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Sep 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 6, 2015 – Matthew 11:28-30

Virtue Reality

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

Intro: No one person had more influence in deepening my life in Christ than Fr. Romuald

A Benedictine monk, living in a hermitage on the coast of central California
– our last conversation, two weeks before his death, meandered through several topics
• when we discussed Christian maturity and helping others along, he stated flatly:
“The virtues are fundamental to spiritual direction”
– this idea goes back at least as far as John Cassian (360-435 AD)
• he outlined “eight principal faults” at the heart of all sin
◦ each fault can be counteracted by its opposing virtue
• the point is this: A well-formed life in Christ has moral definition
◦ if my religion does not make me a good person, it is not Christian

Rather than teach a practice of the virtues (pl), I prefer to stress virtue
– that is to say, a distinct pattern of spiritual formation expressed in attitude, word and deed
• the sort of thing Paul had in mind when he listed the “fruit of the Spirit”
– virtue is not about pulling out a good deed when it’s needed
•it is a way of life – a life transformed in Jesus

I used to get irritated with my Calvary Chapel colleagues exclusive emphasis
– “Teach the Word” — meaning, verse-by-verse Bible teaching
• the truth is, few of them actually “taught” scripture
◦ they would read a verse or two, then preach, seasoning their sermons with personal opinions
• the “mature” Christian was a person who quoted Bible verses to support their doctrines
– I felt that we should be giving more emphasis to developing Christian character
• I was running into too many angry, hostile and self-righteous Christians
◦ knowing scripture without transformation results in distortion and misuse (cf. Mt. 4:5-6)
• we have not seen how we have empowered people with personality disorders
◦ an abusive person, will use scripture to abuse; a con artist will use it to pull scams; etc.

Virtue is about the struggle against our lower nature and unhealthy (unholy) thinking

There is a “gateway virtue” that leads to all virtues

Francois Fenelon, “All the saints are convinced that sincere humility is the foundation of all virtues.”
Abbot John Chapman, “All progress in virtue is progress in humility”

To the church fathers, pride was worst sin and the source of all sins

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. . . . Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (Jas. 4:6, 10)

– God resists the proud and the reverse is also true, the proud resist God
• pride pushes God away; humility runs for him
• pride blocks God’s work; humility removes any obstacles to God’s work
◦ humility allows God to do anything with us that he desires

But now, O LORD, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all of us are the work of Your hand. (Is. 64:8)

Humility finds its way between two dysfunctional states
1. Pride – but I have to qualify this word
– there is a legitimate pride – in our children, our accomplishments and so on
• it isn’t pride to know that you are good at something

Years ago, a friend of mine performed a song at a women’s brunch. A mutual friend of ours was there that afternoon, and afterward approached the woman who sang and told her how much she appreciated her song and that she was moved by it. The woman who performed responded, “That wasn’t me, it was the Lord.” With a confused expression on her face, the other woman said, “Well, it sure looked like you.”

– how do we acknowledge our talents in humility?
• with a true sense of gratitude
• confessing that even the energy to do anything is grace
– for illegitimate pride, think egoism, conceit, arrogance and an excessive sense of self-importance
• Christians have not always been careful to avoid Pharisaism
◦ Jesus’ exposed the heart of their practice of virtue:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them (Mt. 6:1)

• it is one thing to do something extraordinary
◦ another to want to be known for doing doing something extraordinary
◦ it is due to the later that people have willingly taken credit for other persons’ achievements
2. Self-loathing is the polar opposite of ego-pride
– low self-esteem is not same thing as humility
• self-condemnation is not humility

Francois Fenelon said that our faults aren’t cured by self-condemnation. “Discouragement would remedy nothing,” and it can be nothing more than wounded pride

Joan Chittister, “. . . humility frees the spirit; it does not batter it”

I am sure you realize, humility can be faked

I have done this so well at it, I even fooled myself (maybe I was the only one I fooled)
– it is faked when I pretend that I do not consider myself skilled when know I am
– it is faked when I want to appear righteous without being righteous
• humility goes hand-in-hand with integrity
◦ it is the most honest, realistic view of myself
◦ our critics may be of more help to us in this regard than our friends
– it is faked when I perform an action that I believe to be beneath me
• it is still important to do things I perceive as beneath me, even with that attitude
◦ this is because anything we do for the benefit of someone else is valuable
◦ but humility is not seeing anything beneficial to another person as “beneath me”

Jesus offered himself as a model of humility

. . . for I am gentle and humble in heart . . .

Paul came up with an odd expression in the fourth chapter of Ephesians
– after describing the immoral way the Ephesians lived before they were Christians, he says,

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him just as truth is in Jesus. (Ep. 4:20)

• perhaps on “Duck Dynasty” we might hear someone say, “Let me learn you a thing or two”
◦ but usually we do not talk like that — yet Paul says, “You did not learn Christ in this way”
◦ notice, Jesus had said, “learn from Me,” which is familiar to us (like “learn about Christ”)
• the point Paul is making is that Jesus Christ is our curriculum
◦ he is at the heart of our transformation
◦ we are learning Jesus’ perfections and are being changed in those ways

What do we learn about humility from Jesus Christ?
– in this passage, that his humility is gentle and humble of the heart
– we also learn that his humility is sometimes silent
• like at his trial when it was to his benefit for him to speak out
◦ in contemplative prayer, we are not not just silencing our thoughts, but the ego-self
◦ the self that constantly needs to be seen, be heard, be first, to give its opinion, etc.

Sometimes other people try to discourage our attempts at humility and direct us the other way
– as if what we do is insignificant unless it’s “big” — big numbers, big dollars, make a big splash

[Jesus’] brothers said to him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers were believing in Him. (Jn. 7:3-4)

• later, Jesus Himself went up, not publicly, but as if in secret (Jn 7:10)
• his goal was not publicity or world fame
– in Philippians 2, Paul tells how Jesus “emptied Himself” and “Humbled Himself” (vv. 7-8)
• humility goes deep into our inner life and empties it of the ego-self
• humility works in our desires, perspectives and motivations

Humility is the soul’s freedom from:
• needing to have all the answers
• needing a reputation for being smart, athletic
• needing to be in control
• needing to look away from others
◦ instead, it is learning to see the essential dignity of every human person

Conc: How do we learn humility? (as if we need to ask)

By being real humans in the real world
– there is no need to put ourselves down — life will do that
• a daily dose of normal circumstances will turn up our inadequacy, weakness and flaws
– what humility comes down to the perspective we take on ourselves and our circumstances
• and our response to both

Fr. Romuald, “It is useful, for humility, to sit in failure. . . . Failure is more helpful than success toward achieving humility.”
Abbot John Chapman (regarding trials), “You say they do not make you humble: but if you thought you were being made humble, you wouldn’t be.”

No, do not worry about finding opportunities to learn humility; lessons come to us every day
The question is, what are we going to do with them?

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