I was recently reminded by our Prime Minister that I am now old enough to be regarded as a protected species that needs to be shielded from the dangers of our society. He was addressing the issue of the current Corona virus pandemic and urged all Australians over 70 to stay at home to avoid any unnecessary risk of contracting the virus. I must admit that I had mixed feelings about his interest in my welfare.
Growing old has its challenges. But it also has its advantages as I discovered in my recent Bible journaling where I took time to follow the lifeline of the apostle Paul. In the process I made a discovery that deeply stirred my spirit; the one quality that should characterise above all else a follower of Jesus as they grow on to maturity. Let me illustrate with 3 passages of scripture.
- Around AD 55 Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians: “For I am the LEAST OF ALL APOSTLES. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.” 1 Corinthians 15:9
- Around AD 60 Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving Him by spreading this Good News. Though I am the LEAST DESERVING OF ALL GOD’S PEOPLE, He graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ.” Ephesians 3:7-8
- Around AD 64 Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy: “This is a trustworthy saying and everyone should accept it. ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ – and I AM THE WORST OF THEM ALL. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of His great patience with even the worst sinners.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16
What an amazing progression of self-awareness; the older Paul grew, the more he became aware of his unworthiness to be a servant of the gospel. He transitioned from the least of the APOSTLES, to less then the least of ALL THE LORD’S PEOPLE to the THE WORST OF SINNERS. With the advance of age and perspective, also came his growth in humility and his growing awareness of the great grace of God.
The theme of humility is scattered throughout Paul’s writings. “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think that you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourself by the faith God has given us.” Romans 12:3
Paul’s growth in humility has deeply challenged me as I have had occasions to reflect on how the subtleties of pride have tried (and sometimes succeeded) in rearing their ugly head in my own life. I think of the times when I have struggled with criticism, or where my reason for doing good things was motivated by personal recognition, or where someone else received credit for something I had done or I was not invited to attend some function.
I recently heard one of my heroes of the faith explain how he was trying to come to grips with the fact that he didn’t expect to be receiving many invitations to speak now that he has turned the age of 80. He felt he needed to move on and make way for a new generation. It reminded me that in every season of life our growth in humility will be tested.
Interestingly, it seems that the greatest struggle Jesus had with the religious leaders was that which was motivated by their pride. Speaking of these leaders, Jesus said,” Everything they do is done for people to see……they love the places of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” Can there be anything more destructive than pride? How vulnerable a leader who hasn’t died to pride can be?
I remember the conferences I have organised over the years and that some leaders upon arrival would come to me and ask where their designated seats were located (usually meaning the seats in the front rows). And I would reply, “You’ll be glad to know that you can sit wherever you like,” meaning there were no designated seats at the front for leaders.
Paul’s progression in humility provides us with lessons we would do well to take to heart, whether we are a young leader or one who has been serving for many years.
A LIFE OF HUMILITY REQUIRES THAT WE NEVER FORGET:
- WHERE WE CAME FROM
It seems that Paul never did forget his former life of persecuting the Christian church before his Damascus road encounter with Jesus. “I am not worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.” There have been moments in my life where I have pondered the question, “Where would I be if it was not for the life changing encounter I had with Jesus at church one Sunday night at the age of fifteen.” My answer has clearly been, “I would be in a much worse place than where I am now.”
Paul in his letter to the Romans speaking of God’s great love said, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.” Romans 5:8 How amazing! When we were at our worst, Jesus loved us and died for us. When was the last time you humbly reflected on where you came from? In his senior years Paul still could not overlook the fact that he was the worst of all sinners.
- THE GRACE OF GOD
It was a humbling thing for Paul to never forget that he had been forgiven of his sin and adopted into God’s forever family as a result of God’s love for him in Christ Jesus, a love that he never deserved. It was a debt he could never repay. “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9 Perhaps the greatest risk to us forgetting the grace of God and slipping into attitudes of pride comes when we take our eyes off the cross of Jesus Christ.
Isaac Watts in his memorable hymn written over 300 years ago does well to express the humble heart of Paul:
When I survey the wond’rous cross
On which the prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.
- TO SHARE THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST
Because Paul never forgot where he came from and never forgot the grace of God, he never forgot that sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others was of highest priority for him in the life that had been entrusted to him. To him it was a privilege. To him it was good news. “He graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ.”
Perhaps one of the greatest evidences of a life of humility will be that of a people who “live out their lives as Christ’s ambassadors, as though God is making His appeal through them.” 2 Corinthians 5:20
Paul as an older man, never forgot the wonder of it all. The gospel of Jesus Christ was good news and what do you do with good news? You can’t help but share it.
- WE HAVE AN AUDIENCE OF ONE
One of the greatest dangers of pride is that we are motivated to live our lives to be pleasers of people. We are motivated by the things outside of us, the titles, the positions, the salaries, the qualifications, rather than the things inside of us, as Paul declared that, “Christ’s love controls us.” 2 Corinthians 5:14 Paul always knew that wherever he went and whatever he did, that he had an audience of One to whom he would give an ultimate account of his life.
So, how are you going?
If humility is the key to aging well, as Paul has helped me to discover, how would you score yourself right now in your growth in humility?
And when did you last ask, “Where would I be if it wasn’t for Jesus?”
And what are the recent evidences that you have been growing in humility? And when did you last spend time to identify the things that have been compromising your life of humility?
And in your growth in Christlikeness when did you last meditate on Paul’s words:
“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though He was God, He did not think that equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, He gave up His divine privileges,
He took the HUMBLE position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When He appeared in human form,
He HUMBLED Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” Philippians 2:5-8
All Bible references from the New Living Translation