Tag Archives: Humility

A tremendous dive

StPaul ElGreco

El Greco: St Paul. By Remiel at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

It is not beyond possibility that John, author of the Fourth Gospel, found it hard to lay down his pen and finish the record of the life and teaching of Jesus. There is so much to tell, he claims, the world would not hold all the books that could be written. Many books have been written and many words spoken since John’s day, and it is likely that many more will follow.

The subject is inexhaustible. We can never stop trying to understand Jesus more fully. C.S. Lewis described the coming of Jesus to our planet to share our life as that most tremendous dive – another way of saying what Paul says in his Letter to the Church at Philippi (2: 6-7):

…who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God. But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. (RV).

It might help get to the heart of this great text with a glimpse at the way some other translations are given:

He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. (GNB).

When the time came he (Jesus) set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became a slave. (The Message).

Time and again, the New Testament portrays the supreme humility of Jesus. It begins, in the words of Martin Luther, with “a new born babe of lowly birth.” It is there when Jesus comes to John the Baptist to be baptized, identifying in the baptism of repentance with sinners. It shines through the handling of the devil in the wilderness of temptation. Instead of trying to impress by doing the spectacular thing and turning the glare of the spotlight on himself, he refuses absolutely to entertain the idea of gaining the reputation of having in his possession a box load of conjuring tricks. He turns his back upon Satan and chooses a way that leads to a cross. Between those points the gospels tell of a ministry in small things, like giving the cup of cold water, caring for people such as the elderly and the vulnerable: the unglamorous, humble, mundane, simple act.

In this record of Paul’s correspondence with the church at Philippi, he tells of Jesus humbling himself, taking on the mantle of a servant and becoming obedient to death: the death of a cross. Two of the outstanding characteristics of Christ’s life were obedience and self-renunciation. He had no wish to boss people, only to come to their aid. He did not set out to get his own way, he sought and followed in God’s way. He was never a prisoner to pride, He was quite prepared to renounce any of the glory that might be His, the Son of God. It becomes clear in our reading of the gospels that it is those who humble themselves who will be exalted. Apply this to ourselves and the ironic thing is – if we are tempted to see ourselves at the top of the league in respect of our own perceived humility, we probably do not have it to boast about anyway! Like the obnoxious character who played the part of the archdeacon in the TV programme Rev whose testimony, his boast, was “I am the best of the best at humility” (or words to that effect). He was utterly deluded!

If Jesus humbled himself, and humility, obedience and self-renunciation became the hallmarks of his life, they also must feature in the lives of you and me and all who follow Him. It is not easy being Christian!

Cheers from the grandstand

Wembley Park Grandstand

Wembley Park Grandstand
Source: Wikimedia Commons

For one reason or other, I am not sure which, I do not find myself dashing to the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews for inspiration or guidance. I’ve heard numerous co-travellers on our Faith Journey declare Hebrews to be a favourite, cherished biblical reading, especially for the space the writer gives to faith in his teaching. Records reveal that in 65 years as a preacher, few sermons have emerged from the Epistle to the Hebrews. I suspect I am in a minority, but do not despair of me, all is not lost. There are two passages in the Letter to the Hebrews that I have turned to from time to time, the inspiration of a number of sermons delivered mainly at a Church Anniversary or All Saints. more often than not concentrated on Hebrews chapter 11.32 to 12.2 or 13.8. In spite of my stance on this Epistle, paradoxically the first is actually one of my favourite passages of Scripture; a beautiful piece and one I need to read or hear again and again: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us (RSV) or the alternative Since we have such a huge crowd of men and women of faith watching us from the grandstands, let us run…… (Living Bible)

The Letter to the Hebrews – like many others – was written at a time when it was dangerous to be a Christian. Some of these early disciples must have been suffering terribly from the ill-consequences of making public their faith in Jesus in a hostile environment. The unknown author of this Letter writes to put heart into those Christians who, threatened with persecution, might easily give up. How did he do it? He reminds them of their heritage. Relates to them the testimony of the great pioneers and stalwarts of faith who, down the centuries, held to their belief in God through thick and thin. So many of them, he has neither time nor space to do more than mention some by name. It is an impressive Roll of Honour. Hopefully, it was what was needed to inspire those to whom the Letter is addressed to run with perseverance the race that was given to them. A Charge with our name on it. We do not need to be reminded that the Church in our country today appears to be losing the argument and there are those in our secular society who seem determined to engineer her demise. But that is nothing: there is a much more severe persecution of Christians in other countries – North Korea, iran and Central Nigeria to name three. But cheer up, press on, the writer to the Hebrews urges, there are all those pioneers who blazed the Way; all those veterans cheering us on (The Message.) Not an idle promise.Message

Looking back at the end of a long preaching ministry, I am reminded of countless times when I was keenly aware of a presence in the grandstand urging me to keep going with determination the race I was given to run – one of “Mr Wesley’s Preachers.” A couple of examples from early days. Dr Norman Snaith taught me Old Testament in College. Speaking to him at the Methodist Conference in Newcastle on the day he became President of the Conference, he asked where I was currently stationed. When I told him I was a minister in Haltwhistle he said “That’s interesting, my old dad was minister there once.” On my way home, I thought of the stories Dr Snaith told us about his dear old dad. I went back to Haltwhistle humbled by the thought of those in whose footsteps I walked. When I went to Thompson Memorial Hall in Sunderland I was told that Dr W E Sangster preached his last sermon from the platform I was to occupy each Sunday, before he was compelled to retire by the illness from which he was not to recover. Whenever I went on to that platform I felt humbled at the thought of the giants who had climbed those steps before me.

We have this large crowd of witnesses cheering us on in our Journey of Faith, but none would claim the sole, the major credit for taking us past the winning line. Run with eyes fixed upon Jesus who began and finished the race we are on. And it is the same, unknown writer who, in chapter 13:8 turns the command into a promise. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.