Humility must always be doing its work like a bee making its honey in the hive: without humility all will be lost.
(Teresa of Ávila)
Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.
Whoever wants to be first must be your slave –
just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.
We see humility in the life of Christ demonstrated in how he laid open his heart to us. Through his teaching we hear him speak of it – how he expects his disciples to be humble as he was. Let us carefully study the passages to see how often and how earnestly he taught it: it may help us to realize what he asks of us.
- Look at the commencement of his ministry. In the Sermon on the Mount, he opens with the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth,” (Matthew 5:3, 5). The very first words of his proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven reveal the open gate through which we may enter. The Kingdom comes to the poor, who have nothing in themselves. The Earth is for the meek, who seek nothing for themselves. The blessings of Heaven and Earth are for the lowly. Humility is the secret of blessing for the Heavenly and the Earthly life.
- “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus offers himself as teacher. He tells us both what the Spirit is and what we can learn and receive from him. Meekness and lowliness are the qualities he offers us; in them we will find perfect rest. Humility is our salvation.
- The disciples had been disputing among themselves who would be the greatest in the Kingdom, and had agreed to ask the Master, (Luke 9:26; Matthew 18:3). He placed a child in their midst, and said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven,” (Matthew 18:4). “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” The question is far-reaching. What will be the chief distinction in the Heavenly Kingdom? The glory of Heaven, the mind of Heaven, is humility. “He who is least among you all – he is the greatest,” (Luke 9:48).
- The sons of Zebedee asked Jesus if they could sit on his right hand and on his left, the highest places in the Kingdom. Jesus said it was not his to give but the Father’s, who would give it to those for whom it was prepared. They must not seek it or ask for it. Their thoughts must be of the cup and the baptism of humiliation. And then he added, “Whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,” (Matthew 20: 27-28). Humility, as it is the mark of Christ, will be the one standard of glory in Heaven: the lowliest is the nearest to God.
- Speaking to the multitude and the disciples of the Pharisees and their love of the chief seats, Christ said once again, “The greatest among you will be your servant,” (Matthew 23:11). Humiliation is the only ladder to honor in God’s Kingdom.
- On another occasion, in the house of a Pharisee, he spoke the parable of the guest who would be invited to come up higher, and added, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted,” (Luke 14:1-11). The demand is inexorable; there is no other way. Self-abasement alone will be exalted.
- After the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, Christ spoke again, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted,” (Luke 18:14). In the temple and presence and worship of God, everything is worthless that is not pervaded by deep, true humility toward God and humankind.
- After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus said, “Now that I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet,” (John 13:14). The authority of command and example, every thought, either of obedience or conformity, makes humility the first and most essential element of discipleship.
- At the table used for the Lord’s Supper, the disciples still disputed who should be greatest. Jesus said, “The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. I am among you as one who serves,” (Luke 22:26-27). The path Jesus walked, which he opened up for us, the power through which he wrought our salvation and by which he saves us, is the humility that makes us the servant of all.
How little this is preached. How seldom it is practiced. How faintly the lack of it is felt or confessed. I cannot say how few attain to some recognizable measure of likeness to Jesus in his humility. But fewer ever think of making it a distinct object of continual desire or prayer. How little the world has seen it. How scarcely it is seen in the inner circle of the church.
“Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Oh that God would convince us that Jesus means this! We all know what the character of a faithful servant or slave implies. Devotion to the master’s interests, thoughtful study and care to please him, delight in his prosperity and honor and happiness. There are servants on Earth in whom these dispositions have been seen, and to whom the name of servant has never been anything but glory. To how many of us has it been a new joy in the Christian life to know that we may yield ourselves as servants, as slaves to God, and to find that his service is our highest liberty – the freedom from sin and self? We need to learn another lesson – that Jesus calls us to be servants of one another, and that as we accept it heartily, this service will be a most blessed one, a new and fuller deliverance from sin and self. At first it may appear hard – this is because of the pride that still counts itself something. If once we learn that to be nothing before God is the glory of the creature, the spirit of Jesus, the joy of Heaven, we shall welcome with our whole heart the discipline we may have in serving even those who try or annoy us. When our own heart is set upon this true sanctification, we will study each word of Jesus on self-abasement with new zeal, and no place will be too low, no stooping too far, and no service too mean or too long if we may but share and prove the fellowship with him who said, “I am among you as one who serves,” (Luke 22:27).
Here is the path to the higher life. It is the lowest path! This was what Jesus said to the disciples who were thinking of being great in the Kingdom and of sitting on his right hand and his left. Ask not for exaltation. That is God’s work. See that you humble yourselves, and take no place before God or man but that of a servant. That is your work; let that be your one purpose and prayer. God is faithful. Just as water seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds the creature empty, his glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless. He that humbles himself – that must be our one aim – shall be exalted; that is God’s aim. By his mighty power and in his great love he will do it.
People sometimes speak of humility and meekness as something that would rob us of what is noble and bold. Oh, that all would realize that this is the nobility of the Kingdom of Heaven, that this is the royal sprit that the King of Heaven displayed, that this is Godlike, to humble oneself and to become the servant of all! This is the path of the gladness and the glory of Christ’s presence in us, of his power resting upon us.
Jesus, the meek and lowly one, calls us to learn of him the path to God. Let us study the words we have been reading until our heart is filled with the thought: My one need is humility. And let us believe that what he shows he gives, and what he is he imparts. As the meek and lowly one, he will come into and dwell within the longing heart.