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 everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus came to the same conclusion in Luke 18 after telling the story of two men who prayed in the temple. “I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
In the second parable, the first man thanked God that he was not an extortioner, unjust, or an adulterer, that he tithed, and that he fasted twice a week. Jesus did not say that it was not true! What was wrong? He also thanked God that “he was not like other men, or even like this tax collector.” He exalted himself. The other man was bad, and he admitted it. Jesus did not say that it was not true, either. What was right? He humbled himself. Humility is apparently a character thought and act 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 the supreme example of self-exaltation in the Bible. It is Satan himself, and it was his way down. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning…for thou hast said in thine heart, ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God’” (Isaiah 14:12-13).
And we have the supreme example of humility in the Bible. It was Jesus, and it was the way up. “Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to he grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:6-9)
In every encounter we have, with God or man, whether we are aware of it or not, we have one or the other of these attitudes. We follow Satan in exalting himself, or we follow Jesus in humbling himself.
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.” 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, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” If we allow this mind to be in us 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, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
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Written circa 1973.