Gospel humility and the compassion of Christ
In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” This runs contrary to how many of us view our lives. Often, before embarking on any endeavor, we start by asking, “What will I get out of this?” or “Will this be worth my time?”
While it is important to steward our time in ways that will likely have the greatest positive effect, we should not make decisions based only on transactional outcomes. Rather, faithful presence and a posture of gospel humility are also important.
It is the discipline of self-forgetfulness and looking toward the gospel that we need to cultivate in our work of service. It is an acknowledgment that God, being rich in mercy, sent Christ to bear our sins and give us life. He, as our Savior, not only saves us, but also provides lavishly for us a new life as adopted children (Ephesians 1: 3-14; 2:1-10). This new life we did not acquire via our merit or success, but on the basis of His grace extended to us.
Erik Raymond, senior pastor at Redeemer Fellowship Church in Boston, describes gospel humility this way:
The Bible, and particularly the gospel, then gives us the proper perspective on God and us. When we see who God is and who we are then we are properly humbled before him.
Thus though a sinner, I am safe, He pleads before the throne His life and death in my behalf, And calls my sins His own (Great God from Thee)
When the Apostle Paul wants to unfasten the Philippians’ kung-fu grip upon the mirror where they are gazing upon themselves, he writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
Pretty simple verse. Do nothing from selfish ambition. Got it. But how do I learn this humility? In short Paul says, feast on Christ ...There it is brothers and sisters.
When he shows us the depths of Christ’s humble service (Philippians 2:6-8) he quickly shows us that no one could ever give up more to serve more unworthy people. We are the ones who have been served therefore we are to likewise serve in this humility.
When we sit in the shadow of the cross we learn that nothing is beneath us in terms of service. We have been served by Christ in this glorious way — he laid down his life for us! We then need to walk in humility, which is, at its core, what it means to follow Jesus.
When you see God as you ought then you will see yourself as you ought. This will certainly help with thinking of yourself less. But, please, don’t stop there, keep going. Treasure Christ. Delight in his doing and dying for you. Feast on Christ as you fast from self.
Christ, full of compassion, entered humanity. As Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin.” Christ saw us and, having experienced the brokenness of humanity, was moved in his heart.
Take a moment to read through these verses that speak to the compassion of Christ:
Matthew 14:13-14 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Matthew 20:30-34 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
Mark 6:34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
1 John 3:16-1 By this, we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
If we are guided by the example of Christ’s humility in his humanity, it should prevent us from a posture of superiority, paternalism, judgment, or an “us vs. them” mentality.
Many of us want a God who rules through power, vengeance, and retribution, but the gospel shows us a compassionate Christ Jesus whose power comes through sacrificial love on the cross, where he took upon himself all the wrath meant for us. Church historian Shelley Bruce said, “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God.”
Let us have eyes to see this humble King and ask God to allow us to let go of our heroic image of a king and instead see the Lamb of God, riding His borrowed donkey, straight to His borrowed tomb.
Peter Ong is Director of Church and Community Engagement at Hope for New York.
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