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Second Corinthians


2 Corinthians 10

Paul begins (in the tenth chapter) a defense of his Apostolic authority. In passing, it makes an excellent (I hope) lesson on the subject of humility:


{10:1} By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you‑‑I, Paul, who am "timid" when face to face with you, but "bold" when away! {2} I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. {3} For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. {4} The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. {5} We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. {6} And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. {7} You are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he. {8} For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it. {9} I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. {10} For some say, "His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing." {11} Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present. {12} We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. {13} We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. {14} We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. {15} Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, {16} so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man's territory. {17} But, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." {18} For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 10 (NIV)



Mistakes about humility


The word "humility" in the English language has changed its meaning over the years - one of Satan's prize techniques for confusing the Christian is to promote this. We often have the idea that true humility is to think ourselves much worse than we really are. This is simple dishonesty. Paul in this passage identifies several other mistakes:


Humility is not timidity. Perhaps an example will suffice. Suppose that I believe that Liz and Jerry's upcoming wedding is not permitted to Christians. I may not choose to deal with this in private. I might prefer to confront them in public (preferably with a cloud of sympathetic witnesses) and boldly denounce their wicked plan. No positive result can be expected of this, but I appear to be bold and courageous for the faith.

The Scripture commands me to first approach them privately. This may appear to be a timid approach - one which meticulously avoids giving offense. Sometimes it takes more courage to appear to be a coward than to appear to be a hero.


Humility is not to be judged by the world's weapons. The world wants to know who won and who lost. OK. I'll tell you. Jesus Christ won - at Calvary; and so did we. Since then the world's weapons are not Christ's weapons. We are not to judge humility by whether or not we "won." The rest is battlefield cleanup. Sometimes that means getting our hands dirty. If we must bear the pain of someone else, and do so in Christ's name, then the world's standards simply don't apply.


Humility is not comparing yourself to yourself. (Or anyone else - that's pride). It may be very true that you are knowledgeable in the Scriptures; that you are kind to animals and have excellent control of your tongue. All these things are good. They are not humility, however. If anything at all, humility is the refusal to make the comparison to anyone.l


Humility looks below the surface. Women understand this. They look in the mirror in the morning and say, "that's not me." They don't leave the makeup behind until "me" stares back from the mirror. In short, they adjust the surface to fit the reality (or at least what they want it to be). Humility looks beneath the surface of the mirror and says, "How does God see me?"


The insidious result: false credit. Paul here gives an excellent test of the false humility of his "spiritual" rivals. Do you take credit for another person's work? I once baptized a woman. I did not lead her to Christ; I did not teach her the necessity of immersion. I just happened to be her teacher when she decided to be immersed, after many years of obedience. How much credit do I deserve? How much credit could I have taken?



The characteristics of true humility


Humility tells the truth. Paul put it this way to the Romans:


{3} For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. ‑‑ Romans 12:3 (NIV)


Sober judgment, based on our accomplishments, is the basis of humility. It is not humility to say you are stupid when you are smart; fat when you are thin or ugly when you are not. We rightly recognize foolish pride when we take too much credit; do we also recognize foolish humility? Frederick Buechner put it this way:


"True humility doesn't consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you'd be apt to think of anybody else."


Humility is under authority. One important aspect of sober judgment is to recognize the tasks and gifts that God has given me. It is one thing to say, "I am a Bible teacher, a very important worker in the Kingdom of God" with an air of pride. It is another to say it with humility, and follow up with, "and therefore I must be diligent in my studies - even when no one sees me at work." "It ain't bragging if you can do it," says Mr. Durocher. We need to see that humility is a proper evaluation of one's place in the kingdom - and that cannot be done unless you are under the authority of that kingdom. A sense that you are a servant of the Lord, under His authority (and He has it all), is essential to true humility.


Humility is rewarded by true authority. False humility seeks its reward from men ("Oh, I am so proud of how humble I am.") True humility knows that its reward is from God. It therefore seeks nothing from man. This is a perfectly natural thing. The humble man turns to God first; the proud man turns to God last. And with which of the two is the Almighty better acquainted?



The results of true humility


Paul here points out three results of true humility:


It demolishes argument and pretense. It demolishes argument because it is based upon the ultimate fact of the universe.


{22} Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, {23} but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, {24} but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. {25} For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. ‑‑ 1 Corinthians 1:2225 (NIV)


Logic cannot withstand it, for it is based upon the ultimate fact. It is not my argument; it is God's argument to you. It is not my logic, but His. You are not arguing with me, but with the Almighty.


Pretense cannot withstand it either. I may be able to convince you that I'm too good a person to need a savior; I cannot convince Him.


It takes captive every thought. In pride I am always thinking of myself; in humility I don't think of myself at all. My thoughts are trained on those for whom Christ died. Humility is not "not thinking;" it is thinking of the right things. It is the hallmark of the disciplined mind.


It punishes every disobedient act - once obedience is complete. The humble man looks at himself and knows: "I must do something about that." Sin is confessed quickly, and disobedience quelled as soon as it is recognized. It is not being hag-ridden about sin, but rather quick to fix the mistakes.


I've used the illustration before, but it's a good one. I once passed a young man on the campus of Cal State Fullerton. He was in the middle of a large field, practicing the trumpet. He was doing scales. There is no way to practice the trumpet quietly. When he made a mistake, he went back and tried again, fixing it. He did not care what I thought about his notes; he was improving his art.

Pride is letting them hear you perform. Humility is letting them hear you practice.

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