Humility and the Kingdom of God- Rev. Charles R. Biggs
This week we celebrate the 491st anniversary of the Reformation of the 16th century. As part of my meditation on the Reformation, I wanted to think more about how Reformed truth should bring humility to believers, especially as Reformed Christians seek to make the gospel known and build Christ's Kingdom.
It is so easy to lose our focus on what truly matters as Christians, and oftentimes rather than humility in Christ, we can find ourselves waging war as the world does.
What does this Reformed-Kingdom-Building project look like, and how is it accomplished? I think we have the answer in Philippians 2:1-11. HAPPY REFORMATION DAY!
ESV Philippians 2:1-11: So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,1 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,1 being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Whatâ€™s this passage about? Christ and His Work for His people. More specifically, this passage is an inspired hymn that reveals the pattern that Christ has established and given to all those who would call themselves His disciples.
Whatâ€™s this passage about? Christ and His humility that led to exaltation-resurrection-glory. More specifically, this passage is a hymn about our union with Christ and our humility that leads to exaltation-resurrection-glory in Him.
A reminder about the background to Paulâ€™s Epistle to the Philippians: the Apostle Paul has been imprisoned and is close to death; he has been imprisoned specifically because of his preaching the gospel of grace (apart from works); preaching was his God-given call and task, particularly as the â€œApostle to the Gentilesâ€.
Paul had been humbled, yet all through the letter, there is great joy in Christ Jesus. In fact, toward the end of the letter, the apostle claims that he has learned the secret of contentment in Christ (even in prison)- -and that whatever the circumstances, no matter how humbly or humiliating, he could do all things through Christ who gives him strength (4:10-13).
The Christians who made up the Church at Philippi were predominantly Gentile. Particularly there were many who had served as officers in Caesarâ€™s army â€œback in the dayâ€ before retirement. The region of Philippi was a sort of retirement community for former officers of Caesar; all of the people who lived in Philippi were Roman citizens; this is important to really get at the meaning and application of this passage. Iâ€™ll come back to this in a moment, D.V.
This passage, Philippians 2:1-11 should be read from end to beginning, or from the end of the passage backwards to the beginning. Christ is exalted (2:9-11); Christ is indeed the One before every human being will one day confess as King of kings and Lord of lords, whether they do so by faith as believers, or whether they do it because they must as part of the Last Day Judgment, all human beings will confess the reality of Christâ€™s identity (You might say it this way: at the end of time all mankind will make a â€œAthanasian-Niceanâ€ orthodox confession of the Person of Jesus Christ).
The passage ends in Christâ€™s exaltation- -Jesusâ€™ Christâ€™s glorious resurrected-ascended-glory state enthroned at Godâ€™s right hand.
But how did he get there to exaltation glory? Through humility.
Christ Jesus did not like Adam in the garden before him consider equality with God something to be grasped at (2:6-7) â€“Unlike Adam, Jesus did not assert himself arrogantly and proudly against Godâ€™s will even though it was his rightful prerogative as Son of God. In other words, the Second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ did not (like Adam before him; the first Adam) grasp at equality with God when there was obedience to submission and humility to be achieved.
Christ Jesus considered his own people more important that his exalting himself and his position, even though he was equal with God. In fact, the good news of the gospel is that while we were yet sinners, enemies of God and not seeking after God in any way, shape or form (Rom. 3:11ff; 5:6ff)- -Christ died on the cross, the Righteous for the unrighteous, out of love for us. Christ laid down his life to die so that he might take the wrath of God upon himself that we so deserved.
Christ humbled himself to the form of a bond slave, servant, and became â€œnothingâ€ (insignificant!!) in the eyes of the world, numbered with the transgressors or common criminals on the cross, in order to save his own by dying the horrible death of the cross in their place.
You can imagine the seminars that some of Caesarâ€™s officers, his generals, centurions, lieutenants, and captains had attended. They had been taught at their annual Roman â€œofficer seminarsâ€ that Caesar was Lord and God and that as Lord and God he was to be honored with full obedience and submission (they would have been told and taught this more than merely annually!). Submission to Caesar in this way would continue to extend and expand the Kingdom of Rome!
They had been taught that they were to be of the same mind, unified, as a glorious and powerful army with one purpose: the glory and exaltation of Caesar and His will, and the extension and expansion of the Kingdom of Rome!
However, now that these people were believers, their allegiance had changed. Now they were to consider NOT Caesar as Lord and God, but Jesus Christ- -who had been gloriously resurrected-ascended-glorified and enthroned at Godâ€™s right hand high above all power and authorities- -including Caesar. Now their obedience and submission was to HIM.
