Christian Characteristics: “Humbleness”

Christian Characteristics: “Humbleness”
A Message on Matthew 23:1-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 11, 2018
By Doug Wintermute

Matthew 23:1-12 (NRSV)

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.


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We continue our sermon series on “Christian Characteristics by exploring the topic of “humbleness” today.


This is a difficult one to talk about for a couple of reason. First, it’s difficult to describe examples of the concept of humbleness because it is so opposite from what the world encourages. And second, it steps on our toes. So, put on your steel toe shoes because here we go.


The scripture we read from Matthew’s gospel has Jesus talking about humbleness, or humility, but in a specific context. Jesus was calling out the religious leaders of the day, specifically the scribes and Pharisees.


The scribes at the time were the professional interpreters of the law. They actually made copies of religious texts, as their name implies, but they also served somewhat as judges in settling disputes as the writings of Moses were considered the law. They were powerful people in society, and as power often does it went to their heads. They considered themselves more important than others, and there is great danger inherent in that kind of attitude.


The other religious leaders Jesus mentions is the Pharisees. They were the big-wigs of the Jewish religion of the day. They wore fancy robes and were treated as the leaders of the society. They lived in the finest houses, ate the best food, and when they walked down the street the common people would move aside to make a path for them.


Jesus mentions that they wore phylacteries. Let me show you some photos of what those are. They are small leather boxes that contain very small scrolls of the Mosiac law. They were worn strapped to a man’s left arm and his forehead. These are still worn by traditional Jewish men today for morning prayers.


I think the point that Jesus is making is that the Pharisees did all these things not simply for the religious reasons, but they came to view them as symbols that they were set above the common people. They came to see them as proof they were better than everybody else.


That attitude still exists in our world today. There are pastors and religious leaders that have slipped into that kind of mindset, and not just among TV preachers. As pastors we are set apart for ministry, but that doesn’t mean we are set above. James 3:1 tells us that pastors and religious teachers are called to higher standards and are judged more harshly, and I agree with that. But it does not mean that pastors and teachers can consider themselves better than any other of God’s children.


As Christians in general, we should be humble. We should live lives of humility and heed the words of the Apostle Paul: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)


It’s not easy to be humble. Years ago Mac Davis wrote a song titled “Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble.” One of the things that made that song so memorable was the irony in it. Here is the chorus:


Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man
Oh Lord It’s hard to be humble,
But I’m doing the best that I can


Unfortunately there are Christians with that kind of attitude when it comes to spiritual matters. Coming to church, participating in or even leading a small group, reading the Bible, tithing, and regular prayers are all good things and can move us closer to Christ, but they don’t make us better or set us above our brothers and sisters who never set foot in a church.


The problem with humility is that when it is done correctly we rarely hear about it. Let’s face it, if people brag about being humble that very act proves that they are not.


In the scripture we read today Jesus tells us not to be like the scribes and Pharisees. He wants us to be just the opposite. “The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”


Let’s try something. Think about a number line of one through 10. One is being as humble as possible. 10 is being self-centered and as egotistical as possible. Where do you rank yourself on that number line? What number are you? And don’t lie. Tell the truth and shame the devil.


Now, where would others rank you? What number do you think they would give you?




Today we had two adult baptisms. These women made the decision to make a public proclamation that they have accepted Jesus as their Lord and savior, and they were willing to stand in front of all of you and get wet–one of them real wet!–to participate in the holy rite that initiates us into the church.


The liturgy that we read, the words that we say as part of the baptism, are the same for everybody. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what color skin your have or language you speak, if your past has been filled with sin or if you have lived an obedient life.


Baptism is a great equalizer. Through this sacrament we become one with Christ. Our sins are washed away and the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Baptism is humbling, a time when we announce publicly that we know we can’t do everything by ourselves, we are in need of a savior.


So my challenge for you this week is to be humble. Practice humility in all that you do. Don’t do it for the attention (which is self-defeating), don’t do it because you think humility will make you better than others (again, self-defeating), but because Jesus modeled humility for us and we want to be like Jesus.


“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”


Lord, it’s hard to be humble. Help us to be humble for the right reasons.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


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