Robert Jeffress - The Way Up Is Down - Part 2
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Solomon was the richest and wisest man of his day. Yet, in his book of Proverbs, he wrote that true success comes not from being prominent, but from being humble. Today, I'm going to share with you the biblical definition of humility, and explain why it's so necessary to achieving success in life. My message is titled "The Way Up is Down" as we continue our series "The Solomon Secrets" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
You know, every now and then, when I'm on an airplane, I pick up a magazine that American airlines has, it's in the pocket of the seat, and the title of the magazine is "Celebrated living". And it's filled with glossy, four-color photographs and articles like "The five best hotels in the world," or, "The eight best restaurants in the world," or, "The 10 greatest spas in the world". It's interesting reading, but the magazine could just be as easily titled "How to please yourself". And that's really the thinking of our culture, isn't it? That life is about pleasing ourselves. But the most important question in life is, "What do I get out of this? Am I fulfilled? Am I happy"? And that becomes the prism through which we view everything in our life. We look at our job, we look at our relationships, we even look at our acts of benevolence through the lens of "What am I getting out of this? Am I fulfilled in this"? What a contrast to the way Jesus lived.
Turn over in your Bibles to Philippians 2. Jesus Christ, who was God, who had every right, if anyone did, to live to please himself, didn't live that way. In fact, he lived to please and to serve others. And here, we have a real-life illustration of humility. Look at Philippians, beginning with verses 3 and 4. "Do nothing," Paul says, "From selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, let each of you regard one another as more important than himself. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but look out also for the interests of others". Now, Paul, what do you mean by that? What do you mean by humility of mind, and looking out for others' interests? Paul was an expert communicator. He knew that you couldn't just tell people to do something, you need to illustrate it.
And so Paul, beginning in verse 5, gives us a great real-life illustration of humility. Look at verse 5. "Have this attitude in yourselves," that is, the attitude of humility, "Which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men and being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross".
Now, think about this. If Jesus had had the same life purpose that most of us have, peace, prosperity, pleasure, and the avoidance of pain, if that had been Jesus' life purpose, if he lived to please himself, he would have never given up the perks of heaven to come to earth. The only reason that he gave up his rights as God. Came to earth, suffered that excruciating death, took the sins of the world, was he had a bigger purpose in life than pleasing himself. He lived to please God the Father, and to meet our needs. And we are never more like Jesus Christ than when we willingly give up our privileges and rights to serve a greater purpose. You are never more like God than when you go not to the top, but to the bottom, when you make serving others the goal of your life. True humility means subordinating our desires for the well-being of others. Jesus said it this way. "If you want to be like God, you have to learn to be a servant". In Matthew 20:26, he said, "Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant".
Now, we've been talking in the theoretical for the last few minutes. In these final minutes, let's get intensely practical. How many of you want to be successful in life? Come on, it's okay. Jesus said it's okay. He said it's not wrong to want to be successful. He's just saying you have to follow a different path than the world suggests. And today, we've seen the one way to achieve success in life is by humbling yourself instead of being proud in life. Well, how do I develop this quality of humility in my life? Let me suggest four practical ways to demonstrate humility in your everyday life and enjoy the success God wants you to appreciate. Number one, if you're truly going to be humble, number one, you have to be willing to admit your mistakes. Admit your mistakes.
One evening, after a committee meeting in a former church, one of the deacons stayed behind and said, "Pastor, could I talk to you for just a moment"? I said, "Well, fine". After everybody had left the room, he said, "Pastor, you know I love you, but you really blew it last Tuesday night at deacons' meeting, when you so quickly dismissed Bill's suggestion". He said, "You came across as insensitive and arrogant". Now, my first reaction to this was to remind this guy that I was the pastor of the church, and who I was, and I knew more about running a church than anybody else. But the fact is, he was right. And I thanked him for what he had to say. I went home. Before I went to bed, I picked up the phone and I called Bill, and I apologized for what I did. And Bill was quick to forgive me, and an important relationship was salvaged. Now, the fact is, we all find it difficult to admit our mistakes, don't we? Our first tendency, whenever we mess up, is to try to cover over it.
