Humility Comes Before Fasting

Ephesians 4:2

“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

What a gracious God that we serve who has given us His blessed Word, which both convicts and encourages, it reproves and it exhorts. And we as children of God should treasure the times that His Word convicts and reproves just as much as when it encourages and exhorts. Why? Because it brings to our attention the reality of the awesome process of sanctification that is taking place in our lives. It reminds us of God’s love for us as he by His love, gently molds us and makes us into the image of His very own Son, our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And that simply would not happen without the reproof and conviction from God through His Word.

Proverbs 13:1 says that

"A wise son accepts his father’s discipline, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke."

Just as your children should accept your discipline, we all should accept discipline from God, knowing the great benefit which will result, that is our sanctification, our being made holy, into the likeness of the One we serve.

I have no doubt that as we continue in Ephesians chapters 4-6, which will teach us how to live the Christian life in a way that is pleasing to our Lord. That as we continue through these passages that there will be an abundance of opportunity for the Holy Spirit to convict each one of us as He guides us into proper Christian living. So I want you to expect that and to receive it. And I hope you will anticipate that with joy although in the short run it is sometimes painful. I am looking forward to seeing how God will sharpen you as well as me as we continue on through this journey together.

I hope that you will approach all of your Bible study in that way, with excitement saying

"God, how are you going to change me today?"

"What are you going to teach me and how will it change my life for your glory?”

Our next passage in Matthew 6 as we work our way through the sermon on the Mount is Jesus talking about fasting and the fact that many use fasting as a way to gain attention from others which feeds their pride. It is rather incredible that fasting can be turned into a prideful thing and yet Jesus tells us that it can and it is. I think for most Christians in our day fasting is greatly misunderstood. I have spent some time trying to better understand Christian, biblical fasting and next week I hope to be ready to preach from Matthew 6:16-18. But for this week I want us to consider what may be the primary attitude that is required to truly fast and pray. That attitude, characteristic is humility. Jesus points out that fasting can be done in pride but biblical God pleasing fasting is a humble act. Without humility one cannot fast in a truly Christian way. So today let’s look at humility from Ephesians chapter 4 verse 2.

Now, the first verse of Ephesians 4, Paul said this,

"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you" or beg you, "to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called."

Paul exhorts us to walk in a manner or to live our lives in a manner that is worthy of our high calling. Or in a manner that is equal to or balances out with our calling unto Christianity. He raises the level of our walk to such heights that we have no choice, no hope of meeting those requirements unless we are completely dependent on God who supplies all power, which is all sufficient to keep us in the narrow way. To keep us on that narrow path which leads to eternal life.

After Paul makes this lofty statement that we should walk in a manner worthy of our calling, he does not stop there. He does not leave us hanging wondering how to do that but he goes on to instruct us on how to do so. He goes on to tell us what a Christians life looks like if that person is walking in a manner worthy of his calling. Paul gives four characteristics of a Christians life who is walking in that manner which is worthy of his calling. Look at these four characteristics.

Verse 2,

"with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love"

then verse 3 he exhorts us to

"be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Paul gives us four characteristics or four attitudes that must be present in the life of the Christian who is

"walking in a manner worthy of [his] calling”.

Four things and as with many of Paul’s writings, the order in which he lists things are of great importance. He first gives us the attitude of humility then gentleness, then patience and then forbearing love. These four characteristics are a progression, each one building on the one preceding it. The genuine exercise of one leading to the exercise of those that follow.

He begins with what many would call THE foundational characteristic or the foundational virtue of a Christian. Humility. If someone were to ask you, "What is THE attitude that would most characterize a Christian?" How would you respond? Christians are to be different so what attitude of the Christian would most set him apart from the world. I mean if you had to just give one, what would it be?

Well, I think you could make a good case for the attitude of humility which should characterize all of our lives. And I believe that that is why Paul begins with humility in this listing, and then adds to this list, because each of the next three attitudes flow from this one attitude of humility. Humility is an attitude which is not seen in and of itself but is obviously present as it manifest itself through certain actions. And in Ephesians 4:2 humility expresses itself through

"gentleness and patience and forbearing love."

