The Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost July 27, 2008
224, 175, 395(1-5), 783(1-4) [TLH alt. 410]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Do not exalt yourself in the presence of the king, and do not stand in the place of the great; for it is better that he say to you, “Come up here,” than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince, whom your eyes have seen.
Do not go hastily to court; for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor has put you to shame? Debate your case with your neighbor, and do not disclose the secret to another; lest he who hears it expose your shame, and your reputation be ruined.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear. Like the cold of snow in time of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him, for he refreshes the soul of his masters.
In Christ Jesus who is not only the best example of true humility, but is also the one who has redeemed us and moves our hearts toward true humility—dear fellow-redeemed:
Humility is one of those things that is hard to understand or define entirely. In many ways it is easier to understand humility by what it is not. Humility is clearly not evident in those who go arrogantly through life thinking very little of anything or anyone else but themselves. But there is also a finer lack of humility which becomes harder to see.
Humility, pride, and arrogance are as old as sin. In fact, a lack of humility is the first rebellion against God. The Devil and his angels,“…did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode” (Jude 1:6). The Devil and his angels were angels who were not satisfied with being in God’s service. Then the Devil came to Eve and convinced her that it would be better to be like God knowing both good and evil, whereas until sin they only knew good. Pride reared its ugly head, Eve thought she would enjoy being like God, and she took of the fruit and ate.
There are examples in Scripture of those who very obviously did not have humility. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ruled a powerful and wealthy nation. God richly blessed his reign. God warned King Nebuchadnezzar what his pride would do, but to no avail. One day the king was walking around his palace and he said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). While these words were still in the king’s mouth, he was stricken and for a period of time lived out in the fields eating and acting like an animal. Nebuchadnezzar had great wealth and a great country, but it wasn’t of his doing, even though he proudly declared it as “mine!”
Naaman, the Syrian captain with leprosy who came to Elisha for healing, provides another example of a lack of humility. Elisha told Naaman to wash in the Jordan River and he would be healed. Prideful, Naaman did not want to go to the dirty Jordan River and wash. Naaman’s pride would have kept him from being healed. However, Naaman’s servants prevailed in their urging and Naaman humbled himself before God, followed God’s Word, washed in the Jordan River, and was healed.
Pride stands in the way of listening to God’s Word, but by contrast true humility seeks to hear God’s Word. When God called the young Samuel to be prophet in Israel, Samuel followed the wise counsel of Eli, the priest, and replied: “Speak, for Your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10).
King David, one of the great kings of Israel, exhibited humility when he honored King Saul as king even though David had already been anointed by God as his successor. However, David too fell into the trap of pride. On one occasion, Satan moved David to arrogantly command a census of Israel to see how great his nation had become. As a result of David’s pride, God brought chastisement upon the people (cf. 1 Chronicles 21).
Consider Moses—would you think of him as being humble? Perhaps not since we see him boldly standing before Pharaoh, courageously leading the people of Israel, and angrily smashing the tablets of stone when he saw the Israelites worshipping the golden calf. Yet, God says, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). But Moses wasn’t always humble. He brashly killed the Egyptian when he took matters into his own hands before God called him to lead Israel. But in the 40 years of tending his father-in-law’s sheep, God humbled Moses and then called him to lead.
God made Moses a powerful, bold leader, but also described him as the most humble man on the face of the earth. Humility is not being down-trodden. Humility is not a lack of confidence or boldness. Humility is a matter of how we view ourselves, how we approach others, and most importantly how we approach God.
The prophet, Zephaniah, was led by God to rebuke the Children of Israel in days of unfaithfulness and urge them to repent. In the stern rebuke and call to repentance, God said, “Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth…seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the days of the Lord’s anger” (Zephaniah 2:1-3). Today we look to learn from God’s Word and follow it as we too SEEK HUMILITY. We begin by first of all seeking it I. In view of your self, then II. In your actions toward others, and finally, III. In your words of counsel.
The first section of our text deals with the humility regarding ourselves. We read: “Do not exalt yourself in the presence of the king, and do not stand in the place of the great; For it is better that he say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince, whom your eyes have seen.” [vv.6-7]
These words of wisdom are virtually identical to what Jesus told the people in today’s Gospel reading and they carry with them a great deal of simple practicality. If you assume yourself to be “higher” than you are and you take the place of honor either in the king’s palace or at a banquet, and then someone comes and says, “Ah…excuse me, this is a reserved seat for someone else” and you have to go lower, how embarrassing! There is shame involved and you are demoted in front of people among whom you’d like to maintain honor—such as a prince.