Yes, the former officers as members of Christâ€™s church were to still be unified as Rome had taught them before; yes, they were to be as one mind and with one purpose, but now that one mindedness and purpose must be achieved through humility. This was definitely different from the former way as Caesarâ€™s officers they would have been taught. Now, God says to them through the Apostle Paul: No more vain competitiveness among you for powerful position; no more vain conceit; no more sinful rivalry; in their place: humility.
Think about how Caesarâ€™s army was trained to fight with weapons of this world; they waged warfare as the world does- -with might, power, and strength. Now as members of the Church who were united to Jesus Christ by faith and who witnessed to Godâ€™s Kingdom in Jesus, they were to learn that might and power and strength are found in humility and through submission to Christ and His example.
In fact, true power and strength is found in being Christ-like, and that means considering others more significant than oneself. Now in Christ, because they are united to Jesus Christ and have the mind of Jesus Christ, they are to learn that the pattern and life of humility in Christ is the way to exaltation and glory with Christ. This is all because of grace, and accomplished only because one is united to Jesus Christ; there is no place for works in this.
For further clarification, the passage is not teaching that if one is humble then they will be saved; Paul is saying because you have been saved and shown grace, now live like it in reliance upon more grace!
However, Christâ€™s true disciples reveal their true strength, power and might through humility because they live as Christ livedâ€”humbly, not considering or thinking of themselves more higher than they ought - -even when they do have a great position in this world.
Now because of the grace Christ has shown to them, and to us today, they and we are to live humbly by grace knowing that it is through humility that Christ will be honored and glorified in our lives.
But how insisting we are in having our own ways- -including seeking through conceit and rivalry our own way even when it is veiled by nobility, such as when we do things arrogantly and pridefully even in the name of God because we are seeking to do Godâ€™s will. I reckon there is nothing inherently wrong with having plans to change the world for the good and for God, but this is certainly a potential ground for all kinds of arrogance, pride and rivalry and so we must be careful of this!
The disciples of Jesus struggled with this too! Many times in Jesusâ€™ life they wanted to know who was the greatest of the bunch; one time they asked Christ if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy Godâ€™s (and their) enemies; one time even Simon Peter took a sword out and cut off the right ear of the High Priestâ€™s servant-slave because he thought that he was accomplishing Godâ€™s will in the world.
Yet when Peter cut off Malchusâ€™ ear, he was demonstrating how little he knew about being a disciple of Jesus. Later, Jesus would say before Pontius Pilate:
"My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." â€“John 18:36
Jesus says clearly: â€œIf my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting.â€ In other words, Jesus is saying if my kingdom was like the powerful kingdoms of this world, like Rome, then I would be fighting against you right now with my disciples, sword in hand!
Yet Jesus healed the servant of the High Priest because he showed humility, and he had to accomplish his Divine Messianic Mission by being betrayed, denied, forsaken, beaten, and crucified. Jesus was showing that the pattern, or the way to exaltation and glory is through humility and weakness; a paradox, and yet this is Godâ€™s way of bringing in His Kingdom and saving His people (wouldnâ€™t have been our idea!).
Jesus showed humility. Jesus showed that living the Christian life according to, and depending upon the power and strength of this world, is waging war as the world, and it is hopeless. Trying to bring in Christâ€™s Kingdom through the sword, through cutting off ears, and seeking to call down fire from heaven is NOT the way of humility and is not the way of living the Christian life.
Rather, Jesus says to pray, and to teach and preach the Word, and to remember that when we as the Church seem to be weak, to realize that we are truly strong as long as we have the Word, Sacraments and Prayer.
And I would say that this is where we struggle as the Church of Jesus Christ at the beginning of the 21st century. We have focused on all kinds of worldly ways to bring in the kingdom (including the sword), we have tried to build churches great in number and â€œman-powerâ€ but we have lost the important emphasis on the Word of God, the Sacraments and Prayer.
In Jesusâ€™ time of testing, in fact, the disciples had already lost focus on these and thus why they picked up the sword! Think about it: Jesus had told them in the Garden of Gethsemane (and other times in his ministry) to prepare for battle, temptation, and testing, and therefore to pray; when Jesus established the Lordâ€™s Supper, the disciples immediately wanted to know who was the greatest among them! Word, Sacrament and Prayer were all replaced for a focus on the power and strength of the sword (literally, read Luke chapter 22 in its entirety later).
We see this also in Christian history. In the Medieval period, the Church had grown so powerful that it waged war according to the world (there was even a theory of power and authority in the church based on the sword!). Eventually, the Church grew so powerful that the Papal office, the Pope was one of the most powerful emperor-rulers on the face of the earth! He held the sword of the Church and the state- -but he was not a humble man, nor did he realize and understand as a disciple, Jesusâ€™ teaching on witnessing to and bringing in the Kingdom through humility.
Whenever the Church has attempted to bring in the Kingdom the way the world acts and lives with sword, it has always been a miserable failure worthy of our Lordâ€™s rebuke.
This is the 491st anniversary of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century. This is the day we remember the humble monk, weak in constitution and position, who prayerfully and powerfully through Word and prayer changed the world by Godâ€™s grace.
By Godâ€™s grace, the doctrines of grace were recovered and taught to Godâ€™s people. Yet this was not accomplished through worldly power and with sword, but with a simple and harmless mallet that he used to nail 95 Theses on the door at the Castle Church in Wittenberg!
Why did he nail these theses? Ultimately, because the Church had lost her focus and had lost the Word, Sacraments and prayer (not completely, but sufficiently enough as the disciples before); Luther knew that by Godâ€™s grace there needed to be a focused return to them by Godâ€™s grace- -and Luther wanted to discuss these things in his 95 Theses.
Because of this humble act and return to focus upon what truly mattered, Godâ€™s people once again heard preaching that Jesus was enthroned in glory at Godâ€™s right hand as Philippians 2 teaches and that folks could be confident that Christ loved them by accepting His righteousness as their own by faith alone.
But it was through humility: a humble monk, and many other humble men, that God brought about Reformation. Although some unfortunately during Lutherâ€™s time picked up sword to fight the Reformation, Luther rebuked them for this, as our Lord had rebuked his disciples many years before.
How do we bring in the Kingdom? Considering others more significant than ourselves, not merely within our Christian communities (although that is a good start), but one important way is to remember that the Kingdom is made up of every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
Although we want to fight for justice and righteousness in this world as Christians, it will not be accomplished through might and power according to the way the world wages war. We must begin by understanding that the Church that witnesses to Christâ€™s Kingdom is made up of different nations from all over the earth.
This means that we love all nations of the world with the gospel first. Our identity is not first as Americans; our primary and ultimate identity is as Christians who happen to be privileged to be Americans. But our call is to build the Church by Godâ€™s grace and witness to Christâ€™s Kingdom which is not an earthly kingdom. This is another way of saying that although we must fight with sword as citizens of this world to accomplish our earthly kingdomâ€™s purposes; we must never fight as citizens of the world to come, or Heaven, according to sword.
We are not trying to build a mere Kingdom on earth, and we must repent of this kind of worldly thinking with the sword. If we had the most Christian president, and all our senators and leaders were Christians, and if we had returned to all the Christian roots that our country has enjoyed in her short existence- -what good would there be to this- -what have we accomplished at the end of the day, if we have lost the preaching and teaching of Godâ€™s Word, if no one who names the name of Christ are NOT really interested in the sacraments, if we have lost prayer, if we have lost the focus on our being humble like Jesus?
After all this powerful and worldly significance, what have we gained if we lose the gospel?
To be honest, if this kind of worldly Christian Kingdom were established, we would all be quite proud. In fact, if this worldly Christian kingdom was merely only one country, then this country would soon take up the sword to fight not for the gospel, but for the very existence of the country â€“forgetting the Great Commission that is so important! The Kingdom is made up of every tribe, tongue, people and nation and we must remember that all nations are part of the one Church of Jesus Christ by faith- -and this powerful Church is built by Christ through Word, Sacrament and prayer.
We must learn from the mistakes of the disciples, as well as the historical church of Jesus Christ in the past. When we have picked up the sword we have failed to build the Church (and I am not talking today about just warfare- -and I am certainly not a religious or hippie pacifist â€“ so donâ€™t worry ïŠ!).
Why have we failed to build up the Church and witness to the Kingdom in the past? Because we have forgotten the constant need for a reformation; the constant need that each generation needs to consider; we need to check to see if right teaching and preaching of the Word, faithful administering of the sacraments, and godly and faithful prayer is our most important God-given focus of the Church of Jesus.
The Church must be faithful to Godâ€™s Word preached and taught. Do we spend as much time working to accomplish this seemingly insignificant, yet greatly powerful ministry of the Word and the Gospel? An example of what I am saying about our right focus:
I have heard people talk about getting Godâ€™s Law in courtrooms around our country in order that we might again be a godly nation - -some seek to do this through mere human power, although itâ€™s not a bad idea in and of itself.
