On a couple of occasions Jesus pointed to a little child as an example of the humility and faith that God seeks. It is the opposite of pride which exalts self. C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful definition of humility in his book The Screwtape Letters. He said, God “wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more or less or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. (God) wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor (pride) that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents…” If we truly understood this it would end all striving for self esteem, give glory to God for the abilities He has given us, be able to use those abilities to the fullest for His glory, and be able to take great joy in the results. We wouldn’t have to compare ourselves to anyone else. Our value and our joy is in knowing that we are a child of God and that it is He who is working His good purpose through us.
Why were Jesus and the Pharisees at such odds with each other? Jesus didn’t reject the Jewish worship at the Temple or the synagogue. He didn’t reject the laws of Moses. In fact, on a couple of occasions he sent people to them to do as they instructed. Rather, they had established such a rigid system with the laws that they lost all sense of grace and caring for the good of the people. And because they were keepers of the law, their pride of position elevated themselves above everyone else. They had lost sight of all that the law and the prophets were pointing to. It’s easy for us to sit here 2000 years removed and judge them for their hardness of heart, but we must always be careful not to fall into their same patterns of life. Rigidity for the way we’ve always done things is at time a church characteristic that can get in the way of ministry and service to others. And the specter of pride of position is present in any leadership task. Our call is always to love as Jesus loved, and remind ourselves that He was the One who washed the disciples feet.
At one time Jesus prayed, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was you good pleasure.”(Luke 10:21) Jesus was always reversing things. The world exalts the powerful. Jesus looked to the weak. The world regards the wealthy and accomplished. Jesus looked to the poor and humble. The world wants to be with the respectable. Jesus spent His time with the sinners. Who was right? Was Jesus missing something? In the beginning of his ministry the devil tempted Jesus with all the glory of the worlds kingdoms, and with a spectacular miracle that would make many believe in Him. He rejected both.(Matthew 4) Yet He is the One to whom Scripture tell us that “every knee will bow, of those who are 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.”(Philippians 2:10-11) No, Jesus was not wrong in the company He kept, and it is a lesson for us in the ones we look up to in this world.
Jesus always does things backwards! He talked to the Pharisees, respected scholars of their day, and called them hypocrites, and empty tombs. He said if your want to be a leader, you need to be the servant of all, to be first you have to be last. He just didn’t get it. He didn’t understand about power and prominence in this world. Or maybe He did. Maybe He really saw how hollow and superficial all the things we hold up as goals to strive for really are. Maybe that is why He spent His time with the tax collectors and sinners. There was no pretense in them. They knew they were weak and needed His help. And they received it. The ones who come to Him empty are sure to be filled with His living water.
Humility is not a highly valued characteristic today. We look more to strength and self esteem. People often see humility as weakness, and we certainly don’t want that. The very nature of our political and corporate system requires self promotion. To get ahead we must show that we are better then the other guy. Paul, however, writes just the opposite. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”(Philippians 2:3) This, he says is the very nature of Jesus that we are to emulate. This is not weakness. It is possible to accomplish many things, but doing them to the glory of God, and for the good of others. According to Jesus, it is when we are willing to live in humility before God that He exalts us. As we humble ourselves in service to others, we have God’s esteem, and that it far better than self-esteem.
Jesus always does things backwards! He talked to the Pharisees, respected scholars of their day, and called them hypocrites and empty tombs. He said if you want to be a leader, you need to be the servant of all. To be first you have to be last. He just didn’t get it. He didn’t understand about power and prominence in this world. Or maybe He did. Maybe He really saw how hollow and superficial all the things we hold up as goals to strive for really are. Maybe that is why He spent His time with the tax collectors and sinners. There was no pretense win them. They knew they were weak and needed His help. And they received it. The ones who come to Him empty are sure to be filled with His living water.
What the Lord seeks of us is a humble trust in His word. Everything about the birth of our Saviour – Almighty God, Himself, coming among us – speaks of humility. The King of kings came as a baby, not a mighty warrior. The parents chosen to raise this baby were simple town folk from a small northern village. The baby was born in a stable with a feed trough for a bed, not in the palace of a King. Those who first acknowledged Him were shepherds, the lowest on the scale of trades. All of our beautiful nativity scenes do not portray the crowded clutter and smell of manure into which our Saviour came. But this is our world into which our God has come, and has chosen to share with us. He took up our real poverty and brokenness, so that we could share His glory. Jesus would later say to those around Him, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”(Matthew 11:28-29) That is the continuing invitation we have from our God who has done everything that we might have life and godliness.
Human reason is a wonderful God-given quality. It has brought mankind many advances. However, when it comes to our relationship with the Lord, reason must humble itself and yield to God’s wisdom. God spoke through Isaiah saying, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”(55:8-9) Many demand that God be brought down to their level of reason, but then God would be no bigger than we are, and not a god to be worshiped. Come to think of it – we really are worshiping that god more and more. Regardless of what box we try to fit God into, He refuses. His word, His truth, stands as a rock in the midst of mankind and requires a decision. God’s word is powerful. If it is approached with self-will it will lead to destruction. If it is approached with humility it brings life. “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth … so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”(vss.10-11)
There is an interesting verse in Psalm 141. “Let a righteous man strike me-it is a kindness; let him rebuke me-it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it.”(vs.5) Now, no one likes to be struck, or to receive a rebuke, but the question here is the manner in which it is received. Proverbs 9:9 and other similar verses add to this though. “Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.” The attitude here is one of humility, of understanding that we do not have all wisdom, and are not always right. It is a desire to learn and grow, to forgive and ask forgiveness. It is the picture of the twelve year old boy, Jesus, in the Temple asking the scholars questions and sharpening His understanding. Even though He knew He had a calling from God, He grew by submitting Himself to the Scriptures and to those in authority. Humility is not weakness. It is the desire to learn the truth, and to stand on the firm ground of God’s righteousness.
There is no denying that the issues we face in society are complicated. We debate, wrangle, wring our hands, and try all manner of solutions, none of which can make everyone happy. We are not unlike ancient Israel who was facing deterioration from within, and enemies from without. It was then God said to them, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”(Isaiah 30:15) God was saying that they first needed to humble themselves before Him, acknowledge their sins, and look to Him in trust. When we depend only upon ourselves, that is all we have, human wisdom and strength. The problem is, regardless of the lip service we pay, we really don’t believe there is a strength and wisdom beyond ourselves. Ancient Israel didn’t believe it either. The end of verse 15 says, “but you would have none of it. You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.'” That is depend upon human solutions alone. The Lord is continually reaching out to us, if only we will listen. If we will humble ourselves before God in repentance, there is a wisdom far greater than anything we possess.