We may aspire to be humble, but unless we are submitting to the Lord's instruction that would have us imitate Christ who "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant . . . and humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8-9) we risk an idolatrous image of humility fashioned by our own hands.
Fr. Sergius encourages Christians to imitate Christ's humility by
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen, Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and contributor to Doulos – The Intensive Program in Servant Leadership, shares Part Three of a four-part series to explore serving with Christlike authority and humility.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:05
You're listening to Doulos a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm excited to have Fr. Sergius Halvorsen with us for our third session and a four part series exploring authority and humility. Today we are going to be looking at Christlike humility. Fr. Sergius was an early partner in developing the intensive program in servant leadership through the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative designed to support parish leaders to lead as a servant so that their parishes and extended communities might flourish as the body of Christ. Fr Sergius is Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, and Director of the Doctor of Ministry program. He teaches courses in homiletics, rhetoric, Christian education, Orthodox Christian apologetics and faith in science. Welcome back, Fr. Sergius.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 1:00
Thank you, Hollie. It's great to be back.
Hollie Benton 1:02
Today we're going to begin exploring some examples of Christ like humility, we talked about what authority and humility as a servant leader is not. And now we're going to begin exploring what it might look like under Christ.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 1:16
Yes, exactly. We've taken some time to define authority and humility apophatically. And now we're going to try to do it catophatically, what Christ like humility, and what Christ like authority actually are. We can jump in today with talking a little bit about Christ like humility.
Hollie Benton 1:31
The passage that comes to mind for most people is from Philippians 2. "Jesus was in the form of God, but did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself taking the form of a servant." So what is exactly Christ like humility? What examples of Christ like humility can you share from scripture or from the lives of the saints, Fr. Sergius?
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 1:52
Just to follow up on that wonderful quote from Philippians, just to take it a little bit further, "He took the form of a servant, of a slave coming in the likeness of men," and then that next verse, "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." Paul, in typical fashion, he sharpens the spear, and he drives it straight home. There's no wiggle room here, right? What is Christ like humility? It is humbling yourself being obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Another important place for us to think about Christ like humility is in John's gospel, where Jesus says, "I can do nothing on my own authority, as I hear I judge, and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will, but the will of Him who sent me." This is so important that Jesus, he actually says in John's gospel, that he is not doing anything on His own authority, which is absolutely remarkable. He is the Messiah, the Christos, the Anointed One. And his point is, he's doing nothing on His own authority. He is only doing the will of Him who sent Me. So again, right there. That's our calling, that we do nothing on our own authority. We've said this a few times already, how humility and authority in Christ are absolutely mutually reliant, right, they rely on one another. Before earlier, we talked about how the world says that humility and authority are mutually exclusive. Well, in Christ, they are essential. You have to have both of them in order to be following Christ in order to be obedient to Scripture. Also, in John's Gospel ,John chapter seven, little bit of a quote here, you know, when the people questioned Jesus's teaching, he said, "My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me." And then he says, "If any man's will is to do His - that is God's will - he shall know whether the teaching is from God, or whether I'm speaking on my own authority." He, I love this line, this is verse 18. "He who speaks on His own authority, seeks his own glory, but he who seeks the glory of Him who sent him is true and in him there is no falsehood." Which reminds me what we said earlier, remember about that wonderful line from John the Baptist, "He must increase but I must decrease." And here Jesus is basically saying the same thing, "He who speaks on His own authority seeks his own glory." We're repeating something you said earlier, that anytime I am seeking my own glory, I can be pretty sure that I am not doing the will of God. And I can be pretty sure that I'm not living in Christ like humility.
Hollie Benton 4:24
Let's explore some of the examples of scriptural humility, the type of humility that would please the Lord.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 4:31
Sure, there are a number of examples. One of the ones that comes to my mind would be in the call of Isaiah, when Isaiah is first called by the Lord. This would be in Isaiah chapter six. And it's very interesting because Isaiah has this mystical vision. He sees the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train fills the temple, and above him stood the Seraphim each had six wings, two to cover his face with two he covered his feet and two, he flew. One called to another and said, Holy, Holy, Holy Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory. And the foundations of the threshold shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. Now, Hollie, most of us, who are you know, children of Steven Spielberg would like to stop right there and just revel in the glory. You know how, wow, you know, special effects. And it's like being in the Emerald City and beholding the great and terrible Oz. But then the beautiful part is, we're not dealing with Spielberg, we're dealing the Scripture. And Isaiah says, Woe is me, for I am lost, for I'm a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts. That has to be one of the most powerful and important examples of humility, of godly humility that we have in Scripture, because when you truly behold God, you are immediately reduced to seeing your own unworthiness. This is one of the beautiful tests, if you will, for knowing whether or not you're hearing God. If you encounter God, then the first thing you'll think about is your own unworthiness. So one of the most important safety checks or reality checks for us as Christians, anytime we perceive that we have heard God or that we have come in the presence of God, and we are beholding him calling us, the important thing is for us to remember if we are first reminded of our own unworthiness, our own sinfulness, our own weakness. Then there's a good chance that we're actually hearing the Lord. But if I say to myself, Oh, aren't I clever for having uncovered this or, or decoded this or coming to this clever interpretation? Or I think I've discerned that God is calling me to do XYZ, aren't I great, and pat myself on the back. There's every chance in the world that I've probably deceived myself. Because in Scripture, you know, starting with Isaiah, and there are any number of other places, when people come face to face with the living God, the first thing they do is fall on their faces and say, I'm unworthy. We see this in the Gospel, when Jesus tells Peter to sit out in the boat, go let down the nets for the catch of fish, and he does, and they bring them up. When Peter has this realization, that he's beholding the Messiah in Jesus, he falls on his knees, right? He falls down and says, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man." This is a really important thing for us to keep in mind, in terms of our humility. When we encounter God, the first thing that we should be reminded of is our own unworthiness, our own sinfulness, just as Isaiah did. But then, again, really important, is to keep going, we can't stop there. He doesn't just say, hey, you know, I'm lost. I'm a man of unclean lips. I dwell on this as a people of unclean lips. I'm out of here. Isaiah doesn't, you know, clothe himself in false humility and walk away. It goes on, Isaiah said, "Then one of the Seraphim flew to me having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar, and he touched my mouth, and said, Behold, this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away and your sin forgiven." This is amazing. It's a great example of how if God is calling us and He will give us the grace, to do what must be done, and that begins with our own forgiveness, and our own cleansing, cleansing of our mind, cleansing of our heart. And then, this is verses eight and nine, from Isaiah six, the prophet says, "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And then I said, Here am I send me." It's a perfect example of what it means to be called by God to recognize, I'm not worthy. I can't do this on my own, but not to run away, to basically stand there, allow the Seraphim to touch the coal to my lips, to purge me of whatever sin, whatever pride, whatever uncleanness might be keeping me from doing God's will. As God says, "Who shall I send?" I say, Here I am, send me.
Hollie Benton 8:43
Right, and contrary to the example of Moses, who really questioned God, argued with God, "I can't speak. I'm slow of tongue." I don't think you know what I know about me. I'm not the right person. And God says, I have you covered. You know, making it all about me or like with Peter, you know, when his feet were being washed, he says, "Lord, cleanse not only my feet, but my head, my whole body." And it's like, this isn't about you. If I say you're clean, you're clean. We've got business to do. Let's get on with it, you know, and so Isaiah is saying, Okay, you say I'm good to go. Alright, let's do it. I'm ready to work.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 9:22
Exactly, exactly. And that kind of obedience, the Centurion that comes to Jesus and asks that his servant be healed. He's such a great example of that same kind of obedience, that humble obedience and that exercise of Christ like authority.
Hollie Benton 9:36
Thinking about humility in the way that scripture designates it. I love Psalm 139. You know, we hear it all the time in our services, and how it ends, "Search me O God and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts and see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting." Just that searching, know me, know my thoughts and just keep me in check."
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 9:59
Yes, yes, absolutely. You know another thing too, I think it's important for us to note, this idea of realizing that God is calling me to do something, and not being quite sure about it. You know, recognizing my own unworthiness, my own sinfulness. Now, of course, you know, I'm a simple, broken person. But it's so, it's so inspiring, and it's such a consolation and such a strength to meditate on the dialogue that Jesus has with God the Father, in Gethsemene. Even Christ says, you know, Father, if it'd be possible, let this cup pass for me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou will. Now, of course, with Jesus, it's not a question of impurity. But there is even in the Lord, even in Christ, there is that sense, like, wait a minute, what I'm being asked to do here is really a big deal. But nevertheless, not what I will, but as you will, Father. One last thing, too, I think it's important to say about humility, is that in Christ's perfect humility, Jesus never gives up his agency. He never just rolls over and plays dead, even when he allows himself to be beaten, humiliated, and mocked and scourged, and paraded through the city and nailed to the cross and killed, he never gives up his agency. He never abandons the authority that God gives him. And so this is really important to keep in mind, that in Christ, both Christ-like humility, and Christ-like authority, really are mutually dependent upon one another.
Hollie Benton 11:27
Right. And we're really starting to see the picture being painted how humility and authority are not divorced from each other. They are not in conflict with each other because they're fully and perfectly united within Christ, who exercises the authority, the commandment, the will of his Father, by humbling himself, by submitting himself to the authority and commandment of his Father, the will of his Father.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 11:52
Hollie Benton 11:53
For our clergy, and our lay leaders who may be listening. What are some things to keep in mind, some of the struggles we come up against on a regular basis in serving our parishes? How can we operate with the scriptural type of humility?
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 12:08
If we're going to operate with scriptural humility, then we must always be students of Scripture. One of those dangerous things is to say, "Okay, I've read scripture, I know what to do. Now I'm going to head out and do it." And that can be so bad, because the bits that I like to forget are the parts that call me to repent. I would say the first thing is, if I'm going to be humble, and Scripture calls me to be humble, I must be humiliated by Scripture, which means I must constantly put myself under obedience to the Word.
Hollie Benton 12:35
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 12:35
When I read scripture, I cannot read it and think, oh, yeah, you know, Joe, over there, he should really read this bit, because he really needs to be a bit less proud, or, you know, and Janet over there, you know, she really needs to read this bit, because she needs to be a little bit less greedy. No, no, no, no, no, the point is, I need to read Scripture daily. That every time I read it, it's on me, it calls me to repentance. That, I think is where the humility begins. And then as I'm engaging in day to day discussions, as I'm, you know, as I'm collaborating and working with my brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever it is that we're doing two things. One, I need to always remember, and this is in humility, so this is not false humility, I'm not saying like, Oh, I don't know anything. I mean, look, I've read some scripture, I've done some studies, to the best of my ability, I think that is what we're called to do. I think this is how we should do XYZ. And this is why I think so. But then I also need to remember, maybe I'm wrong, it's possible that I don't have the full picture. As we mentioned before, if our deliberations are rooted in a discussion of Scripture, then we're going to have the best chance. I mean, there's no 100% chance, that we can say, Oh, I totally have the will of God nailed. And I am not in need of correction, because I'm a sinful, broken person. But if we're fundamentally reflecting on scripture, and somebody says, hey, Fr. Sergius, I think you might be mistaken here, because have you read this? I can say, Thanks be to God. There are two things there. One is always put myself - actually three things - always put myself under the obedience of Scripture. Always be willing to be corrected, and be willing to say, Oh, look, I might have been mistaken in what I was saying. And the final thing is, when I am corrected, this is the most important and hard part, to give thanks to God. You know, nine times out of ten, I probably fail on that one. Because if someone says, I think you might be wrong on this, what's my first reaction? Oh, well, who are you to tell me that I'm wrong? But in fact, it's a great blessing to receive correction and say, look, I think I was maybe mistaken. Thanks be to God.
Hollie Benton 14:32
Yeah, I love even having the notion, the idea of humility shaped by Scripture. It's not some sort of, you know, I want to be known as a humble person. So I'm going to avoid conflict at all costs, and always let other people go before me. Whatever notion we have of what it means to be humble may be mistaken if we're not submitting in humility to what Scripture is saying.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 14:57
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it's important just to start off every morning, wake up and say, Look, I'm not humble. And I know God calls me to be humble. And Lord, teach me humility. Of course, this is probably something that you've mentioned before. But I remember from my classes with Fr. Paul Tarazi at seminary, I remember very well is he said, "You cannot be humble, if you have not been humiliated. You cannot be humble, if you have not been humiliated." And that's not a word that easy to hear. But it's true. I mean, that is the scriptural word, that is a biblical, scriptural word. And I think it's very hopeful, where in ministry, no matter what we're called to do in Christian ministry, there are going to be times that we mess up, right? There are gonna be times that we think we got this nailed, and it just goes, just right down the drain, or things blow up, or whatever it might be. You're a parish priest, and you think you've crafted the most beautiful sermon ever. And it turns out that, you know, a handful of people are calling the bishop right after liturgy, like, oh, my gosh, what did I do, right? But the point is, that when, not if, but when we fail, when we're humiliated, when things go horribly wrong, to give thanks to God. Not because I'm saying like, Oh, thanks be to God, I made a mistake, and I hurt people or I confuse people, but rather, to give thanks to God, because it's an opportunity for us to repent. It's an opportunity for us to say, look, I'm not perfect, and to ask for forgiveness, to say, you know, forgive me. When we started, we're in the season of Lent now. You begin a Lenten season with Forgiveness Vespers, where we ask one another forgiveness, but that's the way we should live all the time. So again, the idea that not if but when we are humiliated, please don't mistake me I'm not saying go out and do something scandalous. So you're doing it, do your work to the best of your ability. But when you are humiliated, then give thanks to God. Because then you know, God has the opportunity to lift you up and put you on the right track, like the prophet Isaiah can say, Woe is me. I'm done. I'm a man of unclean lips. But then allow the Lord to touch the coal to my lips, purge me and then get back up and continue with the work.
Hollie Benton 16:54
Wonderful. So next week, we are going to end our series and discuss Christ-like authority. You've already given us a glimpse, there's no Christ-like authority without Christ-like humility. It comes together so perfectly in the example that we have in Christ. So looking forward to next week, Father.
Fr. Sergius Halvorsen 17:10
Me too, thank you, Hollie.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai