Sunday, May 23, 2010

Humility and how I achieved it. 1 Peter 5:5-9

Last week we wrote about leaders; this week we write about followers. In the military they talk about insubordination and mutiny as amongst the most heinous crimes. People like Kim Philby and Burgess and MacLean, spies who leaked secrets to the Soviets, are thought of as the most disgusting of traitors, but soldiers or sailors who refuse to obey legitimate orders, often out of cowardice, are just as effective agents of the enemy.

Sir Francis Drake, when he was singeing the King's beard at Cadiz in 1587, had a subordinate, Sir William Borough, commander of the frigate, the Red Lion, who refused Drake's order to sail into Cadiz Harbour, thus endangering the whole expedition. Even though Borough was a Vice-Admiral, Drake had him clapped in irons and charged with Mutiny. These were in the days when the rules of discipline in the Royal Navy were less well developed than now and it was perhaps just, that the trial collapsed. But the point is well made that without willing followers as well as good leaders, and enterprise is doomed.

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:5-9.

'Those who are older' is a mistranslation. Every other version refers to 'elders', those holding that office in the church. But why are young men singled out?

For one thing, young men are very truculent; they think they know it all. I know; I have been a young man. It may be the soaring testosterone levels, but young men won't be told. When I was young, I called older people old-fashioned. I espoused everything modern. I was cheeky to the elderly - I thought that they had had their day and should step out of the way. The times they are a-changin' was my theme song.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

Were you the same?

But there is another, equally compelling reason to address young men. The young men of today will be the leaders of tomorrow and the best leaders must first learn what it is to be a follower. The Biblical pattern is exemplary. King David served his apprenticeship as a shepherd, Elisha, ploughing with oxen, and Amos tending his vines. Even Jesus was an apprentice builder! When we were medical students, before we were allowed on the wards, we had to spend two weeks acting as nursing auxiliaries. Our chief task was emptying bed-pans.

But it is not only young men who must learn to be humble, Peter continues, "All of you, clothe yourselves in humility."

I wonder, do you find humility difficult? When people really appreciate how good you are, do you find it difficult to turn down praise? I mean, isn't it false modesty to pretend you don't deserve it?

You see how easy it is to get into that mind set?

Pride is so surreptitious. It creeps up on us. Which of us isn’t proud of our upbringing, or our school, or our home, or our family, or our children’s attainments or our country? Yet what we have, we have as a gift from God.

We have to both put on humility to each other and to God. To be humble before God, but not before each other is hypocrisy

Being humble isn't thinking yourself worthless; you are valued by God. Jesus was our object lesson in humility; but he knew he wasn't worthless. It is about knowing that you are valuable, but disdaining the glory that goes with it and holding back.

Nor is it refusing to use your gifts - that's pride. You are being proud because you fear humiliation. Being humble means being willing to risk humiliation. Note that Peter tells us to 'clothe ourselves with humility'. Don't be put off by the accusation that you are 'putting it on'. Of course you are. We are naturally proud; humility doesn't come easy.

When I learned to play golf the grip on the club seemed unnatural to me. I was used to playing cricket and the aim in cricket is to hit the ball all along the ground. To hit the ball in the air you put your weight on the back foot. Weight on the back foot and a cricket grip in golf will mean you will 'top' the ball, if you don't play a complete 'air' shot. To get good at golf you have to practice. You 'put on' something that is unnatural and keep at it. So it is with humility. It's not natural; you need training. With practice it becomes second nature, but our first nature is corrupt.

Peter instructs us to "humble ourselves under God's mighty hand." Humbling ourselves before God means realizing that we depend on him for everything; it means not being self-reliant, but being God-sustained. It means taking the lower seat and waiting for the invitation to "Come up higher". We can only achieve humility before the Lord with the Lord's help, so prayer is vital. Rest assured the invitation will come. Does not Peter tell us that he will "lift you up in due time". It is a hard task to rely on God alone and not to trust to our own strength.

A story is told of a man who falls over a cliff, but clings on to a branch growing out of the cliff face. He cries for help, "Is anybody up there?" No reply. He's getting desperate. Again, he cries, "Is anybody up there?" A deep voice comes from the clouds, "I am here my son. Just let go of the branch and I will catch you."

The man grips the branch tightly as he ponders his predicament. Then he shouts again, "Is anybody else up there?"

As I said before, we are not very good at the humility thing. There needs to be some repentance. It's not that we are not forgiven, but we sure haven't changed yet.

There is an important reason for us not to be proud. "God opposes the proud". I suspect most of us would prefer not to be opposed by God. On the other hand he "gives grace to the humble". And it is only through his grace that humility is possible.

But we must not only be humble, we must also be disciplined. We must be "self-controlled and alert", for while we do have God on our side, we also have an enemy. The Devil prowls about like a roaring lion.

Have you seen those films of the African Savannah? Great herds of antelope and a pride of lions; who is it that the lions attack? It is those who are the weakest and those who get separated from the herd. How important it is to be part of the local church, with brothers and sisters in Christ to protect us. This is not a game; it is deadly earnest. In order to pray meaningfully we must be disciplined. It is not a matter of reciting a set prayer – saying your prayers. Our prayers should be an informed conversation with God. It helps to have a prayer partner. It helps to study the Bible. It helps to be integrated into church life.

Currently, our brothers and sisters in the Christian church in Morocco are being expelled from home and hearth by a fundamentalist Muslim Chief of Police. Peter tells us to stand firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

There is a battle waging. There will be casualties. The foe we face is a defeated foe, but he is still capable of inflicting wounds. He lashes out in frustration and anger, but even should we die we cannot perish. Just as our Lord Jesus was not defeated by death, no more shall we be. We are more than conquerors, through him who loved us.

So put on the whole armor of God; the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, our feet shod with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.
Have you heard the phrase, ‘The Birkenhead Drill’? It is not some implement from the industrial revolution, but a standard of discipline.

HM Troopship Birkenhead was one of the first iron-hulled ships built for the Royal Navy. On 26 February 1852, while transporting troops primarily of the 73rd Regiment of Foot to Algoa Bay, she was wrecked at Danger Point near Gansbaai on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. There were not enough serviceable lifeboats for all the passengers, and the soldiers famously stood to attention, thereby allowing the women and children to board the boats safely. Only 193 of the 643 people onboard survived, and the soldiers' chivalry gave rise to the "women and children first" protocol when abandoning ship, while the "Birkenhead drill" of Rudyard Kipling's poem came to describe courage in face of hopeless circumstances.

To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you've cover to 'and, an' leave an' likin' to shout;
But to stand an' be still to the Birken'ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An' they done it, the Jollies -- 'Er Majesty's Jollies -- soldier an' sailor too!
Their work was done when it 'adn't begun; they was younger nor me an' you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin' in 'eaps an' bein' mopped by the screw,
So they stood an' was still to the Birken'ead drill, soldier an' sailor too.

It requires courage to face the Devil, but we do not have a hopeless cause.

My hope is built on nothing less
Then Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

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