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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:Being a Humble Child of God
Text:Psalms 131 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 122:1,3

Ps 130:2,4

Read – Philippians 2:1-11

Ps 138:1,2,3

Text – Psalm 131

Ps 131:1,2,3

Hy 23:1,2,3,5


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters, humility is of great importance in our Christian lives. Think of the well-known "summary of the law" in Micah, "He has showed you, O man, what is good and what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (6:8).

Humility is so vital, yet there’s much misunderstanding of what humility is. Many think it’s negative, that it’s being so meek that people walk all over you. We’re told it’s not good to be humble today; we have to assert ourselves, not humble ourselves!

But let's see what humility really is. True humility arises from a right view of God, and right view of ourselves. That is, if we realize whom it is we worship, if we realize who we really are on our own, and if we realize what we have in Christ – then we must be humble, before God, and before all others.

In Ps 131, we find not a proud but a humble song of David. Here David pours out his heart to God; he declares he hasn’t been given to pride, but before the LORD has quieted himself as a child. This is a quiet prayer offered by the Poet of Israel, but this is also a song for the multitude in worship, for Ps 131 takes its place among the songs of ascents.

These songs of ascents are a collection of Psalms, gathered for the purposes of public worship. These songs of ascents in particular were used for the services at the temple, especially during the annual feasts. And what a fitting song for public worship we have in Ps 131! When they came to the temple, the Israelites knew they were hopeless on their own, yet they had everything in the LORD.

It’s perhaps not without reason that next to Ps 131 has been placed Ps 130. For Ps 130 is a cry to God for mercy, a Psalm uttered by one who was painfully aware of his many sins and how God ought to punish them. Yet Ps 130 can end with praise for the God of unfailing love, who "will redeem Israel from all their sins" (v 8). Again, when we realize the depth of our sins, but also that God freely redeems us, the meek words of Ps 131 must flow from our lips to God!

In our Psalm is the attitude that God desires in all of us – the right attitude as we sing to him here in church, and the right attitude as we serve him all week – humility. He wants us to cast aside all human arrogance, and to trust that we need nothing except in God and in our Saviour Jesus Christ. I preach to you the Word of God from Ps 131:

David worships the LORD with humble song. Before God he is:

    1. not proud
    2. but confident

 1. Before the LORD David is not proud: David confesses to the God who knows the heart, "My heart is not proud, O LORD." When he says this, he speaks not of that pumping organ in his chest, but the heart as the centre of his life, emotions, and thought. In the sinful heart we scheme our evil ambitions; in the heart we foster envy or jealousy or hatred; and it’s the heart that raises itself up in pride.

According to the Scriptures, pride is refusing to live in complete dependence on the Lord. One who is proud will arrogantly try to make his own way in the world. "I do not need God" says the proud man, "so the decisions in my life will be made by my law or according to what my personal gods desire." It’s not surprising then, that in the Scriptures the proud are often equated with the wicked. A proud person wickedly gives God second place – last place – as he seeks first his own goals.

But David is free from pride. As he does what we might call self-examination, he says he doesn’t rely on himself but on God. And he continues, "my eyes are not haughty." The heart is the centre of a person, and the eyes its instruments. As the attitude of the heart is, so will the eyes act. For example, see what Proverbs says of the eyes of the proud, "There are… those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth; those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful" (30:10-12). In this text notice how closely a proud attitude toward God is linked to a proud attitude toward others. When we haven’t fully realized our own filth before God, toward others we’ll have "haughty eyes," or more literally, "eyes that are lifted up."

And how accurate is this picture of a proud person: Someone with lifted-up eyes. This can be expressed physically, as you walk around with your nose in the air and your conceited eyes lifted up. But even if we look our fellow man in the eye, greeting him as a friend and Christian brother, we might have our eyes lifted up inside. "I’m better than this uneducated or less well-off or socially awkward person – I look up in disdain."