The word here for humility is translated from a Greek word which literally means "humiliation of mind" or "to think or judge with lowliness or to have lowliness of mind." John Wesley observed that "neither the Romans nor the Greeks had a word for humility." Isn’t that interesting? You may not know it but this particular word which is translated here as humility was actually born with Christianity. It is a word that was coined by Christians and probably by the Apostle Paul himself, to describe a quality for which no other word was available in the first century.

And even after it was coined by Christians for many years Pagans used it almost exclusively to describe Christians in a very derogatory way. Now, both the Greeks and the Romans were a very proud people. So to refer to someone as one possessing humility of mind would to them be an extremely negative and even hateful act. Humility to them would not be a virtue but a sign of great weakness as one might describe a coward or a weak fool. You see back then, pride was the primary virtue of the day. Pride, the very opposite of humility was the most sought after characteristic in their society. That was the pinnacle of their humanistic faith.

It shows us in a very real sense that although much time has passed since that first century, most things have not changed at all. Attitudes remain the same. Oh there is talk of humility in our day, it has become a common word in our society, but when we come across a truly humble person, even in the Church, all to often he is the exception instead of the rule. What does it mean to walk in humility or literally "to think or judge ourselves with lowliness of mind" What does it mean? AS I attempt to explain, I want you to follow along very closely because, humility being a familiar word in our day, is common to your vocabulary but, I want to take you through some passages which I hope will cause you to truly examine your walk. And as we do, ask yourself,

"Am I walking accordingly?"

"Am I faithfully walking in a manner worthy of my calling?"

To walk in this manner is to proceed through this life regarding other people as more important than yourself. Remember humility is "to think or judge yourself with lowliness of mind." So, It is to think of others first, and yourself last. It is to think of others peoples needs, whether they be physical, spiritual or emotional as more important than your own. Now already we see a contrast with our society. In Philipians 2:3 Paul gives us a very familiar passage. He says,

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others.”

He says "do NOTHING from selfishness or empty conceit" Or that could be translated more literally like this , "Do nothing from selfishness or vainglory." Or self glory. He is saying do not do anything with the motive or purpose of bringing glory to yourself. You see that would be contrary to our definition of humility. Do not act in a way that has as its goal to bring attention to you, for that is "vainglory”, or "empty glory”. You see bringing glory to yourself is an issue of pride. Which again is the opposite of the very attribute of humility that we as believers should display. Glory is meant for God, and for God alone. So, attempting to raise yourself up in other people's eyes and bringing glory to yourself brings you into direct competition with God.

We should do all things for His sake. Pointing people to Him. Drawing attention away from ourselves and directing people to Him and His divine character. Remember what John the Baptist said at the very height of his popularity and ministry? John the Baptist with humility of mind, with lowliness of mind said of Jesus,

"He must increase, but I must decrease."

Now I know that probably nothing so far has been new to you. If your grew up in the church then you are familiar with statements like "Give God the glory" Or "We should do all for His glory" or you have probably been taught that you are to deflect the glory to Him. And all of those things are true, but if they are not understood or not practiced then they are empty words which produce nothing of value.

Think about your life. Think about your "so called" accomplishments. Maybe you graduated from college, maybe you excelled in some sport, maybe you work for a great company and hold a coveted position. Maybe your children are learning under your teaching, maybe you see that as a great accomplishment. Do you take pride in these things? We are prone to, aren’t we? Maybe you have just finished a major project successfully. Children, maybe you are doing well in school, that is a positive accomplishment. But, what is your attitude regarding any of these or any other accomplishments in your life? Do you sit back and bask in your accomplishment? Do you revel in your success? Do you glory in your achievements? Do you find ways to let others know of what you have done?

Do you quietly sit back and receive glory from others? Is your attitude that of pride? OR humility? Pride exalts self. Humility exalts God. Pride causes us to parade our accomplishments. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the greatest bible expositors of this century says that pride results in "self-advertisement”. Advertising ourselves before others so that they will recognize us and so that we will be exalted in their minds.

