the world at the time of Christ’s birth. After the death of Julius Caesar, Augustus had defeated the armies of all his rivals. He had only to sign an edict and people like Joseph and Mary would travel from one end of their country to another, just to be counted.
“Augustus proclaimed that he had brought justice and peace to the whole world. He declared that his father, Julius Caesar, was a god, therefore he was a ‘son of god’. Augustus, people said, was the ‘saviour’ of the world. He was its king, its ‘lord’. And over time people increasingly worshiped him as a god.” (Wright, Luke for Everyone, 22-23)
Then Luke’s gospel tells us that angels broke into the earthly sky proclaiming to shepherds that that “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Later, Jesus would be called the “Son of God” but the angels announce that he is Savior and Lord. Augustus is not.
Matthew’s account focuses upon Herod, the non-Jewish king of Judea. Hearing from traveling magi that they sought a newborn king, Herod becomes enraged. When his plot to identify the child fails, Matthew describes the slaughter of children in Bethlehem as Herod sought to eliminate all rivals to his throne.
Jesus flees to Egypt as a political refugee.
At the same time, Luke tells us that the evidence a rival to Caesar has been born can be found in “a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” If not for the angels, no one would have noticed this family in Bethlehem that night. Such was Jesus humble entrance.
Luke previously laid the groundwork for this contrast when he included Mary’s song in his gospel. Mary had no pretensions of grandeur as she praised God for noticing “the humble state of his servant.” She goes on to celebrate how God “has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”
Jesus challenged the existing power structures of the world from conception. He came to humanity with all the power of the Godhead, yet practiced humility and exalted the humble.
When our society combines power with humility it is most often expressed as the powerful demanding humility from the powerless. “Know your place.” “Don’t get too big for your britches.” “Leave this to the experts.” The powerful can demand humility from everyone except themselves. And when the people without power rise up to claim some of that power for themselves, more often than not we find ourselves in a situation abounding in conflict and violence.
Our society equates power with force, with violence, with coercion, with the biggest guns, the biggest muscles, the most money and influence. Power it seems doesn’t require wisdom, because even when foolish actions are taken that person, that organization, that nation, still has power. And power doesn’t need humility, because humility is weakness.
We face the temptation at this point to rail against power as an evil force, yet God is all-powerful. Like wealth, power has no intrinsic value as either good or evil. The person exercising power determines its character.
On the other side of the equation humility also creates temptations:
- The temptation to sugar coat abuse and discrimination as humility.
- The temptation to accept false humility as true humility both in ourselves and others.
- The temptation to equate powerlessness with humility.
Jesus expression of humility didn’t make him powerless and passive. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he refused to allow outside forces to distract him from his mission. He expressed himself assertively and directly challenged those who opposed him. Jesus was humble, but never powerless.
Living humbly means that those of us with power have a responsibility not just to use our power for the benefit of others, but to share that power with those who have little or none. Many people willingly hand over money to assist those in need. But this act of benevolence does nothing to change the power structure that created the inequality. This natural urge to cling to power makes the example of Jesus truly revolutionary. Philippians 2 frames the entire existence of the human Jesus as an emptying of power and an empowering of humanity.
Jesus came to the powerless, to the sick, an poor, and he reflected God by healing them, by forgiving them, and by giving them hope. Jesus left the throne room of heaven to allow humanity the opportunity to become fellow heirs with him. Jesus empowers his followers with the presence of the Holy Spirit within them. Jesus empowers his followers by creating a church that welcomes each person regardless of the way society describes and segregates them.
Ultimately Jesus empowers each person by emphasising the basis of all humility. Each person is made in the image of God. Each person is a child of God, and is precious to God. Each person has access to God and all power comes from Him. All gifts, talents, abilities and blessings come from Him. We give up our power and exercise humility as we share this message and embody it in our relationships with all.
We all have power in some sphere of our lives. The question we must answer is whether we use it to exalt ourselves, or others?
Simplicity is a popular topic in some circles nowadays. We live in a culture driven by consumerism and materialism. We are swimming in a sea of accumulation, and it has not led us to be happier or more satisfied with life. We are beginning to see a pendulum shift with the rise of minimalism. Since we have discovered obtaining things is not the key to a meaningful life, some people are ready to try simplicity.
Simplicity sounds like a viable alternative to the cluttered and busy life many of us know too well. The turn towards minimalism is a welcome trend in our culture since it is more in line with the teachings of Jesus. However, the biblical teaching on simplicity is not just about what one owns or where one lives. Simplicity must begin from within. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) Our desires begin in the heart. If a person is going to simplify their life, then they must desire less. The way to do this is to focus on the heart.
