November 17, 2019
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9
Friends, I want you to think back to the days of applying for a job or maybe even the experience of hiring someone – what qualities and characteristics were you looking for in that person or maybe even trying to demonstrate yourself?
I recently read an article about one the biggest companies out there today, Google. Google has 5 things they’re looking for in an employee. A couple are the ones you’d expect … expertise in your particular field, good leadership skills, sure, nothing new there.
But they’re also looking for something you probably wouldn’t expect … they’re looking for humility.
Yes, they’re looking for people who are confident in their skills and abilities and will step in and contribute, but at the same time are also self-aware enough to know when to step back and defer to co-workers who have different strengths or better ideas than them.
And so with that in mind, one of Google’s biggest red flags is when people come in for an interview and commit what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error – that is, when they’re asked to reflect on their past successes, it’s because, well, they’re amazing, but yet, when they’re asked to reflect on their past failures, it’s because it was someone else’s fault.
Now we don’t need to dive too deep into their hiring process, really all you need to know is this - Google is hiring and they’re looking for humility. And my sense is that while companies like Google are rediscovering the importance of humility, it’s a virtue that our small towns and rural communities always knew and never forgot.
We’re in between sermon series right now and I needed something, anything to buy us a week or so before Advent, and so I’m digging deep into my archives here, and want to share with you a message about Humility. Next week we’ll begin our Advent Sermon Series by going through the Old Testament book Ruth, which has some beautiful connections to Advent, but we’ll save next week for next week. Now, as for humility, just to be clear, I am not sharing this message with you because I think you all need to become more humble, no, no, no, I wrote this over three years ago, so let the record show that it was a previous congregation that really needed a slice of humble pie. (I’m kidding of course). But above all, I want to share this message with you this morning because I am convinced that humility is one of the most freeing, life giving and joyous virtues that we can grow in. And I hope that 20 minutes from now, you feel the same way.
So let me set us up here and where we’re going. We’re going to work through three questions and ask …
What is it?
How do I know if I have it?
How do I get more of it?
What is it? How do I know if I have it? How do I get more of it? Alright … let’s get started.
What is it?
What is humility anyway?
I think we can all agree that humility is not the track star who continually boasts about how great of a runner he is. Or the rising CEO about what a great leader she is. Or Laurie Hagenbarth telling everyone what an incredible musician she is. (sorry Laurie, I needed a specific example there ... )
But yet we also know that humility is not when the track star says he’s not very good at running. Or the CEO says she’s not a very good leader. Or Laurie telling everyone what a lousy musician she is. That’s not humility either. In fact, we might say that person lacks self awareness or is lying.
So, humility isn’t boasting about yourself orthinking less of yourself. Humility is something altogether different.
And here’s the definition we’re going with today. It comes from famous Christian author, C.S. Lewis, where he says,
“Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Let that sink in for a second. Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. No, God has gifted you, he’s gifted all of us in different ways and one of the signs of a healthy Christian is someone who is able to the finish the sentence “I’m good at __________. “ It’s good for us to know what our gifts are and use them to serve God and those around us.
“Instead, Humility is simply thinking of yourself less.”
Here’s been a helpful way for me to think about it. Think about when you’re looking through an old photo album. What’s the first thing you’re looking for as you go through the photos? You’re looking for yourself, right? You’re thinking, How do I look? Is my hair okay? Why did I wear that outfit? We’re focused on ourselves. And we end up saying something like, “Look at how terrible I look in that photo.”
But humility sees the bigger picture, all the other people, the beautiful backdrop, the incredible scenery.
And so here’s the essence of humility - Humility doesn’t say “Look at how terrible I look,” Humility says, “Look at how beautiful that sunset is.” “Look at how beautiful my people are.” “Look at what God is doing in this photo.” “Glory be to God.”
Humility is thinking about yourself less.
It’s about seeing beyond yourself, and seeing the bigger picture. And this is what this passage from Paul captures so beautifully.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “Wait, I don’t remember that passage saying anything about humility.” And that is exactly the point. Humble people don’t describe themselves as humble. If they do, it’s a clear sign that they’re anything but.
So, here’s the situation Paul’s in as he writes this:
Paul had started the Corinthian church that he’s writing to, but then later a guy named Apollos had come in and helped move things forward. And so for some folks, Paul was essentially their pastor. And for other folks, Apollos was. Now you’d think this is a good thing – two guys, on the same team, both preaching the same message, reaching more people. But instead the people have become divided because of it. Instead of being thankful for having a relationship with either one of them, the guys are boasting that their pastor is better than the other and that they’re a better Christian or spiritual leader based on who pastored them. It’s become a point of pride for them.
And so Paul has to decide what his move is here – will he build himself up? Will he speak poorly of Apollos and make the guy look bad? Will Paul get insecure and think less of himself?
Yet Paul does none of the above. Here again is some of what he says …
1 Corinthians 3:5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
Paul sees himself as a servant. A co-worker in God’s service. He’s simply doing the job he was called to do, an instrument that God is using for his glory.
And now Paul’s not thinking less of himself here. In fact, he’s later going to say that this church he planted, “He laid down the foundation as an expert builder.” He knows his strengths. But Paul doesn’t care too much about all that. Rather, he’s thinking about himself less. After all, Paul did his part, Apollos did his, but ultimately God is the one who really does the work and makes things grow.
Paul takes the whole argument and casts it aside. He’s essentially saying, “Guys, seriously. Who cares?”
Paul doesn’t think less of himself, he’s simply thinking about himself less.
Now we’ll come back to this passage again, but we need to move on to our second question, that is …
How do I know if I have it?
That is, what does humility actually look like?
What does humility look like on the ground level, in real life? It’s a challenging question to answer because humility is for the most part an inner virtue. It’s a reflection of our heart. But nevertheless, here are two diagnostic questions that help us assess our own humility.
1) Humility cares more about job getting done than who gets it done. That is, it cares more about goal itself than who gets the credit.
This is Paul, right? Paul doesn’t care who gets the credit. And he certainly doesn’t need it from the Corinthians, largely because Paul knows God will reward him according to his own labor.
Paul wants to see churches grow, he wants to see people follow Jesus, and he’s perfectly content with whomever God wants to use to accomplish the task.
One of the most powerful lessons in humility I’ve ever learned happened years ago in college, when I went on a couple Spring Break mission trips to the Dominican Republic.
But in the mornings we would go to the villages and do various construction projects and one of our projects that week was to lay a cement foundation. And so that first day we started working and the Dominican men start helping as well. Got about halfway done that first day. We come back the next morning and the whole thing is done. And we all had this moment, where we were thinking to ourselves, “But, wait, that was our job to do, our foundation to lay, that was our experience to have.”
As we debriefed later that day, I think we all thought that humility was lowering ourselves, giving up our spring break, flying across the country, serving the poor, when instead what it really was for us was pride. We wanted that moment, that sense of accomplishment. “That was our job to do.” Sure, we were more than capable of doing the job, but it wasn’t about us. It was about the men and women and families in that village and the flourishing of their community.
Humility cares more about the job getting done than who gets it done. It cares more about the end goal than who gets the credit. The village now had another cement foundation to build a home on. Glory be to God.
You know, as you think about your work or life at home, do you find yourself caring more about the goal or who gets the credit?
Humility cares more about the job getting done than who gets it done.
That’s the first diagnostic question, here’s the second -
2) Humility joyfully celebrate other people’s gifts and success.
My favorite example of this is from professional basketball player Steph Curry. Curry plays basketball for the Golden State Warriors, has been named the Most Valuable Player multiple times. And Steph has even reached the pinnacle of athlete fame by being mom famous – that is, so famous that even your average mom knows who he is.
A few years ago, Steph Curry got injured and had to sit out a few playoff games. And this is always one of the most fascinating subplots that happens in sports - when a star athlete goes down – does he and can he celebrate other people’s success? Is he even interested in the game? What’s his body language like? After all, one of pride’s most famous lines is “You know, I hope they are worse without me.” But here’s what happened.
Steph Curry is sitting on the bench and his team is blowing the other team out, so badly that the other team has to call timeout. And what is Steph doing? He’s smiling, laughing, high fiving, celebrating his teammates, best of all, he’s dancing.
Friends, that right there is the essence of humility. I think there’s this unspoken assumption that humble people have to be stoic, unemotional or maybe even boring. No, no, no. Humble people dance. Humble people celebrate other people’s gifts and success.
Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.
That’s what Paul did. Did you catch it? – Paul gives Apollos his rightful due and celebrates the work he did. When Paul was gone, Apollos stepped up and filled in. That hasn’t made Paul bitter. No he’s thankful. Paul planted, Apollos watered and God made it grow.
You all, are we able to joyfully celebrate other people’s gifts and success?
At work, are you able to celebrate when others lay out better business proposals than you and say glory be to God?
For those in the choir, are you able to celebrate those who have better voices than you and say glory be to God?
Parents, are you able to celebrate other moms and dads when they have better parenting moments than you and say glory be to God?
As a pastor, am I able to celebrate when other pastors give better sermons than I do, (and Lord knows they will) and say glory be to God?
It’s one of the truest, clearest tests of humility. Humble people dance.
Now a short disclaimer –
Some of you may be thinking,
Okay, well what about this - “I’m 45 and I desperately want to get married. You really want me to celebrate the kid who gets married straight out of college?” or “My buddy and I both went after the same job and he got it – you really want me to throw them a party?
And that is a great question. I think there are times where we’re just not ready to dance yet. And that’s okay. There’s no need to fake it when emotionally you’re just not there. That’s okay. Yes, we’re told to rejoice with those who rejoice, absolutely, but we’re also told to mourn with those who mourn. And we can mourn in ways that doesn’t take away from other people who are celebrating. I hope that balance makes sense.
Alright, we’re ready to move on to our final question.
How do I get more of it?
Where does humility even come from? It’s admittedly kind of a misleading question, because the thing is you don’t get humility by directly going after humility. You have to be aiming at something else. It’s similar to happiness in that way. You don’t get happiness by going after happiness. Your focus has to be somewhere else.
And so this may sound a little trite and too simplistic, but it’s the answer I keep coming back to and it’s this -
If you get the gospel, you get humility as well. It’s that simple and yet that profound. If you get the gospel, you get humility.
Now I’m not saying that non-Christians can’t be humble. Sure they can. We all know people who are humble who don’t know Jesus.
But here’s the thing –
The more you get the gospel, the more you get the essence of the Christian faith, the more and more it gets to your heart, the more humble we become. It’s a package deal.
Because think about the fundamental truths at the heart of the gospel –
The very nature of the Christian faith ought to get us thinking more about God, and less about ourselves.
The gospel says that our identity isn’t based on what we’ve done, but what Jesus did for us on the cross.
The gospel says that there is no condemnation or guilt or shame for those who are in Jesus, not because of what we’ve done, but what He’s done.
The gospel says that our success and accomplishments aren’t our own doing, but rather it’s God’s power, the Holy Spirit working through us. It’s God who makes things grow.
The gospel at its very core sees our sin and shortcomings and failures and fixes our eyes on Jesus.
It points us to Jesus who Himself was the ultimate example of humility, who didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, takes on the very nature of a servant, obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Who says to his Father the night before he dies, “Not my will, but your will Father.” “Not mine, but yours.”
If you get the gospel, you get humility.
Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less.
And here might be the truth that will make us most humble.
When it’s all said and done, when the final credits roll, there will be one name that stands above all the others. And his name is Jesus.
You all, we can put our names on trophies. We can dedicate buildings after people. We can build statues that pigeons everywhere will flock to. We can have our titles before our name and letters after our name … but in the end, does it really matter?
In the end there will be one name and his name is Jesus. that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
If you get the gospel, you get humility.
And ultimately, it’s freeing, right? It’s exhausting when you’re always connecting every single experience, conversation, moment to yourself. When you’re always asking the question, “How does this make me look?”
Humility frees us to serve others and celebrate and capture the moment. Not to mention, people like being around humble people. Google knows that humble people are more fun to work with. With humility, everybody wins. The people around us win, and we do too.
Humility isn’t thinking less about yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less.
All Glory be to Christ the King, All glory be to Christ. His rule and reign forevermore, all glory be to Christ.