Summary: A Sunday morning sermon examining humility
-Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you are prefect in every way.
I doubt any of us think that we are perfect it is not always easy for us to be humble.
After all humility gets rather a bad press, When we speak for example humble origins, humble means poor or ordinary or it might bring to mind Uriah Heep from David Copperfield, who was “ever so humble” a greedy toad who used his so-called humility as a weapon and disguise.
Our world doesn’t seem to have a lot of time for the humble – We are a go out and get it world, a competitive world, a world where for me to win – you or some-one else must lose. The people who seem to be successful in our society are the ones who pushy ones, the ones who can grab the headlines, the ones who are full of their own importance.
But for Christians, humility is not an optional extra, it is a virtue which needs to be cultivated. In our NT reading from Phillipians this morning humility is key. St Paul urges
doing nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility.
So what is humility
1. Not being competitive, not looking to raise yourself up, by putting others down.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to write a reference for some-one I had worked with in the past…. I noted that he was sufficiently secure in his own strengths and in his relationship with God, not to feel threatened by the competencies of others. He is some-one who delights in seeing other people using their God given gifts to their full potential and to God’s glory.
But such an attitude is both humble and rare, contrast it with the attitude displayed in a quote by the American writer Gore Vidal, “Every time a friends succeeds a little piece of me dies”. He felt so diminished, so jealous, if some-one other than himself did well that he couldn’t find it in himself to be happy for them. A sad attitude – but a common one I think – although most people aren’t so honest about it.
So humility is not being competitive with others.
2. Humility is not being conceited or full of pride – Humility is the exact opposite of pride – sometimes there is a healthy pride – the sense of satisfaction of a job well done, but it so easily slips into something else, when we assume that we are better than other people
It is about having a right opinion of yourself – It isn’t about pretending that you aren’t good at something if you are, or about refusing to take praise – that smacks a bit of Uriah Heep again. If for example you have and IQ of 137, there is no point in pretending that you are average, you are cleverer than most people. Or if you have a fantastic figure there isn’t a lot of point in pretending you are fat – that is how to loose friends fast.
Pride is when you measure people’s worth against your best feature, so If you are intelligence you measure others in terms of intelligence and judge clever people to have more worth than average or stupid ones. Or if you are proud of your figure you imagine thin people to be intrinsically superior to fatter ones.
There is a sense in which the worst kind of pride is moral pride, pride in our own goodness, because if we become “holier than thou” then no matter how rigourous we are in our morals, our relationships with others will be soured.
Pride is an incredibly difficult vice to get rid of – humility is an incredibly hard virute to cultivate as Benjamin Franklin says.
"In reality there is perhaps no one of our natural Passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself...For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility." - Benjamin Franklin
But understanding our own status in relation to God helps. God does not measure worth as we measure it. If we look at other people from his perspective then we can see that all people have worth, and that our best features the things in which we take pride are gifts from him.
and that applies to behaviour as well. For we make moral and spiritual progress only through grace of God and with the help of the Holy Spirit “And every virtue we possess and every conquest won and every thought of holiness are his alone”
If we look at ourselves with a Gods eye view then perhaps we can begin to get close to humility. God sees us warts and all, he knows our strengths, but our weaknesses too. He knows we might be a brilliant violinist but also have a bad temper, a genius at maths but incredibily mean, amazing generous but a gossip. But inspite of our flaws and failings he still loves us and this is important too, because true humility come not feeling that we are the lowest of the low, but the security of knowing that God loves us – not because of our strengths and inspite of our weaknesses. If Gor Vidal had known that unconditional love he might have been able to celebrate when his friends did well.