Should you ask me: What is the first thing in religion? I should reply: the first, second, and third thing therein is humility. (Augustine)
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
It seems that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was sent to humble him so that he might not exalt himself as a result of the great revelations given to him. Paul’s first desire was to have the thorn removed, and he asked the Lord three times that it might be taken away. The answer came to him that the trial was a blessing – that through the weakness and humiliation it brought, the grace and strength of the Lord could better be manifested. Paul at once entered upon a new stage in his relationship to the trial: instead of simply enduring it, he gladly gloried in it; instead of asking for deliverance, he took pleasure in it. He had learned that the place of humiliation is the place of blessing, of power, and of joy.
Many Christians fear and flee and seek deliverance from all that would humble them. At times they may pray for humility, but in their heart of hearts they pray even more to be kept from the things that would bring them to that place. They have not reached the level of seeing humility as a manifestation of the beauty of the Lamb of God. There is still a sense of burden connected with humility in their minds; to humble themselves has not become the spontaneous expression of their lives.
Can we hope to reach the stage in which this will be the case? Certainly. By the same way that Paul reached it: a new revelation of the Lord Jesus. Nothing but the presence of God can reveal and expel self. A clearer insight was to be given to Paul into the deep truth that the presence of Jesus banishes every desire to seek anything in ourselves. It will make us delight in every humiliation that prepares us for his fuller manifestation.
We may know advanced believers, eminent teachers, and men of great spiritual experience who have not yet learned to embrace humility. We see this danger in Paul’s situation. The inevitability of exalting himself was close at hand. He didn’t yet know what it was to be nothing; to die, that Christ alone might live in him; to take pleasure in all that brought him low. It appears that this was the greatest lesson that he had to learn.
Every Christian who seeks to advance in holiness should remember this: there may be intense consecration and fervent zeal, and if the Lord himself does not step in, there may be unconscious self-exaltation. Let us learn the lesson that the greatest holiness comes in the deepest humility.
Let us look at our lives in the light of this experience and see whether we gladly glory in weakness, and whether we take pleasure, as Paul did, in injuries, in necessities, in distresses. Yes, let us ask whether we have learned to regard a reproof, just or unjust, a reproach from a friend or an enemy, an injury, or trouble, or difficulty as an opportunity for proving that Jesus is all to us. It is indeed the deepest happiness of Heaven to be so free from self that whatever is said of us or done to us is swallowed up in the thought that Jesus is all and we are nothing.
Let us trust him who took care of Paul to take care of us too. Paul needed special discipline, and with it special instruction to learn what was more precious than even the unutterable things he had heard from Heaven: what it is to glory in weakness and lowliness. We need it too. The school in which Jesus taught Paul is our school as well. He watches over us with a jealous, loving care, lest we exalt ourselves. When we do this, he seeks to show to us the evil of it and to deliver us from it. Through trials and failures and troubles, he seeks to bring us to the place where his grace is everything. His strength is made perfect in our weakness; his presence fills and satisfies our emptiness; and becomes the second of humility. Paul could say, “I am not in the least inferior to the ‘super-apostles,’ even though I am nothing,” (2 Corinthians 12:11).
“I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me,” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The humble man has learned the secret of abiding joy. The weaker he feels, the lower he sinks, the greater his humiliations, the more the power and presence of Christ is his portion. When he says, “I am nothing,” the word of his Lord comes: “My grace is sufficient for you,” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The danger of pride is greater and nearer than we think, and especially at the time of our greatest experiences. The preacher of spiritual truth with an admiring congregation hanging on his every word, the gifted speaker of a holiness convention expounding the secrets of the Heavenly life, the Christian giving testimony to a blessed experience – no man knows the hidden, unconscious danger to which these are exposed. Paul was in danger without knowing it: what Jesus did for him is written for our admonition, that we may know our danger and know our only safety. If ever it has been said of a teacher or professor of holiness: he is so full of self; or he does not practice what he preaches; or his blessing has not made him humbler or gentler – let it be said no more. Jesus, in whom we trust, can make us humble.
The grace for humility is also greater and nearer than we think. The humility of Jesus is our salvation: Jesus himself is our humility. His grace is sufficient for us to meet the temptation of pride. His strength will be perfected in our weakness. Let us choose to be weak, to be low, to be nothing. Let humility be to us joy and gladness. Let us gladly glory and take pleasure in weakness, in all that will humble us and keep us low; the power of Christ will rest upon us. Christ humbled himself, therefore God exalted him. Christ will humble us and keep us humble; let us heartily consent, let us trustfully and joyfully accept all that humbles; the power of Christ will rest upon us. We shall find that the deepest humility is the secret of the truest happiness, of a joy that nothing can destroy.