God created the world out of nothing, and as long as we are nothing, he can make something out of us.
The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.
We have studied humility in the person and teaching of Jesus; now we will look for it in the circle of his chosen companions – the twelve apostles. If we see a lack of humility in the disciples, and a contrast between Christ and men is brought out more clearly, it will help us to appreciate the mighty change that Pentecost brought and prove how real our participation can be in the triumph of Christ’s humility over the pride Satan breathed into humankind.
In the texts quoted from the teaching of Jesus, we have seen the occasions on which the disciples proved how much they lacked the grace of humility. Once they were disputing about who should be the greatest. Another time the sons of Zebedee, with their mother, had asked for the first places – the seats on the right hand and the left of Jesus in glory. And later on, at the Last Supper, there was a contention again about who should be counted the greatest. This is not to say that there were not moments when they did humble themselves before the Lord. Peter cried out, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) On another occasion, the disciples fell down and worshiped him when he stilled the storm. But such infrequent expressions of humility only emphasize the general habit of their minds, as shown in the natural and spontaneous revelations of the place and power of self. The study of the meaning of their behavior will teach us some important lessons.
First, is the fact that there may be the enthusiastic and active practice of Christianity while humility is still sadly lacking. The disciples had a fervent attachment to Jesus. They had forsaken all to follow him. The Father had revealed to them that he was the Christ of God. They believed in him, they loved him, and they obeyed his commandments. When others fell away, they remained faithful to him. They were ready to die with him. But deeper than all of this devotion was the existence of an inner power of sin and selfishness. This power had to be dealt with before they could be witnesses of the power of Jesus to save. It is so with all of us. We may find professors and ministers, evangelists and Christian workers, missionaries and teachers, in whom the gifts of the Spirit are many and manifest, and who are the channels of blessing to multitudes, but of whom, when tested, or close interpersonal relationships reveal their true characters, it is only too evident that the grace of humility, as an abiding characteristic, is rarely to be seen. All of this tends to confirm the reality that humility is one of the chief and highest virtues, one of the most difficult to attain, and one to which our first and greatest efforts ought to be directed. Humility is a virtue that only comes in power when the fullness of the Spirit makes us partakers of the indwelling Christ and he lives within us.
Second, is the reality that external teaching and personal effort are powerless to conquer pride or create the meek and lowly heart in a person. For three years the disciples had been in the training school of Jesus. He had told them what the main lesson was that he wished to teach them: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,” (Matthew 11:29). Time after time he had spoken to them, to the Pharisees, and to the multitudes, of humility as the only path to the glory of God. He had not only lived before them as the Lamb of God in his divine humility but he had also more than once unfolded to them the inmost secret of his life: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,” (Matthew 20:28); “I am among you as one who serves,” (Luke 22:27). He had washed their feet and told them to follow his example. But all was to little avail. At the Last Supper there was still contention as to who should be greatest. They had doubtless tried to learn his lessons and firmly resolved not to grieve him again. But all was in vain. To teach them and us the lesson that no outward instruction, not even of Christ himself; no argument, however convincing; no sense of the beauty of humility, however deep; no personal resolve or effort, however sincere and earnest, can cast out pride. When Satan casts out Satan, it is only that he might enter afresh in a mightier, subtler power. Nothing works but this: that the new nature in its divine humility be revealed in power to take the place of the old – to become our true nature.
Third, is the revelation that it is only by the indwelling of Christ in his divine humility that we can become truly humble. We have our pride from Adam; we must have our humility from Christ. Pride rules in us with incredible power; it is ourselves, our very nature. Humility must become ours in the same way; it must be our true selves, our very nature. As natural and easy as it has been to be proud, it must become natural for us to be humble. The promise is, “Where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly.” All Christ’s teaching of his disciples, and all their vain efforts, were the needful preparation for his entering into them in divine power, to give and be in them what he had taught them to desire. In his death, he destroyed the power of the devil. He put away sin and produced an everlasting redemption. In his resurrection he received from the Father an entirely new life, the life of man in the power of God, capable of being communicated to men, and entering and renewing and filling their lives with his divine power. In his ascension he received the Spirit of the Father, through whom he might do what he could not do while upon Earth – make himself one with those he loved, actually live their life for them, so that they could live before the Father in a humility like his own. On Pentecost he came and took possession of the church. The work of preparation and conviction, the awakening of desire and hope that his teaching brought about, was perfected by the mighty change of Pentecost. The lives and the epistles of James and Peter and John bear witness that all was changed, and that the spirit of the meek and suffering Jesus had taken possession of them.
Is this new information? There may be some readers who have never given particular thought to the subject, and therefore do not yet realize its immense importance as a question for the church. There are others who have felt condemned for their lack of humility, and have made great efforts, only to fail and to be discouraged. Still others may be able to give joyful testimony of spiritual blessing and power, yet there has never been conviction concerning the lack of those around them. Some may be able to witness to the Lord’s deliverance and victory in this area, but realize how much they still need and may expect from the fullness of Jesus. To whatever class you belong, may I urge the pressing need to seek a deeper conviction of the unique place that humility holds in the life of every believer. Let us consider how far the disciples were advanced while this grace was still lacking, and let us pray that other gifts may not so satisfy us that we never grasp the fact that the absence of humility is no doubt the reason why the power of God cannot do its mighty work. It is only where we, like the Son, truly know and show that we can do nothing of ourselves that God will do everything.
It is when the truth of the indwelling Christ takes the place it deserves in the experience of believers that the church will put on her beautiful garment and humility will be seen in her teachers and members as the beauty of holiness.