The Road to Wellville

Galatians 5:1

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Humility Road Sign 1

This opening verse of Galatians, Chapter Five, is a well condensed sentence of a virtue considered central to Christianity, as well as all other religions that are taken with some import.  That virtue is humility.  My choice of virtues may seem a little contrary or abstract to the call in this scripture to strength and resistance.  So I guess I’m going to have to explain my choice.

For those Christian, Paul is declaring that Christ has set us free.  I need not go into from what Christ has set us free from simply because this whole matter is the subject of the New Testament.  All Christians attending church get this drilled into their heads by their Pastors continually.

Paul goes on in saying that we must therefore hold our ground and not submit again. Well to what? And why again? Paul uses the term slavery as that condition he wishes us not to submit ourselves to ever again.  We know that he is referring to sin, and we also know that sin is a relational matter; a separation from God.

But most people look at sin more as an action.  The average Joe conjures up into his consciousness acts of evil that are universal and absolute to any culture – a direct lie, a theft, a false imprisonment, an adultery, a murder – and proclaims, “Ah! There’s sin”.  Much of our entertainment in literature, plays, movies, and television programs pits good and evil against one another in a most apparent battle.  Common sense dictates to the creator of such entertainment that good shall triumph.  Arnold Schwarzenegger dispatches the Predator, the hobbit Frodo Baggins finds the moral strength to dispatch evil, and Tim Allen in Home Improvement manages to dispatch his problem through the almost spiritual advice of his next-door neighbor, Wilson. Yet does this reflect what takes place in society and within oneself, and is this battle always so apparent?  Well, I think I am going to put aside the first question of that last sentence for another time, and concentrate on the second question, “…is this battle always so apparent?”

I’m sure we all consider ourselves pretty good people, and the Ten Commandments are pretty clear in their meaning, and all successful cultures down through the history of man have considered such commandments as the manifestation of absolute morality.  We’re pretty much in our favorite TV show so far; you know the one where people say the most horrendous of things to one another but suffer no guilt or shame; the one where reality is suspended for our ego; the one that ends after a half-hour and not a lifetime. So, what’s our scorecards say?

“You shall have no God’s before me”.

My desires seem to trump my needs.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image;”

My desires become realities.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

#!@!%!-Damn it, and the horse you came in on!!

“Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.”

But it’s the only day I was able to power wash my gazebo.

“Honor your Father and your Mother,”

Yeah, you tell that to them.

“You shall not kill.”

I’ll not go there.

“You shall not commit adultery.”

I’ll not go there.

“You shall not steal.”

Mostly as a child not understanding my desires.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

Hmmm… so have I had a “rash judgment: believing, without sufficient evidence, statements that accuse another of moral faults?” Thanks for nothing, WIKI.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house;”

I am truly in trouble.

Well, that’s my scorecard.  How’s yours?

Peanuts Cartoon 1To look at sin as an action, as we prefer to do, is terribly misleading as it takes the focus away from what is really going on; our relationship with God and our walk through sanctification.  Now I’m going out on a limb probably, so please, clarity from someone would be helpful, but when we talk about sanctification, are we not talking about self-worth?  I say this and stretch to this in an endeavor to secularize terminology so a broader quality of people may be able to relate better to this discourse.  Words that separate are problematic.

And sin, being a relational matter, is found much more often within the subtleties of separation rather than the overt separations.  Once a murderer, there can be clear concentration upon what we need forgiveness for from God and man, but in the minutia of daily expressions we can easily pass over those details of our lives that degrades our human soul. When anger rises after being cut-off in traffic and thoughts of false witness, aka cursing, follows; when we lie to our friend to preserve our healthy relationship; when we choose to be a victim rather than master of our free will – are these not the real separations that blind us to God’s purpose for us?  Are these not the separations that leave us mortally wounded in both flesh and spirit?  Are these not the separations that we shun in order to deny our guilt and shame? The subtleties of sin lie in those thousands of expressions of justification to our desires, and it creates an impenetrable wall between God and oneself; a wall not even seen, let alone acknowledged until it is usually too late.

Alright, so I thought I was talking about humility.  Well I am.  I needed to assert the effect – a damaged relationship with God – as well as the cause – overt and subtle thoughts, words and deeds that lie outside God’s divine and natural law, in order to get to the cure and the result of that cure; our sanctification in God’s mind and our true salvation.  The result sounds great.  So what’s the cure?  I contend its humility.

“Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”  G.K. Chesterton

HUMILITY (noun)

The quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.

HUMBLE (adjective)

1. not proud or arrogant; modest: to be humble although successful.

2. having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience, etc.: In the presence of so many world-famous writers I felt very humble.

3. low in rank, importance, status, quality, etc.; lowly: of humble origin; a humble home.

4. courteously respectful: In my humble opinion you are wrong.

5. low in height, level, etc.; small in size: a humble member of the galaxy.

HUMBLE (verb)

1. to lower in condition, importance, or dignity; abase.

2. to destroy the independence, power, or will of.

3. to make meek: to humble one’s heart. (Thank you to Dictionary.com)

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”  C.S. Lewis

I have had for some time an abstract translation of this quote in my mind before I ever heard these words of C.S. Lewis, “I do not thing much of myself, but that’s all I think about.”  I find that this is an honest representation of how man thinks.  He just cannot get his mind off of himself.  He’s crazy about himself.

Everything I find in this word, humility, speaks to two things.

First, that humility is the antithetical state of being to mankind’s desire for a thing. In this previous sentence we see an oddity of condition; namely that humility is a state of being – a virtue in practice – while desire cannot be a state of being or a virtue.  It is an expression of something not had, rather than had. It is not a vice. It is without a home or sanctuary.  It is a confusion of hope that obscures the path to God, yet seems to show that path quite clearly to those blinded by its facets.  It is dangerous.

Second; God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  God calls us to our humility many times in the Old Testament.

2 Chronicles 7:14

“….if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

I have always thought God to be simple and direct. His proposal is quite simple; know who you are, not who you think you are, talk to me – I love you and it would be nice to be appreciated for all I have done for you – and stay out of the cookies till supper.  Manage that and you’ve got it made.  Sounds simple, but it’s probably more like that ABC TV show called, Wipe Out; where obviously suicidal people attempt to cross over a small lake via a pathway over, under, around, and through Rube Goldberg contraptions of malevolence.  Invariably, these suckers end up in traction after the show, and all to the satisfaction of the TV audience.  It’s nice to know that God treats us a little better than our fellow men and women.

And Jesus spoke much and acted much to show others the salvific power of humility.

Luke 7:7-11

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.  For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I really know of no better illustration of how important Jesus viewed humility, than in Matthew, Chapter Five. “But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

In these last two passages we see Jesus calling us to be not only reactive, but proactive.  Self-impose the humility that God calls us to before humility is thrust upon you.  This teaching is in real time; not some immaterial concept that finds scant manifestation in reality due to its abstraction from real time and event.

And finally, what else would Paul receive as inspiration from the Holy Spirit that would point out what is so central to God’s sacrifice for mankind through His son, Jesus Christ, but humility.

Philippians 2:5-11

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Nail in the Cross 1If God can do this for us, can’t we do likewise for Him, and our fellow men and women?  To what good are we if we do not strive with every bit of that precious measure that God poured into us to achieve that which He calls us to?  Should we not pour out that which He has blessed us with unto others?  God calls us all to His service.  It is our pride that makes us think we can negotiate our salaries.

Humility is that virtue which comes to habit in our lives through the practice of the Fruits of the Spirit, Galatians Chapter Five. (I apologize that I do not know whose words these are below on the Fruits of the Spirit.)

LOVE is that hope to see all others experience God’s true character and grace, and to participate in all of the gifts God has for each one of us.

JOY is the strength of the Lord; that which makes you look forward to the challenges of life.

PEACE is a putting off of the physical world as your guide and putting on your dependency in God.

LONGSUFFERING is to realize there is no adversity that can break your character and close relationship with God.

KINDNESS is that physical manifestation of one’s blindness to the failings of man to be obedient to God’s Word; an act of LOVE.

GOODNESS is the witness to the world; the fruit that secular man looks to and cannot resist when confronted by it.

FAITHFULNESS.  Faith is the precursor to this state of being; knowledge over belief; trust over treaty; LOVE over partiality.

GENTLENESS is the tender touch of the Father Himself, in recognition of man’s brokenness and fragile, susceptible character to the evil of this world.

SELF CONTROL is the embodiment of our efforts to obtain the other Fruits of the Spirit.

The Road to Wellville

Donkey and Carrot 1So here’s my contention… that each one of us must look within these fruits of the spirit, and seek out the practice of them in our daily lives.  It is most practical and attainable.  Just pick any ‘ought’ action and look to its characteristics.  Realize that your mission here is but moment by moment, and not day by day, or worse.  Look to the moment.  A calm, five-minute prayer is five minutes of love, joy, and peace for us, a declaration of faithfulness and goodness unto God, and knowledge that our self-control is the liberty to seek God without limitations.  Stepping to the side as sliding doors in a busy grocery store whisk open, in order to permit others to pass first, is love for those who pass, a joy for yourself, a moment of peace, a knowledge that your moment of long-suffering is to the witness of others to goodness within man, a kindness and gentleness of love that we all yearn to possess and offer, and a contentment of self-control that we are one step closer to God, rather than one step further away.

This practice of the ‘oughts’ has become my race; my challenge, and one must train and compete in all of the competitive events in our lives, and not just the ones we prefer because we think we are good at them.  So, I challenge my body to be better; loose the fat, strengthen the muscle, build the heart and firm the bone.  So, I challenge my mind; more knowing, more comprehensive; broad and deep in knowledge.  So, I challenge my role as a member of both society and my church; witness with love to all those you come in contact with, and participate in the activities of your church. This sounds like a lot, and it is a lot to take on, but I found the ability to get things done is in the concept of measure; keep it incremental and don’t take on any quantity and quality of task you cannot succeed at. It is most important that you are always encouraged by your efforts, and it is most important that others see your constant success; it’s a powerful witness for them. Just build all tasks incrementally.

I found that all of the mission work I did during these past three years of being a new Christian was certainly good for all parties, but squeezing through heaven’s gate on merit alone just isn’t enough.  God gave me a strength of faith the night He took me for His use that marvels my mind, but that’s just not enough.  There is more than good faith and good deeds.  There is that state of being; the one where knowledge, faith and work come together to form wisdom, and wisdom is the perfection of humility.

“God, in giving us all free will, said to us: “Your will be done.” Some of us turn back to him and say: “My will is that your will be done.” That is obedience to the first and greatest commandment. Then, when we do that, He turns to us and says: “And now, your will be done.” And then He writes the story of our lives with the pen strokes of our own free choices.”  Peter Kreeft

Let us continue.

Reese Cumming

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