Wednesday 11 February 2009

Let us become nothing, and Christ everything


Have you ever observed who Jesus said had chosen the “better part”? - Mary, the woman who sat at his feet. When we are willing to spend time sitting at the feet of Jesus we will be the humble, holy Christians our Lord desires us to be. Let us observe two important steps in gaining a clearer understanding of the true relationship between humility and holiness.

 When the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian believers, he was writing with two main purposes in mind: first, to thank them for their generosity to the poorer saints, and second, because he had learned that dissension had arisen that threatened the very usefulness of the church at Philippi. Apparently this church had been divided and the believers had taken sides. A fairly quick survey of the book will indicate how Paul dealt with the problem. He refused to recognize the two factions and did not criticize the women who were at fault. Instead he tried to fill their minds with our Lord’s lowliness, humility, and longsuffering. The apostle had learned that the secret of the unity of the believers lay not in looking at the disease, but rather in fixing their eyes upon the physician.

 The second chapter of Philippians contains perhaps the clearest account of the self-emptying of Christ. For Paul, all spiritual life centres in Christ, and when he wishes to direct the believers’ minds to the great graces of meekness and humility, he can think of no better way than to present a broad outline of the story of our Master’s redemptive work as portrayed in his life and death on the Cross. So he writes, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not think to snatch at equality with God, but made himself nothing, assuming the nature of a slave, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” Philippians 2:3-9.

  Our Lord has given us an example by his earthly life that all can safely follow: Paul tells us that Christ “made himself nothing,” he “took the nature of a slave,” he was “made in the likeness of men,” “he was fashioned as a man,” he “humbled himself,” or as it could be better rendered, he abased and made himself low. Then he adds that Christ became “obedient,” showing that the supreme act of self-humiliation consisted in Christ’s voluntary submission to the final act of suffering death. In laying down his life Christ certainly humbled himself and showed the extent to which he was willing to go to save sinful, selfish man. We all need to wear the yoke of Christ and we should practice his humility. The great teacher says, “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” He might have said, “Learn of me, for I can perform miracles which nobody else has ever performed.” He might have said, “Learn of me, for I am the most advanced thinker of the age.” But no: the reason he gave was because “I am meek and lowly in heart.” Mattew 11:29.

  We read in Scripture of three men whose faces shone - Jesus, Moses, and Stephen - and all are noted for their meekness and humility. We are told that on the Mount of Transfiguration the face of Christ shone. Moses after forty days of personal communion with God came down Mount Sinai with his face shining. And on the last day of Stephen’s life when he was being questioned before the Sanhedrin we read that his face was illuminated as the face of an angel. If our faces are to shine like this, then we must go down into the valley of humility, because it is this valley which will lead us to the Mount of Transfiguration.

  Perhaps one of the meekest characters in all history, apart from our Lord, was John the Baptist. John was the centre of attraction in Jerusalem and Judea. Thousands were streaming out into the desert to hear this great and powerful preacher. Hundreds had already been baptized by him. One day there came out from Jerusalem a very influential group, appointed by the chief priests to ask the wilderness preacher his identity. Was he Elias, or the Messiah, or this prophet, or that prophet? What a wonderful opportunity he had to pass himself off as the Messiah! But no! He could have said, “Haven’t you heard of me, I am the world’s greatest preacher.” But not John. Just notice what he did say. “Tell them I am Mr. Nobody. I am a voice to be heard and not to be seen, a mere signpost pointing to ‘The Way.’ In fact, I am here to proclaim the coming of him whose shoe latchet I am not worthy to unloose.”

  David had learned the lesson of humility. In all of David’s psalms there is not a reference to the fact that he slew Goliath. Man’s tendency is to make himself bigger and bigger, but John’s attitude was: “I am just the signpost pointing out the way. The morning star fades away as the sun rises. He must increase, but I must decrease. Actually, he is the Bridegroom, I am just the Bridegroom’s friend.” Instead of elevating himself, he humbled himself. What a difference it would make if we could each gain this spirit and get behind the cross and be just a mere signpost pointing out “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” John the Baptist was very little in his own estimation, but before his birth the angel had stated he would be “great in the sight of the Lord.” And this was his greatness when he cried, “Behold the Lamb of God! I am nothing, he is all and in all.”

 The Arabs have a saying which goes something like this: “As the wheat and tares grow together it is very easy to see which the Lord has blest. The ears that have received the blessing bow their heads as the weight of the grain bends them over. But the tares with no fruit to bear, keep their heads high and erect above everything else.” Those who have the blessing of God and thus have the fruits of the Spirit as recorded in Galatians 5:22, “Love, Joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” will never be able to keep their heads high and erect in a boastful way.

 The showers, as they fall upon the mountain peaks, often leave them desolate and barren because the water rushes down into the fertile valleys below. If a man is proud and lifted up with vanity, rivers of God’s grace may flow over him, and yet leave him as dry and desolate, and unfruitful as the mountain peaks. Yet once the grace of Christ takes hold of a man, what a transformation takes place! Consider those ignorant, self-centred disciples before Jesus called them. In fact, right up until the night that the Lord’s Supper was instituted, they were striving among themselves as to who would be the greatest. But when the Holy Spirit came, there was a transformation. When Matthew writes, he keeps himself right out of sight. He reports the deeds of the other disciples, but when he refers to himself it is Matthew, “the publican.” Mark’s Gospel, which most commentators agree is really Peter’s version of our Lord’s ministry, contains only damaging statements about Peter, while the things to his credit are not referred to. Luke, although a doctor, keeps his name right out of sight, and John only refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The poet summed it up this way:-

“All of self and none of Thee, Some of self and some of Thee,
Less of self and more of Thee, None of self and all of Thee.

  A Dr. Bonar once remarked that he could tell whether a Christian was growing or not. In proportion to his growth he would elevate his Master, and talk less of himself, and of his own importance. Can we not also consecrate ourselves and put the world and self beneath our feet, allow Christ to become all and in all? Let us become nothing, and Christ everything. May we nail self to the cross, and adopt as our motto - “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

 - John Aldersley

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