And you know that we sometimes do this in the subtlest ways. We slip things into a conversation appearing innocent of pride but at the same time hoping that we will be exalted in someone’s eyes. But you must remember, true humility is an attitude, it is internal. We can appear humble because of certain actions, we can fool people for a time, but true humility is an attitude of the heart. And that is what I want you to ponder this morning. Not what are you doing as acts of humility but deep down within you what is the attitude of your heart in regard to this issue of humility and pride. How do you view yourself in relation to others and in relation to God? Are you really concerned with others well being or are you self centered? To what degree do you put others needs ahead of your own?

During the days of slavery in the West Indies, a group of Christians found it impossible to witness to the slaves there because they were almost totally separated from them as non-slaves --many of whom felt it beneath them to even speak to a slave. There were two young missionaries, however, who were determined to reach those oppressed people whatever the cost. They must have considered Philippians 2:3-4

"Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interest of others."

So what did these young missionaries do? They laid aside their own privileges, and in order to fulfill their calling they joined the slaves. They willingly became slaves. They worked and lived beside the slaves, becoming totally identified with them. They shared their overwork, their beatings and their abuse. And the two missionaries soon won the hearts of those slaves, many of whom accepted the God who could move men to such loving selflessness. That happens from a attitude of true humility.

But to understand true humility, the ultimate example that we must turn to is our Lord Himself. Of all the of Christ’s attributes that He displayed on the earth, His attitude of humility may be the most difficult for us to comprehend. I mean, if anyone ever deserved to exalt himself or to draw attention and praise to Himself, it would be our Lord Jesus Christ. But instead, he modeled for us humility. And we are to walk as He walked. Look at what Paul said in Philippians 2:5.

"Have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus."

Paul is exhorting us in Philippians just as in Ephesians 4 to humility. And then he goes on to illustrate for us Christ’s perfect example of humility.

"Have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made in the likeness of man. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

What a staggering and beautiful picture of humility of our Lord. Are you ever tempted to think highly of yourself in relation to others? John proclaims in 1 John 4:6

"The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked."

We have our example in Christ. Do you ever justify in your mind your self worth over someone else’s? Do you ever think that your needs are above your brothers or sisters needs or your neighbors needs convincing yourself that you are justified in ignoring someone’s poverty? Whether it be poverty in physical, emotional or spiritual things? Christ didn’t. He stooped down in pure humility into the midst of fallen and depraved humanity, who hated Him and hated His Father. And He did so in love and in obedience as well as an example to those who would follow Him.

This passage says that He "emptied Himself”, He laid aside His glory, the glory that was due him, for a time in order to point mankind to His Father, that He, the Father, may be glorified. He did not accept it for Himself. And that is so evident in his ministry. He constantly pointed His followers to God the Father. He stated that He came to fulfill His Father's will. He attributed His power to the Father as coming from the Father and not from Himself. If anyone one ever deserved to receive glory and honor and praise on this earth it would be Christ. If anyone ever had a right to exalt Himself and to "self advertise" as MLJ states it, it would be Christ. But no. He emptied Himself in humility and glorified the Father who sent Him.

That Philippians passage also said that He took on the form of a bond-servant or slave. And that He was made in the likeness of man, and that He appeared as a man. We may be tempted as humans to think that that is not such a great act of humility, that is becoming and appearing as a man. But that is considering the passage from a man centered view. Think about it. The God of all the universe of all creation who is not bound by time or space to be clothed in humanness. To be bound by flesh and blood. What a humbling experience that must have been for our Lord. The verse continues and says that He humbled himself even to the point of death on a cross. The most degrading humiliating death of the day was that of crucifixion. To be raised up on a cross in humiliation for all to see and for all to ridicule and spit upon and curse and blaspheme. Our Lord was a perfect example for us. He walked in humility, so that we might live.

And who are we to think that we should think highly of ourselves and think of ourselves as more important that someone else? Or to think that we are deserving of glory or praise when Christ Himself refused such glory and instead offered it up to God the Father? If you are going to walk in a manner worthy of your calling then you must walk in humility.

And to ignore humility, to lay it aside is to walk in pride, which is to walk in sin. The first sin was the sin of pride. Pride led the angel Lucifer to exalt himself above his Creator and Lord. Because the bright "star of the morning" continually said, "I will, I will, I will" in opposition to God’s will, he was cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12-23). Because he said, "I am a god," the Lord cast him "from the mountain of God" (Ezekiel 28:11-19). The original sin of Adam and Eve was pride, trusting in their own understanding above God’s. The writer of Proverbs warns

"When pride comes, then comes dishonor" (11:2), "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling”, and again, "Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked is sin" (21:4).

Isaiah warned,

"The proud look of a man will be abased, and the loftiness of man will be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day" (Isa. 2:11).

Notice in that verse that man will be humbled, all men will be humbled some day. And in Jeremiah 50:31-32 it says,

"Behold I am against you, O arrogant one, For your day has come, the time when I shall punish you. And the arrogant one will stumble and fall with no one to raise him up." And in the last chapter of the Old Testament it says, "For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff."

Pride is the supreme temptation of Satan, because pride is at the heart of his own evil nature. And pride is the polar opposite of what our walk should reflect.

Well, the last thing I want you to see this evening is the freeing aspect of humility. The joy and peace that is found in walking in humility. You see the world and psychology would tell you that if you do not take pride in yourself and in your accomplishments then you have a very unhealthy view of yourself and they could probably come up with a very scholarly diagnosis for that. You may think that walking in all humility will be difficult or even impossible. You may think it leads to a defeatist type attitude. You may picture a truly humble person as one who is always kicking himself or beating himself up in an unhealthy way. As someone whose head is always down and whose attitude is negative toward himself, believing that he can do nothing, or someone believing that he can accomplish nothing for the kingdom of God. You may think of someone who is entirely negative and always down and depressed.

But want I want you to see is that is simply not the case. You see a truly humble person has a proper view of himself, a lowly opinion of himself, and therefore his focus for all of life must move from himself to God. To walk humbly we are forced to focus upon God. All of those things I just described would be true of a person whose focus is upon who? Upon themselves. Right?

But for a Christians it is not so. But for the proud all things revolve around self and eventually self will fail. If your hope is in yourself you will be disappointed, if in God, you will live a life of victory.

Look at the focus. Pride says, "I can do all things”. That is what Satan said isn’t it? But humility says, "I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me”. This is so important to see. Paul was humble, yet he did not sit around in a pitiful state with an attitude of defeat. No, He realized that he could do all things, through Christ who was his strength. Do you see the power in that. Living in pride of self is like living in a house if cards. Someday it will all fall down.

Pride says advertises self. But Humility advertises God. See the change of focus? Pride parades self, but Humility parades God. Pride boasts of self and self accomplishments. But Humility boasts in the Lord. Pride says my strength and power comes from within, but humility understands that God supplies all power and is perfected in weakness. Pride says I am strong. Humility says God is strong.

Pride says that I am adequate for the job, humility says my adequacy is in Christ. Pride says look at me, humility says look at God.

A Christian clothed in humility should be the most joyful of all who walk the earth. Because his focus is on the One who can accomplish all things. Yet a prideful man must look internally, at what is truly weak and helpless.

To walk in humility is to walk with a proper view of both man, or yourself and a proper view of God and that is to walk in a manner worthy of your calling.

So, I want to encourage you this week, to walk in a manner worthy of your calling with all humility. Consider first of all God’s glory, because glory belongs to Him. He is the only one to properly receive glory and honor and praise, and also consider those around you and their needs as more important than your own. Knowing that through God all things are possible, and it is He who strengthens you to glorify Himself and to serve and minister to others.

And next week, Lord willing we will see how this Christian characteristic of humility will be key in the matter of fasting according to the will of God.