Friday, November 1, 2013

God's Humility & Christian humility

1 Peter 2:13 "Be subject, then, to every human creation, because of the Lord, whether to a king, as the highest". (Young's Literal Translation)

In today's post I want to share what is undoubtedly a major attribute or characteristic of God's Divine nature that most people don't think about or talk about - humility. Let me ask you this question: Is God humble? If so, why is that significant? In the course of Peter's exhortations for Christians to exercise humility in all of their relationships and dealings in 1 Peter 3, this concept of Divine humility provides the rationale as to why Christianity at its heart is about humility.

When you look at the text above, the particular translation of Young's captures most closely the thought of the original text. Quite literally, the grammar and wording of 1 Peter 2:21 suggests that God is the cause behind the very humility He is commanding His people to exercise. How so? As will be suggested in this post - humility is one of the key attributes of the Divine nature shared between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Without humility being one of the key moral attributes of God, we would not have creation, redemption nor the promise of a glorious future as Christian people! Its that important.

Defining humility - both Divine and human
First and foremost, what is humility? According to the best available dictionaries, the word translated humility speaks of a yielding of oneself to another. When we read of humbling or submitting ourselves, it refers to a voluntary submission of oneself to another for that other person's sake. Certainly the idea of stooping down could also be included in this word. Therefore when we take together those threads of thought, we can offer up the following definition of humility: to yield oneself to another for the sake of relationship.

Illustrating the Biblical concept of Divine humility and Christian humility
I often think of how as a Father I bend down to talk to my younger children in order to facilitate better communication. When a parent does this for their child, it does not introduce a change or diminishing of anything in the parent's being. All that is altered is the ease of access the child now has to the parent, and of course the parent's ability to relate to the child.
The fact that we as God's people are told to exercise humility in light of God's humility reveals humility to be what is called a "communicable attribute" of God, meaning that it is a moral trait shared between God and us.
Love for example is a communicable attribute of God that informs how we as Christians are to love. (1 John 4:19) So too is humility.
Isaiah 57:15 states most clearly - "For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite." The highlighted words in this verse could be easily translated from the Hebrew "humble". In other words, God is pleased to stoop down and dwell with those who are humble. Does God retain His position as the Eternal One Who is Lofty and Holy? Yes. No change occurs in His being. What does alter and change is the object to which He is directing His humble intentions - namely the lowly and contrite of heart. 

How Divine humility enables us to appreciate the need Christian humility
The Evangelical Dictionary notes this about how God's stooping down in Divine humility relates to our own: "Such appreciation of humility springs form the prophetic conviction that man, made of dust, totally dependent and sinful, had nothing to be proud of except God's being mindful of him and visiting him with favor and redemption. God dwells with the humble (Isaiah 57:15) and requires that man walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). 1

Laying out an understanding of Divine humility in relationship to our humility in 1 Peter 2:13-25
So having defined humility and seeing briefly from scripture that God is humble and stoops down to interact and intervene, how does Peter specifically track out this idea of Divine humility as the basis for Christian humility?

Humble actions spring from God's humility - 1 Peter 2:13-19
As noted up above, God so chooses to stoop down to us. God in the Person of the Father is infinitely above us, nevertheless the Father humbles Himself or comes down to our level by way of written words and the Living Word, His Son Jesus Christ. Theologians Duffield & Cleave note: "Perhaps all God's moral attributes are encompassed in these two: His Holiness and His love. In His Holiness He is unapproachable; in His Love He approaches us."2 Older Theologians often use the imagery of God the Father functioning like a parent lisping to an infant as comparing the Divine Revelation of His words in the Bible.

In our submission to both authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17) and masters or employers in our day and time (1 Peter 2:18) we have the favor of our Heavenly Father to exercise such humble actions. 1 Peter 2:19a notes: "For this finds favor...", meaning that in the grace of humility from the Father we are able to submit ourselves and humble ourselves as commanded by Him. How many times have you ever told your children to do something that your yourself would not be willing to do? Any good parent would not have their children do something without them being willing first to do it nor equipping the child with the capability to do the action.

By condescending or stooping down to us in the words of scripture, the Father makes known His will and His way. Concerning the fullness of such revelation of Himself, the Father never deals with us without being in connection with the Living Word, the second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

Humble acceptance of suffering springs from God's humility. 1 Peter 2:19-20
As Christians are called to do humble actions because of the Father in Heaven being humble, we also understand that accepting suffering springs from the Spirit's willing humility. Note two passages in 1 Peter that connect Christian suffering to the Spirit's choice to enter into the sufferings of the Christian. 1 Peter 2:20 "For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God." Notice again how God's Divine favor or grace is connected with Christian suffering. Such favor automatically signifies God's willingness to stoop down to where we're at. Now notice 1 Peter 4:14 "If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." See how God in the Person of the Holy Spirit humbles Himself down to where Christians are at in suffering.

Other passages such as Romans 8:26-27 indicate the Divine Holy Spirit's willingness to see through with us whatever difficulties by way of prayer and difficulty. How often have you seen other Christians suffering and saying to yourself: "there is no way I could undergo such a trial". Dear friend, the humility it takes to accept suffering is a work of grace done specifically by the Holy Spirit, who so chooses to enter into the pit with you. What drives love is humility's willingness to go where ever, so long as connection is not lost with that person. You and I as Christians can only act humble and accept suffering because of the Divine humility of the Father and the Spirit. But notice one more thought here in 1 Peter 2 concerning the relationship of Divine humility and our humility...

Humble attitudes spring from God's humility. 1 Peter 2:21-25
Peter brings out the connection between the Christian's humble attitude and God's Divine attribute of humility clearly revealed in the Person of the Son. 1 Peter 2:21-25 is in Peter's letter what Philippians 2:5-11 is in Paul's writings - namely an explanation of God the Son becoming human flesh. In both the Philippians passage and here in 1 Peter 2 we see the act of Christ's humility in His incarnation being the basis for our attitude of humility. Philippians 2:5 says plainly: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus." The connection between our attitude of humility and Christ's humility in His incarnation and death on the cross is unmistakable. Consider 1 Peter 2:21 for comparison - "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps." 1 Peter 2:22-25 Peter unfolds one of the clearest explanations of Christ's work on the cross you will find anywhere in sacred scripture.

Jonathan Edwards says these words in a sermon entitled: "The Dying love of Christ" -
"But Jesus Christ is infinitely above us in nature, he being of divine nature. There is no distance of nature between man and man, but between God and man there is an infinite distance of nature-a greater distance than there is between the nature of men and the nature of worms. There is greater distance between the Son of God and us than there is between the earth and the highest stars in the heavens." Edwards later notes:

"Therefore if we consider the dying love of Jesus Christ in this respect, there never was any love like unto it. Never was there any instance of such a stoop made by any lover. What are we, that one in such a height of glory and dignity should set His love upon us?"

In this post today we have explored the relationship between Divine humility and Christian humility. We noted first of all that God is humble by nature and that such a characteristic is communicated to the believer and enables Christians to exercise humility. In tracing this main idea through 1 Peter 2:13-25 we concluded that:
1. Humble actions spring from God's humility. 1 Peter 2:13-19

2. Humble acceptance of suffering springs from God's humility. 1 Peter 2:20-21

3. Humble attitudes spring from God's humility. 1 Peter 2:22-25

1. Walter E. Elwell. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology - 2nd Edition. 2001. Baker. Page 581-582

2. Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Life Bible College. 1987. Page 77

3. Michael D. McMullen., Editor. The Blessing of God - Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. Broadman and Holman. 2003. Page 2279-280.

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