I remember hearing a Washington pundit say one time, "The cause of the downfall of every president in this city, whether it be from Irangate, Watergate, or Monicagate, has not been the scandal itself, but it was the resulting coverup". It's always the coverup that gets us. Why don't we want to admit our mistakes? Sometimes it's because we're fearful of the consequences. Sometimes we think if we admit our mistakes, it will show weakness. But listen to what Solomon says in Proverbs 28:13. "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion". Solomon had seen that firsthand with the story of his father. Remember for six months to a year, David had engaged in that coverup with Bathsheba. But finally, after his sin was exposed, what did he do? He confessed to sin. And once he quit covering over and instead admitted his mistakes, he not only re-established the respect of his subjects, but he also was in the position to receive God's forgiveness in his life. And you and I cannot receive God's forgiveness until we're willing to, first of all, admit our need for God's forgiveness. And we will never receive the respect of other people until we're willing to admit our mistakes. "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper".
Second, true humility means a willingness to share the credit with others for our successes. Think about Solomon himself, who wrote these Proverbs. What was the greatest success in Solomon's career? It was the building of the new temple. It was a project that was so massive and involved thousands of workmen and millions of dollars. Yet, remember what happened on dedication day? When dedication day arrived, Solomon refused to hog the limelight for himself, and said, listen to his words on that dedication day at 1 kings 8:22-23. "Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and he spread out his hands toward heaven, and he said, 'o Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like thee in heaven above or on earth or beneath who art keeping covenant and showing loving kindness to thy servants who walk before thee with all of their heart'."
Solomon turned the spotlight on God. He thanked God for what had been accomplished. In those days that were leading up to the opening of our new campus, I'd made a vow to God that in every conversation, every interview, about this new campus, I would be careful to give the praise, first of all, to God, for what he did, and then also to you, for being the kind of people that God used to bring this to pass. My part in it was infinitesimal. I just happened to have the privilege of being pastor when God chose to do this great thing. The Bible says we need to share credit with others for our successes. You know, employers, if your team, your employees, have accomplished a great goal for your company, you don't take credit for yourself, express your appreciation to your employees, express it both verbally and monetarily, to show them how much you appreciate what they've done.
The same way with those of you who are parents. Parents, if your children are excelling in athletics or academics at school, don't take the credit. Make sure you make time to thank those coaches or those teachers who have ensured your child's success. Pastors who are watching today or listening on "Pathway to Victory," if your church is doing well, don't take the credit for it. Remind your people that you're just one small part of the team. You know, I was reading a study recently that cited that Ronald Reagan has now become one of the most admired recent presidents in American history. Not only by republicans, but now by democrats. And you can easily understand why if you just think about the stupendous achievements during Reagan's eight years.
Look at Tom Leppert. He was a white house fellow in the Reagan white house, weren't you? And Reagan accomplished so much. I mean, in those eight years, he re-energized our economy that had sunk to the lowest level in recent memory. He rebuilt the military. He effectively ended the cold war and brought the soviet union to its knees. What was the source of his stupendous achievements? Early in Reagan's first term, Amy and I were in Washington, D.C., and we were privileged to take a white house tour led by a secret service agent one night around midnight. And once they were sure that president Reagan was upstairs in the residence and in bed, they took us by the oval office.
Now, I remember seeing a plaque on Reagan's desk. The plaque said, "There is no limit to the good a person can do if he's willing to let somebody else take the credit for it". I was so impressed by that, because it really unveiled the reason Ronald Reagan succeeded. He wasn't interested in taking the credit himself. He spread it to other people. In fact, when I was at the Reagan library just a few months ago, I saw, for the first time, a replica of that plaque that was on Reagan's desk. I bought a copy of it, and put it on my desk, because it really answers the secret for his great success. If you're going to be successful in life, you have to be willing to share the credit with other people.
