Humbled Like Christ

I’ve always loved the beginning of the second chapter of Philippians. Christ humbled himself for us because, though he was equal with God (i.e. he was a co-equal member of the Godhead, of which no member has primacy), he did not view that equality as a thing to be taken, but instead he gave it up to become a man. Not only did he become a man, but he became a poor carpenter’s son who, thirty-three years later, was crucified by the Romans to pacify the Jewish religious aristocracy. This picture of complete humility, from all-powerful creator of the cosmos to condemned man, is the ultimate example of Paul’s charge in the same chapter to view others as higher than ourselves, and of his charge in Romans to view ourselves with right minds. Christ, though he was the second person of the living God, did not view himself so highly that he refrained from becoming a man that would be shamefully hung on a cross (for in Jewish culture this was a shameful way to die). Why then do I think so highly of myself that I believe others should gather around my feet to be taught, or that women should love me, or that I am, in any way, deserving of respect or love.

Today we are enamored of the concept of human rights. I blame this largely on the enlightenment, culminating in the Declaration of Independence – the first wholesale statement of rights rather than responsibilities. We focus on what we deserve as individuals: I should be loved, I should be respected, I should be given work, I should be happy, I should be…, I should…, I…, I…, I…. In this obsession with selfishness we lose one of the most fundamental aspects of the Christian faith: life is not about me. If Christ can put aside his rights as the creator of all things and subject himself willingly to torment and execution, then can’t I put aside a few of my rights? I’ve been up all night, vacillating between prayer, watching Lindsey Stirling videos (the young lady I’ve mentioned introduced her to me in a facebook conversation last night), and looking at porn. In this case, two of the three have the same impetus: I am afraid. I am afraid of getting hurt, afraid that putting myself out there will lead me to another heartbreak, and all God keeps saying is to ‘trust him’, which generally isn’t helpful when I want emotional reassurance. So, after a night’s worth of struggle, sin, repentance, and pleading, my devotions this morning were Philippians 2.

Christ, in all his deific glory, found himself worthy to be born as a man and die a painful and humiliating death so that God could be glorified through our salvation. And here I am gnashing my teeth over the prospect of getting my heart broken again. Honestly, it really is incredibly ridiculous. If it is God’s will that my heart be broken again, and I truly hope that it isn’t, then I should rejoice in that as it glorifies him, and he will use it in my life to make me better. This is a part of what it means to be humbled. To give myself entirely over to the calling of God in my life, no matter what that calling might be, and allow him to shape me as he wills.

So, now (finally… you’d think I’d catch on sooner) I find myself praying that God give me peace, whatever he leads me to. Instead of begging him for someone’s love, or pleading with him to protect my heart, or raging at him for putting it in danger yet again, or fleeing into sinful comforts, I am simply asking for his peace through everything. The truth is that I hate the beginning of things when it isn’t clear which way a relationship will go. I want to be in a comfortable, committed relationship that is going to turn into marriage, and I’d honestly rather skip the ‘getting to know you’ phase entirely. However, in this also, I will ask for peace.

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A Right View of Oneself

I think I’ve mentioned before that I do martial arts as a hobby, and help teach an Aikido-Jujitsu class. I really enjoy this, though I’m not the best fighter in the world… or probably in the state, but I practice because it’s a lot of fun. I’m a fairly big guy, so I’m used to being the biggest, strongest person in the class, and being the toughest person in the class. I have to say that this always makes me feel good about myself, and there are times where I have to work hard not to be a bully (it’s a natural inclination of mine). Last week a new student started in the class. A guy who’s a little bigger and a lot stronger than me, and a lot of the simple things that work on people just don’t work on him (he doesn’t feel most of his pressure points). He’s a really nice guy, but he makes me feel inferior. In a real fight I might be able to take him… might being the key word. There’s a part of me that would like to find out honestly.

Then there’s the part of me that only wants to be around people weaker, dumber, less perceptive than myself. People that I can feel superior to. I am a prideful man, though I think I’m a lot less prideful than I used to be, and it’s something that I’m continually working on. This new student (…honestly, I haven’t had a chance to learn his name yet), we’ll call him Bill, is someone that I can definitely practice on. He’s offered to teach me some Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, an art that I’m not hugely fond of… mostly because I don’t really like ground-fighting, but I think it would be a good opportunity both to expand my martial skills and to intentionally practice humility. 