And likewise toward God, our eyes might be elevated. Though we ought to be fully ashamed of our sins, and though we should cast our eyes down in lowliness before God, we sometimes proudly ignore our sins as we pray. Sometimes we speak to God as just our equal, without due reverence for the holy God. Sometimes we proudly overlook all the sins we have committed when we draw near to God.

From the dangers of a proud heart and haughty eyes David has kept himself. However, as we read this Psalm, we might begin to wonder if David really is so humble. Are we not rightly cynical when a person stands up to claim he’s the most humble person he knows? Yet let’s notice that there’s no egoism or self-congratulation in this Psalm. David doesn’t celebrate his own humility here with prolonged and showy eloquence. Rather, with these few simple and direct words, he thankfully testifies to the grace of God in his life.

For humanly speaking, David had many reasons for pride: He was king over all Israel; he was a military champion; he was master of great wealth; he was head of an everlasting dynasty. And yet he strove to serve God with lowliness of heart.

Indeed, in this psalm we hear echoes of his life. Remember when David joyfully danced in only a linen ephod in front of the ark as it entered Jerusalem, and his wife Michal chided him for "disrobing in the sight of the slave girls… as any vulgar fellow would" (2 Sam 6:20). But King David answered in the true humility of one who feared God, "It was before the LORD… I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes" (vv 21-22). David knew that personal prestige in the service of God doesn’t matter one bit!

Or think of David’s prayer in 2 Sam 7, after the LORD had declared that his throne would be established forever. David prays, "Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?" (v 18). He was completely undeserving of all the promises and grace of God – and this he humbly confessed; "Who am I, O Sovereign LORD…?"

David continues in Ps 131 with some striking words, "I do not concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me." Here you might wonder also: Is this not exactly what people say is wrong with the Christian "idea" of humility, that we end up being so meek and lowly that we do not aspire to anything great? Is it right for David not to concern himself with great matters?

But let’s understand these words in connection with what David has just said, that he’s not proud. We’ve seen that when we don’t have a proper view of our sin and misery before God, we undervalue others, and overesteem ourselves. Especially this high consideration of himself David now rejects. Though he’s a chosen instrument of God Almighty, David still knows his sin and imperfections, and he understands that before the awesome God he’s just a worm. David sees his place before God as a finite human being, and acknowledges there’s much that God does that he simply doesn’t understand. Says David: "I do not concern myself with great matters."

Indeed, we all have to admit this, that there are "great matters" that we can’t say a word about. Who of us can presume to call God to account for what He in his wisdom decides to do? The "wonderful things" of God done in judgment and in kindness are beyond us. The secret purposes of God can’t be comprehended by us lowly humans. Think of Job’s confession after he learned of the sovereignty of God, after he finally saw that God in heaven needs to answer to no human here on earth: "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know" (42:3)

God’s works, his way of dealing with this world, or even his way of dealing with us his children – these things aren’t for us to evaluate or criticize in our supposed wisdom. We must not concern ourselves with such things! This isn’t easy, as by nature we think our own ideas of what’s right and fair should always be applied in life. Yet as Job realized, even when we face financial loss, and terrible disease, and the death of loved ones, God’s wisdom remains unsearchable and his love remains unchangeable. We do not know better than God! Let us strive to humbly trust in the wisdom and power of our good God.

Now we’ve seen how David was a man of lowly heart, yet he was still sinful. His pride got the better of him sometimes, like when he took a census of all the fighting men of the nation. Such an act spoke of self-reliance, and it was a glorying in human power (cf. 2 Sam 24). If the LORD kept a record of sins, no one (not even David) could stand. We who are proud and sinful cannot stand in the judgment!

But where even the great King David failed not once, but countless times in sin and pride, his greatest Son succeeded – in perfect humility. In Christ, God became man, born of a woman. There is no greater humbling than this! The Messiah was born not in a royal palace but a lowly barn; He walked on this earth, and as God He deserved worship and honour wherever He went, but instead received insults and rejection.