Number three, if you're going to be humble in life, refuse to honk your own horn. This is one of the simplest, yet most overlooked principles of success in life, that is, refuse to be your own press agent. If somebody is going to praise you, let it be somebody else. Don't let the praise come from yourself. Solomon said it this way in Proverbs 27:2. "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth, a stranger, and not your own lips". One reason we have such a hard time with this is we are absolutely convinced sometimes that if we don't let other people know about our accomplishments, then they'll go unnoticed. If somebody's going to tell about our accomplishments, it's going to have to be us. And yet, the Bible says everyone who tries to self-promote is guaranteeing a future humiliation.
Now, one day, Jesus was invited to a dinner party. And when he went to this dinner party, he noticed an interesting social phenomenon. People who were coming in to the dinner party, some of the guests were coming down to the front and placing themselves in the seat of honor, only to have somebody tap them on the shoulder and make them go to the back seats. Talk about humiliating! But Jesus said that is going to be the fate of everyone who promotes himself. He said, notice what he said in Luke 14:11, "For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted".
Fourth, to exercise humility, you must be willing to give up your rights. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus made a remarkable statement about himself. He said, "For the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many". Well, we've heard that so often, we forget what an astounding comment that is. I mean, Jesus Christ is the one who flung this whole world into existence by a single word. He created everything! If anyone had the right to be served, it was Jesus Christ. If anyone had the right to see us, you and i, as simply tools to accomplish his purpose, it would be Jesus. But Jesus said, "The reason I came to earth was not to have people serve me, but so that I could serve others to meet their needs". And if we're going to become like Christ, it means we have to be willing to do that as well.
The essence of humility is giving up our rights, our privileges, our agenda, in order to meet the needs of other people. Husbands, if you want to throw your wife into cardiac arrest, just try saying some Saturday, "Honey, I've got a couple of hours today. I'm free to do whatever you want me to do". Or moms, when you pick up your child from school one afternoon, what about saying to your child, "You know, honey, we've got an hour or so. Where would you like to go? What would you like to do"? Employers, if you absolutely want to dumbfound your employees, go into their office one afternoon and say to them, "You know, I've noticed you're under a lot of pressure. What could I take off your plate to make your life easier"? See, that's the essence of humility. Giving up your rights, your privileges, your perks, to achieve a greater purpose.
Biographers tell the story about Abraham Lincoln's early days in the civil war, when the union army was not winning, it was failing. And much of the failure was because of Lincoln's general, general George McClellan, and his willing to act aggressively. And so Lincoln was faced with the prospect, how to energize his general without discouraging him. And so, on the night of November 13th, 1861, Abraham Lincoln did something very unusual for a president. He left the white house and he went to general McClellan's home to visit with him to encourage him. Abraham Lincoln took with him that evening secretary of state William Seward. They arrived at McClellan's home, knocked on the front door. The usher opened the door and saw it was the president, the secretary of state. They explained that they were there to see the general, but the usher said, well, the general was away at a wedding, but he would return later that evening. And the president and the secretary of state were invited to come in and sit in the front room as they awaited the general's arrival at home. So Lincoln and Seward went in, they sat down in the chair, they waited, they waited, they waited.
Finally, general McClellan returned home at a very late hour, and when the usher told him that the president and the secretary of state were waiting to see him, general McClellan went upstairs and went to bed without ever greeting the president. Secretary of state Seward was so incensed at that lack of respect that he demanded that Lincoln fire him right on the spot. But Lincoln's reply was classic. He said, "No, this is no time to be making points of personal etiquette and dignity. I would be willing to hold the reins of McClellan's horse if only it would bring us victory". And of course, victory ultimately did come to Abraham Lincoln. By the way, who but only the most staunch civil war buff even knows the name of George McClellan? Why did victory come to Abraham Lincoln? Because he understood the Solomon secret to success, and that is, "The way up is down". Solomon said it this way in Proverbs 29:23. "A man's pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor".