December 23, 2011

True confidence gained by humility

We knew a man who always sat in the last row or took the seat farthest away from the speaker or his host. When I noticed his consistent pattern, I asked him about it. He gave his reason from the words of Jesus.
When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:8–11)
The Bible often says to “humble yourself” and I’ve often wondered exactly how does a person do that? The man we knew did something very simple. Although he held at least one PhD, was well-respected in the church and in all human measurements had qualities that should allow him to sit wherever he wanted, he chose the lowest place.

This is in keeping with humbling oneself, yet in a world that tells us the opposite, humility is not a popular characteristic. Too often it is confused with self-abuse of some sort, or self-pity, or poor self-esteem, or at the very least, a lack of self-confidence. However, God says that He is close to those who are humble and contrite of heart. He also says that humility is being like Jesus.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3–8)
God’s ways are not like our ways. In the ultimate act of love, God the Son took the lower place and became a man. Then He took an even lower place by becoming a servant to God and to man. Serving our deepest need required that He die for our sins. He humbled Himself even more, and for Him, the lowest place became a tomb.

The cross and the tomb are an offense to the modern mind, not just because Jesus sets the example of humility, but because it plainly declares God’s evaluation of our sinfulness. Our sin is so serious in the mind of God that He sent His only Son to pay the penalty for it. This is an affront to pride, a slap in the face of all self-confidence and self-exaltation. It puts every human being in the lowest place.

Yet the words of Jesus promise to the humble something more. His words add a call to “move up higher.” So does the passage from Philippians as it adds what happened to Jesus after He took the lowest place.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
To humble myself does not have to involve something so dramatic as dying. Instead of picking the best view, the nicest looking options, the most comfortable chair, all I need to do is take a back seat and let others be more significant.

Lord, I selected Philippians 2:3-4 as my verses for this past year. (Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.) There have been some changes, for which I am thankful and attribute to Your grace. Yet I must confess the many times I think of myself first. Continue to remind me that true confidence is not about me. Instead, it is found in being like Jesus.

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