Text: James 4:6, 9-10
Summary: Two definitions of humility. First, a person who regularly humbles himself before the Lord is humble. Second, humility is when you reach the end of yourself.
God had me at the first line–My son, my son, why are you striving? Okay, let’s pray.
Father, we’re your children and you don’t want us to strive like we’re slaves. You just want us to believe in you and receive from you and put all of our hope in you. And long for you, that your laws would be written on our minds and put in our hearts. And we pray that our heart’s cry would be, Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus! We can’t wait to be with you. Teach us, Lord, how to be humble. Teach us how to humble ourselves before you and to receive and to wait and trust in you no matter what we see. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus Name, Amen
6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Are you a humble person? How do we become humble? It is a daily choice to humble ourselves. It is a verb. You can only call yourself a humble person, a person with humility, if on a regular basis, you are humbling yourself before the Lord. And another definition of humility that the Lord gave me this week for humility. Humility is when you reach the end of yourself — that’s when humility starts to grow in you.
In various places like Galatians and Romans, it explains this principle that when you reach the end of your flesh, that’s when life of the Spirit begins. And the transition from flesh to Spirit involves a period of time when God is waiting for you and me to humble ourselves. When you come to the end of your flesh and you cry out to God — that is a humble person. That’s when life of the Spirit begins.
In Genesis 12, God comes to Abram and tells him to go and to leave his country and to go out on a journey, an adventure with Him. He has no idea where he’s going. He 75 years old at an age when most people are thinking of retirement. God calls them to go and to learn how to become a blessing for the nations. And then we read in Gen 16. 10 years have gone by. He still has no clarity on what he’s doing. I think God is humbling Abram and Sarai.
His barren wife hatches a plan. She offers her servant, her slave woman to Abram. Her name is Hagar. Why don’t you do it that way? And when we are not humble, our pride will rise up during a period of waiting. This act of bearing a child through our own flesh, taking matters into her own hands — this is the epitome of what it means to live a life of pride, a life of the flesh.
And we read a tragic verse in Genesis 16:2.
2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
Abram listened to the voice of Sarah. There are many voices out there. There’s your own voice. If you’re proud person, you will want to live for your ego and you will want to accomplish things. And it is a life of pride and of the flesh.
There are voices around you, even loved ones, who will tell you to do certain things. And Abram makes a tragic mistake. He does not consult the Lord. He hears the voice of Sarai, his wife, and listens to her.
At the 10 year mark of waiting, Abram is 85. Still, no child. And so Abram, he listens to his wife, and through Hagar, a child is born.
Gen 17:1. Just one chapter later. Another 13 years have passed. Abram is now 99 years old. 24 years have passed since the first time that the Lord spoke to Abram. And God reiterates to Abraham and Sarah that they will bear a son. It will be their own son. It will be a biological son. And it says of Sarah, who is 89 at the time, she was advanced in years and the way of women had ceased to be with her.
By this point, Ishmael is 13 years old, and then Gen 17:18.
18 “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”
Abraham wanted so desperately for Ishmael to be the child of the promise. But you cannot have a child of the promise when you’ve manufactured a child through your flesh.
The following year, the Lord visited Sarah when she is 90 years old. Abram is 100 years old. Ishmael is 14 years old. Then, we read on in Gen 21.
8 And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.
And this is the critical chapter where Isaac is being weaned. Maybe he’s 2-5 years old, which makes Ishmael 15-18 years old. Somewhere in that range. Ishmael laughed at Isaac. And the word “laugh” is the same word that is used of Abraham and Sarah earlier when God tells him you’re going to have a child and they laugh in a mocking tone. Can we really have a child at our age? It’s a human impossibility. And now Ishmael is mocking/laughing at Isaac.
And we might wonder, Sarah, is she too sensitive? Why is she being so harsh? What does she in Ishmael that is so unbearable to the point that she wants to cast out the slave woman and her child? Is she just being too sensitive? After all, it’s her idea. She brought this chaos into the family when Abram listened to her.
Abraham loves Ishmael. He’s pleading to the Lord — can this be the child who will live before you? And Sarah says, we must cast them out. And this time, unlike the first time when Abram listened to his wife, this time the Lord confirms, yes, you should listen to Sarah. You have to cast out Hagar and Ishmael.
We read in Galatians for the interpretation of this very confusing chapter. It describes Hagar and her son Ishmael, with Sarah and her son Isaac.
21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” 28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
And here’s Paul unpacking for us the confusing verses that we read in Genesis. There are two mountains. One is Mount Sinai. It represents the law. It corresponds to present day Jerusalem. It’s the Jewish faith. Judaism is a corollary to what we see in Genesis, and it says it is a source of persecution and slavery. And that is in sharp contrast to Mount Zion, the Heavenly Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem, the Jerusalem that will come from heaven and be established on earth. And Jerusalem’s children are free. And Paul says we must cast out this old covenant, this flesh.
