The Connection Between Humility And Obedience


sad_snot-nosed_kid“Fool! You fool!” the five-year-old shouted. As it turned out, he was talking to his mother. She didn’t reprimand him for the name calling or for the disrespect. Instead she asked him if his father gave him sugar that morning. He growled in reply. She asked again and he growled again. Finally she asked him why he was making those noises. He said, “I’m a monster,” and proceeded to growl a few more times. At last his mother told him to stop being a monster. He growled in reply.

Is there a connection between this five-year-old’s disobedience and his disrespect for someone in authority? I think absolutely. Philippians tells us that Jesus humbled Himself by becoming obedient (2:8), and Hebrews tells us He learned obedience through suffering.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (5:8)

Jesus was not disobedient until he learned obedience. Rather He was sovereign, the One others obeyed. Being God, He was not in a position to obey anyone else. So when He came to earth, He needed to learn.

Suffering was the means by which He learned, and humility was the outgrowth of this obedience.

So here’s a thought. If suffering leads to obedience that leads to humility, then it makes sense that withheld punishment leads to increased disobedience that leads to pride. Consequently, when parents withhold punishment from their children who are disobedient, they are missing an opportunity to teach them humility. In short, they are enabling their child’s pride.

Ah, yes. Pride. Satan’s plaything. He loves to convince children they know as much or more than their parents, that they don’t have to listen or obey, that their way is as good or better than the way they’ve been instructed.

Those prideful little people, when left uncorrected, end up becoming prideful adults who may tell God they are nicer than He is, that they think He’s wrong to send people to hell, that His Word is outdated, irrelevant, intolerant. In other words, pride is at the heart of much of the apostasy in the western Church. Unlike Jesus, twenty-first century westerners have not learned humility through what we have suffered.

May God have mercy so that we learn humility at the hands of our parents rather than through the consequences a prideful people can accrue.

This post first appeared here in January 2013.

Published in: on September 21, 2016 at 7:11 pm  Comments (4)  
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God’s Gift Of Weakness


WeightliftingWestern culture does not prize weakness. For that matter, I doubt if Eastern culture prizes weakness either. Generally society rewards the brightest and the best, the strongest and the fastest, the most beautiful and the most gifted. We give A’s to the kids that get the majority of the questions right, not the ones who say, “I don’t know.” We give the big athletic scholarships to the players who score the most points, hit for the highest average, win the most games. In other words, we’re not wired to look at weakness as a gift.

That God apparently takes a contrary view is just another evidence that His ways are not our ways:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts
And My ways are not your ways
Declares the Lord
For as the heavens are higher than the earth
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

But is it true that God prizes weakness? Yes and no. What He prizes is humility.

Over and over in the major and minor books of prophecy, God’s men gave the message that pride was a cause of God’s judgment—whether against Israel or Judah or one of the nations around them.

The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself, the LORD God of hosts has declared:
“I loathe the arrogance of Jacob,
And detest his citadels;
Therefore I will deliver up the city and all it contains.” (Amos 6:9)

God’s great passion throughout the Bible is to be known. Consequently He brought famine to show that He controls nature; He brought war to show that He provides or withdraws security. He raised people from the dead to show that He rules over life. He forgives sins to show that He is sovereign over the spiritual realm.

Why? Because people who were well fed and safe and healthy and self-righteous began to take credit for creating a world that gave them what they needed and wanted. In other words, they stole God’s glory by their pride.

Something else God prizes—the eternal over the temporal. He tells us to store up treasure in heaven where moth and rust can’t get it. The picture is treasure that lasts versus treasure that must inevitably fade away.

Consequently, God is more concerned with our character, which lasts, than with our bank account, which fades away. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had, He did so because He wanted the young man to yield himself completely to God’s lordship. The guy’s love of his money was standing in the way of a whole-hearted commitment to Jesus.

Which brings us back to the main topic. When we are strong, we keep fighting. We think we can still win. We believe in ourselves, believe we can come back from a deficit, that we can make it.

When we are weak, however, we have two options: give up or give in. We can quit, and some people do that, or we can give up—we can tell God He’s right, we’re wrong, He’s holy and we’re sinful, He’s perfect and we’re imperfect. When we give in, we say, we can’t make life work the way we want because we’re too weak, so we’re willing to let God make life work the way He wants.

Our weakness, in other words, presses us to God’s side. We are forced to cling to Him or let go because our grip isn’t strong enough. But there’s no better place, no safer place, no place more beneficial than at the feet of Jesus.

By showing us our weakness, by leaving us weak when we ask Him to make us strong, God gives us the greatest gift apart from His Son. He gives us an awareness of our need for Him.

But as I mentioned, we have the option of giving up when we see our weakness. We can choose from the stubbornness of our hearts to “go down with the ship” rather than to yield control to God. Then, at least, we think, we can say, “I did it my way,” as if that’s some sort of victory.

My way, which leads to destruction, or God’s way which leads to salvation. I wonder which one is real victory?

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

This post first appeared here in May 2013.

Published in: on April 20, 2016 at 6:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Topping The List? Pride


Engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Seven deadly sins. That’s what the Church declared in the Middle Ages, trimmed and altered from their original number developed by Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus. But from the beginning, pride was on the list and placed in the position of most egregious. I can’t disagree. And yet, there’s a fundamental problem that listing out seven deadly sins and their corresponding Heavenly Virtues and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy misses.

The real sin is rejecting Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God, given to us by the Father, because of His love, that we might have everlasting life:

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).

The passage goes on to describe the one who does not believe as loving darkness because his deeds are evil. So we’re back to sins—pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony, and lust, to name seven of them.

Of course, the Ten Commandments puts idolatry at the head of the list: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). And Paul, writing in Colossians says greed amounts to idolatry (3:5). So why would pride get tagged as chief among sins?

A year ago in an article on this blog, I made the case for Pride as The Fall—the sin which Satan embraced and the one to which both Deceived Eve and Willful Adam succumbed.

As I see it, pride is the act of putting self as a god before the Lord God, and I can’t imagine anything much worse. Pride was the sin of Nebuchadnezzar, crafting a statue of himself and ordering his people to bow before it. Pride was the sin of King Saul, declaring to Samuel that he had indeed obeyed the command of the Lord—all but the part about killing all the animals. After all, Saul had a better plan. He’d use those animals as sacrifices to the Lord. His way was better, infinitely better, because he’d kill the animals, save ones from his own flock and herd, and worship God, all in one. Great idea! Better than God’s. Better than doing what God had told him to do.

Pride, I believe, was the sin of Balaam, the prophet insistent on circumventing God’s blessing of Israel when hired by Barak to curse them. He may have been motivated by greed, but at some level he believed he could do what he wanted, not what God wanted him to do.

And isn’t that true of King David, too? And Samson. Lust may have motivated them, but at some point they believed they were not subject to God’s law, that they could make their own way, that they didn’t have to do what God said.

Moses’s sister Miriam succumbed to pride at one point, wishing to have her brother’s job or power or influence. And I tend to believe Joseph, Godly man that he was, needed to learn the lesson of humility in the Egyptian dungeon before God would elevate him to the position of power over the nation and over his own family.

Of course the great contrast is the Lord Jesus Christ who humbled Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, obeying the Father, and going to the cross (Phil. 2:7-8).

For the Christian, I suspect pride is still the weevil that would spoil the vine and destroy the fruit God wants us to produce. At least I know that to be true for me.

I find it interesting that Paul commands us believers to take on the humble attitude he described Christ having—regarding others as more important than ourselves, not merely looking out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

In Colossians 3 he lists humility as one of the traits those “chosen of God, holy and beloved” are to put on—as if it is a piece of clothing we are to don in order to be ready to carry out our mission of loving one another and serving each other and forgiving whoever has a complaint against anyone.

Thanks be to God that He provides the wherewith all to obey Him. It is not up to us to generate humility. Rather our source is Christ. How cool is that—His act of humility is not only our example but the very means by which we can learn to walk humbly before our God.

This article first appeared here in November 2011.

Published in: on January 22, 2016 at 6:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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Josiah’s Humble Heart


High Priest reads the Law to Josiah005The last good king in Judah came to the throne when he was 8. His grandfather, King Manasseh, had re-established idol worship, including the sacrifice of children. And he reigned for more than a half century. His son only ruled two years because he was assassinated. That left young boy Josiah on the throne.

Unlike his father and grandfather, this child king patterned himself after David. Eighteen years into his reign he ordered temple repairs and a bunch of clean-up measures. In carrying out the young king’s commands, the high priest found a copy of the Law. When he read it to Josiah, the king understood what kings older than he, had completely missed: because his nation had rebelled against God, He would cut them loose and send them into exile.

Josiah’s response? He humbled himself before God, first with a public display of sorrow, then by seeking out a confirming word from a prophetess of God:

When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Micaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant saying, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:11-13, emphasis added)

He was right. God’s wrath—His righteous judgment against those who rebel against Him—was great. The prophetess gave
the messengers from the king this answer:

Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched. (vv 16, 17)

God’s word stands.

There was one other part to what the prophetess reported, however, and this had to do with Josiah and his response to God’s Law:

“Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares the LORD. “Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place.” (vv 19, 20, emphasis added)

Josiah’s reward? Peace in his day. He wasn’t going to be the king dragged off to Babylon, who had to watch the slaughter of his sons, then have his eyes gouged out. He wouldn’t have to walk the walls of his city and see his people eating their dung and drinking their urine or bartering to serve up their children.

Peace in his day.

Josiah may not have fully appreciated what this meant as we do after the fact, but he embraced the time God gave him by being zealous in his obedience to the Torah. He cleaned out the idol altars and utensils from the temple, torn down the idol high places Manasseh had put back up, instituted the Passover, and even went to Israel and torn down the golden calves their first king Jeroboam had erected which caused the northern kingdom to stray from the start.

This guy was relentless in bringing his people back to God—even though he already had God’s promise that he’d enjoy peace in his day.

A humble heart does that, I think. It’s not focused on self. He cared not just about escaping the coming wrath. He cared about doing what God intended His people to do.

Great example, I think. Recently the Church has been rightly rebuked for caring more about our own comfort than about pleasing God and loving Him through our obedience. Of course, that’s a generalization. Many in the Church live sacrificial lives. Many have such an integrated faith you could no more divide their sacred activities from their secular than you could divide water into hydrogen and oxygen.

That’s the way we should live, I think. It’s the way Josiah lived after he humbled himself before God.

Published in: on November 13, 2014 at 6:34 pm  Comments (3)  
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God’s Indictment Of His People


Old_Testament sacrificesThe books of prophecy are filled with warnings–some against the nations surrounding Israel and Judah, but most directed at God’s chosen people themselves. Micah is no exception, but the things he points up seem a little different.

Others, like Isaiah and Hosea and Jeremiah seem to focus most on God’s people forsaking Him by worshiping idols or by not keeping His Sabbath or by mistreating the orphans and widows and strangers.

Micah, on the other hand, focuses more on the restoration. God’s people will face a day of reckoning, but redemption will follow. Nevertheless, God indicts them for some pointed things: cheating in business, bribery, lying to one another, and violence.

Here’s a sample:

Now hear this, heads of the house of Jacob
And rulers of the house of Israel,
Who abhor justice
And twist everything that is straight,
Who build Zion with bloodshed
And Jerusalem with violent injustice.
Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe,
Her priests instruct for a price
And her prophets divine for money.
Yet they lean on the Lord saying,
“Is not the Lord in our midst?
Calamity will not come upon us.”
Therefore, on account of you
Zion will be plowed as a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins,
And the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest. (3:9-12 – emphasis mine)

A few chapters later Micah points out to the people that they can’t bring enough offering to make right what they’ve done.

With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (6:6-7)

Rather God has made plain what He expects:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)

We can’t earn a place with God by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with Him, but we can live up to our relationship with Him by practicing those things.

The relationship, interestingly enough, comes because God did what was needed–He paid that insurmountable price which thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil couldn’t satisfy. He presented His Son for my rebellious acts, for the sin of my soul.

With my certificate of debt canceled, nailed to the cross, I can “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Colossians 1:10).

What does that look like? Well, Micah said it, didn’t he. God has told us what is good, what He requires of us: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God.

Published in: on May 8, 2013 at 6:50 pm  Comments Off on God’s Indictment Of His People  
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God’s Gift Of Weakness


WeightliftingWestern culture does not prize weakness. For that matter, I doubt if Eastern culture prizes weakness either. Generally society rewards the brightest and the best, the strongest and the fastest, the most beautiful and the most gifted. We give A’s to the kids that get the majority of the questions right, not the ones who say, “I don’t know.” We give the big athletic contracts to the players who score the most points, hit for the highest average, win the most games. In other words, we’re not wired to look at weakness as a gift.

That God apparently takes a contrary view is just another evidence that His ways are not our ways.

For My thoughts are not your thoughts
And My ways are not your ways
Declares the Lord
For as the heavens are higher than the earth
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 59:1-2)

But is it true that God prizes weakness? Yes and no. What He prizes is humility.

Over and over in the major and minor books of prophecy, God’s men gave the message that pride was a cause of God’s judgment–whether against Israel or Judah or one of the nations around them.

The Lord GOD has sworn by Himself, the LORD God of hosts has declared:
“I loathe the arrogance of Jacob,
And detest his citadels;
Therefore I will deliver up the city and all it contains.” (Amos 6:9)

God’s great passion throughout the Bible is to be known. Consequently He brought famine to show that He controls nature; He brought war to show that He provides or withdraws security. Why? Because people who were well fed and safe began to take credit for creating a world that gave them what they needed and wanted. In other words, they stole God’s glory by their pride.

Something else God prizes–the eternal over the temporal. He tells us to store up treasure in heaven where moth and rust can’t get it. The picture is treasure that lasts versus treasure that must inevitably fade away.

Consequently, God is more concerned with our character than our bank account. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had, it was because Jesus wanted the young man to yield himself completely. The guy’s love of his money was standing in the way of a whole-hearted commitment to Jesus.

Which brings us back to the main topic. When we are strong, we keep fighting. We think we can still win. We believe in ourselves, believe we can come back from a deficit, that we can make it.

When we are weak, however, we have two options: give up or give in. We can quit and some people do that, or we can give up–we can tell God He’s right, we’re wrong, He’s holy and we’re sinful, He’s perfect and we’re imperfect. When we give in, we say, we can’t make life work the way we want because we’re too weak, so we’re willing to let God make life work the way He wants.

Our weakness, in other words, presses us to God’s side. We are forced to cling to Him or let go because our grip isn’t strong enough. But there’s no better place, no safer place, no place more beneficial than at the feet of Jesus.

By showing us our weakness, by leaving us weak when we ask Him to make us strong, God gives us the greatest gift apart from His Son. He gives us an awareness of our need for Him.

But as I mentioned, we have the option of giving up when we see our weakness. We can choose from the stubbornness of our hearts to “go down with the ship” rather than to yield control to God. Then, at least, we think, we can say, “I did it my way,” as if that’s some sort of victory.

My way, which leads to destruction, or God’s way which leads to salvation. I wonder which one is real victory?

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

Published in: on May 3, 2013 at 6:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Connection Between Humility And Obedience


sad_snot-nosed_kid“Fool! You fool!” the five-year-old shouted. As it turned out, he was talking to his mother. She didn’t reprimand him for the name calling or for the disrespect. Instead she asked him if his father gave him sugar that morning. He growled in reply. She asked again and he growled again. Finally she asked him why he was making those noises. He said, “I’m a monster,” and proceeded to growl a few more times. At last his mother told him to stop being a monster. He growled in reply.

Is there a connection between this five-year-old’s disobedience and his disrespect for someone in authority? I think absolutely. Philippians tells us that Jesus humbled Himself by becoming obedient (2:8), and Hebrews tells us He learned obedience through suffering.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (5:8)

Jesus was not disobedient until he learned obedience. Rather He was sovereign, the One others obeyed. Being God, He was not in a position to obey anyone else. So when He came to earth, He needed to learn.

Suffering was the means by which He learned, and humility was the outgrowth of this obedience.

So here’s a thought. If suffering leads to obedience that leads to humility, then it makes sense that withheld punishment leads to increased disobedience that leads to pride. Consequently, when parents withhold punishment from their children who are disobedient, they are missing an opportunity to teach them humility. In short, they are enabling their child’s pride.

Ah, yes. Pride. Satan’s plaything. He loves to convince children they know as much or more than their parents, that they don’t have to listen or obey, that their way is as good or better than the way they’ve been instructed.

Those prideful little people, when left uncorrected, end up becoming prideful adults who may tell God they are nicer than He is, that they think He’s wrong to send people to hell, that His Word is outdated, irrelevant, intolerant. In other words, pride is at the heart of much of the apostasy in the western Church. Unlike Jesus, twenty-first century westerners have not learned humility through what we have suffered.

May God have mercy so that we learn humility at the hands of our parents rather than through the consequences a prideful people can accrue.

Published in: on January 28, 2013 at 6:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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If There’s One That’s Worse, Pride Might Be It


Engraving by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Seven deadly sins. That’s what the Church declared in the Middle Ages, trimmed and altered from their original number developed by Greek monastic theologian Evagrius of Pontus. But from the beginning, pride was on the list and placed in the position of most egregious. I can’t disagree. And yet, there’s a fundamental problem that listing out seven deadly sins and their corresponding Heavenly Virtues and Seven Corporal Works of Mercy misses.

The real sin is rejecting Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God, given to us by the Father, because of His love, that we might have everlasting life:

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).

The passage goes on to describe the one who does not believe as loving darkness because his deeds are evil. So we’re back to sins—pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony, and lust, to name seven of them.

Of course, the Ten Commandments puts idolatry at the head of the list: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). And Paul, writing in Colossians says greed amounts to idolatry (3:5). So why would pride get tagged as chief among sins?

A year ago in an article on this blog, I made the case for Pride as The Fall—the sin which Satan embraced and the one to which both Deceived Eve and Willful Adam succumbed.

As I see it, pride is the act of putting self as a god before the Lord God, and I can’t imagine anything much worse. Pride was the sin of Nebuchadnezzar, crafting a statue of himself and ordering his people to bow before it. Pride was the sin of King Saul, declaring to Samuel that he had indeed obeyed the command of the Lord—all but the part about killing all the animals. After all, Saul had a better plan. He’d use those animals as sacrifices to the Lord. His way was better, infinitely better, because he’d kill the animals, save ones from his own flock and herd, and worship God, all in one. Great idea! Better than God’s. Better than doing what God had told him to do.

Pride, I believe, was the sin of Balaam, the prophet insistent on circumventing God’s blessing of Israel when hired by Barak to curse them. He may have been motivated by greed, but at some level he believed he could do what he wanted, not what God wanted him to do.

And isn’t that true of King David, too? And Samson. Lust may have motivated them, but at some point they believed they were not subject to God’s law, that they could make their own way, that they didn’t have to do what God said.

Moses’s sister Miriam succumbed to pride at one point, wishing to have her brother’s job or power or influence. And I tend to believe Joseph, Godly man that he was, needed to learn the lesson of humility in the Egyptian dungeon before God would elevate him to the position of power over the nation and over his own family.

Of course the great contrast is the Lord Jesus Christ who humbled Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, obeying the Father, and going to the cross (Phil. 2:7-8).

For the Christian, I suspect pride is still the weevil that would spoil the vine and destroy the fruit God wants us to produce. At least I know that to be true for me.

I find it interesting that Paul commands us believers to take on the humble attitude he described Christ having—regarding others as more important than ourselves, not merely looking out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

In Colossians 3 he lists humility as one of the traits those “chosen of God, holy and beloved” are to put on—as if it is a piece of clothing we are to don in order to be ready to carry out our mission of loving one another and serving each other and forgiving whoever has a complaint against anyone.

Thanks be to God that He provides the wherewith all to obey Him. It is not up to us to generate humility. Rather our source is Christ. How cool is that—His act of humility is not only our example but the very means by which we can learn to walk humbly before our God.

Published in: on November 14, 2011 at 6:51 pm  Comments (2)  
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