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Dress In Style!
December 14, 1997

1 PETER 5:1-11

Dress in style! Some of us aren't into style. Styles change too often for me to keep up. My kids often give me clothes for Christmas, which I appreciate and which keep me somewhat current; but I am more interested in comfort and health than style. Because of my sinus condition, I have discovered that when I keep my head covered, my sinuses are more apt to behave. So you see me wearing my cap even inside buildings when they are cold, which means I'm not dressing in style.

However, Peter urges us to dress in style. Peter doesn't care if we dress in style according to fashion magazines, but Peter does urge us to dress in the style of Christ. We are nearing the end of Peter's letter. In fact, this is the last sermon in the series on 1 Peter. (You didn't think I would finish before Christmas, did you!) He closes his letter with admonitions to church leaders, urging them to not "lord it over those in your charge," and then widens the theme to include everyone in the church, by urging all of us to dress in style. 5:5b-6, "All of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for `God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God."

To be dressed in style with Christ is to wear humility. The word is found more than thirty times in the New Testament. It is used in all the Gospels and in eight of the letters. Humility was universally valued by the early church. When Augustine was asked, "What is the cardinal Christian virtue?" he replied, "Humility." "What is the second?" he was asked. "Humility," he replied. "And the third?" "Humility!"

What is humility? Let's first look at what humility is not. Humility is not hiding your light under a bushel. Humility does not mean underestimating the abilities and talents God has given you. Humility does not mean false modesty in which you pretend to be less than you are. Humility does not mean self-effacing. Humility does not mean shy, retiring, wishy-washy, or even nice!

I bought a book this past week, called Good Intentions, written by a Presbyterian pastor, Duke Robinson. Most of us, he contends, were raised to be nice people, but in being nice, we consistently behave in self-defeating ways. We take on too much, strive to be perfect, tell little lies, try to rescue self-destructive friends, and in so doing, become someone we are not. Here's his definition of a nice person.

You always try to do what others expect. While you'll do anything for them, you never ask a thing for yourself. You're careful not to hurt others' feelings or blow your top. When irrationally attacked, you remain reasonable and calm. You're always ready to offer good advice. Although a friend's drinking embarrasses you, you would never think of embarrassing her. And you never talk of Grandpa's death in front of Grandma. You are a really nice person.

But, a nice person is not necessarily who you really are. His book is not a call to stop being nice, but to balance niceness with genuineness. Humility does not mean dressing up in niceness, but being genuinely the person God created you to be, a person with feelings, a person with needs, a person with rights, a person with compassion for others, a person with self-respect. To be humble means to be yourself. Lily Tomlin said, "I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific." Regardless, who you are is what you got! Go with it. To be humble means to be yourself, without pretense or uncertainty, and to do what God put you on earth to do.

Ms. Roberts, by Dan Moore

She gave me no indication that she believed learning should be fun.

She never stooped down when she spoke to me so that our eyes would be on the same level.

She accepted the fact that she was taller and I was shorter and she assumed I accepted it, and I did accept it.

It never occurred to me to wonder whether she loved me.

And, more importantly, I never sensed any need on her part to manipulate my feelings toward her.

The only feelings I sensed from her were these:

She believed learning to read was the most important thing in the whole world.

She had absolute confidence in her ability to teach me to read.

For some reason which she never explained to me, she cared personally whether I learned to read or not.

She was neither beautiful nor ugly.

Her personality was neither sour nor dazzling.

She never tried to dress like the younger generation.

She never used my vernacular or slang when speaking to me.

I was in her class for 40 weeks.

I have not seen her for 40 years.

About her I am positive of only two things:

She taught me how to read.

And I shall always remember her with love.

I submit to you that Ms. Roberts was a humble person. She knew who she was. She didn't try to be anything or anyone else. She neither put on airs, nor was she falsely modest. She was a real, genuine person who did what God called her to do-- to teach children how to read. It was more important for the children to learn to read, than whether she was liked, or popular, or recognized. Paul defined humility in his letter to the Philippians, 2:3-4, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others."

When Peter told his people to "clothe themselves with humility in your dealings with one another," I wonder if he thought of the last supper when Jesus took a wash basin and towel and washed the feet of his disciples. How embarrassed Peter was, but because no one else was performing the task of the host, Jesus did it. Jesus saw a need, put it ahead of his own needs, ahead of his own ego, and did what needed doing, with humility.

Humility also means to trust in the Lord, rather than in yourself. Peter wrote, verse 7, "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you." What a beautiful verse, and how difficult to do. We Americans like to think that we are self-made and self-sufficient. Dressed in humility means that we recognize we are neither self-made nor self-sufficient, but we need one another, and we put our trust not in ourselves but in Jesus. A successful businessman went to see a pastor. He had founded a breakfast group of Christian businessmen, and was its president. He was a man who was always in control of every situation. He dominated his business, his breakfast group, and his family. He went to the pastor out of sheer desperation. He was facing a major problem in his life and didn't know what to do. He couldn't bring it under control. His theology failed him, for he believed that a Christian wasn't supposed to have problems.

The pastor shared 1 Peter 5:7, "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you," and told the man that he didn't have to carry the problem by himself. Christ wanted to carry it for him. The self-confident businessman sat in complete silence for several moments. Then his lower jaw began to tremble. Tears came to his eyes. He tried to hold them back, to control them, but the tears wouldn't cooperate, and he broke into uncontrollable sobbing. The dam broke. That day was a turning point for him, as he began to humbly trust, not in himself, but in Jesus Christ.

It seems then as if Peter took a sharp turn in his letter, but he is still talking about humility. Don't get over-confident. Don't get cocky and let your guard down. Don't think you are immune to temptation. Don't have such a high opinion of yourself that you think you will never make a mistake. Instead, vss. 8-9, "Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith."

The devil prowls looking for an opportunity to undermine your relationship with God, your faith and commitment. The devouring begins with one bite-- "Oh, don't put the Lord first. Don't give a tithe; you need the money. Sleep in this morning, skip church. You're too busy to pray; pray tomorrow. Don't get fanatical, the neighbors might talk. Be one of the guys. Don't be Christian, be nice!"

And, soon, lowering your commitment, relegating the Lord to a low priority, barriers are erected between you and the Lord, your faith shrinks, the joy diminishes, and you become what is called an "inactive member", a lukewarm Christian. Oh, how the devil gloats, "Aha, I've got you!" "Resist him," urged Peter, "steadfast in your faith."

Dress in style this Christmas. Clothe yourself with humility. Be the person God created you to be and do what God is calling you to do. Look to the interests of others. Trust in Jesus, not yourself, and keep alert. Don't think you are immune to falling away.

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris