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MATTHEW 23:11

“But the greatest among you shall be your servant.”

When I was a teenager, I remember telling my father that I wanted to be a successful businessman when I grew up. He asked me what type of business I wanted to work in, and I told him I didn’t know, I just wanted to be a businessman. Looking back, I was seeing myself as somebody others would look up to. Not a good reason to do anything in life!

So much for the detailed thinking of a teenage boy! But I remember my father gave me two pieces of information, and both have proven themselves to be true and of great worth.

He said, “A great man is always willing to live in the shadows of his success,” and then he followed that bit of wisdom up with, “The most difficult secret for a person to keep is the opinion he has of himself.”

I have found in my life that I have gained the most success during those times I did not care who got the credit. By staying in the shadows I was able to keep my focus on the job at hand, instead of being distracted by taking the bows. I have also found, especially as I have gotten older, that I am not nearly as great as I used to think I was. In other words, my self-opinion had to be grounded in reality, and not be self-delusional.

Okay, so what does all this father-son wisdom of yesterday have to do with my being a Christian today? It has everything to do with it if I truly want to be the best Christian I can be. For me, or for you, to be a good Christian we must have a humble heart. We cannot put too much importance on ourselves lest we get puffed up with self-righteousness. When we do that, we automatically put ourselves above others, and Christians are not supposed to do that. So we must be humble of heart.

But to do it right, we must understand what the word “humble” really means. With the wrong idea of humility, we could end up putting ourselves down, thinking we are less than we really are. We could end up with downcast eyes and refusing to look up. As believers, we need to know that being humble is nothing more than faithful obedience unto an Almighty God: To be fully reliant upon the Word and the Spirit of our Lord.

We can be humble and still go forward with the knowledge that we are doing a good work for Christ. We can have the confidence that what we do is making a wonderful difference for God. The difference is that one puts the focus on us and the other puts the focus on God. And if we are putting the focus on God, we will be obedient to Him.

The Lord Jesus, our beloved Savior was obedient to God, even to the point of dying on the cross. And through His humble obedience, salvation came into a dark and evil world. Humility brings about the will of God, and to help us understand this complex issue, let us begin by asking a simple question.


1. IS IT WRONG TO WANT WANT PERSONAL RECOGNITION?

Have you ever noticed how we like to award ourselves? I am always amazed at how the Hollywood crowd all gathers together once a year to give themselves awards based upon how well they did in a particular film. They make it seem that they should be worshiped for being so good at what they do.

But it isn’t just the Hollywood crowd that seeks to award themselves. It goes all the way down the line from athletes to little league baseball players and everyone in between. We all love to be esteemed and adored, don’t we? I believe it is these awards that feed our insecure need for attention.

I am reminded of the difference between a dog’s heart and a cat’s heart. One is humble and the other is not. The owner reached down to pet his dog and the dog thought, “Wow! He is such a God!” The owner then reached down to pet his cat and the cat thought, “Wow! I must be a God!” The problem with humans is that we all have a corner of our minds where we have this perverse tendency to think as the cat thinks.

Satan uses the oldest marketing trick in the world against us, and that trick is to make us think we are so good we deserve to be rewarded. So, as Christians, should we indulge in the act of self-rewarding? If we do good things and end up being recognized for them, should we not also be receptive to being honored for our achievements? Let’s take a look and see what Jesus says about this.

In LUKE 14 Jesus stopped for a Sabbath day dinner at the home of an unnamed Pharisee, an important religious leader in the community. Of course, by reading the entire passage, we find that this was not a case of loving hospitality, but that the Pharisee was testing Jesus. Two years earlier, Jesus had challenged the Pharisees on two major issues.

Jesus had come across Levi, and had told him to leave everything behind and follow Him. Now Levi was an influential and wealthy tax collector. Then Scripture tells us what happened then.

LUKE 5:30

“Then, Levi hosted a grand banquet for Jesus at his house. Now there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others who were guests with them. But the Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to His disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus replied to them, “The healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

The religious leaders in that day were all about self-rewarding. The Pharisees loved to walk down the street in their fine arraignment and have people call them by their titles. They looked down on others, saying such things as, “Thank you God for not letting me like that man!”

Jesus was showing that He came for everyone, and in His eyes, everyone deserved recognition and attention; that no one was “lower” than anyone else. This caused the Pharisees to feel threatened and they began to hate Him all the more. Since Jesus cared more for people than He did about tradition, the Pharisees saw Him as one who was careless in the observing the Sabbath: A rabble rouser, so to speak.

The religious leaders did not have humble hearts and they viewed themselves as better than others. And our natural tendency is to do the same thing; however, we can get past that if we really try to turn the focus away from ourselves and on to someone else. There is another question we need to ask ourselves:


2. CAN WE LEARN HUMILITY THROUGH OBSERVATION?

I often refer back to my father and the things he taught me as I was growing up. Most of the things he handed down to me were technique, not words. By that, I mean that I learned by simply watching him and how he handled situations.

For instance, we shared a driveway with our next door neighbor. That drive way had some pretty rough places in it and my father had our part resurfaced. The neighbor got very angry at my father and I remember my father telling him that he fully understood how the man felt. He said he had tried to contact him about it, but the neighbor was a traveling salesman and was out of town most of the time so my dad couldn’t make contact.

The neighbor was still angry and my dad listened to every word he said – but he didn’t “just” listen; he acted interested in what the neighbor was saying! Having gotten all the problems off his chest, the neighbor finally agreed that it was a good idea to resurface the entire driveway, so he had his part done, too. My dad later explained to me that, even though he knew he was right, he felt an obligation to listen to the neighbor as the neighbor’s feelings were very real and very “right” to the neighbor.

By watching how my dad handled that situation, I learned that rather than defend what you did and end up arguing about it, it is much better to listen and acknowledge that the other person has some legitimate complaints, too. This showed that my dad did not elevate himself over the other man.

LUKE 14:1 says,

“One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, He was being carefully watched.”

People are watching everything you do and everything you say; especially if you profess to be a Christian. In the above passage, Luke lets the reader know that this get-together was not held to hear Jesus teach or to even honor Him. It was a contrived situation orchestrated by the Pharisees so they could scrutinize everything Jesus said and did so they could find blame in Him.

But instead of being able to find blame, they were about to learn a very powerful lesson by Jesus in humility.

In VV. 7-9, we read;

“When Jesus noticed how the guests had picked the places of honor at the table, He told them this parable; When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited, too. If so, the host who invited both of you will have to come to you and say, ‘Give this mean your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.”

Here is the hard lesson in humility they learned. In their tradition, the place of highest honor was where the host sat; at the very head of the table. The place of next highest honor was to the host’s right. And every other place of honor was in direct correlation to the distance the seat was from the host: The farther away, the least important the guest. So these people always scrambled to sit in the places of highest honor – to fulfill their evil and insecure hearts. They did this because they always viewed others as less important than they were. This is in direct opposition to what Jesus’ ministry was all about.

In JOHN 3:17, we are told that Jesus did not come to condemn this world, but to save it. We can all understand that for Jesus to have done that, He would have had to have a heart that was humbled in love for other people, not a heart that considered everyone else as something below Him.

Just as my father taught me the lesson of humility in the way he patiently handled his angry neighbor, Jesus is teaching the Pharisees about humility by patiently explaining to them that if they insisted on taking the seat of high honor, they could be publically asked to move to make room for someone of more importance. And this would have caused them great embarrassment. The moral for them was; it is better to show humility at first rather than feel embarrassment later.

What is that thing called that keeps us from being humble? It is called “pride.” We all have it and we all use it. It is a very hard thing to keep that trait hidden, isn’t it? We feel pride in what we have done and we want recognition for it! Even preachers fall prey to this sin. I know that I have on occasion felt that I gave a “really, really good” sermon. And it feels good when someone compliments me on it. But I have to remind myself that it isn’t me that comes up with these sermons – it is God. It isn’t me who presents them in a good way – it is the Holy Spirit. All I am is a lowly worker for God; I write His material and then I vocalize His words. It is as simple as that. I have heard other pastors confess to the same things.

In VV. 10-11 it reads,

“But when you are invited, take it upon yourself to select the lowest place, so tat when your host comes in, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus’ teaching on how having humility can save us from great embarrassment was excellent. They understood that in the worldly sense, however. They could understand what it would feel like to have that happen. But they missed the Godly implication. If we are humbled to God, we will want to let others take all the bows, and in so doing, it will be God who exalts us, not other men.

We can learn how to be humble by watching others who are humble. We can watch what they say and how they handle different situations. But there is something we need to learn how to do, and that is to:


3. PUT WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED INTO ACTUAL PRACTICE

Moses taught Israel that the one who exalts himself only does so by forgetting God. (DEUTERONOMY 8:11-14). If praise and honor are due anyone, it is due God and not us. God will shame the one who steals the praise and honor for himself at God’s expense. There is nothing wrong about having others acknowledge your work, but when that happens, you are not to take credit for the finished result. You are to give that credit to God – even in front of an audience.

In short, there is no need to be proud or ourselves or toot our own horns, as God will be proud of us and He will exalt us when we bless Him with humbled hearts.

There is a story of two Civil War Generals: George A. Custer and Ulysses S. Grant. Both graduated from West Point – Gen. Grant, being the oldest, graduated in the 1840’s and Gen. Custer in 1861. Grant fought in several wars and was a field General in every sense of the word. In 1865, he was the one who forced Robert E. Lee to surrender to the north.

At the surrendering ceremony, Grant wore a mud-splattered uniform of a private, with general shoulder pads sewed on. He was the picture of a man who was a worker and had just finished a job. He said he took no glory in the surrender of a fellow general. Gen. Grant was a humble man and an excellent leader.

When Gen. Custer graduated West Point, he went from 2nd Lieutenant to Brigadier General in less than two years. When he assumed command of his brigade in 1863, he wore a black velveteen uniform with gold braid from the elbows to the cuffs of his sleeves, and a golden feather in the hatband of his dress hat. He was known to have the brashest of attitudes and a personality that one newspaper columnist of the time described as “the personality of a childish upstart.”

Gen. Grant listened to his advisers and led his troops into victory, winning nearly every battle he fought. Gen. Custer led his troops into a deathly defeat at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He had been given advice to detour and go to another front, but the general “knew best” and rejected the advice of his second in command. He ordered a full attack. The only living survivor of that brigade was one horse.

Custer dressed to impress, Grant dressed for work. Custer wanted to be noticed. Grant wanted to win. I wonder, if they had both been sitting at the dinner in the days of Jesus parable, which one would have quickly taken the seat of high honor and which one would have gladly taken the seat of less honor? Like my father said to me, “A great man is always willing to live in the shadows of his success.” And of course, which general had the greatest success in what he did?

We certainly make many choices in our daily lives, and it is in these choices that we can learn how to apply the lessons we have learned about humility. Custer made a choice to ignore his advisor, because he thought he alone knew best. His ended up riding his pride into the grave because he was not humble enough to accept another point of view.

I think one of the best ways to learn what humility is and what is can do for you is through service to others. Jesus set the example at the Last Supper when He, the Creator of all, stooped down to wash His disciples’ feet. Such an act of humility has never been displayed prior to that event.

In VV. 13-14, Jesus gave us another very valuable lesson in humility.

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Why would Jesus say that? Certainly, He knew that no Pharisee of any social standing would ever invite such a ragtag group of physical and social misfits to a real banquet! There would be no point in that, because these banquets were like Gen. Custer’s uniform; they were to impress, not accomplish.

The point Jesus was making was that we cannot consider ourselves being truly humble if we only do things for people who can pay us back. True Godly humility is doing things for somebody who has no way of ever paying you back. Why is that? Because you are doing it for the sole reason of helping them when they could not have any means to do it themselves. And God sees that as a fresh aroma of righteousness.

The notion of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” is a worldly idea that puts you as the focal point of receiving good things. When you help others who are maybe below you on the social ladder; those who are less fortunate than you are; and those who might be handicapped in such a way as to never have something unless you give it to them, you are acting like Jesus. He came to serve, not to served. And it is vital to our very salvation that we learn to do the same.

I read about a very rich man in Tulsa, Oklahoma who gave up one afternoon a week to go down to a hospital and read stories to the blind patients. He never advertised this act of humility, nor did he ever gain anything worldly from it. But he did elevate himself in God’s eyes because this man’s heart really cared about others enough to give of himself to help them.

May I ask you today if your heart could do the same? Would you be willing to seek out the homeless and take them coffee a couple times a week while you share Jesus with them? Would you be willing to offer elderly people a lift to and from the doctor once a month? If your spirit is humble enough to bend down to serve those who cannot serve themselves, it is humble enough to simply accept the Lord Jesus as the Savior of your life and the leader of your life.

After all, since he humbled Himself enough to sacrifice His very life for you, don’t you think you should now humble yourself enough to try and live for Him?
 


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