Humble Yourself

November 8, 2019

The disciples were arguing among themselves: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1) Now they would have agreed that Jesus was the greatest. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the King. Their discussions would have been about the second position on down. What was their pecking order?

In response, Jesus called a child, placed the child in their midst, and said:

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3–4 ESV)

Aristotle writing about virtue would never have mentioned humility. This is a reminder that we are following Jesus and not other ethical instructions. Humility plays an important role in Jesus’s instructions. Humility is to be free of pride and arrogance. Pride in the sense of feeling superior. Arrogance is an excessive claim to position and importance. Paul gives us a good insight with this instruction: “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3, ESV).

Humility is the proper response to God. God is the omnipotent Creator. He is all knowing. I cannot compare with him. Falling down in worship is the proper response, because he is worthy of worship. I am a creature created in the image of God, so that I have value and worth. I’m not nothing. But the proper response before God is humility. I cannot in my mind place myself above God without serious consequences. Humility prepares us to listen to God, and listening prepares me for a life pleasing to God.

Humility also transforms our approach to others. Arrogance makes us act superior to others. Humility doesn’t mean we don’t stand up for ourselves, but it does mean that we see all people as created in the image of God. Everyone is worthy of dignity and respect. Looking down on others occurs in our culture because of wealth, education, race, ethnicity, language and issues like this. None of this arrogance is pleasing to God. Humility leads us to see others as they are from God’s point of view. Greatness in the kingdom of heaven requires humility.

— Russ Holden

Why Do We Read and Study the Bible?

January 25, 2019

I encourage regular Bible reading and study. But our motivation will be enhanced as we think about what we should gain. I said “should” because I realize that a skeptic may read the Bible and profit little from it, although skeptics have been known to be converted by their Bible reading. I think much depends on an attitude of honest searching and enquiry. I’m reminded of Jesus’s teaching, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17, ESV). Several passages speak to the why of Bible reading.
Deuteronomy 17:18-20 provide instructions for a future king of Israel.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:18–20, ESV)

The king is to have an approved copy of the law which he reads all of his life. This reading should lead to a fear of the LORD. We probably should feel terror if we are going away from God, because God is a consuming fire. But normally we think of this word “fear” in the sense of reverence and awe. Reverence leads to respect and a willingness to hear God’s word. This leads to obedience: “keeping the words” and “not turning aside … either to the right hand or the left.” The king should also learn humility before God and in dealing with others: “that his heart may not be lifted up above brothers.” One of the dangers of holding political power is that a ruler may think of himself as above the law. This is not just an ancient problem. It is a human problem that manifests itself even now, and it doesn’t have to restricted to rulers. People sometimes expect others to play by the rules from which they are very willing to exempt themselves. Finally, the king will be blessed in his reign by his meditation on God’s instructions.

I think this command to Israel’s king has instruction and application for us. Reading and meditation on God’s word may lead to reverence, obedience, humility, and blessings for us too. The blessings may differ, but God still blesses those who listen to him.

I have often pondered this command to the king, and Israel’s actual history. I suspect many of the kings failed to follow this instruction, and Israel’s history was a disaster because of it. Failure to read has consequences too. Deuteronomy 17:18-20 is a command fit for a king, but it also instructive to us who are brothers and sisters of King Jesus.

If God Wrote a Want Ad

August 17, 2012

All of us are familiar with want ads. A prospective employer puts out a description of what the company is looking for in an employee. Maybe you’ve had the experience of circling ads while looking for a job. You circle ads which match your qualifications. What if God wrote a want ad. What would God be looking for in human beings? A number of Bible passages might come to mind (Psalm 15, Micah 6:8, Matthew 5:3-10, etc.), but I would certainly nominate Isaiah 66:2.

All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:2, ESV

Humble. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines humble as “having or showing a consciousness of one’s defects or shortcomings; not proud.” Proverbs gives a number of warnings against destructive pride and encouragements for humility. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2, ESV). Phillips Brooks wrote, “The way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you how small your greatness is.” That higher nature is God. We must have humility before Him. Without humility, we won’t recognize our spiritual needs.

Contrite. Contrition, being contrite, has to do with remorse for having done something wrong. The etymology of the English word goes back to a Latin word meaning “grief.” The Hebrew word in Isaiah 66:2 means “broken.” It is the person with a broken spirit who recognizes sin in his or her life. Contrition leads to repentance.

Trembles at My Word. “My word” of this passage is God’s word. The trembling of this passage may reflect when God thundered from Mt. Sinai in the giving of the Ten Commandments. The people were afraid and trembled (Exodus 20:18). Yet Moses replied, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20, ESV). Reverence for God and His word will lead to the desire to know and do His will. Only 1 in 3 Americans believes that “holding the Bible to be God’s truth is absolutely necessary for someone to truly know God,” and 4 in 10 Americans say they would turn first to the Bible to test their own religious beliefs! The most important question any of us can ask ourselves it this. If I read in the Bible something that disagrees with what I currently practice or believe, am I willing to change to be in conformity with the Bible? That willingness to do God’s will is what it means to tremble at God’s word.

God’s want ad is not looking for perfect people, but for people who are aware of their need, willing to listen, and willing to trust and obey.

The Science of Humility

January 6, 2012

Humility has recently been studied by psychologists and social scientists. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology looked at helpfulness. Another study published in the Academy of Management Journal considered humility and leadership. Dr. Wade C. Rowatt, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences, who led one of the studies states: “Our discovery here is that the understudied trait of humility predicts helpfulness.” Note that the trait has been understudied and overlooked. What did these studies discover?

  • Humble people are more willing to lend a helping hand than arrogant people.
  • Humility is a predictor of helpfulness.
  • Humble people do not think poorly of themselves.
  • Humble people are not insecure, but instead have an accurate view of themselves, understanding their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Humble people are actually comfortable with themselves.
  • Humble people make more effective and better-liked leaders than those who are self-promoting and “wear their accomplishments on their sleeve.”*

That humility has positive benefits should not be a surprise to the Christian. The Bible has much to say about humility.

  • He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. Psalm 25:9, ESV
  • When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2, ESV
  • The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life. Proverbs 22:4, ESV
  • I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1–3, ESV
  • Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Philippians 2:3, ESV
  • Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10, ESV

Researchers are interested in whether humility can be cultivated. As Jeff LaBouff, of the University of Maine, states, “If we can increase humility, either in the short term or the long term, we might be able to increase those pro-social behaviors.” As a Christian I believe we can learn humility as we follow our Lord “who humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8b, ESV).

* – “Humble People Are More Helpful”