12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead…
One way to summarize Abraham and Sarah’s story is that they experienced God at a time when their bodies were as good as dead.
18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh…
The reason why we are not humble is because we don’t believe that verse — nothing good dwells in my flesh and we are not as good as dead. We’re actually quite alive. Our ego is quite alive. Our pride is quite alive. Our flesh is kicking and screaming. It’s alive. And what we learn from Galatians 4 is that we must cast out this flesh and become a humble person as we transition from the old covenant to the new covenant.
We must go through a period where we become as good as dead, where our flesh, mind, will, emotions, our soul, everything that characterizes you dies completely. That is a humility that you and I need to undergo it.
Isn’t that how salvation began? How did you and I become saved? Didn’t you at some point reach an end of yourself that you were striving for. Whatever you were striving for, for money, for praise, for romance, for pleasure, whatever you’re number one goal was, whatever your bucket list was, you had some agenda. And you were striving but you hit a wall, you hit a dead end.
You were not satisfied with your pursuits and the fruit that you bore from those pursuits. You were disappointed. You were disillusioned. You were frustrated. You reached an end of yourself and you were humble and you just put your hands up in the air. You said, I don’t understand life and that’s when God saved. That’s when Jesus met you for the first time.
It was not because you were striving so hard. Quite the contrary. Many of us were in full outright rebellion and had zero desire for God. But somehow in a moment, He came to each one of us and he opened up eyes and we could finally see. He opened up ears. We read the Bible but finally had understanding. It’s like Jesus was standing right in front of you and He spoke. You heard his voice. That is salvation.
That was a salvation moment that many of us have gone through. And it involved the end of yourself. But what Paul is saying in Galatians when he’s contrasting Hagar, the slave woman, versus Isaac and Sarah, is that one leads to slaves, the other free children. What he’s saying is the Galatians started on the right foot. They started with the Spirit, but at some point they returned to their flesh.
And isn’t that a common story for believers that we start off being so utterly humbled? God saves us and we begin a life in the Spirit. But along the way we resort back to the flesh. I remember being so lost in college because prior to going to college, I thought I knew life. That it was just about success. I just need to be successful. I need to to make my parents proud. I need to make my mark in this world and I achieved a certain amount of success.
And by the time I got to college, I was already tired. I didn’t want to study anymore. And so I said, OK, that’s not it. I don’t want it. I don’t want to exert my energy there. Let me go after pleasure full on. I went to fraternity parties. I went to dance clubs. I drank, I smoked. I did everything to enjoy pleasure to the fullest. And after a year it got boring. You realize it’s not there either.
Whatever you’re searching for, it wasn’t it. Whether it was success or pleasure, I was just hitting wall after wall, dead end after dead end. And then, as a sophomore in college, He met me when I was humbled. When I was humbled by life. When I was humbled by life, He met me. God has such favor upon the humble. When I thought I had life figured out, God was so far from me. But when I was frustrated with life and I said, I don’t understand what I should be doing with my life. I don’t know where I should be going with my life. When I hit that point of humility, God came near.
But what happened along the way is what began with the Spirit, I resorted back to the flesh. It began when church put a title upon me. Okay, now you’re a minister. Now there’s all this mountain of work to do, and there’s a lot of striving in the flesh to prove your worth. As a minister, it is endless. The ministry, it’s endless. If you go, if you if you seek out ministry, you will be busy 24/7. And I was striving as a minister, and the worst thing that somebody who is striving as a minister can do is to go into full time ministry and go to seminary and become a full time minister as a pastor.
There are certain pictures that are dangled before our eyes as ministers. There’s certain pictures of success that are dangled before every minister’s eyes. They have a certain picture of success. And they assume that because it’s for God, I can I can do it my way. And I should try to imitate and copy the successful pastors down the street. And what I’ve learned in recent years is that God has a unique journey for every believer.
And during this discipline period, one thing that God is instilling in me again is, Ray, you have to humble yourself. You have to humble yourself because can you change yourself? Can you will yourself not to be angry? I dare you to try. You will not achieve much success in that area. What if you have a problem with your tongue and you keep on gossiping? You keep on judging people. You keep cursing people with your tongue. Can you just say, I’m not going to do that anymore? From tomorrow my tongue is going to be tamed. Can you do that? Try. You will fail in a week.
The things that God is promising for us in Scripture, He’s promising His very nature. He’s not looking to a better version of you. He’s trying to form Christ in you.
19 …Christ is formed in you!
And for us to progress in this life of the Spirit, this new covenant, we have to come to an end of ourselves. No more flesh, no more striving, no more ego, no more pride. And what does humility look like?
