What does it mean to be humble, to act in a manner of humility? And why is such a trait admirable in a Christian beyond what is written in Philippians 2:8: “Being found in appearance as a man, Jesus humbled Himself and became OBEDIENT to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
Probably the hardest part about being humble or trying to be humble is that we associate humility with weakness without fully realizing or appreciating how much strength is required to bite our tongues when we would really rather say what’s on our minds!
What Paul is offering to the Philippians is an astounding portrait of Jesus in which He could have claimed His rightful place upon a throne where He really belonged but chose instead the ultimate portrait of humility. Why? It surely must have been to serve as an example for us. Why else would the God of all creation make such a choice? And this is a little hard for us to embrace because too many of us are so far removed from such a life that we cannot imagine backing down from a confrontation when so much may seem to be at stake.
Yet consider this. When we find ourselves in difficult situations in which we believe it to be in our best interests to “stand our ground”, what are we really trying to protect?
It’s not like we live in the “wild west” in which we are homesteading and trying to protect our property. Today there are legal means by which we can protect what is rightfully ours and yet Jesus challenges us beyond our property and what we THINK we own.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, but I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” Matthew 5:38-42
So when we get our backs up and we go into “protect-mode”, what are we really trying to protect? What do we really think is at stake? Considering my own life and work and my sometimes foul temper and knee-jerk reactions, the only thing I can seriously consider to be at stake when I’m challenged on any level is my own sense of pride. What else can it be? I have these little niches carved out in my life and in my family and in my work so much so that anything that seems to threaten that sense of order is a threat to …. what?
Yes, suggesting to many of us that we need to learn to live more humbly and stop trying to perfect a ‘tough’ image is a pretty tall order because ‘tough’ means ‘strength’. The problem with this kind of mindset, however, can be seen in how we tend to rely upon ourselves for our strength. We need a man-made image to make us feel good about ourselves and our lives. In other words, we decide that if we are going to survive in this world we will have to depend on “number one” in order to take care of “number one”. What does this say about our level of faith?
Even though I think that our refusal to work harder to be more humble in the truest Christ-like sense has more to do with protecting our PRIDE, I also think that being unwilling to be more humble in our lives speaks more about our FAITH. If we are truly convinced in our hearts that there is a better life to come after this one for persons of faith, why do we feel compelled to control our environments and protect our “stuff” or our pride?
We live in a sue-happy society in which the wrong word or a simple accident could land us in court with someone who is seeking monetary “damages” beyond what is reasonable. Our gut and cultural reaction would be to find an attorney to protect our interests. Yet Jesus says that if someone sues us for our coat, we hand it over without question AND with our cloak as well. There is no need to defend something that we think we need in this life and should be reasonably sure that we will not need it in the life to come, but we would defend to the death our right to protect ourselves!
“Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He teaches sinners in the way. The HUMBLE He guides in justice; and the HUMBLE He teaches His way.”
The psalmist uses the word “humble” to make a point in his prayer when he pleads his case with the Lord. It is traditionally been taught and believed that many of the psalms were King David’s own prayers. Yet how many of us would consider King David to have been a humble man? Or is it that King David perhaps knew that he needed to be more humble, realizing that the Lord is most inclined to answer the prayer of the humble and more willing to teach those who live in humility?
But could it be said that the Lord is “more” willing to teach those who are humble, or would it be more accurate to say that the humble are more WILLING to be taught and are perhaps more susceptible to the Lord’s influence? Think about it. If we are too self-reliant in which we lean more toward our own education, our own experiences, our own environment, our own sense of justice, how open could we be to the influences of the Lord? How willing could we be to “be still” and let God be God?
“Those who trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches, none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him – for the redemption of their souls is costly…”
I do not want to give the impression that being humble is a simple matter of choosing between heaven and hell or between condemnation and redemption. I think it goes much deeper than even that. There is a life we are called to lead not just so we can be received favorably on the Day of Judgment. Would that not be more about depending on our own good works as the means of our salvation?
If we really believe in salvation by faith alone – that is, in trusting completely in the mercy of the Lord God – then our sense of humility and being humble before God AND man cannot be the kind of “false humility” that Paul warns the Colossians about when they are depending on “works” by their own hands.
Instead, our sense of humility must first be fed by our sense of needfulness. Our sense of needfulness must then be fed by our sense of faith and NOT IN OURSELVES and our self-reliance to overcome adversity by taking matters into our own hands and depending mostly upon our own resources.
Does this mean that we have to become patsies by our standards? Is there no way we can retain some measure of pride? We have families. Does all this mean that we risk the well-being of our families by simply rolling over and handing to every Tom, Dick, and Harry with his hand out our means by which we feed, cloth, and educate our families?
I’m not sure that Jesus is trying to force us to make choices in whether to allow ourselves to be overrun by anyone who would take advantage of our good, HUMBLE nature. But people of faith have yet another out.
Consider the story of Abraham and Isaac. In complete submissiveness and humility, Abraham – without question – was prepared to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac because he felt that the Lord called him to do this unthinkable thing. Of course we know how the story turns out. The Lord not only relented from His demand but He also provided the ram that had been caught in the thicket by its horns for the sacrifice.
Did Abraham know that the Lord would provide this sacrifice and protect him from having to do such a thing with Isaac? Of course there is no way to know. What we do know is that Abraham entered into this deal with no hesitation. And we must also remember that Abraham’s faith – and not works; remember there was no law yet – was “accounted to righteousness” for doing nothing more than simply BELIEVING - that is, trusting - the Lord, as it is written.
So it seems to me that if we are going to make a more intentional effort toward humility, then we must first examine our faith. Humility we can do with a little effort and a lot of will. Faith, however, will help us go a lot further to enable us to completely submit ourselves to the Lord and not to ourselves or to this world. FAITH will help to remind us not only that there is something for us much better beyond this life, but FAITH will also get us thru the day-to-day matters in which we may find ourselves handing over our coat AND our cloak – BELIEVING that it is the right thing to do and that even in this life, everything will be OK. After all, the Lord is not asking us to sacrifice our children or be nailed to a cross.