Humility: Dying Before We Die

Go ahead turn in your Bibles to the letter to the Philippians, chapter two.
(On page 819 if you’re using one of the blue Bibles.)

Last week we started reflecting just a little bit about
the strangeness, the oddness, the peculiar-ness
of what we’re doing here.

After all, it’s not very common for people
to gather in basements
to recite creeds and sing songs
and listen to someone talk about an ancient text
and then to dip some bread in a cup.

And we realized that the peculiar-ness of us coming together
is matched by the peculiar-ness of Jesus himself.

Jesus himself can be a bit odd sometimes.

Last week we saw him blessing a group of people
and then breathing into that group
and then sending them into the world.

Just a little strange, right?
Just a little mysterious?

But this mysterious man has succeeded in transforming the world
in a way unparalleled by anyone else in human history.

And he didn’t do it by establishing an empire through force,
or by leveraging his influence to persuade the most people,
or by compiling his wisdom into a book for future generations.

If there were a book about “How to Change the World,” I’m reasonably certain that Jesus hadn’t read it—because he’s doing everything wrong.

Think about it:

He didn’t alleviate hunger
or catalyze political reform
or develop a new economic system—
he didn’t even write a book.

Jesus has a different kind of legacy than anyone else in human history.

He formed a community.
He created a new kind of people in the world.
A people who are learning to trust and celebrate and embody him in the world.

Right here. Right now. In this room.
The church is the legacy of Jesus.

It’s staggering. We are the legacy of Jesus.

And that raises the question that (as a brand new local church)
we’re wanting to explore together over the next six weeks or so:

What does it look like for us to be the legacy of Jesus?
How are we going about becoming a Jesus community?

So this week, we’re going to explore those questions through (quite possibly) one of the oldest written traditions that we have about Jesus—found in Philippians 2.

And before we read this passage, let’s pray:

Father,

We need you to give us ears to hear you,
we need you to give us eyes to see you.

Please speak now, through these words.
Help us hear your voice.

We pray these things through the name of your son, Jesus,
who together with you and the Holy Spirit,
rule and reign the universe,
one God, now and forever,
world without end,
Amen.

Alright—Philippians, chapter two:

(Phil 2.1) Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,

then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

(v6) Who, being in very nature God,
    
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
    
by taking the very nature of a servant,
    
being made in human likeness.


And being found in appearance as a man,
    
he humbled himself
    
by becoming 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 earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    
to the glory of God the Father.

(v12) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—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 in order to fulfill his good purpose.

We’ve caught Paul mid-letter.

He’s writing to a Jesus-community in the Roman colony of Philippi,
updating them on his condition (he’s in prison at the time),
thanking them for their loyalty to Jesus and camaraderie with him,
and using reports of tension between some of them as a teaching moment.

A moment to remind them who Jesus is
and what kind of people Jesus is making them.

So in verse 1-5, he’s basically saying

“If any of things I’ve been teaching you are true at any level,
and has made any kind of impact on you at all at all…
then it would fill me with joy if you would
value each other, serve each other, love each other.”

And then he moves into a kind of song.

Verses 6-11 have a poetic, sing-song quality about them.
They’re something like an early Christian hymn.

And then from verses 12 onward, he’s telling them the same thing:

“God has started something, so you to work out what it means—
both among each other and in your inner lives.

Work out what it means to live lives of reconciliation
and humility and service.”

And he calls it salvation (v12).

A lot of times, I think Christians talk about “salvation” and “getting saved”
and “have you been saved?” in ways very differently than the Bible.

When the Bible talks about salvation,
it’s NOT simply talking about something that happens AFTER we die.

That (of course) is a part of Christian hope.

After all, Scripture’s entire story is about a God who refuses to abandon his creation,
and chooses to tastes death for everyone (Heb 2.9)
to break the power of death (Heb 2.14-15)
and promises to resurrect the dead and remake the world (1 Cor 15).

That’s the good news that verses 6-11 summarize in song.

But when Paul uses a word like “salvation” here
or John uses words like “eternal life” throughout his gospel,
they’re often inviting us to live a particular kind of life BEFORE we die.