Yet many of the same people who would focus and fight for this, or vote on this, do not read the Law of God in their own worship services in the Church; in fact, many Christians today who fight for the Law, cannot even name 7 of the 10 commandments; they often disregard the Law of God and become practical antinomians (or those against Godâ€™s law) because of the grace of Christ, not understanding that we were saved to live the Law by grace (this is especially true in most evangelical Christiansâ€™ disobedience to the Lordâ€™s Day).
How do we expect to build Christâ€™s Kingdom apart from the preaching and teaching of the Word of God? How can we expect to build Christâ€™s Kingdom if we do not know Godâ€™s Word? How do we expect to build Christâ€™s Kingdom if we are not obedient to it by His grace?
How do we remain humble in Christ as individuals, as the Church of Jesus Christ, those united to Jesus by faith? The Apostle Paul tells us (2:4-5):
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesusâ€¦
Look not only to oneâ€™s own interests, but look to the interests of others â€“this is humility. We all have agendas that we think are the most important in the world, but the most important agenda every Christian should have is humility by Godâ€™s grace, living in light of Christâ€™s humility and resurrection-ascension-glory enthronement.
â€œHave this mind,â€ the Apostle Paul writes, â€œwhich is yours in Christ Jesus.â€ There are different translations of this, but I think the most accurate translation from internal and external textual considerations (comparing even the present context in 2:1-4), is that Paul is saying something like this: â€œ
The mind that you already have in Christ, the one that is yours in Jesus, because of your union with him, have this mind.â€
In other words, think like the Lord Jesus, just because you have been redeemed, saved, to think and therefore act like him.
Jesusâ€™ way is humility.
What does this mean? Well, are you too focused on yourself and your own agenda? Do you think of yourself more highly than you ought?
Do you think that political and powerful change in our nation will more effectively bring in the Kingdom than through concentration and return to a focus on Godâ€™s Word, His sacraments, and prayer?
If you think in these ways, you are not thinking as one who is in Christ.
You must change your way of thinking. God called the weak, things that seem insignificant and foolish to shame the strong, the powerful.
Do you want to witness to the gospel? Do you want to more effectively bring honor to Christ and His Kingdom?
The way to this is humility before God, and a right estimation of yourself as a sinner saved by Godâ€™s grace; humility before Godâ€™s Word and this means to obey what it says as well as quoting from it and seeking obedience in the lives of others; humility before other folks; humility before the world knowing that the Gospel is more important to preserve, to preach, to proclaim that the perceived success or failure of any political election.
Does this mean NOT to be involved? Does this mean to be a pacifist? Absolutely not! But it does mean to have your priorities in place: Humility. If by Godâ€™s grace we would take all our energies for all our pet agendas, and we would focus on Christ in His enthroned glory, learn to be content and dependent on Jesus, and to be focused as His Church on the Word, Sacraments and prayer, then we might just once again see a reformation and perhaps a revival in our time.
But we must go back to and focus on the pattern of humility that we have been taught from Godâ€™s Word (especially here in this inspired hymn from Philippians 2:1-11).
When Peter drew or unsheathed his sword on the night Jesus was betrayed, he realized later that this was not acting according to the pattern of Christâ€™s humility; it was like coming to a gun fight with a mere knife. Fighting as the people of God in this world against the power and authorities of darkness is not with a sword! Showing up to live oneâ€™s life as the Church and to wage spiritual and dark eschatological warfare with a sword is like showing up pitifully with a knife at a gun fight.
You will lose.
Rather, we are to wage war humbly, in what seems very insignificant in the eyes of the world: Word, the means of grace (baptism and the Lordâ€™s Supper), prayer for ourselves, for each other (Eph. 6:12-20).
If you spent as much time in prayer as you do in plotting and planning, you just might show forth Christâ€™s Kingdom and the immeasurably great, incomparably awesome power of Christ for those who believe (Eph. 3:15-23).
If Christ came with power and sword the first time, all of us would have experienced his wrath, and he would not have humbly submitted himself to the cross, but would have rather allowed legions of angels to come and fight on his behalf- -there would be no salvation without his humility.
If Martin Luther had come with power and sword during the time of the Reformation, humanly speaking, there would have been no return to and emphasis upon what really matters; there would have been no reformation without humility; in fact, he along with his humble movement would have been killed and silenced: The Church and the Word of God!
There is a way that seems foolish; there is a way that seems weak; but this is Godâ€™s way- -and it is humility- -and when we are weak individually and/or corporately as His Church- -then we are strong!
As Martin Luther wrote in A Might Fortress is Our God, the victory of Christâ€™s Church will come through humility and smallness: One little word will fell him!