Posted in discernment, ephesians, humble, Humility, meek

I’m great! And I’m greater than you! I’m the greatest person in this whole town!

Not really, of course. But in reading Ephesians I learned something about humility.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

We are called to walk a certain way in the world. It must be a walk worthy of the calling. What makes the walk worthy is the demonstration of our:

–humility
–gentleness
–patience
–tolerance in love
–diligence for unity
–in bonds of peace

Boy, Paul can cram a lot into one sentence, can’t he. Where we receive all that from is Christ. Let’s look specifically at humility. It is the first quality mentioned. Humility is urged upon the faithful throughout the New Testament, repeatedly.

These characteristics, of which humility is the foundation, form a progression, the genuine exercise of one leading to the exercise of those that follow. Tapeinophrosuné (humility) is a compound word that literally means to think or judge with lowliness, and hence to have lowliness of mind. John Wesley observed that “neither the Greeks nor the Romans had a word for humility.” The very concept was so foreign and abhorrent to their way of thinking that they had no term to describe it. Apparently this Greek term was coined by Christians, probably by Paul himself, to describe a quality for which no other word was available. To the proud Greeks and Romans, their terms for ignoble, cowardly, and other such characteristics were sufficient to describe the “unnatural” person who did not think of himself with pride or self-satisfaction. When, during the first few centuries of Christianity pagan writers borrowed the term tapeinophrosuné, they always used it derogatorily –  frequently of Christians – because to them humility was a pitiable weakness.” ~John MacArthur, Commentary on Ephesians

In Christianity, humility is a foundational virtue. When we read in Acts 17:6 that the rioters dragging Paul and Silas and Jason to the authorities characterized them as “having turned the world upside down.”

But humility before an equal or a lesser was morally suspect. It upset the assumed equation: merit demanded honour, thus honour was the proof of merit. Avoiding honour implied a diminishment of merit. It was shameful. SourceIn one sense we understand that means that uproars and chaos followed them wherever they went (a chaos the Jews themselves fomented). But trouble did follow Paul wherever he and the other missionaries and evangelists went. It’s like when we look at each other in today’s time and shake our heads and say “Things are getting crazy!”

In the other sense though, Christianity DID turn the world upside down. Everything was opposite. Jesus taught that:

The meek shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
The last shall be first (Matthew 19:30)
The first shall be last. (Matthew 19:30)
Pray behind closed doors, not marching around in the marketplace to be seen by men. (Matthew 6:6)
Give secretly, sounding no trumpet. (Matthew 6:2-4)
Rejoice in trials and tribulations. (James 1:2)
Think of others more highly than yourself. (Philippians 2:3)

To obtain an idea of how entrenched the Romans and Greeks were in pride and public recognition, one example is the Roman Triumph. This event was a spectacle that honored and sanctified the returning military general and his troops from a victory. Sanctify, because a triumph, which included a lengthy parade and celebration, was also a sacred rite in their pagan religion.

In the pagan world, personal achievement deserved lengthy and public praise.

As for the Greeks, their word was philotimia, literally, the love of honor. John Dickson in his book Humilitas, wrote

…one of the most difficult concepts to get across to late Western students is the concept of an ancient honor and shame culture, a culture where not truth nor life is the top value in the hierarchy of values, but rather obtaining honor is. The Greek word is philotimia literally the love of honor, and it dominated the matrix of values in the Greco-Roman world, in particular the male part of that world tasked with obtaining, maintaining and sustaining the honor of his family and their family name etc. “Uppermost in a father’s mind in the ancient world was not whether his son would be happy (in the modern sense) or make money or live morally [or tell the truth], but whether the boy would bring honor to the family, especially to his father, and to himself.” (p. 86). One was to seek to build respect and garner praise for one’s family and its name. The greatest fear in such a society was being publicly shamed— such as Jesus was on a cross. (source)

Ali’s “I am the greatest” speech. Photo source

So imagine Peter and Paul and Silas and Titus, preaching humility to Greeks and Romans who not only have a flesh nature which loves pride, but have a family pressure to boast, a culture that exalts boasting, and a pagan religion that sanctifies personal achievement. Imagine how difficult it was for them to hear, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” They were being asked to behave in the opposite manner of everything they knew and were taught, to drag around the very emblem of shame, and follow the most humiliated Man of the ancient world, Jesus hung on a tree.

Jesus turned the ancient world upside down.

He still does. We battle with our flesh nature and find it hard to be humble. I know I do. I want to tell people and the world of my achievements. Yet any of my achievements before I came to the cross are really as dung to Jesus, and anything I achieved after the cross was done for Him and in Him and because of Him. So what do I have to boast about? Nothing.

O THOU TERRIBLE MEEK,

Let not pride swell my heart.
My nature is the mire beneath my feet,
the dust to which I shall return.
In body I surpass not the meanest reptile;
Whatever difference of form and intellect is mine
is a free grant of thy goodness;
Every faculty of mind and body is thy undeserved gift.
Low as I am as a creature, I am lower as a sinner;
I have trampled thy law times without number;
Sin’s deformity is stamped upon me,
darkens my brow, touches me with corruption:
How can I flaunt myself proudly?
Lowest abasement is my due place,
for I am less than nothing before thee.
Help me to see myself in thy sight,
then pride must wither, decay, die, perish.
Humble my heart before thee,
and replenish it with thy choicest gifts.
As water rests not on barren hill summits,
but flows down to fertilize lowest vales,
So make me the lowest of the lowly,
that my spiritual riches may exceedingly abound.
When I leave duties undone,
may condemning thought strip me of pride,
deepen in me devotion to thy service,
and quicken me to more watchful care.
When I am tempted to think highly of myself,
grant me to see the wily power of my spiritual enemy;
Help me to stand with wary eye on the watch-tower of faith,
and to cling with determined grasp to my humble Lord;
If I fall let me hide myself in my Redeemer’s righteousness,
and when I escape, may I ascribe all deliverance to thy grace.
Keep me humble, meek, lowly.

Valley of Vision, PRIDE. (p. 88)

Posted in clarity, humble, perspicuity, scripture, The Hermeneutics of Humility

Sayings and mottos that sound pious but aren’t. #3 "I’m too humble to think that I could ever know what the Bible really means"

Part 1: “Let Go and Let God
Part 2: “I don’t use commentaries because they’re men’s wisdom. I only use God’s Word when I study.”
Part 4: #4: Pray Big Because We Have a Big God
Part 5: He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good

Some sayings sound legitimate on their surface. They sound pious. They sound biblical. Like this one: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. Only problem is, that one isn’t in the bible. At all.

It is sometimes hard to tell what truly is Christian and what merely sounds Christian. Charles Spurgeon wisely said, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.” So what sayings are right, and what sayings are almost right (AKA ‘wrong’)? Let’s look at the following sayings which have become such cliches.
Some of these mottoes are:

  1. “Let go and let God”
  2. “I don’t use commentaries because they’re men’s wisdom. I only use God’s Word when I study.”
  3. “We can’t know for certain what the bible means, I’m not that smart”
  4. “Pray big because we have a big God.”
  5. “He’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good”
#3, The Hermeneutics of Humility.

Mike Ratliffe said, “Hermeneutic of Humility” is a way of looking at our faith and interpreting the very Word of God through a filter that sees certainty as a product of pride and uncertainty as a virtue. … These people contend that to be certain divides people while uncertainty creates an environment of unity.

However the mantra that doctrine divides is a misconception. True doctrine does divide, and that is a good thing, because that is what it is supposed to do. But first let’s define hermeneutics.

CARM defines Hermeneutics as “The science of interpretation. Theologically, and biblically, speaking it is the means by which a person examines the Bible to determine what it means.”

The hermeneutics of humility says that anyone saying for sure what the bible means is being proud and displaying arrogance. Ultimately, it is a subtle denial of the truth.

There’s a new hermeneutics, a new science of interpretation called the Hermeneutics of Humility, and this is serious to the people who espoused this and their Hermeneutics of Humility say, “I’m too humble to think that I could ever know what the Bible really means and so I can only offer my opinion and I certainly can’t say that this is in fact the truth.” (source)

Now, while it is good to be humble (that’s why this saying is a subtle trick), let’s look at the difference between personal humility and interpretive humility. In personal humility, Romans 12:3 says,

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

In other words do not exalt yourself, but think soberly and judge rightly.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Do we suppose that sober judgment and rightly handling the truth means that we can never know what it means? As Paul would say, “What a ghastly thought!” Denying that the bible can be clear is denying the work of the Holy Spirit, who makes it clear. (John 14:25-26).

Yet the issue is a delicate one. Professor of religion and philosophy Winfried Corduan said, [link is to a .pdf]

…the Bible is the inspired Word of God. And Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit to lead us into truth (John 14:26; 16:13). The Christian interpreter ought never to proceed without relying in both mind and spirit on God’s gracious gift of illumination. Nonetheless, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer (undeniable though it is) does not provide a short cut through the hermeneutical process. The obvious counter-example to any such presumption is found in the fact that Christians who are equally committed to the discovery of truth disagree with each other. But the Holy Spirit does not teach different truths to such believers. Apparently it is possible to (at least claim to) rely on the Holy Spirit alone and not arrive at truth. Consequently it is best to say something along the line that the Holy Spirit’s work of disclosure is not entirely divorced from the human task of interpretation.”

It is why we strike a balance between personal humility and interpretive humility in the learning process, and boldness and confidence in proclaiming what we have learned.
The doctrine of the clarity (or perspicuity) of Scripture (that the central message of the Bible is clear and understandable, and that the Bible itself can be properly interpreted in a normal, literal sense) has been a cornerstone of evangelical belief ever since the Reformation. ~John MacArthur
The reason why these sayings resonate is because they sound almost right. There is a grain of truth to the fact that we need to demonstrate humility when we approach the scriptures. It is an interpretive humility we need to possess.

In Kevin J. Vanhoozen’s book,”Is there a meaning in this text?” he writes,

God is a speaking God. The Father is the one who, in the words of the creeds, est locutus per prophetas. [spoken through the prophets]. Most of what God does, creating, commanding, warning, communicating, promising, forgiving, informing, comforting, etc., is accomplished by speech acts. Moreover, God’s speech agency is the epitome of clarity and efficacy.”

Pride rears its head in people exhibiting a lack of interpretive humility when we believe we have got the meaning right before we have made the appropriate effort to recover it, as Vanhoozen explains. In other words rightly divide and make a sober judgment and with the aid of the Holy Spirit we will know what God is saying to us as far as our assigned faith will take it. Clearly and definitively. Because what good is unknowable truth?

Illumination: Wiki Commons

Ultimately as Vanhoozen says, “Humility must be balanced by conviction. The uncommitted interpretation is not worth hearing.

What a person adhering to a hermeneutic of humility is really saying is that:

–I am too lazy to put in the effort to really understand God’s written word,
–If we can’t know for sure what the bible means, then I don’t have to follow its commands,
–Look at me, I’m so humble I won’t even try to figure out what God is saying,
–God spoke but not clearly enough to understand it. He is a God of confusion.

Ask the Spirit to aid you in remaining personally humble, and seek His aid in being interpretively humble. Then, when the Spirit illuminates a truth to you, proclaim it boldly and certainly! The bible never says that bold faith is arrogance.

–In whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:12)

–Proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28:31)

Scripture itself at tests its own perspicuity, but not to the point that it can not be misunderstood or is in every point equally simple and clear. The doctrine does not rule out the need for interpretation, explanation, and exposition of the Bible by qualified leaders. The doctrine does mean that Scripture is clear enough for the simplest person, deep enough for highly qualified readers, clear in its essential matters, obscure in some places to people because of their sinfulness, understandable through ordinary means… Professor Larry Pettigrew, The Master’s Seminary

Sir Gawaine the Son of Lot, King of Orkney,
by Howard Pyle (1903)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Further reading

Definition: The Clarity of Scripture

Ordinary Essay: The Clarity of Scripture

Seminary level paper: The Perspicuity Of Scripture (.pdf)