Publication:Pastoral Letter, January 2021
Happy New Year! From all of us at CSM, we thank you for your love, faithfulness, and prayers in 2020. We pray the Lord will sustain, guide, and refresh you as we enter 2021.
Years ago, I learned that we would be tested on what we wrote in our magazines and letters. One staff member said, “If we ever do an issue on ‘mental illness,’ I will resign!” This letter will not be about that, but I’m sure that there will be tests on the subject of humility. Much earlier in my ministry, someone gave me a plaque which read, “It’s hard to be humble when you are so great!” I hoped that it was a joke but was never sure about the humble part. Humility is no joke; it is the key to God’s favor.
Matthew records what Jesus said in Matthew 23:12 “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Prior to that statement, Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee who prayed with self-righteous words about his own good works. Jesus said, “He prayed with himself.” Then Jesus tells of a publican (tax collector) who confessed that he was a sinner with great remorse. Jesus said of that man, “He went away justified.” Humility before God was the key to God’s justification.
Please note that humility is our task and justification is God’s task. Dealing with our own ego is a serious issue personally. This letter is not about “humility and how I achieved it.” It is about our humility as viewed by the Lord and others.
Our enemy understands the ego issue far better than we do; he was cast out of Heaven because of pride. When he was cast out of Heaven and came to earth, he seduced Adam and Eve with his own failure when he said to them, “Eat this and you will be as God.” They ate the pride trap. Centuries later, he tried the same trick on Jesus, “Bow down and worship me and I will give you all the kingdoms of this world and their glory.” Jesus *did not* eat it. If Satan dared try the pride trap on Jesus, he has no hesitation to try it on us. Humility is the key to avoiding his perilous traps.
What is Humility?
Let me first say what humility is not. It is not weakness, fear, timidity, or passivity. Jesus was humble, but not weak. Too many people see humility that way. Humility is seeing ourselves before our Sovereign God. It is understanding that He created everything, including us. It is knowing that His ways are higher than ours as the heavens are above the earth. Any encounter with God will show us the vast difference between us and Him!
When Jacob wrestled with God, he walked away with a limp (see Genesis 32:22-32). Any encounter with God will produce an awareness of our weakness, and that will continue even as we walk on before others. Jacob’s salvation, and ours, was not in himself; it was in the Lord. Every good gift comes from above. Knowing that produces humility in us.
For an even more clear view of humility, read Philippians chapter two. Jesus humbled Himself though He was equal with God. Jesus chose to take a lower place and become a servant. He chose to be born to a humble young virgin from a humble village, and He was placed in a feed trough in little Bethlehem. There is no way to describe or fully appreciate the humility of Jesus. He said, “The greatest among you will be the servant of all,” and He certainly was (see Matthew 23:11). Nothing better illustrates His humility than His Crucifixion between two thieves, which He endured for all of us!
Jesus humbled Himself. The publican humbled himself. We can get help from others in our humbling process from parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and critics, but finally we have to accept our own responsibility to humble ourselves before God and others. Circumstance and people can humiliate us, but humiliation is not humility. Humility is our acceptance of our own weakness before God and our own limitations. Yes, we can do all things through Jesus. Yes, we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. But remember, it is through Him. The key to victory is humility before Him.
I love stories about Winston Churchill. He said of Clement Atlee that “he was a humble man with much to be humble about.” Yes, we all have much to be humble about! However, many are proud, but for no apparent reason. Proverbs 11:2 warns us that pride goes before destruction. So, where must humility begin?
Where God Begins
We can certainly desire that our nation, the culture, and others would be more humble, but God does not start there. Instead, 1 Peter 4:17 tells us that judgment begins at the House of the Lord. It begins with me, then moves to God’s people. We know that 2 Chronicles 7:14 has become more prominent now in these troubled times. It begins with “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then….”
Before God deals with our politics, our adversaries, or some other area, He begins with us, the House of the Lord. Jesus rarely displayed anger; but one time He did was when He drove the money changers out of the Temple that was known as the “House of the Lord.” He had to clear out the House of the Lord before He dealt with the rest of the world. God works from the inside out not outside in: individual, family, church, neighborhood, nation, world.
I love the old spiritual, “It is not my brother or my sister but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” It is not Republicans or Democrats but it’s us, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. Sure, we all are in the need of prayer, but it begins with us as His People. If we meet His condition of humility and repentance, then His power will be released. Every great revival began that way!
I love Paul’s letter to Philippi; it is brief but powerful. Paul fathered many churches but seems to have a special relationship with the Philippians. As great a church as it was, there was a conflict between two of the leading women (see Philippians 4:2). Paul spends much of the letter talking about unity, how to think about ourselves and others. Paul offers some great promises if we obey.
When I was struggling with accepting God’s call to ministry, He gave me Philippians 4:19 and the promise to supply all my needs. When I preached my first message to the struggling church that I began to pastor, I preached from Philippians 3:13, “Forgetting those things which are behind.” It was a church of only 32 people, and yet it was divided too.
Paul addresses the subject of unity in numerous ways: He says, “Be like minded.” “Be in one accord.” “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.” “Let each esteem others better than himself.” “Look out for the interest of others.” Then he refers them to the examples of Jesus who relinquished His divine position to humble Himself, serve all, and die the humiliating death on the Cross.
There are problems, in even great churches, but most problems can be solved by humility. Our culture has heard a lot about self-esteem but not much about esteeming others. We need to hear more about esteeming others, especially those who have lost so much. Would humility heal many of our problems? Does pride cause many of our problems? I think so. How does the worldly culture see the Church? Humble? Serving? Or do they see us as “Talking down” to sinners? Would humbling ourselves send a message to the culture? There is great power in humility!
I will add one other aspect of humility; we will all die if Jesus tarries, and we cannot raise ourselves from the grave; only Jesus can. Death is humbling, despite all our instincts to live and all our efforts to struggle against it. We are mortal, but eternal life is a gift—not something that we could ever earn! It behooves us to realize: sooner or later, we will face our limits and thank God for His resurrection power!
Questions for Self-Evaluation
These questions are not designed to bring condemnation, but rather to position us for the grace of God and the power of God. It is about Him, not us.
Looking back over nearly 84 years of life now, I know I have often come short. I once took a personality test and “failed” because the instructor said that I had low self-esteem. I told him, “I grew up Baptist, what do you expect?” The truth is that I too often succumbed to pride—and for no good reason! Perhaps I was proud of my humility. I am so deeply and eternally grateful for so much! I am grateful to Jesus most of all, grateful for godly parents, a good family and friends, those who pray for me and grateful for you. Without the goodness of God and your response, we could not do what we love. Thank you!
Brother Charles Simpson
P.S. Would you prayerfully consider a special gift
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.