September 1, 2013
A Christian's Humble Life of Service in the World
Two weekends ago I had the privilege of standing up in another wedding. Maybe some of you didn’t even know I was gone! I’ll dismiss that fact. This was actually the 3rd time I was the best man. But being part of the bridal party, I was able to sit next to the bride and the groom for the dinner. And of course, we sat in the front at one long table all facing the guests. That way of sitting always reminds me of Da Vinci’s last supper painting, how everyone is sitting on one side of the table. And sitting there next to the groom, I couldn’t help but think, I am a pretty amazing friend. I am a kind man. Who else would do something like this? Nobody. Nobody thinks about people like I do. All right, snap out of it. What do want, a nobel prize for being his friend? There it went: All humility thrown out the window all because I sat in the closest proximity to the groom that day!
Have you ever realized that humility is one of the hardest virtues to have? Humility is simply the idea of putting the thoughts and opinions of others before yours. It’s considering yourself to be nothing compared to the greatness of others. Even the idea of humility is spoken of by some of the great leaders in the world. From experience, they have learned that sometimes the person with the quietest voice can shake up the status quo. But who wants to listen to them? It’s interesting that once you think you are humble, you’ve lost humility. Have you ever thought about it that way? But why? Why is humility so hard to hold on to?
As Jesus was traveling around, preaching and teaching, he saw this lack of humility in people first hand. He had just left Galilee and was on his way to Jerusalem. Along the way, some leaders in the Jewish religion, called Pharisees, invited Jesus to dinner. You would think this would be a grand gesture to Jesus, the man who spoke with such authority. But was it really? When we look at the context and in particular verse one, what does it say? It says, “One Sabbath, when He went to eat in the house of the leading Pharisees, they were watching him closely.” Wait a moment! Who was watching him? This wasn’t some type of espionage movie where people were bugging the house with little cameras or microphones. No, this was the Pharisees.
Let me set the scene and the attitude a little for you: One chapter earlier, and several other times recorded, Luke had related that Jesus performed healings and even expelled demons on the Sabbath day. Well, what’s the big deal? According to Jewish law, people couldn’t do work on the Sabbath. Even though the Pharisees had never seen anything like this before, they classified performing miracles as Jesus breaking the law. So the hostility and animosity among the Pharisees towards Jesus had been growing and growing. We can’t judge the heart of this particular Pharisee who invited Jesus for dinner, but it seems that this invitation was not intended to be simply an act of kindness toward Jesus. It seemed almost like a trap to catch Jesus in the act of doing something against the Jewish law.
And what does Jesus do, knowing full well what their intentions are? He still goes. Oh, thats awesome. I don’t know about you, but I would not want to walk into a situation like that! And you know what Jesus does? He just goes and people watches. The thing I love to do when I go to baseball games or the fair or the airport: looking at all the fascinating people, that’s what Jesus was doing!
Nevertheless, Jesus observed some interesting behavior and calls them out on it. He was watching almost this ritualistic game of musical chairs. People are ducking and diving, talking with one person, moving on to another, waving, smiling, and sitting down. Everyone was basically trying to force themselves to the front, trying to get a spot as close to where all the action was, at the center. So, what’s so wrong with the chairs they were picking? In those days, they actually reclined in things like couches while they ate. So maybe they just wanted to find the chair that was most comfortable! Or, maybe some of them were hard of hearing and they simply wanted to hear the conversation better. So they tried to get nice and close. Maybe some of them were diabetic and were having low blood sugars and wanted food right away. I know how that goes. I’ve used that excuse before. So what was so wrong with their choices? But were these really the excuses of picking chairs that Jesus was pointing out?
And with that, Jesus launches into a parable. When you think about it, don’t these words of the parable sound familiar? These words are practically the same idea that came from the book of proverbs that we read in our first lesson. First, that shows that Jesus really knew his Old Testament scriptures. Something for us to aspire to. But also, Jesus wasn’t stupid to what the leaders were doing. And, I can tell you right now, he knew they weren’t trying to get the best seat because they needed food for their blood sugars!
They were looking to get ahead in life. Even in these little social gatherings, they wanted to be the top dog. Sure, this parable of Jesus could be an instruction on good manners. You should let others ahead of you in line, hold doors for people, etc. But as with every parable, there is a deeper meaning. Jesus wasn’t only speaking of good manners, but was trying to instruct them on how to be humble minded. It wasn’t merely selecting the place and the outward act that bothered Jesus. Jesus saw this selfish pride of the Pharisees. They were there for their own glory. Even the host was in it for some sort of response back, either financially or with laud and honor coming his way.
We exalt ourselves too often, even among our own Christian brothers and sisters. We sort of compare ourselves to others. Or we do things for others so that things will be done for us. Its really just selfish pride. We find pride in the stuff we own or things we do. Thats why we can’t hold on to humility! Pride works its way into everything in our lives. Even in our attempts at “behind the scenes” generosity, aren’t we sort of afraid that our gifts and good deeds will be unnoticed? Even though we say we don’t want to take credit, will we get the credit we think we deserve? And do we only help those who will pay us back? Pride gets in the way. And Jesus puts his foot down. He basically says, “If you go after your own personal glory and honor on this earth, you have no place in heaven.” Wow, that’s a sobering truth when we put our pride before God.
This text is an interesting one to think about, considering why we do the things that we do. Even the simplest gift to someone can be for the selfish reason of feeling good. It really makes you think. Like I said before, humility is one of the hardest things to have because once you think you have it, you’ve lost it, because at that moment you take pride in your humility. It is this perpetual cycle that seems to always lead to our pride. So then, how can we ever be humble if even our humility is selfish?
Interestingly, Jesus takes the time to speak to the host. Do you remember what he said? He said, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; because they might invite you back and you would be repaid. On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, the lame, or the blind.” What? Who would ever think to say that, especially to the host? I mean, you probably know the general idea, “Don't mess with the people that make your food.” Who on earth would talk like that? Well, there’s your answer. No man ever spoke like this man. It was Jesus, somebody who knows that our life is but a mist that appears and in a moment vanishes away, who knows that he who saves his life now will lose it later, and he who loses it now in love will save it later. Jesus was pointing out the motivation for our Christian service and our Christian humility.
What is humility if you don’t know who you are and where you have come from? Because of our sin, we have nothing to take pride in. We were nothing. We are nothing. Even our humility would never earn merit in God’s eyes, because it would only be tainted with sin. This does not cause us to lose all sense of self worth. But it is a reminder that our worth lies in what God in grace has given to us and made of us. He gave us life and he made us his own children. These words of Jesus bring us to the very action that God performed for us. He sent his Son down to the filth and selfishness of this world and he took on human flesh like the rest of us. He humbled himself. And he took on all of our pride in ourselves and even that humility that our sinful nature prides in, and he wiped us clean. What a relief that the perpetual cycle of selfish pride is broken! He has removed that forever! We approach God bringing nothing to the table and we simply cling to the cross.
The life Jesus gained for us by humbling himself moves us to humility and humble service toward others. Think of the impact of putting somebody before you, especially in the world that we live in where putting yourself ahead of everybody is more important and where self promotion with Instagram and Facebook and all these other devices is the norm. Think of the impact of concerning yourself with the thoughts and needs of your spouse, or your friend, or your neighbor and putting them ahead of you. Think of the impact of helping those in need. Christian love is especially seen when you do things for people who can't return your goodness or pay you back.
And when they ask, why? Why are you doing these things? We can answer, “Well, it’s not because it makes me feel good. But because I am a blood bought soul of Christ.” Jesus is the model but He is also our motivation. We don't look for our reward here, for there is only trial and sin that affects it. But, we look to Christ, who brought us the ultimate reward of heaven.
Humility and humble service may be a hard thing to actually do in a sin sick world. And we can get all caught up in the ideas of what is true humility and do I have it? How do I humbly serve someone? But, all those thoughts are put to rest because of THE action of humility that Jesus showed us. Only through Christ can we take to heart true humility and humbly serve others out of the same love that Christ showed us.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.