Paul speaks of this great humility in Phil 2, that Christ Jesus, "being in very nature God… made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant" (vv 6-7). God came to earth as a man, and that wasn’t all, "he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!" (v 8). He submitted to wicked men, and submitted to the just judgment of God, all for the sake of lowly beggars who could give nothing in return.

It is to Christ’s shining example of humility that Paul points for us to imitate. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Phil 2:3). We have no reason to look in disdain at our brothers and sisters. We are all miserable sinners, yet for all of us Christ has shed his blood. Instead of human pride, have the attitude of Christ Jesus who gave himself so freely and so fully (v 5)! And then in humility, let us serve one other, and cooperate with one other, and forgive those who have wronged us.

There’s no question, we all fail in this, for, as the saying goes, it is "hard to be humble." We’re by nature proud sinners who do assert ourselves; we make our own rules; we think the world of ourselves. But, receiving grace in Christ, let’s imitate his example of humility! He didn’t seek his own good, but ours. He offered himself selflessly for us, that we may share in all his benefits. Thus as we live before the face of God, we may be confident.

2) Before the LORD David is confident: There’s an important shift in our Psalm, as David turns from speaking negatively (he is not proud, his eyes are not haughty, etc.) to speaking positively. The "hinge" comes in v 2, "not proud, but…"

Instead of proudly posturing, David rests content. He attests to his new attitude, "I have stilled and quieted my soul." His soul, his entire person, has been calmed. The Hebrew word for "stilled" is sometimes used to describe the leveling of furrowed ground. Within David’s heart the rough clods and sharp edges of pride have been smoothed, and he is quieted.

What a telling contrast this is! When pride rules our hearts, we’re far from quiet or still, but we’re uneasy, and sometimes frantic. For our minds quickly run: "What if this person is better than I? What can I do to advance myself? Do people really see how great I am?" If we live in pride, we’re always insecure. But with an attitude of Christian humility, our soul is put at ease – we know what we have in the grace of God – and we are satisfied.

David uses an image from the home to describe his own attitude of humble contentment and confidence; "Like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." You know that a child is weaned when it no longer needs to feed from its mother’s breast; it is weaned from dependence on the milk. Whereas weaning is generally finished nowadays by the time a child is one year old, in the Middle East during Bible times a child was usually not weaned until he was three or four.

And sometimes this process of weaning is not easy, even at one year, let alone after three or four. The child has become very used to the excellent milk from the mother. He is accustomed to how easily his hunger may be instantly satisfied. He becomes comfortable in his ever-familiar and warm place at the breast. Who would want to give up such pleasant things, and start to eat solid food instead? Weaning a little one can be a great struggle, as a child longs for, and cries for, the mother’s milk. This is unfair!

Sometimes it’s only through many hours of struggle and heartache that a child learns and is completely weaned. Perhaps some progress will be thought to be made when he’s had a few meals of normal food, but put him on mom’s lap, close to the breast again, and the wailing starts up anew. Here he’s so close to the delicious and easy milk, and he’s being denied!

But in due time, through hard perseverance, mother and child make it through, and there’s no longer the desperate need for the child to suck. Finally the little one may even sit on mom’s lap without fussing for milk and the old comforts. Finally the child is just glad to be with his mother, and confident she’ll satisfy his needs in another way.

This attitude of a weaned child David sees in himself. His proud anxieties and self-sufficient struggles have, by God’s grace, been stilled. His soul is quieted, for he rests in God who has weaned him, as it were, from all pride and self-reliance. It was not easy, as the weaning of a child is not easy. Many times must David have cried out, unsure of the Father’s leading. He battled that ever-present temptation to trust in himself or to glory in his human ambition. By struggle, and over time, however, David can come before God with the confidence of a weaned child. He may be near God in prayer without constantly demanding all his needs be instantly met. He may worship God, rejoicing in what truly matters: Fellowship with him.

