Recently, I heard a speaker ask this question, “What you want people to say about you at your funeral?” Two things came to mind when I thought about that question. First, an amusing story I’d read about a funeral.
The deceased’s wife and two sons were seated in the front pew at the funeral. The songs had been sung and the preacher began to talk about the departed brother.
“He was a man’s man!”
“Amen!” said the congregation.
“He was a man who worked hard!”
A few people said, “Amen!”
“He was a man the bottle could not control.”
“Amen,” said one or two mourners.
“He was a man who loved his home, and his wife and children.”
“He was a man who paid his debts and told the truth.”
(No amens, this time.)
The poor wife couldn’t stand it any longer so she said to one of her sons, “Joe, go look in the casket and see if that’s really your daddy he’s talking about.” ☺
The other question that came to mind is, Is this really the right question to be asking? I propose to you, if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, that the most important question is not what I want people to say but what God wants people to be able to say about me. You see, God has a plan for folks like you and me when we place our trust in Christ. This God of ours is in the shaping business. We are His projects, His masterpieces when Christ steps into our lives.
Scripture tells us that those whom God foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son in order that He might be the firstborn within a large family (Rom. 8:29). Paul is telling us that God wants to shape us and conform us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s kind of like a sculptor chipping away at us in order that we might be His masterpiece.
I am reminded of the story of Michelangelo pushing a big granite rock up a hill. Someone said to him, “Michelangelo, what are you doing? What’s going on here?” He replied, “I am pushing this up to my home. I want to chip away at it in order to free the angel within it.”
It’s kind of like that for us. We are God’s masterpiece, a work in progress.
This begs the question: What does Jesus look like? Paul gives us a good answer to that question in the book of Philippians. He quotes an ancient Christian hymn they used in worship as he says, Have the mind of Jesus. He goes on to say – here is what Jesus was like – “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
So what does Jesus look like? According to what Paul is telling us that Jesus is a humble servant.
By the way, the song ends reminding us that this humble servant was exalted by God.
Now where does Paul (or whoever wrote this song) get this idea? Perhaps from Mark chapters 9 and 10 where Jesus is speaking with His disciples on the question of greatness – how to be a great person in the kingdom of God. His disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. When Jesus came upon them, He said to them, “Whoever is great in my kingdom is one who is willing to be last of all, and servant of all.” Not long after that, two of His disciples, James and John, said, Lord, we want to be your vice-presidents when you come into power. We want the recognition and the fame and the status. We want the title, Jesus.
Jesus, in correcting them, gives His own mission statement. He says, “I came not to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” He came to serve!
At another time, Jesus was teaching a group of people who had come to take in His wisdom. He said to them, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-30).
God’s shaping plan is to make us look like humble servants – like the servant King Jesus.
As we look at the word “humble,” we see humility is a big part of God’s plan for you and me. God knows pride is no friend of ours. It messes us up, and it messes up the relationships we have with those around us. Your real friend for real life is humility.
John Stott, a great Christian writer from the last century, wrote, “At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.” How could Stott make this statement? Because the evidence is all around us in this world. Pride keeps me from loving God and having a close life-giving relationship with Him. It has been a human issue from the beginning of time as we read the story in Genesis of Adam and Eve hearing the promise from Satan, “If you eat from this tree, you will be like God.” Their pride gets the best of them, and they eat. Since that time, it has been a dominant impulse and instinct in every one of us. We’ve inherited it.
I insult God when I attempt to take control and live life my way instead of His way insisting I have better answers for living than God. Or believing, I don’t need God; He is a crutch for weak people. Maybe it’s okay to have some God in your life, but I don’t want Him running my life. Pride keeps God out as I turn my back on Him and try to take control. It is deadly stuff. It’s the top of the seven-deadly-sins list in Scripture – from it all other sins come.
God detests human pride. Why? Because pride is all about self-glorification, instead of God-glorification. You and I were created to enjoy glorifying God forever. Pride gets in the way, and our egos turn us in on ourselves.
Perhaps you’ve heard the acronym for ego – Edging God Out. That’s what we do: we edge God out of the picture with our pride. It separates us and keeps us from the close relationship He created us to have with Him. It’s what put Jesus on the cross – human pride! Not the pride of the Pharisees like we like to believe, but my pride, your pride put Jesus on the cross. He paid the debt for our pride in order that you and I could be restored to God. As I lay down my pride and put my trust in Jesus Christ, He promises me eternal life and restoration of that relationship.
As Jesus’ followers, He longs for us, then, to spend the rest of our lives learning to live totally dependent on God, totally trusting Him, totally praising Him, always giving Him the glory in everything we do and everything we might accomplish.
Pride not only keeps me from loving God, but it also keeps me from loving other people, because a person who is filled with self-interest, self-promotion, self-indulgence, self-sufficiency, and self-ambition for the purpose of self-glorification cannot truly love. He or she is more often able to use people instead of loving them. Pride leaves wounded people in its path as they get used for personal glorification and goal accomplishments.
Left unharnessed, pride has the power to ruin relationships in your family and in your church. It can make your athletic team ineffective and your work team totally unproductive.
It causes division. Pride keeps me from being at peace with others when I refuse to swallow my pride, say “I’m sorry” to someone I have wronged and admit I was wrong which is so hard for many of us to do. It does nothing but put up a wall between me and that individual. Sometimes we have too much pride to accept an apology, an olive branch of peace and say, “I forgive you.”
Left unharnessed, it can distort your personality. Did you know that? Have you ever been around someone who is always talking about himself or herself? They just can’t seem to get enough of it. Or they’re terrible at listening to others. They are always stealing the conversation back to themselves.
Sometimes people are even willing to lie in order to look good in front of others. We stretch the statistics a little to look better. Or we’ll do something to get attention, to make us feel important. We may even become a critic of others in order to make us feel better about ourselves. It elevates us. It can cause us to spend more money than we actually have to keep up appearances. It causes the prideful person to fall.
You’ve heard the proverb, “Pride comes before the fall.” It can bring you down really hard. It has brought down a lot of leaders. We think of King David in the Old Testament who had an affair with Bathsheba. Why did it happen? It was all based upon pride. David had gotten too big for his britches; he should have been out with his army leading them in battle. Instead he chose to stay back.
Jesus Himself, when He saw people jockeying for the seats of honor at a banquet, said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).
I’m reminded of a story about a college football coach from years ago. His team was having a great season. One afternoon, when He was outside mowing His lawn, His wife yelled for him. He turned off the mower, and she said, “Honey, come on in. It’s Sports Illustrated on the phone for you.” His pride immediately kicked in – It’s about time I’m getting some recognition! So he ran into the house, picked up the phone and said “Hello.”
“Sir, this is Sports Illustrated. We’d like to offer you a chance to get a three-year subscription for the price of one.” The coach took a fall that day and was humbled.
I don’t know about you, but I choose to do things according to God’s plans – to pursue humility. Humility is the friend God wants to place in your life. What does humility look like? It looks like Jesus. Humility is a healthy self-forgetfulness. Humility listens instead of always talking, stealing conversations. Humility is a willingness to stay in the background and not need attention and applause. Humility is giving God glory in everything, pointing to Him, rejoicing with others’ successes, and applauding them instead of attempting to one-up them all the time.
Spiritually speaking, humility is a realistic self-assessment that I am a sinner saved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. I am no better than anyone else. There, but by the grace of God, go I. Humility isn’t seeking applause and the adulation of others. It plays for an audience of One – our heavenly Father, just like Jesus did. He was a servant, a humble servant.
What does it mean to be a servant? It is a willingness to pour out your life into other people. I think of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples on the night before He was crucified on the cross for our sins, and how He explained His actions. He said, “You call me ‘Lord’ and ‘Master,’ and I am. If I, your Lord and Master have washed your feet, I’ve given you an example. You should wash each other’s feet” (Matt. 13:13-15).
Be willing to be a servant. That is servant work. Even when no is gratitude expressed, or the person is undeserving, or the feet smell. Wash feet. Our attitude as servants is always asking What can I do for you?
God’s vision for you and for me, if you’re in Jesus Christ, is to be a humble servant. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker “Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet”? When I do an honest inventory of my attitude in regards to humility and being a servant, I find I have a long way to go. I admit it.
Just recently at a graduation party, I was talking with a couple about some folks who left our church to join a big church down the road, and I found myself getting more and more irritated and angry about it. When I began to assess it a little bit, I realized it was my ego, my pride speaking. That preacher must be better than me. I felt hurt by their actions to leave our congregation.
I am a mess! But I’m a saved mess – God’s holy mess in Christ. Maybe that’s you, too. Don’t despair. First, let me point you to the cross, to Him who died on the cross to forgive you and me for our silly selfish pride. He humbled Himself and sacrificed Himself for you. As you lay down your pride and come empty-handed to receive His forgiveness, He will not turn you away. Instead, He will give you a fresh, new start each time. He never, ever gets tired of extending His forgiveness.
And remember, it is not possible to change ourselves. However, we have this power within, the power the Holy Spirit. It is a lifelong process. In Scripture it says, “All of us, with unveiled faces, have seen the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
There you have it: The Spirit does it. The Holy Spirit uses various means to keep us moving toward that direction.
• Daily contemplating Jesus hanging on the cross, basically saying to us, This was for you! I am here because of you.
• Daily declaring dependence each morning to God and saying, I can’t make it through the day without you, Lord.
• Giving gratitude or praise for all God is doing in your life on a daily basis. Pride has a hard time growing in that kind of soil.
• Applauding people with your words as you look for the work of God in them.
• Serving others, especially in secret. Try this sometime. It is a key tool of the Spirit. Serve somebody, and don’t let them know it was you.
There you have it. What does God want people to be able to say about us when it’s all said and done? May it be said of us, There lies a humble servant of God.
God be with you. Amen.