Posted by: Johnold Strey | September 11, 2010

Sermon on Proverbs 25:6-7

HUMILITY – THE MARK OF A CHRISTIAN

  1. God humbles arrogant hearts
  2. God raises up humble hearts

 Text: Proverbs 25:6-7 

Introduction

Several years ago, in preparation for an essay about worship that I wrote for a pastors’ conference, I visited a number of different non-denominational churches in our area.  One church I visited included a “baby dedication” during its Sunday night service.  As a part of this ceremony, everyone in the church gathered around the family with the new baby in the center of the congregation, put their hands on the shoulder of the person in front of them so that everyone made a “chain” toward the center, and then speak out loud the characteristics that they wanted God to give this new baby.  Out came words like “love,” “patience,” “wisdom,” “faith,” and the like.  The first time I told this story, someone said that I should have shouted out, “Lutheran!”

I don’t want to discuss whether a ceremony like this in worship is a good idea or not.  That’s an important discussion, but we won’t take that up here.  But if you were to pray to God and ask him to instill certain characteristics into a particular young soul, what Christian characteristics would top the list?  What characteristics describe the way that a Christian person should look and act?  Would your list sound like the “Fruits of the Spirit” list that the apostle Paul included in Galatians 5:22-23: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Those are certainly excellent Christian characteristics!  But that’s also not an exhaustive list.  Is there something else you’d want to see as a characteristic that really marks a Christian person?

The Scripture lessons for today’s service strongly suggest another characteristic that should be in our list: humility.  A college professor of mine once said that humility is the first mark of a Christian.  Was humility on your list?  Is humility characteristic of your life and attitude?  And what does God’s Word have to say about Christian humility?  This morning we’re going to look at one piece of the puzzle that’s found in the short, two-verse long First Lesson for today’s service.  Proverbs chapter 25 teaches us about humility as a mark of a Christian.  Our study will show us why God humbles arrogant hearts, and how God raises up humble hearts.

I.

What happens when you arrive at a wedding ceremony?  Let’s say that you arrive before most of the other guests, and the church is still relatively empty.  The usher asks you if you are a friend of the groom or the bride so that he knows what side of the church to seat you on.  The only question is how close to the front will you sit.  If you are the bride’s favorite aunt or uncle who also happens to be her godparent, you’ll probably be seated pretty close to the front on the left side.  If you’re just an acquaintance of the groom from work, you’ll probably aim for the seats right in front of the “Cheerio pews” in the back of the church.  If you’re merely an acquaintance and you decide to sit on the front pews for the honored guests, you might find yourself being asked to get up and give your spot to the real honored guests just before the procession is about to begin, and you’ll be left to watch in the standing room only section in the church entryway.

That wedding scenario illustrates the thoughts in today’s First Lesson.  “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman.” 

Many Christians consider King Solomon to be the wisest man who ever lived.  Solomon’s proverbs had plenty of practical and profound advice for his readers, and today’s First Lesson is no exception.  Solomon begins with two things he doesn’t want us to do.  “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence.”  The Hebrew word translated “exalt” implies something that is swelling up.  If you’ve ever said that someone has a “big head,” you’ve basically used the same imagery that Solomon is using here.  Big heads and inflated egos aren’t the right kind of attire when you come into the presence of someone who is truly great.

Solomon also warns us against the assumption that one belongs in the top notch of the elite class.  “Do not claim a place among great men.”  How easy it is for people to put themselves on a pedestal, thinking that they deserve to be in the latest edition of “Who’s Who in the World.”  How easy it is to think that our own thoughts are worthy of an advice column in the newspaper!  How easy it is to think that our own success is worthy of an extensive biography!  How easy it is for sinful people with inflated egos to fill the air with their own arrogance, when what they really need is a serious shot of sobering humility from the Greatest One of all, God himself.

Can you and I be guilty of the same sinful arrogance and inflated egos that Solomon warns us about?  We may not live in a world or a culture where we can literally “exalt ourselves in the king’s presence,” but we can be just as guilty of the same sin when we attempt to exalt ourselves in the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Maybe you don’t think that you’ve exalted yourself or inflated your ego in God’s presence, but the fact is that every time we fail to do what God has commanded, and every time we fail to believe what he has said, we have done just that.

  • “Sorry, God.  We know so much more today than what your Word says, and there’s just no way you’re powerful enough to have made this word over half a dozen days by merely saying, ‘Let there be.’”
  • “Sorry, God.  I know you say that we shouldn’t fail to gather in your house and be strengthened by your gospel, but there’s more to life than you!  Surely you won’t mind if the sports game or the chance to get some overtime hours or the chance to just lounge around and relax takes precedence.”
  • “Sorry, God.  I know your Word says to avoid godless chatter and backbiting rumors, but there are people in my life or even in this church that I don’t care for and I have to vent to someone!”
  • “Sorry, God.  I know you say that your Son has done everything to save me, and I know you say that I can’t hear that message enough.  But face it: it gets old.  Can we have a little less talk about your law and standards?  That will reach many more people than this talk about sin and salvation.”

To these examples we could add plenty more from the pages of our own life.  How often haven’t we allowed our sinfully arrogant egos to replace God’s Word with our thoughts, to replace God’s will with ours wants, and to replace God’s message with our own?  The God who sees us at every moment of our lives knows how often we and our arrogant egos have tried to take his place and make ourselves our own God.  And for that, God would have every right to humble our arrogant hearts all the way to hell.

II.

A kind, wealthy man hosted a banquet at his home.  He invited all sorts of people he knew from various walks of life, including people with a wide range of incomes.  The dining room in the house was all set, and the host’s chair was prominently seated at one end of the table.  His wealthy business friends quickly grabbed their spots near the host’s chair, and the less privileged guests ended up with spots at the opposite end of the table.  To everyone’s surprise, when the host finally took his seat, he moved his chair from one end of the table to the other.  Suddenly those who had the places of honor didn’t; those who were seated far away from the host now had the honored spots at the table.

God humbles our arrogant hearts and leads us to realize our sinful arrogance so that we are left with no choice but to cry, “Lord, have mercy on me.”  But, just like the host of the dinner I just described, he does something absolutely wonderful that takes us by surprise.  Solomon’s words come to mind here.  “It is better for him to say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman.”  Solomon’s original words had a lot more to do with good, sanctified common sense than our relationship with God.  Solomon’s topic in our reading was not about the way God exalts us.  Solomon spoke about the fact that it is better to be humble and have someone exalt you than to be arrogant only to have someone put you in your place.  But we can hardly read these words and not think about the way God raises up his people who realize the humiliation of their sin.

When God’s Word shatters our sinful pride and humbles our arrogant hearts, then the Holy Spirit points us to God’s Son who came to rescue us from our sin when he humbled himself and entered into our world.  The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2, “[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”

Jesus’ humility brings us peace and comfort when we face the humble reality of our own sin.  Jesus’ humility has lifted us out of the pit of despair and exalted us into the presence of God as his loved and forgiven children.  Jesus’ humility put him on the cross where he endured his Father’s punishment for our sin and arrogance.  Jesus’ humility led him to shed his blood that has washed our sins away and made us pure in his Father’s eyes.  And just as God the Father exalted his Son by raising him from the dead at Easter, so God the Father exalts you and lifts up your humble heart with the good news of Christ’s forgiving and conquering resurrection victory.  God raises the humble hearts who trust in his Son’s work with his peace and pardon.  And God the Father will raise us from the dead and bring us to himself in heaven together with all of his redeemed and believing children.  It’s a gift that doesn’t come because you’ve earned it, or studied for it, or accomplished great things.  It’s a gift that comes to you simply by faith in Jesus Christ – a faith that calls out to God, “Have mercy on me, a sinner”; a faith that humbly trusts in the One who humbled himself to raise us from earth to heaven one day; a faith that doesn’t put one ounce of trust in ourselves but clings entirely to the cross of Jesus as its hope and certainty.

Conclusion

Humility usually isn’t thought of as a very desirable characteristic.  Donald Trump didn’t become a billionaire by making humble real estate deals.  The current roster of congressional hopefuls will not build successful campaigns by talking about their humble track records in past public service.  Humility generally doesn’t get you very far in this world.  But humility is the one characteristic that counts before God.  It’s not that God will look at your humility and think, “Oh, this person deserves a break from me.”  Your humility will not earn you a spot in heaven.  Jesus has already done that for you by his humility.  Now humbly trust that Savior with the faith that the Holy Spirit has placed in your heart, and know that God promises to raise you up and bring you to his side for all eternity.  Amen.

Advertisements

Categories

%d bloggers like this: