Someone once said,
“Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
Or as I heard John Piper once exclaim — “Oh to be gloriously self-forgetful!”
This is no small pursuit as a follower of Jesus, dear friend. Paul himself wrote to the church that humility is central to a life “worthy of the Good News of the King” (Phil. 1:27). If that is so, how might one begin pursuing it?
I'd like to suggest that the first step is to memorize the Bible. That might be a surprise to you. But give me a moment to explain. And I'd like to use the argument from an Oxford professor in Romantic literature to do so, found in Carolyn Weber's memoir of her conversion, Surprised by Oxford:
On my way to the lecture, I practiced reciting from Milton's Paradise Lost as I strode Longwall Street (British pragmatism embedded even in their infrastructure, given that the old road literally ran the length of a long wall). For our assignment next week, among other expectations, Dr. Nuttham required that we memorize several lines from the epic poem.
"What!?" we all gasped in unison.
"Consider how easy you have it," he replied. "Many of the Romantics knew much of Milton by heart - how can you study these writers if you do not know what was in their hearts as they themselves wrote?" Then he added, thoughtfully, "While you are at it, I also suggest that you memorize the first few chapters of Genesis. So you know what was in Milton's heart too."
"Why memorize it? Why not just read it carefully?" argued Susan, our Yale graduate.
"Because what you memorize by heart, you take to heart," replied Dr. Nuttham simply. "It shouldn't be called by 'rote' but by 'root,' for you get at the source of the text, its foundation. Once you really absorb the words, the words become your own. Then, and only then, can you mull them over on your tongue, appreciating them as you would good wine, enjoying them as the company of a good friend. Besides," he added, "we always value something for which we've had to labor."
If this is true of Milton, how much more to take God's word 'to heart'? And what this professor discovered is actually God’s design, for he was the first to say that it is good to memorize and place words in the heart, which can actually change you and protect you.
“I will hide your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)
“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul..." (God, Deut. 11:18)
"Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts." (Jer. 15:16)
But [Jesus] answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Mt. 4:4)
"I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word." (Ps. 119:16)
So, back to our initial couple of thoughts and question. How might you live a life worthy of the Good News of the King, Jesus? A humble life? A self-forgetful life? By memorizing and internalizing Jesus' example, as recorded in God's word to us through the apostle Paul, found in this week's passage for memory in the Fighter Verse program: Philippians 2:5-7.
But you need the context to really get it, so I post here Phil. 1:27 through 2:13. I have italicized this week's memory passage right there in the middle. And the good news is that over the next several weeks we will memorize 2:5-13, so this context will be helpful as you get these words into your heart. Which is to say that Paul's heart, and the heart of God, may become yours.
Now that makes Scripture memory an exciting adventure! May God use this text to increase your wonder, awe, and worship of Jesus, and transform you into his image as you gaze upon his glory.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Php 1:27-2:13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.