Friday, August 17, 2007

Humility (part 1)

The way up is down. The way down is up. Contradiction, paradox, or simple truth? In Luke 14 at the conclusion of a parable about taking the place of honor, Jesus said,

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11 NIV)

Jesus came to the same conclusion in Luke 18 after telling the story of two men who prayed in the temple:

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:14 NIV)

In the second parable one man thanked God that he was not a robber, evildoer, or an adulterer...that he tithed and that he fasted twice a week. He also thanked God that he was “not like other men…or even like this tax collector.” Jesus did not say that his statements were not true, so what did the man do wrong? He exalted himself.

The other man was bad, and he admitted it. Jesus did not say that his statements were not true either, so what did the man do right? He humbled himself. Humility is apparently a character thought and action independent of, and senior to, any other merit of right or wrong. The first man could have humbled himself and the second man could have exalted himself.

We have a supreme example of self-exaltation in the Bible. It was Satan himself, and it was his way down.

How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.” (Isaiah 14:12, 13 NIV)

And we have the supreme example of humility in the Bible. It was Jesus, and it was the way up.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death¾even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name… (Philippians 2:6-9 NIV)

In every encounter with God or man, whether we are aware of it or not, we have one or the other of these attitudes. We follow Satan by exalting ourselves, or we follow Jesus by humbling ourselves.

Christ, in glory with the Father, did not insist that His rightful place in Heaven was more important than humbling himself. It wasn’t! When he was an innocent man on earth He did not “protest His innocence.” Instead, He humbled Himself still further and died for our sins. He made Himself of no reputation. Humbling Himself was more important to Him than His equality with God, His reputation, His innocence. The same paragraph in Philippians says,

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:5 NIV)

If we make this our attitude, then our “rightful place”, our “reputation”, and our “innocence” is not as important as humbling ourselves. How can this be? Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30:

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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (NIV)

(An excerpt from On Being a Christian by Jim Wilson)

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