But there is more to this proverb than the practicality of avoiding embarrassment. It gets to the very heart: How are we viewing ourselves? Am I viewing myself as something high and above others? Or do I have a lower, subdued, and truthful view of myself?
A proper humility regarding ourselves really begins with our attitude and approach toward God. Our humility, or our pursuit of humility, does not mean feeling as if we are incapable. Remember that Moses was a bold leader, and yet humble. Humility is not downgrading what we are or what we can do. Humility does not say, “Oh…I don’t really think I can do anything…I’m not good at anything…I don’t know what to do.” Humility is not a lack of boldness. Humility is putting ourselves in a proper perspective in relation toward God.
We might very easily recognize arrogance and pride in someone and we might even maintain that we never show such pride. However, if we ever grumble about what we can’t do, or if we ever grumble about what we aren’t or what we don’t have, that actually is “back door pride.” My pride is offended that I don’t have what I want. My pride is standing in the way of a humble submission to God which simply says, “God give me as You please.” If I say that I can’t do anything worthwhile, I am backing into pride because what I’m really saying is, “I want to focus on me and what I want and not on God and what He gives to me.” Humility in humble submission to the Lord says, “God has given me what He has seen fit according to His wisdom. I will seek to use that in the best possible way.”
Have you ever felt a certain sense of accomplishment when you have succeeded in some way at the expense of others—maybe you have proven yourself smarter, or faster, or in some way superior to someone else. In such a case you have used your gifts which God has given you, but when you have that feeling of superiority, it is pride.
So when we consider our lives apart from just the obvious arrogance, there is plenty of pride which even if it is not exhibited in what we say and do, it certainly can live in our hearts. Anytime that we think of self first, anytime that we are offended because of what that person said or did to me and it’s all about me…it’s pride.
Humility directs itself toward God. Once when Jesus’ disciples were exercising their pride in arguing about greatness, Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). Humility is the simple childlike submission that says, “Jesus is my Savior. What more do I need?” Paul directs us: “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion” (Romans 12:16).
When we have a true understanding of the sin that infects us, when we recognize that we are sinners and that our only true boast is in God and the salvation we have in Christ Jesus, then the view we have of ourselves is changed. It is not a view of worthlessness. It is a view that sees ourselves as redeemed by Christ! It is a view that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). In this I find boldness even in humility because I am not relying on myself, I am looking to God.
Humility trembles at God’s Word. Humble is the heart that says, “I want to hear God speak to me. I want to see what He says and then order my life accordingly.” The opposite is very common. Instead of humbly going to Scripture to hear God, decisions are made, courses are plotted, positions are established and then after all of that, Scripture is opened to somehow find support for what was decided, or to contrive a way out of God’s verdict on sinful behavior, or to soothe a guilty conscience with false hope. This is pride. Pride determines what it wants. Pride does what it wants and then only as an afterthought turns to God’s truth. Humility pleads, “God teach me. You create an understanding in my heart and enable me to put that into action in my life.”
A Christian poet once described humility as the fairest flower that grew in the perfection of Eden, but also the first that died. He describes it as a frail and delicate thing because if you look upon it, it is gone. In other words, the moment I take note of how humble I am, by that very fact I have lost my humility and demonstrated pride. True humility looks to God and casts all other things aside. After Paul told the Philippians, “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7). And to the Galatians he wrote, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Our true glory, our true worth is in our Savior from sin, Jesus. Another proverb says, “By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4). When we seek humility it will be from the standpoint of God’s view toward us—what we are by nature, and what we are through Christ Jesus.
The apostle Peter wrote: “…be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:5-8). The world does not recognize humility because the world immediately equates humility with wimpiness, a lack of drive, or a lack of boldness. The world is so consumed with what it wants that it has no time for humility. So in this world, when we seek humility, we will not always look so successful. We may not be exalted in this life, but God repeatedly says in His Word: “Humble yourselves before God and He will exalt you.” If we fail to humble ourselves we are a ready prey for the Devil because we are relying on ourselves and we can’t withstand him on our own. When we humble ourselves before God, we cast our cares on Him because we’re not so proud to suppose that we are going to stand on our own. Rather we can say, “I’m going to cast my cares on Jesus because there is my strength, there is my boasting, there is my pride. When we do this we are defended against the roaring lion who seeks to make us his prey by taking advantage of our pride and selfish desires.