We see that David couldn’t learn this attitude of a child on his own but is slowly and painfully taught this quiet confidence. In his faithfulness, God slowly nurtures all of his children, teaching us his will. In Hos 11 He speaks of how He takes care of his nation Israel as for a young son, "It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms" (Hos 11:3). As David wrestled in prayer with God’s will, with the obstacles and trials God placed on his path, all along it was the LORD who was patiently teaching his child to be still, and to trust.

For us also, the lesson of childlike confidence is so hard to learn. Our natural, stubborn, human tendency is to want to be in control, to proudly solve our own problems and in our own way. Yet God lovingly instructs us. He teaches us to walk, even through the heart-wrenching losses and struggles of life, through mental illness and financial ruin and the death of those near to us. In our hardships (though they seem so unpleasant at the time), the LORD teaches us to trust in him and in our Saviour. He teaches us that He knows exactly what we need, even before we ask him.

Yes, that confession that we made, that some deeds of God are too wonderful for us to understand – that confession never has to stand alone, as if we simply resign ourselves to accepting what God does. Rather, it can always go with the assurance that this powerful and sovereign God also loves us, that He is teaching us. In the presence of our loving Father we always have this complete peace, this total security. As Moses says, "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Dt 33:27).

Instead of being anxious in our reliance on ourselves, let us as children look to our Father in heaven. This was the admonition of our Lord Jesus in Matt 18: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (v 3). We must note that Jesus said these words after his disciples came to him with the proud, anxious, human question, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (v 1). But Christ cuts the matter short, and directs the disciples to what God requires of man: "Whoever humbles himself like [a] child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (v 4). We must struggle to depend in the mighty God. We must strive to depend on God with the confidence that a child has in a loving parent!

Yes, before the LORD we’re not proud, but we’re confident. To some there seems little difference between the two. But pride wells up from the sinful human heart; it asserts to everyone my abilities and my superiority. It asserts that I am the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Confidence though, is an attitude given by the Holy Spirit, who teaches us to trust. To trust, for in Christ God will not destroy us for our sin, nor will He ever forsake us in our trials. With our Father in Christ we may be as confident as little children.

To close his quiet prayer before the LORD, David turns to the people of God: "O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, both now and forevermore" (v 3). Learning humility and child-like confidence is not only for David the righteous king, or for those with a double-measure of faith. It’s for all Israel, for all of us as we live before the face of God. David’s desire is that not just he, but the whole multitude, may worship the covenant God with this humble song: "O LORD in whom I do abide, my heart and eyes are free from pride."

Having struggled against pride and with the pain of learning childlike confidence, David encourages his brothers and sisters as they too are nurtured by God: "Put your hope in the LORD." The hope of God’s covenant people is not vague, but is a definite expectation for the future, that God will be faithful and will redeem his own. The eternal goal of this life will be reached, for it’s God who is opening his arms and who is bringing his people to himself.

In God we may hope "both now and forevermore." For in Christ there is always hope for us who by nature proudly want nothing to do with God. In Christ there’s always forgiveness for us when we don’t walk humbly with our God.

Indeed, we may sing Ps 131 with even greater confidence than David! If these words were true for him, then they’re so much more true for us, who know David’s greatest Son. Remember how Christ was completely confident in his Father. Christ was satisfied with his heavenly Father, and He enjoyed perfect fellowship with him. Christ totally obeyed and perfectly trusted his Father – and yet by his Father was completely rejected, even sent to the cross. And Christ did this all in our place. Our Lord humbled himself to the very depths, that we might be plucked from our misery and restored to fellowship with God.

When He was on earth, this perfect example of humility said, "Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart" (Matt 11:29). Beloved, let us learn, and let us worship the LORD with humble song. Let us reject all human pride, and let us live with great confidence in our heavenly Father! Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2004, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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