Today I'm going to preach on humility. This is the topic assigned to me for this conference. Let's start by looking at 1 Corinthians 8:1-3:
Now concerning food offered to idols, we know that all of us possess knowledge. This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know, but if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
I'm so glad I was given this topic, because as I've prepared for this message, this idea of staying humble has really affected me. This passage alone has affected my actions, because I have a tendency to be self-centered. I have a tendency to wake up and think, What do I want? What do I feel? What would I like other people to do for me? But this passage is so much about love, and it convicted me about how often I speak without actually loving the person who's right in front of me. I'm not thinking about that person or those people; I'm not thinking about loving them; I'm just saying things. I've started to pray, "God, I want care about every person I face, to look them in the eyes. I want to love them like this passage calls me to."
One time when I had first started speaking at conferences, another speaker asked me how I got ready to get in front of a crowd. He asked how I prepared my heart to speak. I told him, "I think about God himself being in the room. I think about the Almighty, holy God being in the room and that I'm going to face him. I pray, 'God, I want to speak in a way that pleases you. I don't want to be scared of anyone else; I just want to have the boldness to say whatever it is you want me to say.'" Then I asked the guy how he prepared to speak. He said this: "Sometimes I'll be backstage, and I'll just peek out and look at people's faces, and I'll say to God, 'God, I really love these people, and I want them to know you and love you and serve you in a greater way, so please give me the words that would love them best.' Sometimes, though, I look out at the people, and I pray, 'God, I don't really care. I don't feel any affection, any affinity for these people. I'm not recognizing them as my brothers and sisters. Help me love them.'"
I had never thought about that before! I was taught how to preach, but no one actually told me I needed to love the people in front of me! So now I have questions I ask myself before I speak, because I get sidetracked and distracted. The first question is this: Am I worried about what people will think of my message, or am I more concerned about what God thinks? The second question I ask myself is this: Do I genuinely love the people I'm about to speak to? So often I find that if I'm nervous before speaking, it is because of sin—the sin of elevating how others perceive me above being obedient to God. That is pride, not love.
A commitment to love others
The issue Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 is that of eating food offered to idols. A lot of the Corinthians had come out of a pagan background where they spent their lives worshiping these idols. To the best of my knowledge, the reason there was controversy over eating the meat that had been offered to idols was because some of the Corinthians believed that demons actually inhabited this meat. They believed that the idol would actually cleanse the meat of those demons. To eat the meat, now inhabited by their god or idol was an act of worship.
Some of the more mature believers in Corinth recognized that, really, there was no such thing as an idol—an idol was not really God—so eating the meat from the idols was no big deal. But so many others still felt in their consciences that eating that meat was almost like idol worship. The Bible says the attitudes of the more mature believers wounded the consciences of the newer believers. Paul's point in writing to them about the whole thing was to say, "Yes, you're right in that those idols aren't really God. But that's not the point. The point is that you more mature believers are not thinking about your younger brothers in the faith. They don't feel right in their consciences about eating the meat, and you continue to push them. Why in the world would you do that to your brothers?"
I love what Paul says in verse 13. He says, "If food makes my brother stumble, I'll never eat meat again, lest I make my brother stumble." Paul is saying that he loves his brother so much that he'd go vegan if he had to! Eating meat was just not that big of deal to him in light of the love he had for his brother. He says in verse 11, "By your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died." If that's not enough, he goes on to say, "When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ."
We admire Paul for so many things—his theology, his understanding of God—but I love Paul just as much for his love for people. You can see this love throughout his writings. Probably the most powerful statement he makes is in Romans 9: "I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying. My conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." When I read that, I think, That's impossible. I care for people, but I can't imagine ever making a statement like that. Can he really mean that?
But he starts the passage saying, "I'm speaking the truth, I'm not lying, my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit." He anticipates that I'm not going to believe him, that love that extreme could not be real! But he's telling us the truth. And he says he has this "unceasing anguish" in his heart for those he loves who are lost. Does that describe how you feel about those you love?
But you can see Paul's passionate love in how he lives. He goes from place to place just trying to win people to the Lord and tell them the Good News. He just wants people saved so badly. You see all the persecution he goes through for this purpose. So reading this passage really does make sense in light of the life he lived. He really believed those words he spoke. As Rick Warren says, "We believe those things we actually act upon." And this is exactly what Paul did.
I was on a plane to Africa, and I was sitting next to this Muslim guy. I started asking him about his beliefs, and he was asking me about my life, and I told him how Jesus had changed my life. He said, "You know, I just hope you're not one of those radicals. I used to wait tables, and I'd have these Christian customers who would just preach at me." I was sitting there listening to him and just praying that God would give me the words to say. We started talking about other things, and he asked me, "Why are you going to Africa?" I told him that I'd been a few years before and had seen all the kids there who were starving and looking through the trash heaps for food, for water, for anything. They had no education, and their lives were just dwindling away. I told him how it broke my heart, and how when I got back to the States, I started selling things to raise money, and I got my friends to start selling things, and the church started giving more, and through all of that, we were able to build schools in Africa and teach the people how to farm and how to do this and that. I told him I was going back to see some of that. I told him how excited I was. And this guy just looked at me with really big eyes and said, "That is amazing to me. So you're one of those. You know, I prayed that I would meet someone like you. I can't understand the charity of some believers—why they would sacrifice their own stuff for someone they might not even know. Tell me about this."
So I told him, "Well, I see in Scripture that I'm supposed to become like Jesus. Jesus had it all, but he didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he emptied himself. As believers, I believe we're supposed to do the same thing. The Bible says Jesus laid down his life for us, and that was an example that we should lay down our lives for our brothers. That's why we do what we do." I loved how when this guy saw that we loved, things changed for him. Here were these people who he was disgusted with—radical Christians—and yet, our love for people intrigued him.
A passion to love the lost
When was the last time you wept for the lost?
When I became a Christian in high school, I started looking differently at all my friends who didn't know Jesus. I had that grief and sorrow and unceasing anguish that Paul talked about. I would cut class to tell people about Jesus. When we got our yearbooks my junior year, I started thinking about all those seniors who were graduating in a couple weeks, and I just got on the phone and started calling every single one I knew. I had to tell them about how my life had changed.
In college, I remember trying to start a Bible study on campus, thinking I was going to reach my whole school. I had to save them! I loved these people. I remember waiting tables at this restaurant and getting close to the other waiters and waitresses. Every night, though, they would all go out and get drunk after work, and they'd take me along so I could drive them all home. I just shared and shared with those people. I'd come home and just weep as I begged God, "God, you can't let these people go to hell! I love Laurie. I love Ron. You've got to do this! You say the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective, and I want all the sin out of my life. I want to be as righteous as I can, because I want you to hear me! I want you to save these people!" I really felt those times of unceasing anguish.
I'll never forget when my grandmother was dying. It was probably the most painful time in my life. This is the woman who helped raise me. I loved her so much, but she didn't believe in Jesus. She had a severe stroke, and the rest of the family waited for me to get to the hospital before turning off life support. At one point it was just me, my brother, and my grandmother in the room. I remember getting down and just screaming in her ear, in Chinese, as well as I could, just trying to explain the gospel and praying, "God, I know you can't just let my grandmother into heaven, and I know she's brain dead, but you can change that! Can you just get her to hear my voice? Just let me share some of the things I've never gotten to share with her." I was crying like a baby, grabbing her hands, saying, "Grandma, please believe. You were wrong. You were wrong. I'm telling you the only way to get to heaven." As I'm sharing with her, I'm just hoping she'll open an eye or give me some sort of sign to show me that she hears my message. And there was nothing. I watched as the EKG monitor went into a straight line. I thought I was going to go crazy. That was the one time I wanted to take the Bible and just toss it, because if I believed what it said, my grandmother was going to suffer. It's been 20 years since she died. Has she been suffering this whole time?
In the night I want to erase these thoughts. I don't want to think hard about the truth, about the wrath of God. I don't want to think hard about those who might be suffering his wrath. But those are the things that motivate us. Those were the things that motivated the apostle Paul.
As my grandmother was dying, my brother Paul was there, too. He wasn't walking with the Lord. I remember looking at him and saying, "Paul, I don't ever want to see you like this. I don't ever want to see you in a hospital room wondering where you're going. You've got to give your whole life to Jesus. I mean you have to seriously follow him." My brother said, "Gosh. I thought I believed until I saw you talking to Grandma, and I realized that I don't believe. I don't believe like you do. I will change. I'll change." I didn't really believe him when he said it, but sure enough, a few weeks later he said, "Francis, I've literally changed everything. You know the girl I was living with? That's all over. No more drinking, no more partying, nothing. I'm even driving the speed limit." It was the real thing. And a couple years later he said, "You know, I think I want to be a pastor like you." Now he's a pastor in San Francisco and works with the homeless in the Bay area. This is my big brother, the one who I was always intimidated to talk to, but when it comes down to it, there was only one thing on my mind when I spoke: that unceasing anguish for him. That love is what motivates us to talk.
It seems that Christians so easily get caught up in knowing more and understanding Scripture more. That's a good pursuit. But it can so easily take us farther and farther from simply loving people. It's so easy to go down that trail. But somehow the apostles were able to do both. They grew in their knowledge of God, but they also grew in their love for people and in this unceasing anguish. They just kept pursuing and thinking.
Are you still loving others? Are you still burdened like you once were? Do you mourn for those who mourn? Does it break your heart when you think about your brothers and sisters who won't ever sit in a room like this and get this kind of teaching? They're just trying to survive day to day. They're just trying to make sure their kids have enough to eat. What does it do to you when you think of these people struggling? What does it do to you when you think of little girls in Thailand who have been abducted and are being raped repeatedly right now as we sit in this room? Is there love in your heart for those children?
Love is better than knowledge
In 1 John 4:12, it says this: "No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us." Somehow we're supposed to embody God's love. John says that no one here has ever seen him. But if we love one another, God abides in us. If we could love each other the way God wanted us to, someone who doesn't even know God, who has never seen him, should be able to walk into this room and see the love of God. As Christ embodied God in the flesh, we are now that incarnation of God. People aren't going to see God, but if we would love each other the way God called us to, they would see God's love in us, and they would actually get a glimpse of him. When people come into your gatherings, do they get glimpses of God? Or do they just see a lot of knowledge?
At the beginning of this passage concerning food offered to idols, Paul says, "We all know that 'We all possess knowledge.'" He's referring to their own attitude about the knowledge they have. He calls them out on it: "But knowledge puffs up while love builds up." Paul isn't saying that having knowledge is bad; he's talking about the attitude of the people—how they seem to be saying, "Come on, everyone knows there's no such things as idols." Their attitude is prideful, not loving.
Paul affirms that these more mature believers are right: "We know that 'An idol is nothing at all in the world' and that 'There is no God but one,'" but he goes on to say that not everyone has that knowledge. Some people aren't there yet, which is why their consciences are still pricked by eating food offered to idols. Paul says to the mature believers: Be mindful of where your brother is. Don't be puffed up with your knowledge of the truth. John MacArthur once said regarding this passage, "Knowledge is essential, but it's not sufficient." Knowledge is important, but it's not enough.
That's why Paul says in chapter 13, the famous love passage, "If I have prophetic powers and I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith so as to remove mountains but have not love, I am nothing." Knowledge is important, but it's not enough, because knowledge without love amounts to nothing. That means some of you could be brilliant and worthless. It's like being a great basketball player, never missing a shot, but you always shoot at the wrong basket. You're not building up the team; you're killing the team. Paul is saying here, "Look, you're so brilliant, but you're killing the team. You're not building up the brothers; you're making them feel dumb. You're wounding their consciences; you're not stirring them up to love and good deeds." He goes on to say, "By your knowledge, this weak person is destroyed."
Sometimes I'll read comments that Christians leave on other Christians' blogs, or Tweets about an article or something, and some of the things people say burdens me. I can't believe some of the stuff Christians will say, and I wonder, How is that comment supposed to build this guy up, or anyone else who read it? I thought we weren't supposed to let any of these unwholesome words come out of our mouths or out of our fingers. Paul says that love looks to build up rather than tear down.
Joni Eareckson Tada is one of my heroes. I don't know her really well, but we get together once in a while. Joni's been a paraplegic for over 40 years now, and she's started some amazing ministries. When we got together a few months ago, she had to leave because she was experiencing so much physical pain. I didn't realize that as a paraplegic she would feel that kind of pain, but she does, and it's so hard to see. Recently, Joni found out she has breast cancer, and she started chemo treatments, which have really wiped her out. Then a couple weeks ago, we found out she got pneumonia. I don't understand why all of this would happen to her. And while she had pneumonia, she wrote me a letter encouraging me to stay strong. She wrote, "Francis, I love you as a brother. You stay strong in the faith. I believe in what you're doing." I'm thinking, Are you kidding me? How can you be thinking about anyone else? When I just have the flu I'm only thinking of me. But Joni's constantly thinking of other people. That's humility, right?
Humility is not self-degradation. Because putting yourself down is still all about you and about self. Humility is about thinking of others, considering others more important than yourself. When I read Joni's letter, I just cried out to God, "God, make me like that. I want to be focused on eternity. I want to focus on building up those who are discouraged." Because the Bible says that's what love does. When talking about the gifts of the Spirit in chapter 12, Paul says, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." God didn't gift you for you. He gifted you for us. You've got to be constantly thinking, How can I build up the people around me?
In verse 2 of chapter 8, Paul says, "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know." This is after he says, "Knowledge puffs up but love builds up." What does that tell you? These people with all this knowledge really didn't know anything. In God's eyes, he says, it's not real knowledge. If it was real knowledge, they would be using their knowledge to love. That's true knowledge in God's eyes. That's a person who really gets it.
Paul says that if anyone loves God, he is known by God. He's explaining the power of love. He doesn't say that if you know a bunch of information about God, you are known by God. It's when you love God—when you don't just understand truths about him, but you actually love him—that's when he knows you. It has everything to do with love. It's about relationship.
One of my favorite verses is Galatians 4:9, where Paul says, "Now that you have come to know God," and then it's almost like he breaks his thought, "—or rather are known by God." I love that. To be known by God. There's such a big difference between those two thoughts. That is so deep to me. That means right now in heaven there's a sovereign being sitting on his throne, and the angels are covering themselves and crying out, "Holy, holy, holy." This God dwells in unapproachable light, yet if someone could enter his gates and say, "God Almighty, do you know Francis?" God would look down and say, "Man, Francis, I love him. Francis is my son. I love him. I know him." The creator of everything, the all-powerful one—he knows me. He sees me right now as his son. Despite all the junk that was in my life, God sent Jesus to pay for all of it. This God listens to my prayers; he listens to the desires of my heart. He knows me.
I know that God knows me, because I see how he answers my prayers. I tell him what I'm thinking, and I see these things happen—these supernatural, amazing, unbelievable things, and it blows my mind every time. It reminds me that I'm talking to God, and that God hears me. He knows me and he listens to me, whether I tell him about silly things or massive things.
Just two weeks ago I was flying up to Seattle to speak at a conference, and there was a girl sitting two seats down from me on the plane. The seat between us was empty. I was thinking that I should pray for her, and I prayed to have an opportunity, but we just chatted, and, honestly, I chickened out. So I went to the conference and spoke to a bunch of pastors about courage, and the whole time I was thinking, Why in the world am I talking about this? When I was done speaking, I got right back in the car and headed back to the airport—I was only there about four hours. I went to sit down in my seat, and who was sitting right next to me but the same girl! We just looked at each other and laughed. And I told her, "You know, this wasn't a coincidence. Let me tell you what the Lord put on my heart this morning that I was afraid to do." I just loved it so much, because this girl could walk away going, That was really weird. That was not just about sitting next to some preacher. That was about someone pursuing me, God pursuing me. God hears our prayers, and he answers them even when we're weak.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 says, "Thus says the Lord, 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this: that he understands and knows me'" Want to brag about something? Brag about the fact that God knows you. Brag about the fact that you know God.
Hopefully you experience God in everyday life and you really believe these truths and promises in Scripture. I know my God listens to me; it's crazy sometimes. And I just go around telling people how God answers my prayers. The girl on the airplane is just one example; things like that happen to me all the time. God knows me; He listens to me. So I don't boast in knowledge or anything else; I boast that the God of the universe knows me right now, and he loves me, and he calls me by name.
Love makes us like Christ
I was trying to think of the most loving thing that I could leave you all with, something that would encourage you based upon my love for you and a knowledge that I'll see most of you a hundred years from now. Some of you have been studying Christ for years. You've been studying the life of Christ and the statements of Christ, and you've been thinking hard about Christ. But does your life look anything like his? Can you say like Paul was able to say, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ"? Based on the way you are living, do people want to imitate your love for others? A lot of people can talk. A lot of people have knowledge. In Hebrews 13:7, it says, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." Do you look like Jesus? Do you act like Jesus? Do you love like Jesus? Do you love like Paul?
We had a missionary speak at our church years ago. He went to Papua New Guinea, and he won a tribe to the Lord. Beautiful story. And at the end of his story he said, "You know, I owe it all to my youth pastor, a guy named Vaughn who just loved me and told me this is what my life was supposed to be about, for the glory of God." The next week another guy came to speak, and he was talking about sponsoring kids. When he was done he said, "I owe all this to my youth pastor, a guy named Vaughn." Wow! I found out those guys were from the same youth group! The next week another guy, Dan, from the rescue mission in inner city L.A. came and shared. He was a member of our church, and he didn't mention Vaughn. But we were talking afterward, and I said, "Wasn't that weird that those two guys before both mentioned how much impact their youth pastor, Vaughn, had on them?" And this guy looked at me and said, "I know Vaughn. Vaughn's a pastor in San Diego, and he takes people into the dumps in Tijuana. He ministers there in the dumps where kids are picking through the garbage. I was just with Vaughn there. We would walk in the city, and these kids would run up to him, and he would just love them. He'd hug them and have gifts and food for them. He'd figure out how to get them showers. Francis, it was eerie: the whole time I was walking with Vaughn, I kept thinking, If Jesus was on earth, I think this is what it would feel like to walk with him. He just loved everyone he ran into, and he would tell them about God. People were just drawn to his love and affection." And then Dan said this, "The day I spent with Vaughn was the closest thing I've ever experienced to walking with Jesus."
Hearing this made me think, Would anyone in their right mind say that about me? Would anyone say that about you? You might be a good speaker, but that's not the real goal. You might know so much about the Bible, but at the end of the day, do your actions make people say, "Being with you is like what being with Jesus must have been like"? Do you love people so much that it hurts? That you sacrifice? Wasn't that supposed to be the goal of all this knowledge we have of Christ? That we become more like him? As I thought about all this, I prayed, "Lord, that's what I want. I don't want to be the best speaker in the world. That doesn't matter. I don't want to be the most intelligent person on the planet. That's not what I want to be known for. I want to be known for someone saying, 'Wow, he's a lot like Jesus.'"
I just don't want anyone one of us to be fooled. It's great that we've thought so hard about Jesus, but my prayer is that this becomes true, inner knowledge and that we actually become like him. My prayer is that our knowledge doesn't make us arrogant, where we just show off what we know. My prayer is that we try to love and build up everyone we come in contact with, that we would think, How can I lift this person up with the knowledge I have? That's my prayer for us. Maybe some of us have been using our knowledge not to encourage and love but to tear down and hurt our brother for whom Christ died. I don't want to be guilty of that like these Corinthians. Even as I speak now, I'm praying, God, give me love for these people. Let me truly believe and live out what I'm saying to them.
Jesus is our great Savior, but he's more than that. He is a great role model. May our lives be conformed to his, so that when people look at us, they see Christ; and when people see us loving one another, they see who God is.
For Your Reflection
How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition:
Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? ____________________________________________________
Francis Chan is an American Protestant author, teacher, and preacher.