As we seek humility in our own lives this will overflow into seeking humility in our actions toward others. The second portion of our text says: “Do not go hastily to court; for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor has put you to shame? Debate your case with your neighbor, and do not disclose the secret to another; lest he who hears it expose your shame, and your reputation be ruined.” [vv.8-10]
This is once again a piece of very practical advice. If you strike out and go hastily to court because of pride, blindly maintain a position, and pursue it with selfish stubbornness, you may in the end—because you didn’t properly think through it—be put to shame. Rather, the proverb urges to debate this privately and work through it lest you expose your arrogance, bring the shame upon yourself, find you were wrong, and thereby ruin your reputation.
As before, this proverb is more than simply avoiding the shame of being wrong. It is a matter of treating others with the same love with which God treats us. We approach others with humility when we “esteem others better than [ourselves]” and “look out not only for [our] own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3,4). We seek humility in our actions toward others when we see them as fellow redeemed souls of Christ and not as someone who irritates me when he talks that way, or someone who bugs me when she does this or that. We exercise humility when we bear with one another, having patience with one another, recognizing that those sins of yours that affect me are no different than my sins that affect you. It is recognizing that those sins that hurt me are no different than my sins that do the hurting. Humility in our actions toward others forgives them as we have been forgiven by Christ. “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also” (Colossians 3:12-13).
We seek humility in our actions toward others when we check our actions based on a proper view of ourselves and of God. We have fellow believers, and there are many around us still walking in unbelief. We have family and friends, and there are many people who are strangers to us. In all cases they are souls redeemed by Christ. Every soul on the earth shares sinfulness with you and shares in having been redeemed by Christ through the grace of God. Seek humility in showing a Christ-like attitude toward all others.
The final section of our text deals with our words: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear. Like the cold of snow in time of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him, for he refreshes the soul of his masters.” [vv.11-13]
When you think about it, the whole reason for our existence on earth is so that we are heard. We are here to be witnesses for Christ, ambassadors for His message, and beacons of His light. When we seek humility in the words we “speak,” either vocalized or in our actions, those words are like apples of gold in a setting of silver. A word “fitly spoken” is the right word spoken at the right time. The right word is an apple of gold, the right time is the apple being placed in a setting of silver. There is great beauty and value in the gold and silver all perfectly cast together. The right word spoken at the right time is just that beautiful and valuable.
Words fitly spoken are also faithful to their source. We are ambassadors for Christ, messengers of God’s Word. We are not a faithful messenger and we do not seek humility if we proclaim our own word—if we say what we think instead of what God says. Like the cool snow refreshes after a hot dry summer and harvest, so does faithfulness refresh the soul of the one who sent the messenger. Humility seeks to be faithful to the source of our message—God.
The words fitly spoken may at times come from us and at other times be directed to us. “Like an ornament of fine gold is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear.” Seeking humility in our words and counsel goes both ways—seeking humility as I seek to share the fitting word, and demonstrating humility when I am the one needing to hear such valuable words.
God has the most fitting words. When we seek humility in sharing those words with others it is not just in preaching God’s Word. It is not just speaking passages from the Bible. It includes the day-to-day counsel. It is the “Hey, how are you’s?” that come from a fellow Christian looking out for your best interest. It is the “Hey, how are you’s” that bring you back to focus or offer correction when your words and actions show you could use some navigational help in your walk with Christ. It is the more serious than “Hey, how are you’s” when sin must be admonished and then absolved when repentance follows. It is words that are measured with the truthfulness of God and the love of Christ—those are words fitly spoken, words that seek humility, and flow out of humble submission to our Lord.
There is much cause for seeking humility—in our thoughts of ourselves, our actions toward others, and in our words of counsel. This humility is a gift from God. It is something that our sinful natures will not pursue because they are incurably proud. But seeking humility and maintaining a rightful view of ourselves and of God through His Word, will give us success in defeating our sinful flesh. By God’s grace we will live according to the New Man which God has created in us. In this way Christ will be glorified and His glory and our salvation is our boast. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.