One of the most well-known passages concerning simplicity is Matthew 6:25-34. This section is marked by the word “anxious” found in verses 25 and 34. In verse 25 Jesus commands, “do not be anxious about your life” and in verse 34 he commands, “do not be anxious about tomorrow.” This entire passage is about trusting in God to provide. God feeds the birds. He clothes the lilies. If he does these things, then he will certainly make sure his followers are clothed and fed as well. The argument continues to build until in verses 32-33 Jesus contrasts the way the world lives with how Christians are supposed to live. People who live by a worldly standard seek after worldly things. They seek after money, possessions, and power. Followers of Jesus are expected to desire the kingdom of God rather than material possessions and wealth. Christians are called to live a simple life with God at the center.
In Matthew 6 Jesus talks about food and clothing. He speaks to his followers about simplifying their outward life, but we must remember this all began with a statement about what the heart desires (Matt. 6:21). You cannot change what you are doing on the outside without first changing what is going on inside of you. This is made evident in Philippians 4:6-7:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Paul uses the language of Jesus. He gives a similar command to the ones Jesus gave in Matthew 6:25, 34. The difference here is that Paul is speaking of inward things rather than outward things. He is instructing Christians regarding an inward peace that God provides those who are following the path of Jesus. When a follower of God commits to not being anxious or being overwhelmed with worry and instead turns to God in prayer and thankfulness, then they are filled with “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.”
The right desires, inner peace, not being anxious, and prayer are all inward things that lead us to a life of simplicity. Our outward life is directly tied to our inward life. A life of simplicity is not just about owning less stuff. It is about desiring the right things and trusting in a God who will not disappoint.
Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications. He also blogs regularly at https://start2finish.org/category/resurrected-living/
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I began Sunday’s sermon with the observation that, “for many people the Bible begins with an argument.” Primarily Genesis chapter 1 is the battleground for the creation vs evolution debate.The biggest problem is that Genesis 1 wasn’t written as a scientific explanation of how the world came into existence.
I understand that for some people creation vs evolution is really a symptom of the deeper question, “Does God exist?” Some people have even converted to Christianity when they find the creation arguments persuasive. More people walk away from their faith when they find themselves unable to answer all the evolution questions.
When we make Genesis 1 all about creation vs evolution we overlook the greater significance of the creation narrative.
Genesis 1 introduces God. When the apostle John wants to introduce Jesus in the first chapter of his Gospel, God in the flesh, he utilises the language of Genesis 1.
- In the beginning… The first three words of both Genesis and the Gospel of John.
- The Word – Although this title has other first century significance, it is impossible to overlook the fact that God created in Genesis 1 simply by speaking. He commands, it appears.
- He was with God in the beginning… What an amazing claim, that Jesus was with God at Creation and was integral to the Creation event.
- In hims was life and that life was light… Life and light are prominent themes in Genesis 1.
- As God walked in the Garden with Adam & Eve, so Jesus lived among his Creation.
The apostle Paul would later illustrate that this Creation theme is not just a clever literary method to make grandiose claims about Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 15 he describes Jesus as a “second Adam”.
The first man, Adam, came from the earth and was made from dust; the second man, Jesus, has come from heaven. The earth man shares his earth nature with all those made of earth; likewise the heavenly man shares His heavenly nature with all those made of heaven. Just as we have carried the image of the earth man in our bodies, we will also carry the image of the heavenly man in our new bodies at the resurrection. (1 Cor. 15:47-49 VOICE)
Jesus didn’t come to earth just to teach a new ethic. Jesus came to earth to initiate a new creation.
Look at the quote, “The heavenly man shares His heavenly nature with all those made of heaven.” That sounds a bit cryptic. I know I don’t feel like I’m “made of heaven”. But over in Philippians 3:20-21 Paul tells us, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” As followers of Jesus we participate in the New Creation. Our citizenship is in heaven. We share Jesus’ heavenly nature.
This doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It doesn’t mean we’re superior to anyone else. It doesn’t even guarantee that we’ll never change our minds about Jesus and return to our former life.
It does mean that we participate in something bigger than ourselves: Creation 2.0.
It does mean that the darkness has not overcome the light, nor will it.
It does mean that Jesus has defeated death.
