God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. … My focus is on Philippians 2:6-8. “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross.”
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.
O 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 wonderful man. O Lord it's hard to be humble but I'm doing the best that I can.
"It's Hard to Be Humble," the title track of Mac Davis’ 1980 album, and the first of four consecutive Top Ten country hits, is one of the funniest songs ever written. Every pastor over age 40 has quoted it in a sermon that addresses humility.
Today, I will talk about humility as it relates to our reading, our religion, and our relationships with God and one another.
First, our reading. The word humble comes from the Latin word humilis meaning “lowly.” It literally means “on the ground or earth.” Because you are “of low birth or rank” you are not to assert yourself, or as Golda Meir said, “Don't be so humble; you're not that great.”
Two weeks ago, Pastors Wietfeldt and Fritsche explained humility and greatness in God’s Kingdom. In Matthew, Jesus cited children as examples for his disciples to emulate because they were dependent upon God for everything. Children, like faithful Israel, knew that everything – from identity to food to protection from one’s enemies – came from God. Unless his disciples became like children dependent on God, not only would they not be considered great in His Kingdom, they would not even enter it.
Paul expressed similar concern for Christians in Philippi. He wanted them to be blameless, shining as lights in a crooked, perverse generation, knowing that he did not run in vain. While Paul enjoyed the support and friendship of the Philippians, he had 3 groups of troublemakers.
First, his outside opponents were pagans who complained Paul did not acknowledge the gods. They reported him to the civil authorities in an attempt to stop his preaching. Second, workers of evil, whom Paul called dogs, were those who insisted on observing the Jewish custom of circumcision. Finally, Philippi was rife with internal dissension. Without citing the cause, Paul condemned conceit and self-interest by holding up Christ as an example of self-giving service in the hymn of today’s reading.
The Philippian Hymn, verses 6-11, deserves its own sermon, as it is the most famous of several dozen hymns inserted into New Testament letters. For now, suffice it to say that Paul used the hymn to exhort Philippians to follow the exalted Christ.
Rather than seeking their own interests and bettering themselves, Paul urged the Philippians to have the mind of Christ who showed that the way to God comes not by grasping at a higher place on society’s ladder but by becoming humbly obedient to God, even unto death on a cross.
The Cross symbolizes self-emptying and obedience, but in Paul’s day, it was the human symbol for ultimate rejection, scorn and degradation. Yet, the one who did not grasp at equality with God was honored by God and exalted as Lord. In a marvelous line of reversals, the One who dispossessed all, including himself, came to possess, in the end, all things as Lord. This is not only a message about Christ, but also a message to Christians, especially Christian leaders.
Because it was a message to all Christians and leaders, Paul cited not only Christ, but also Timothy, Epaphroditus and himself as examples for Christian living. Christian living is, of course, about relationships, but before we go there, let us examine how our religion used the passage.
Martin Luther interpreted humility as nothingness of man before God, the crucifying of self and the will to hear God's Word. Regarding Philippians 2:7, he wrote that God the Father let His Son come into the world from heaven above. The devil saw Him as a poor, plagued person who suffered hunger, thirst, cold and heat. Jesus wept and had nothing but misery and trouble in this world. Yet, His conduct was like no other man. In the end, Christ conquered Satan along with sin and death.
In the Book of Concord, Luther and his colleagues cited the passage to develop our teaching of the Person of Christ and the Righteousness of Faith before God. Francis Pieper summarized the Formula on Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, and used it to address the errors of Unitarian and Reformed theologians. And while we may not have these works at our fingertips, the Introduction of our Lutheran Service Book tells us that its cover is based our reading. The dark, innermost portion of the cross is a reminder of Good Friday when our Lord “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death … on a cross.” … Makes me wonder if I can judge a book by its cover.
Can I judge a book by its cover? Or an individual by his skill? The question leads to my 3rd point – relationships with God and others.
Pastor Wietfeldt opened the September Parent Teacher meeting by examining the attributes of strong leaders. Often, we judge a book by its cover or equate a leader’s skills with his character, though they are not the same. We judge a person based on skills we see – medical practice, musical performance, business or political acumen, acting or athleticism – and fail to examine the character we cannot see. Pastor likened it to the iceberg. We see the 10% above the surface, but never the 90% below. We see skills, but not self-discipline, emotional security, core values or one’s sense of identity. True humility is a core value and an attribute of a strong Christian leader.
Since Paul used the Philippian hymn to exhort Christians and leaders to imitate Christ, how can we apply it to our lives as Christians and leaders? How can we read it to examine our relationships with God and others? Is humility one of my core values? When I look in the mirror, do I sing the Philippian hymn or “It’s hard to be humble”?
You know, humility is making a comeback. Recent articles include 10 Self-Made Billionaires Who Remain Grounded and Humble, The 20 Most Humble Athletes of All Time, and 7 Ways To Tell If You're A Truly Humble Person. Unsurprisingly, none referred to the Philippian hymn.
Bloggers and beat writers report on psychology and eastern religion, and cite Kevin Durant, Derek Jeter, Tim Cook and Warren Buffet as examples of humility. I ask that we look deeper.
Paul challenges us to emulate not the rich and famous, but Christ Jesus. He remains our model. We should not grasp after equality by seeking our own interests, but empty ourselves in service to one another.
Have I truly emptied myself? Perhaps, but I should consider that I have not yet emptied myself in service to others as Christ emptied Himself for me.
Have I embraced or experienced rejection, scorn and degradation? Would Luther say that I am a poor, plagued person who suffers hunger, thirst, cold and heat, and have nothing but misery and trouble in this world? Do I prefer the humility Christ experienced for me or am I satisfied with my state of humility?
As a parent, do I encourage my children to embrace the humble life of Christ or emulate the skills of the rich and famous? Have I taught them to climb the ladder of success or descend into the dregs of poverty with Christ? Do I want my children to be like Derek Jeter, Warren Buffet or Pastor Joel Fritsche, and work with the poor for Christ?
As a grandparent, do young people in my family tell me that my humility inspires them to love Christ? As a Lutheran, do borderline believers tell me that I inspire them to seek a deeper relationship with Christ?
I ask these questions because Paul encourages us to deepen our relationships with God and others by emulating our Lord’s humility. Likewise, I encourage you to challenge your children and grandchildren to embrace humility as an essential character as they develop into Christian leaders.
Emulating our Lord’s humility is not simply suffering, but being with Christ in His suffering. If I love Christ, I go where He goes. I love Christ so boldly and deeply that it leads me to embrace even the cross.
Such humility does not depend on my personal effort but on my openness to God’s power. I surrender my life to be with Jesus no matter what the consequence.
My parents were humble in that they spent time with people who were sick and dying – church and family members, neighbors and friends. I learned much from their invaluable lessons, so much so that in 2005, when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I asked to be reassigned from a church in Eureka, California, to one close to her home. I became her caregiver for the last year of her life. In the end, I had no regrets.
Husbands and wives who take seriously their vows relate to each other in this way: “I will feel with you. I will suffer with you in your sufferings. I will be joyful with you in your joy.” Suffering with others is a test of love and humility. Suffering with people Christ comforts is our test of love for Him. As Christians and leaders, we measure humility by such compassion.
Because some of us ran in Angels for Autism, I close with a story of a humble Christian missionary forced to choose between his religious beliefs and competing in an Olympic race.
Eric Liddell, England’s top 100-meter sprinter and the favorite to win the 1924 Olympics, loved God deeply. His life and martyrdom witness this fact. In the movie Chariots of Fire, we see Eric as a deeply religious man who never ran on Sunday. When the Olympic schedule was released, the final for the 100-meter race was set for Sunday. Eric was crestfallen.
Word got around England that Eric would not run on Sunday. The public put incredible pressure on him to violate his conscience and run. He refused. The newspapers labeled him as a traitor. Eric remained loyal to his beliefs. Eventually, Eric switched to the 400-meter event, a race he had never run.
In the movie, Jackson Scholz, the famous American runner, handed Eric a note with this sentence: “The Father will honor whoever serves me” – John 12:26. Seconds later, Eric won the 400-meter race. Still clutched in his hand – the note Scholz handed him.
If you want the Father to honor you as no one on earth can honor you, serve His Son and those He comforts with humble love. When you do, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 Psalm 122
 Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday (1997), 487.
 Ibid, 491.
 Ibid, 493.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament: Third Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2010), 331.
 Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian. St. Louis: Concordia Press (1959), 194
 Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2006), 511 and 572.
 Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Volume II. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House (1951), 280ff.
 Lutheran Service Book. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House (2006), p. ix.
 Mark Link, Decision. Valencia, CA: Tabor Publishing (1988), 67.