1 Peter 5
5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…
How long did it take for Abraham to be exalted from just Abram, which means “exalted father” to Abraham, the “father of a multitude of nations”? How long did that exaltation take? 25 years. And along the way there were moments of flesh. Hagar and Ishmael’s story is a prime example of the flesh when they take matters into their own hands because they couldn’t wait. And one of the hardest things to do for proud people is waiting. And it is God’s school of discipline to humble us through waiting. And it takes time for you to be genuinely humble where you surrender yourself.
Wasn’t that our commitment at the very beginning? When we confessed, Jesus, you are my Savior and you are my Lord, didn’t we give Jesus a blank slate? Didn’t we say Jesus, my life is yours. Here’s the pen. You fill in what my life should be and I will follow you. And I will do life with you. Wasn’t that our commitment at the very beginning?
You had certain goals prior to meeting Christ. When you met Christ, did you hold onto those goals, or did you surrender those goals? You had certain plans and ambitions prior to meeting Jesus. When you met Jesus, did you give up those ambitions and plans? That is what it means to humble yourself and say, Lord, my life is yours.
Humility is when you and I confess that I’ve reached the end of myself. I’m tired of myself. I’m tired of striving and trying to be a better Christian. It does not work. You have to cast out Hagar. This slave mental — you must get rid of it. The same way that you were humble at the moment of your salvation, every day, we are humbling ourselves before the Lord. And we’re waiting to receive whatever the Lord has for us.
He may give you a blessing on day one. He may give you a blessing some day 30 years from now. It is up to the Lord. You may have a certain picture of your life. The picture that the Lord gives to you may be entirely different. And a humble person will not complain, will not be impatient, will not try to do a Hagar/Ishmael kind of a move.
Only a humble person will say, Yes, Lord, I surrender my life to you again. I’ve reached the end of my flesh. I’m not going to strive anymore. I’m waiting upon you for one day, one year, 10 years, 25 years, 40 years, however long.
I’m not going to strive in my flesh. It’s not about my ego. Whatever you have for me. I will receive it. That is what it means to be humble. And I pray that in our waiting, while we’re being disciplined, you and I would reach the end of our flesh. We must cast out Hagar and Ishmael. It seems cruel, but that is what is necessary for us to progress in the spiritual life.
Okay, let’s pray.
If you are saved, remember back to that moment when you heard Jesus for the first time. Remember what you were going through. How lost you were. How desperate you were. How humbled by life you were. You did not know that God was humbling you through life. And you reached the end of your flesh. You hit a wall, a dead end. Because God loves the humble, He came near to you and He saved you. And He gave you a new heart and a new spirit. And He put His laws on your heart and He wrote them on your mind. And you became a new creation.
Now we fast forward to today. Are you still as humble as you were in the beginning? Or are you still striving? Maybe you’ve never cast out Hagar. Maybe you have not reached an end of your flesh. We need to cast out Hagar, the slave woman. We are not a child of slavery. We are a free son and daughter.
It is your decision as a believer whether or not you will humble yourself before the Lord. And that means you have no script. You have no plan. You have no agenda. You have no bucket list. Wherever the Lord leads, that’s where you’re going to go. Whatever He asks you to do, you’re going to do, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. No matter how many people mock you and criticize you — the way that Ishmael criticized and persecuted Isaac. It comes with the territory. Even religious people within the church will ridicule and mock a genuine Christ follower.
God wants to ask you today — will you humble yourself before Him? Today is the day of salvation. Humble yourself before the Lord and He will save you. God draws near to the humble and He opposes the proud.
Father, were your children. We’re tired of our flesh. We’re tired of our striving. We’re tired of being children of a slave system of laws under which we are condemned. We’re trying harder and harder to be holy and righteous. It does not work.
Lord, we have reached an end of our flesh. We’ve changed as much as we can change on our own strength. We need you, Lord. We need the Spirit’s help! The filling of the Spirit is not necessarily only for ministry and for power and for being a witness. Yes, that is part of the filling of the Spirit.
But the Spirit’s main ministry is to conform us to the image of Christ, to make us holy as He is holy. I pray that every brother and sister here would join me in humbling ourselves before King Jesus. We humble ourselves before you. I pray that you, see the humility of your people, would draw near to us and lead us. We surrender our life to you again, Lord Jesus.
We want to be a follower of Jesus. We don’t want to just do life and ask you to bless our decisions. We want you to be the Leader and the Head of the Church. Lead each person in your Church.
Lord, if this is the first moment of repentance and faith, we pray that you would save us and that in obedience to your Word, that we would get baptized by immersion and declare to the world that we are a Christ follower now and forever.
Father, we pray that you minister to us as we prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Supper. We remember your body that was broken and your blood shed. You did this so that we could come out of the slave system and become a free son and daughter who receives everything from you. Everything is a gift from you. It’s not because we were good at striving and now you’re rewarding us. Everything is from above. There’s nothing good in our flesh. So we lift up our hands to you. We ask to receive from you whatever you have for us today. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus Name, Amen