To live the best possible kind of life.
Life as it was meant to be lived.
Real and lasting life.

Life under the rule and reign of Jesus.

We could say it this way:
We’re invited to experience real and lasting life before we die.

Paul is telling his Philippian comrades and friends something very similar
to what we heard Jesus telling the disciples last week:

“The Spirit of God is mysteriously and actually invading you (2.13, cf. Jn 20.22)
so begin working out what it means to truly live his life in the world (2.12, cf. Jn 20.21).”

And one of the primary reasons we gather together
is to recognize and remember that the Spirit is also inviting us
(in the midst of all the distractions surrounding us and the noise within us)
to begin working out this kind of salvation in our own lives.

And as we listen to Paul’s letter, I think we’re hearing two both
the way to begin living this life as well as the actual substance of this life.

Paul is offering us both the road to life
as well as the destination itself.

In a word, we could call it humility.

THE ROAD

Humility isn’t in vogue in our culture.
It’s not trending on Twitter.
Humility is not what makes our economy go.

In fact, it might just be opposite:
my desires, my opinions, my experiences—
the exhausting cry of “me, me, me”—
that’s what shapes most of our culture.

Selfishness—catering to the our individual cravings—that’s what drives our economy, our entertainment, our fashions, our business-models and (God help us) many of our churches.

We’re told again and again that if we want to experience real life,
then, by George, carpe diem—seize the day!

Seize the moment! And seize everything else you can!

If you want to save your life then save it.
If you want to find your life then find it.
Take it! Seize it!

And that’s what how we operate most of the time.
Selfishness is the road we’re most familiar with.

But even when we’ve gotten everything we crave—
when we get all the food and sex and clothes and technology we want—
we still quietly, desperately hunger for something else.

Something deeper. Something lasting.

It’s like our culture has learned how to satisfy every human appetite
except the appetite for real and lasting life.

But Jesus whispers that there is indeed real life to found.
There is such a thing as eternal life—such a thing as salvation.

And he wants us to trust him.
Wants us to believe his whisper.

As a community we say that we want to “trust, celebrate, and embody Jesus,”
and when we’re talking about “trust” we’re largely talking about humility.

This is why we gather.
This is why we confess the Creed.
This is why we listen to the Scriptures.

Ultimately these are acts of humility.

When we do these things,
we’re trying to allow something greater than ourselves to begin directing our lives.

As long as we live arrogantly insist
that we know how to steer the ship,
that we know to best order our lives—
well, we’re going to live hungry and hopeless.

We’re going to be flying upside in the fog.
We’re gonna be lost.

It’s ironic—the longer we insist that we know the path to life in ourselves,
the more confused our lives become.

But when we begin to travel the road of humility—when we begin to looking to
something older than the latest trend,
something wiser than our culture,
something outside of ourselves—

When we begin to trust Jesus to define the world for us,
that’s when we begin to glimpse real and lasting life.

THE DESTINATION

So what is this real and lasting life?

When we find the humility to admit that we need direction,
where does this road—this road of humility—take us?

Well, the life we’re promised is the life of God himself.

And (mystery of mysteries, grace of graces) this life of God himself
is more humility.

Just to clarify: humility is not when we look down on ourselves.
It’s not us thinking, “I’m just such a worthless such-and-such.”

That would probably be the opposite of humility.
Because I’d still be thinking about me.

The pride of “I’m so great”
and the despair of “I’m so worthless”
both come from the same place—me being preoccupied with me.

I think C.S. Lewis nailed it in Mere Christianity when he wrote:
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

We’re in invited into a life where we’re relieved
of the burden of being consumed with ourselves.

“If you want to know the rhythm of real life,
then learn to dance to music of Philippians 2.”

(v5) In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

And then the song tell how Jesus—being in very nature God (v6)—
is not preoccupied with himself, but empties himself to serve others.

So God himself humbles himself to become human.
God himself becomes a servant.
God himself chooses death.

God is humble.

He didn’t come
to conquer the nations
or to solve the world’s problems
in the way we expected.

He goes to a cross.

The fountainhead of all reality,
the substance behind space-time,
the energy that animates life,
God himself. is. humble.

I don’t think we really believe this.

I think when we hear the word “God”
we wind up picturing Zeus.

Some old man,
positioned high above everyone else
and rather obsessed with himself,
looking down on everything and everyone
in merciless disapproval and disappointment.

But that’s not an accurate picture of God.
That’s closer to an accurate picture us.

Imagining ourselves high above everyone.
Obsessed with ourselves.
Looking down on others in merciless disapproval and disappointment.

That’s usually us.
But that isn’t God.

If you want to know what God is like,
what the heart of the universe is like,
listen to Philippians 2.

Philippians 2 might just be the song of the universe.
The song of the meaning of life.

If you want to know why the universe exists,
what the meaning of life is,
how you were made to live,
what God is like—

Look at the humility of Jesus.

The Jesus to whom everyone will bow and everyone confess (v10-11)
hasn’t suddenly become Zeus or Caesar or Alexander the Great.

When we say “Jesus is Lord,”
we mean “Jesus—yes, the crucified servant—is Lord.”

The Jesus who seeks the good of others.
The Jesus who serves others.
The Jesus who dies for others.

We look at him to see what true “lordship” is.
We are made in the image of God,
and—in him—we see most clearly what this God is like.

If you’ve ever wondered why a self-centered life isn’t as satisfying as you expect,
it’s because it runs counter the way you were made.

You can winning the argument and getting your way,
but it’s killing the relationship.

You’re meeting the goals you’ve set,
but you’re losing your family.

You’re chasing every craving,
but you’re hungrier and lonelier than ever.

You see, the fabric of our everyday lives
is where we learn whether we really trust Jesus.

The day-to-day moments of our lives are where we’re confronted with a choice—
a choice to trust that Jesus knows the path to true life.

The choice to surrender our ambition for the sake of others.

The choice to take up the cross, follow Jesus, and seek the good of another person.

Yes—that person.
That spouse. That needy neighbor.
The in-laws. The poor.
Those children. Those co-workers.

It’s hard.
Depending on the situation or the person, it can be incredibly painful.

It can feel like a kind of death.
And that’s because it is.

Maybe we could put it this way:

If we want to experience real and lasting life before we die,
we’ve got to learn to die before we die.

Some part us—some deeply-rooted selfish part of us—has got to die
for us to begin to taste the Divine Life.

It’s ironic again.

The more we more we choose
to surrender our life
and give our life for others,
the more we find our true life.

The longer we choose to follow Jesus
on the path of humility,
the path of serving,
the path of the cross,
the more we realize that this is the only place life is to be found.

We want to be a humble community.

Humble enough to admit that our lives need direction.

And when we’re directed, we’ll find ourselves further up and further into
the happy humility of God himself.

This table is the climax of humility.
The crescendo of song of the universe.

As we come to the table this evening,
what does it mean for you to trust this God?

God himself comes to this table in humility.
And we come to this table because it humbles us.

In coming to this bread and this cup, we’re coming and saying:
“I do not have life in myself, but I want to receive it.”

If you’ve got a yearning to submit to this path of life—to this story, to this God—
then you’re invited to this table.

We come here to remember (or perhaps to recognize for the first time)
the God who is willing to serve us, wash our feet, and die for us.

This is the place we celebrate a God humble enough
to pull death into himself and pour life into us.

Perhaps you’ve never glimpsed this God before.

Today you’re invited to not only glimpse him but gaze on him.
To trust him with your past (and all its shame and brokenness),
with your present (with all its ambiguity and confusion),
with your future (with all its worry and uncertainty).

Trust that he speaks peace over even you.

Here at this table, God gives his life to you.
And perhaps God is inviting you to have the same mindset as him.
To trust his definition of the good life.

Today you’re invited to lay down the burden of self-obsession,
and begin giving yourself to others.

Depending on the circumstance, on the relationship, on the longing,
it may be really hard to believe his definition.

And yet he keeps whispering, “Self-giving and self-surrender and servanthood really is the path to life.” Yes, even there.

As we come to this table, Jesus is inviting you to die so that you can live.

(1 Cor 9.23-26) For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

You’re invited to come up by row,
take the bread, dip it in the cup,
and trust that God meets you here.

Come when you’re ready.