And it does mean that while this victory is not completed and we continue to experience death, sickness and suffering, we look forward to that day when Christ finalises His victory. We look forward to the day when Jesus recreates Eden.
Creation 2.0 has begun. The Creation story of Genesis 1 introduces God. The Creation story of John 1 introduces Jesus as God. And the Bible story identifies the followers of Jesus as participants in God’s new Creation, moving towards the dawning of the eternal New Heaven and New Earth: Creation 2.0.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:17 NIV)
- Read Philippians4:1-9 here.
In this week’s sermon I suggested that the sentence “The Lord is near.” provides the interpretive lens for the surrounding instructions. The return of Christ provides the reason for rejoicing. Paul draws his readers’ attention back to the big picture. Give up fighting (v2), don’t retaliate (be gentle – v5), don’t worry (v6) trust God (with prayer because the war’s won – v6), because the Lord is near.
While the quote, “The Lord is near.” could simply refer to God’s presence in the world, its close proximity to 3:20-21, which clearly discuss the return of Christ, makes it likely that Paul had the return of Christ in mind when he made this statement.
I was raised in a church that had a premillenial view of the end times. We studied Revelation several times (for months at a time) while I lived at home. Although I no longer agree with this understanding of Scripture I learned several things from these studies. One of the things I most appreciate about the premillenial teaching is the sense of urgency it gives to the mission of the church. Since coming in contact with churches of Christ 12 years ago I have noticed that the congregations I’ve been around talk very little about the return of Christ. The overwhelming attitude seems to be that “Christ will return one day and the earth will be destroyed one day, but I’m not going to worry about it too much.”
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that many of the fastest growing churches today are also premillenial. By pushing talk of the end times to the back burner it’s tempting (and we often give in) to take a relaxed approach toward personal evangelism and other mission efforts. Churches that emphasise that Christ might return today have a lot more interest spreading the Gospel as far and wide, and as quickly, as they can. We need to remember that it’s true, “Jesus might return for His followers today!” The Lord is near.
What’s your take?
- Have I only attended a strange bunch of churches that aren’t representative of all churches of Christ? or has this been your experience too?
- Do you agree that emphasising the nearness of Christ’s return might change our personal and congregational priorities? how?
Let me begin by apologising for falling behind with my blog posts. Let me follow up by giving my excuses: 1. I’ve been preoccupied with other important commitments (studying Greek; parents-in-law visiting; Thanksgiving Dinner; studying Greek…); 2. My sermon series has been interrupted by a prayer service and a sermon by one of the elders; and 3. Since someone “borrowed” our A/V equipment I don’t have any recorded sermons; and 4. I’m often not as organised as I’d like to be.
In Philippians 3:4-6 Paul gives a list of things he could boast in if he chose to. But he chooses not to because they’re not very impressive accomplishments compared to what Christ has accomplished for him. 1 Cor. 11:16-12:12 contains a very similar, but more detailed, passage as Paul defends his apostleship. However, before he begins his list, he says in v17 “In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.” What are some accomplishments or blessings that you find yourself tempted to think more highly of than is healthy?
One that comes to mind for me is our attitude toward mission efforts in other countries. I find it easy to think of local workers in foreign countries as less than equals, as though I know what’s best for them even though I’ve never even been to their country.
Songs & Scripture
Next week’s sermon (23 Nov) will come from Philippians 2:12-18. I haven’t decided on the exact theme, but I thought it would be interesting to come up with songs that relate to v14-16. Do any songs come to mind as you read these verses?
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”
- Can You Count the Stars? (okay, it isn’t really relevant, but hey, it says “stars”.)
- Peace Perfect Peace (“without complaining or arguing”)
- Shine – Matt Redman on the 2006 album Beautiful News (“…you shine like stars…”)
- Holy, Holy, Holy (“…become blameless and pure…”)
- Shine, Jesus, Shine (SFP)
- Just for Today – Marc Shelske on the 2004 album So Wide (It contains the line, “Father God…help me walk the narrow way”, which seems to echo “children of God without fault in a crooked…generation.”)
- I Will Sing of My Redeemer (“…as you hold out the word of life.”)
- Read Philippians 2:1-11 here.
- Sermon audio will be available soon.
This passage of Philippians really prompts humility in us. First, it encourages us to think more highly of others than ourselves, the very definition of humility. Second, In v6-11 Paul uses the life of Jesus as an example for us. Basically he says that Jesus demonstrated humility by thinking more highly of us than himself, becoming human and dying for us. That is a staggering thought for me, that Jesus thought more highly of me than himself. There is absolutely no logical reason for him to think like this…and plenty of logical reasons he shouldn’t, but no one ever accused love of being logical.
The logical flow in this passage can be illustrated as:
Serving Others –> Humility –> Peace/Unity –> Joy
So we have a couple of ways to develop humility: 1. Meditate on the example of Jesus which should squash any proud thoughts we might have, & 2. Serve others, since this moves our thoughts away from ourselves. Do you have any thoughts on this passage or suggestions for ways we can develop humility in our lives?
Songs & Scripture
I’m starting something different this week. I’ll give you a sneak preview of the text for the coming Sunday and you can suggest songs that go with that passage. Next Sunday (Nov 2) the sermon will come from Philippians 2 1-11. This passage centers on humility (v3) and the facts of the Gospel: Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection and return. In fact, verses 6-11 seem to be a song that Paul has copied into his letter, so what songs come to your mind that talk about Jesus’ life and death?
- That’s Why We Praise Him
- We Saw Thee Not
- I Believe in Jesus (SFP – Howard)
- I Believe in Jesus (SFP – Nelson)
- Creed (Rich Mullins on the album A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band – 1993)
- Read Philippians 1:18-26 here.
- No sermon audio this week, due to technical difficulties.
Today’s text contains an important saying of Paul that gives insight to his relationship with God and his motivation and priorities as a Christian. In 1:21 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This is a very unnatural way of looking at life. The sermon focused mostly on Paul’s motivation and questioned our motivations in life.
Yet Paul’s final decision is found in v24. “it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Paul’s desire to escape death was not for his own comfort and enjoyment, but to enable him to serve others. Verses 25-26 expand on how he can encourage and help the Philippian church to mature. This really sets a very high bar for us. Is our purpose for living to help other people? Is this an ideal standard set by Paul? Don’t we need to care for ourselves before caring for others? Should serving others be our purpose for living? Do other Scriptures provide some context to Paul’s statement here?
Songs & Scripture
I’ll keep working on this, but here’s a few for the moment. I’m looking for songs that use the hope of heaven to inspire our life now (this could be a long list, so think of your “best fit”). Your suggestions are always appreciated.
- Higher Ground
- Low in the Grave He Lay
- Walking in Sunlight
When I think of God wanting us to make thanksgiving a part of our lives, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 comes to mind first, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” But that’s tough. I usually understand this verse as saying that despite my circumstances God still loves me, and my sins are still forgiven. They’re both things I should want to give thanks for always.
In Philippians 1:3-5 Paul reminds us of something else we can give thanks for. He joyfully gives thanks for other Christians…every time he remembers them. That would keep him busy praying. He’s thankful because of the Philippian church’s “partnership in the gospel”. Paul seems to have a very big picture view of the church and of what God’s doing through it in the world.
I don’t often think of my fellow Christians as “partners in the Gospel”. The word “partners” communicates to me a teammate to accomplish a task. I find myself thinking of “George” as the guy that sits 3 rows back and to my left each Sunday, or as a good friend, but not necessarily as a “partner”. If you were to follow Paul’s example of joyfully thanking God for other Christians because they’re “partners in the gospel” what would come to mind for you? Is this a different way of thinking or am I just overanalysing this word?
Songs & Scripture
There’s no difficulty finding songs of thankfulness or expressing joy, but it’s more difficult to find these emotions expressed in connection with what God’s doing in the lives of others, not ourselves. Any suggestions?
- God’s Wonderful People (SFP)
- Read Acts 16 here, and read 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon (5 October) you can listen to it here.
We’re beginning a new series of sermons that will spend the next 8 or so weeks studying Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. This week’s sermon discussed the beginnings of the church in Philippi, and the church’s broader role in the Christian community as described in Acts 16 and 2 Corinthians 8. This is a general reminder of the importance of understanding the broad context of what we read. Even without studying encyclopedias and other historical resources we benefit by reading Paul’s letters in the context of Acts. (Although it is helpful to know that Philippi is in the region of Macedonia.) Each church has a different story thus each letter has a different context.
Reading the Old Testament in this way will also prove beneficial. Reading some of the prophets by themselves is a good thing, but we gain extra insight by reading some of the historical books (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles) alongside them in order to gain a larger view of the historical context.
How do you usually picture the New Testament churches that Paul writes to? Do you find them easy to relate to? Does your picture come mostly from history, Acts, or the letters themselves?