That being said, I go back to the verse in Romans 12:3. If I convince myself that only people weaker than me are worth spending time with, then I’m not likely to have a right view of myself. Spending most of my time with people that I can make myself feel superior to is a way to boost my self-esteem (i.e. pride), but not a good way to boost my confidence or a good way to have a right view of myself.

Something that I need to, and have been, making an effort to do is to spend time with people who are better than I am at things that I love to do. People who are smarter than me, people that are better fighters than me, people who are more spiritual than me.  I need to seek out ways to make myself better, instead of seeking out people who make me feel better. This is a hard thing to do.

You Think You’re Better Than Me?!

Christian exceptionalism pisses me off. American exceptionalism also pisses me off, actually… exceptionalism in general pisses me off, but Christian exceptionalism really gets to me. The idea that because I’m Christian I am therefore somehow better than others has done more damage to the cause of Christ than possibly any other single heretical belief, and it is a heretical belief. Scripture has nothing good to say about pride, and a lot good to say about humility, so why do we spend all our time thinking about how wonderful we are as Christians?

In the beatitudes Christ tells us that the meek shall inherit the Earth. Proverbs tells us that God destroys prideful men. Zephaniah tells us that those who are meek follow God. Peter and Paul both tell us to humble ourselves, repeatedly! Today, I had someone tell me that because he grew up in a Christian household he didn’t fall for crap (in context this was a discussion about how Americans simply take in information without assessing it). He may have meant that his parents taught him to analyze the information that was presented to him, or he may have meant that Christians have a natural immunity to crap. If he meant the former then I applaud his parents… but I’m guessing he meant the latter.

The idea that being Christians somehow makes us inherently less gullible, more virtuous, less responsible for our actions, or more worthy than others is utter hogwash. Many of the Christians that I meet have no real conception of their own sinfulness. They may say that they are sinful, may even mouth the words about being utterly wicked and needing God’s grace to save them, but if you look at their lives, especially at the way they look at others, talk about others, and act towards others, they don’t believe it. They are interested in judging people, interested in looking down their noses at people, interested in proving that they are better than others, but they aren’t interested in loving people or in helping people.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming to be above all this. I’ve done my share of judging, and I still do sometimes, to my shame. However, I think a lot of people confuse my unwillingness to take their bullshit excuses for their sin as judgment, and it’s not. I have plenty of my own bullshit excuses, and I generally won’t take them either. Actually, I know there are a few people who think that my calling them on sin is the same as my judging them for that sin, and I have no place to judge anyone. I’ve been a thief, I’ve tried to kill people, I’ve left some people permanently hurt, I’ve looked at truly massive amounts of porn, and at some truly and deeply sick porn. I am a prideful, lustful, jealous, wrathful, foolish, and ultimately destructive man. I’ve done things that I don’t like to think about, and certainly don’t like to talk about because I am ashamed of them, and I should be ashamed of them… well, perhaps not anymore. I am forgiven and redeemed, and that’s what matters. I won’t let the people I care about sin and not say something, but I also won’t stop loving them because of that sin. Our sin can’t change God’s love for us, and so it shouldn’t change my love for people. It took me a long time to learn that, and I’m still not perfect at it. There are too many times that hurt proves my love for someone to be phileo love and not agape love.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean that I’m better than anyone else, it just means that my sinfulness is covered by Christ’s righteousness, and that God isn’t going to stop working until he makes me worthy of that righteousness… and trust me, that process thoroughly sucks sometimes.

There is nothing that makes me better than anyone else, and there are probably plenty of things that make me worse. That might not be entirely true… humility is not simply being down on yourself, which is what we turn it into far to often. Humility is about seeing the truth, and letting yourself go. In Romans 12 Paul tells us to think of ourselves as we ought to think, and to think with sober judgment. Humility is knowing where we fit, what we can do, what we should do, and what we are worth. It goes hand in hand with honesty and integrity, and it doesn’t have either a high view or a low view of self. It’s not worried about self.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? We’re so worried about ourselves, making ourselves look good, making ourselves feel good, that we forget how to be humble and loving. Even our selflessness becomes selfishness because we focus so much on feeling selfless that we forget to actually care how someone else feels, and that in itself is selfish.

Anyway, that’s probably a rant for another time. Go out and give two craps about someone else.