I recently came across a story that was startling and heartbreaking regarding a storm in 1969. The story reads,
“In 1969, in Pass Christian, Mississippi, a group of people were preparing to have a “hurricane party” in the face of a storm named Camille. Were they ignorant of the dangers? Could they have been overconfident? Did they let their egos and pride influence their decision? We’ll never know.
What we do know is that the wind was howling outside the posh Richelieu Apartments when Police Chief Jerry Peralta pulled up sometime after dark. Facing the Beach less than 250 feet from the surf, the apartments were directly in the line of danger. A man with a drink in his hand came out to the second-floor balcony and waved. Peralta yelled up, “You all need to clear out of here as quickly as you can. The storm’s getting worse.” But as others joined the man on the balcony, they just laughed at Peralta’s order to leave. “This is my land,” one of them yelled back. “If you want me off, you’ll have to arrest me.”
Peralta didn’t arrest anyone, but he wasn’t able to persuade them to leave either. He wrote down the names of the next of kin of the twenty or so people who gathered there to party through the storm. They laughed as he took their names. They had been warned, but they had no intention of leaving. It was 10:15 p.m. when the front wall of the storm came ashore. Scientists clocked Camille’s wind speed at more than 205 miles-per-hour, the strongest on record. Raindrops hit with the force of bullets, and waves off the Gulf Coast crested between twenty-two and twenty-eight feet high.
News reports later showed that the worst damage came at the little settlement of motels, go-go bars, and gambling houses known as Pass Christian, Mississippi, where some twenty people were killed at a hurricane party in the Richelieu Apartments. Nothing was left of that three-story structure but the foundation; the only survivor was a five-year-old boy found clinging to a mattress the following day.”
Arrogance is deadly. You might be reading this, and like me, you find this behavior ridiculous. However, I wonder how many of us demonstrate this sort of arrogance and pride in our Christian faith. In Philippians 3:12-13, the Apostle Paul demonstrates amazing humility as he writes to his fellow brothers and sisters in the faith when he says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.”
In the previous section (Phil. 3:1-11), the apostle stated that he counted all of his earthly achievements as garbage ‘for the sake of Christ’. Knowing Christ and Him crucified surpassed any worldly achievement that he could obtain. However, pastorally, the apostle wanted to encourage his fellow brothers and sisters. In these two verses, the apostle gives a mark of a mature believer.
Paul does not want his fellow believers to be deceived into thinking that just because he counted all things as a loss that he had achieved perfection. He did not to be placed on a pedestal. Paul doesn’t want his friends to believe that he has already achieved the resurrection from the dead. He was still a work in progress.
Paul humbly acknowledged that there was still work to be done in him through the work of the Holy Spirit. The gospel continued to humble Paul. I wonder how many of us hold a belief contrary to the Apostle Paul? How many of us believe that we have arrived in the Christian faith?
It’s no secret that I love to read. In my office I have shelves lined with books that seek to explore the depths of theology, doctrine, and Christian living. I am grateful for the knowledge that these authors have passed down to me through their writings. However, if I’m not careful, I will fall victim to pride’s deadly snares. There are times, unfortunately, that I exude arrogance from my theological knowledge. There are times that I begin to be “puffed up” with pride in the knowledge that I have accumulated through my studies. It is here, in my reading of Scripture, that I am devastatingly humbled.
The Apostle Paul had a far greater understanding of the Lord than I will probably ever attain. In fact, he was blessed to see the Risen Savior. Yet, here he is, writing to the Philippians and declaring, “I have more progress to make in my understanding of the gospel.”
Think about the effect this had on the Philippians. Here is Paul, one of the great men of the Christian faith proclaiming that he still needs to grow in his faith. In our celebrity culture, it’s easy to put men and women on pedestals for their accomplishments and work. We begin to idolize these individuals and believe that they can do no wrong or “have it all together”. Social media often dilutes reality. What we see from others is usually a photoshopped image of their reality. If we’re not careful, we will begin to think that what we see is how things ought to be.
This is why I so appreciate the openness and vulnerability of the apostle Paul. He doesn’t put on a guise of perfection, but opens up his heart to his readers. This is pastoral leadership at its finest. He doesn’t masquerade himself to be perfect, but opens up the reality of his heart. He isn’t perfect; he’s still under the construction of the Holy Spirit.
We must remember that leadership is not lordship. As Tony Merida says, “[Leadership] is about following Jesus Christ and becoming more like Him [through the work of the Spirit] and bringing others along in the journey.”
Paul doesn’t present himself as one that has achieved elite status, causing others to despair that they haven’t achieved this level of maturity, but as one that has been humbled by the gospel of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t put himself above the Philippians, but identifies himself with them as a fellow Christian.
I once read a quote from Martin Luther that said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” When I read this quote, I was amazed at his faith. I began to consider my own prayer life, “I don’t spend enough time in prayer; I struggle to pray for 30 minutes, yet this man prayed for three hours. I wish I was like Martin Luther.” However, I found another quote by Luther. This one was more encouraging. In a letter to his close friend Philipp Melanchton, he wrote,
“You extol me so much…your high opinion of me shames and tortures me, since-unfortunately-I sit here like a fool and hardened in my leisure, pray little, do not sigh for the church of God…in short I should be ardent in spirit, but I am ardent in the flesh, in lust, laziness, leisure, and sleepiness…already eight days have passed in which I have written nothing, in which I have not prayed or studied; this is partly because of temptations of the flesh, partly because I am tortured by other burdens.”
Wow. That’s encouraging. Here is a man that aided the Protestant Reformation and boldly confronted the false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and wrote many books and commentaries. Yet, here he is confessing his own struggles and despairs in his personal walk with the Lord. This behavior characterized the Apostle Paul, may it characterize our lives as well.
The Gospel Affects our view of self and view of others
When we understand that no one is perfect and all a work in progress through the Spirit’s work, we begin to live in humility, but we also begin to be more patient with others.
Think about it. When you understand that you haven’t achieved perfection, but are being sanctified, you will begin to be more patient with others because everyone of us are still under construction. No one has achieved perfection. When the gospel reorients our minds, we begin to see evidences of the Lord’s grace in others. God has been patient with us in all of our shortcomings, how much more should we demonstrate that patience towards others in their walks with Christ?
Consider your life. Are you presenting yourself as someone who has achieved perfection or someone that other Christians can identify with as they seek to follow the Lord? Do you demonstrate humility in your walk with Christ or are you deceived into thinking that you have already achieved the ‘resurrection from the dead’? Do you lord your knowledge over your brothers and sisters in the faith or are you humbled by the gospel of Jesus Christ? Ask yourself this question, “How does the gospel humble me?”
Are you placing a burden on your brothers and sisters that they were never meant to bear by condemning them for their shortcomings, or do you demonstrate loving humility and patience with them as you walk this Christian journey together? May the gospel continue to humble us and may we be a people that can echo the lyrics of the song Yet Not I but through Christ in Me, which says,
To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus
For my life is wholly bound to His
Oh, how strange and divine, I can sing: All is mine!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me.
May the gospel ever increase our humility and joy in Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria
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