Friday, July 4, 2014

The Gospel According to Joseph: Humility

As we continue through the story of Joseph, Jacob, and Judah, there are so many great aspects of this story that we won't be able to cover from the pulpit. The passage at which we will be looking this week, Ge. 41, is one of the high points of this whole narrative. In it we see the climax of God's providential work in and through Joseph, and in it we also get a great look at Joseph's character.

Remember, one of the things we noted in the very beginning of this series is that we can often see the gospel in the development of characters in OT stories, i.e. gospel-change working in their lives. In the previous chapters of this narrative, we have seen Joseph become a man who endures and serves God faithfully wherever God has put him. However, in Ge. 41 we get the clearest picture of Joseph's developing character so far, and one of the things that stands out is the humility that God has developed in Joseph.

Humility is a tricky virtue to nail down. It's the one fruit of the Spirit that when we look at it or gaze upon it in ourselves, it immediately becomes something else. That's because true, gospel-driven, Christ-centered humility isn't what we might normally think of as "humble." I think we often think that the opposite of pride is self-abasing, but that's not true humility. True humility isn't talking or thinking about how bad we are and constantly bemoaning our flaws or sin in our own minds or before others. Constantly thinking about or pointing out how lowly we are is just another way of putting ourselves at the center when it is Christ that should be at the center. Furthermore, when do debase ourselves in our minds or before others, what creeps into minds after that is how great it is that we're so humble, and we become proud of being humble! Listen to what Jonathan Edwards has to say about this aspect of humility:
If on the proposal of the question [Are you humble?], you answer, "No, it seems to me, none are so bad as I." Don't let the matter pass off so; but examine again, whether or no you don't think yourself better than others on this very account, because you imagine you think so meanly of yourself. Haven't you a high opinion of this humility? And if you answer again, "No; I have not a high opinion of my humility; it seems to me I am as proud as the devil"; yet examine again, whether self-conceit don't rise up under this cover; whether on this very account, that you think yourself as proud as the devil, you don't think yourself to be very humble.
C. S. Lewis called this cycle of fighting self-admiration and then admiring yourself for defeating your self-admiration "like fighting the hydra... There seems to be no end to it. Depth under depths of self-love and self-admiration."

That's because humility is the one fruit of the Spirit that flourishes when our thoughts and our gaze are on Christ and others and not at ourselves at all! Humility isn't thinking less of ourselves, it's thinking about ourselves less. It is "blessed self-forgetfulness," as Tim Keller calls it. Lewis has a great statement about this in Mere Christianity:
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call 'humble' nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a bit envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. [Emphasis added]
And, in Ge. 41, we see this kind of humility in Joseph when he stands before Pharaoh. In that moment, he has the chance to put himself in the spotlight. He has the chance to show Pharaoh how useful he could be to him or how he's been treated so unjustly, but he doesn't take it. In fact, it is remarkable how Joseph points the spotlight away from himself towards God. He doesn't give any hint of trying to impress Pharaoh with his abilities, self-abasement, or anything else. He simply serves God faithfully and let's God handle the rest. Before Pharaoh, Joseph isn't thinking about himself at all. He's self-forgetful, and that's because he finds his true, core identity in his relationship with God and nowhere else. And, that will be one of the things we talk about this Sunday from Ge. 41: true identity in Christ.

In the mean time, when you read through Ge. 41, make note of Joseph's humility and how it is in his self-forgetfulness, not self-abasing.

By His Grace,

No comments: