Philippians 2:5-22 and Mark 9:30-37
Remember Mac Davis? He wrote this in 1974, “Back a few months ago, I was headlinin’ a great big nightclub. I came in a couple days early and they put me up in what they call the “Star Suite.” Now here I am, headlinin’ in one of the biggest nightclubs in the country and I wake up at eight o’clock in the morning in this “Star Suite” all by myself.
I picked up my guitar, I sat down and I wrote me a little song. Now this is how it feels to be alone at the top of the hill and tryin’ to figure out why.
“Oh, Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror, ‘cause I get better looking each day. To know me is to love me. I must be a heck of a man. Oh, Lord it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doing the best that I can.”
It is my opinion that not only successful song writers, performers and movie stars have a hard time being humble, but also most white Americans who are successful in their own eyes, however they deem success to be.
Benjamin Franklin, the early American statesman, made a list of character qualities that he wanted to develop in his own life. When he mastered one virtue, he went on to the next. He did pretty well, he said, until he got to humility. Every time he thought he was making significant progress, he would be so pleased with himself that he became proud!
Humility is an elusive virtue. Jesus’ disciples struggled with it. One day Jesus is walking with his disciples and as they walk they talk among themselves. Did Jesus overhear them or did he just know what was in their hearts? Later, when they came to Capernaum and they were in the house together, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” (v.34) We are not told in scripture what was said, but I wonder if it went like this.
Simon Peter said: “Well, I am his right-hand man. I am a part of the inner circle. I am the spokesman of the group. Therefore, I am the greatest.”
Whereupon Andrew might have spoken up and said: “Well, dear big brother, let me remind you of something which you have conveniently forgotten. I was called into discipleship first. Indeed, I was the one who invited you to come to Jesus. I got you here. Therefore, I am the greatest.”
The brothers James and John at this point speak up: “You both miss the point. Greatness is measured by the amount that you have sacrificed. We stood to inherit our father Zebedee’s lucrative fishing business. We gave all of that up.”
At this point Matthew chimes in: “Well if you want to talk about giving up money, I can play that game. I was a tax collector. None of you had as much money as I did. Therefore, I am the greatest.” *
Jesus knew that they had been arguing about who was the greatest, and we read in Mark 9:35, “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
That would have surprised the disciples. That wasn’t the culture of their day and it is not the culture of our day. We do not consider a server in a restaurant or someone who cleans motel rooms as great, compared to a corporate executive, a government official, a movie star or an NFL football player; but we should honor those who serve us. We should treat them with respect and kindness. They are the ones who make our lives more comfortable and we all like to be comfortable.
In Mark 9:36-37 Jesus does this, “He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
I am thankful this passage is in the New Testament. It reminds us that Jesus had a high regard for children. This is interesting because children were not viewed favorably in ancient Israel. They were considered one of the lowest elements in society. Children, along with women, old men, and slaves, were viewed as physically weak burdens on society. In Greece and Rome, it was an accepted practice to abandon unwanted children along the roadsides to die. Jesus’ attitude toward children could not have been more different. He turns this kind of thinking upside down. He warned his followers not to despise children nor to cause them to stumble.
This passage is not the only place in Scripture where we find Jesus glorifying children. He enjoyed the presence of children. You remember that wonderful scene where the disciples were keeping the children away from Jesus, afraid that they might bother the Master. We read in Matthew 19:14, “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
We read in Luke 18:15-17, “People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Jesus’ words remind us how precious the children of our church are, and the children of our community, and all the children of the world. Children are the world’s future.
You may know a story told about the scientist Albert Einstein. One of his neighbors, the mother of a ten-year-old girl, noticed that the child often visited Einstein’s house. The woman wondered at this, and the child explained: “I had trouble with my homework in arithmetic. People said that at No. 112 there lives a very big mathematician, who is also a very good man. I asked him to help me. He was very willing, and explained everything very well. He said I should return whenever I find a problem too difficult.”
Alarmed at the child’s boldness, the girl’s mother went to Einstein to apologize. Einstein said, “You don’t have to apologize. I have learned more from the conversations with the child than she has from me.” **
Jesus would have understood what Dr. Einstein was saying. We adults can learn a lot from children, if we take the time to listen to them.
Let us examine what the Apostle Paul says about being humble in Philippians 2:5-8.
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, 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!”
Remember before Jesus was arrested, beaten and died on the cross, what example he set for his disciples? He washed the disciples’ feet. John 13:12, 14-15, reads, “When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. – “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.’”
D.L. Moody took Jesus’ example to heart. He was a shoe sales clerk when he overheard someone in the store where he worked say that the world had not yet seen what God might do with someone completely sold out to Jesus Christ. Moody prayed and asked God to help him be that person. He laid down his life in Christ’s service. God used Moody as no other man in his generation. One example of Moody’s servant heart happened when a large group of European pastors came to study at one of D. L. Moody’s Northfield Bible Conferences in Massachusetts not long before the end of the nineteenth century. Following the European tradition of that time, each visitor put his shoes outside his room, expecting that hall servants would gather them up and clean them overnight. The visitors did not realize that this custom was uniquely European.
Walking along the dormitory halls late that night, D. L. Moody noticed the shoes and remembered the custom from his days of ministry in Europe. He determined that those shoes would be cleaned and mentioned the need to some ministerial students. They met Moody’s suggestion with silence and all kinds of excuses. Moody would not stop. He returned to the dormitory hallway and gathered up the shoes. Alone in his room, the world’s most famous evangelist of his time began to clean and polish the shoes. The incident might have never been known had not a friend’s unexpected arrival at Moody’s room revealed the secret. When the European visitors opened their doors the next morning, their shoes were shining. The Europeans had no idea who had cleaned their shoes. Moody told no one. He believed no one needed to know. His unexpected visitor friend told a few people and for the rest of the conference there was no shortage of secret shoe shiners.
It is likely that the European pastors returned home never knowing this happened. The whole episode, however, is a vital insight into why God blessed D. L. Moody’s ministry as he did. Famous or not, Moody never forgot Jesus’ example of washing the disciples’ feet or what it was to be a shoe salesperson. Moody’s servant heart was probably the reason for his true greatness.
If the Jesus you follow allows you to feel comfortable promoting your own agenda, then either he is not the Jesus of the Bible or you are not following closely enough. All who follow Jesus are called to be servants whose lives are marked by humility and service to others.
Proverbs 18:12 reads, “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.”
There is a difference between pride and honor. Nowhere does God’s word say that we are not to have honor. He forbids only that we would be proud of our honor. In his time, D. L. Moody’s name was a household word on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet, he did not deem polishing others’ shoes too low an office for him to fill. Moody thought rightly of himself. He was a servant of Christ. ***
Jesus says in John 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The truth is that we are to love and serve one another because that is the example Jesus gave to us. He loves all ‘created in God’s image,’ human beings. Jesus calls us to love and serve others, and he gave us an example of how to do that with his birth, life, and death. Because of his sacrifice for us, Philippians 2:9-11 tells us, “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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus loves us no matter what we do or who we are. Yet, I want more than Jesus’ love. I want Jesus to see me as a humble servant; loving and serving Him and my fellow human beings.
“What do you think of the candidates?” That’s what a reporter for a news magazine asked a young woman at Dartmouth University after a debate among presidential hopefuls. The young woman didn’t say a word about their positions on the issues or their skill at debate. She simply remarked, “None of them seems to have any humility.”
If a news reporter were to talk to our friends, neighbors, or fellow church members and ask them to describe us, would they use the word humble?
Mac Davis wrote, “Oh, Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” The truth is, none of us is perfect, that’s why we need a perfect Savior.
If you have not received Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If you have not given him your heart and life; now is the time.
We cannot truly love and serve Jesus or one another without the presence of Christ in our heart. We can be good people, but we cannot truly love and serve one another in humility without Christ.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
September 23, 2018
References: *Blair, Brett and staff. The Measure of Greatness. @ eSermons.com
** Our Daily Bread, November 3, 1998
***Holmes, Robert L. The Way Up Is Down @ eSermons.com