You’ve probably heard about the person who apparently wrote the book: “Humility and How I Attained It”. We smile and think: “Yeah, right! And how proud are you of that accomplishment!?” Humility is a tricky thing. As soon as we think we have it, we’ve probably lost it. The description of humility from Rick Warren is much closer to the truth: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
Over the past month or so I’ve been reading in the gospel of Luke along with an accompanying devotional guide I’ve used for many years: Encounter with God from the organization Scripture Union. As it’s description states: “A guide for meeting with God daily in His Word”, it has been extremely helpful in that regard. Recently I was struck by the commentator’s linking of four seemingly unrelated sayings of Jesus to the trait of humility. Jesus’ words occur in Luke 17:1-10.
“And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” (vv. 1-2) Two key phrases occur here: “temptations to sin” and “these little ones”. In the original language, the first refers to the bait on a trap, and the second likely refers to people young in the faith (some say children; so we could say childlike). Jesus uses strong language of judgement on those who prey on vulnerable people, those who are easily swayed to fall into temptation. By contrast, it is the humble person who realizes their words or actions can deeply affect those around them and they “consciously avoid offending or abusing people.” We need to ask ourselves: “Is that the kind of person I am?”
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (vv. 3-4) This saying is reflective of other passages of Scripture, notably Matthew 18 where Peter is incredulous that forgiveness needs to be extended multiple times. C. S. Lewis put it so well: “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.” Those who forgive repeatedly, especially to the same offence, are characterized by humility, “…because they have encountered grace and understand how profoundly they themselves have been forgiven. This realization leads to grace being freely extended to others.” Do we/I truly understand the grace and mercy that Christ has extended to you and me? It’s with a deep sense of humility that we all meet at the foot of the cross.
“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (vv.5-6) The apostles are skeptical that this kind of forgiveness is possible. Obviously, Jesus’ reply is not to be taken literally, rather it refers to even the smallest seed of trust in Christ – voluntary obedience to God’s will, ready to do whatever he requires – that can overcome the pride that keeps us from the hard work of forgiveness, especially between believers in Christ. Humble people are people of faith; even weak faith that cries out to Christ for help to forgive the wrongs done to us and to leave final retribution to him.
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (vv. 7-10) At first, Jesus’ words seem uncaring. However, his point is that servants are obedient and carry out their duties as their job description requires. Are we not God’s servants, called to lives of service to God and others? “Humble people become liberated through service and, not surprisingly, don’t expect acknowledgement or gratitude for their efforts.” Now I would hope that you and I would move beyond duty and serve with love, love for God and love for others. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 1:19) But the point is made: humble people live lives of selfless service to God and others.
At the beginning of this devotional we noted that humility is a tricky thing. The commentator in my reading zeroed in on the danger of false humility. “Few things are worse than the kind of false humility which is really the other side of pride – it manifests itself in self-pity and low self esteem but is as consumed with self. Real humility is rooted in a personal security and peaceful self-acceptance which allows us to think of ourselves less and liberates us to serve others.” For the believer, our security is found in our identity in Christ – we are God’s son or daughter, part of an eternal family. While we still struggle with temptation, we can rest in the truth that God is still working on us to become more like Christ.
True Humility – We are called to develop sensitive love, gracious forgiveness, a growing faith, and selfless service. High standards to follow, but with God’s help it can be done.