Published December 30, 2010
Luke 14:7-11; John 13:3-5, 14-15; Phil. 2:1-4
Bible Studies for Life, Jan 9
Humility is a trait often applauded, but seldom sought. Our culture values self-promotion as is evidenced by the numerous reality shows that flood cable TV. Pride is a valuable commodity marketed with every team jersey and karaoke machine. Humility too often involves humiliation, which is to be avoided at all costs.
However, humility is one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith. The call to humility is found throughout the New Testament and is not optional for believer.
Paul issued a call to the Philippians to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel (1:27). He lists four qualities of the Christian life foundational of spiritual unity. The qualities are encouragement in Christ, comfort from his love, fellowship with the Holy Spirit and tenderness and compassion toward one another.
Paul assumes that true Christians have experienced these qualities and should strive for unity and love within the community of believers.
Unity does not come easy, especially in a diverse community. The culture of the Philippian Christians stressed competition and self-promotion. Effort is required to develop and maintain a community of peace and unity among cooperative people, but the task is even more difficult when people are interested only in themselves.
Building upon the qualities of the Christian life, Paul gives several commands necessary for unity. The first concern is the underlying motivation for actions. The church is not an organization in which individuals compete for status. Those who act merely to impress others or to gain personal benefit do not have the essential Christian qualities.
Impure motivations will only lead to divisiveness and infighting. Instead of self-aggrandizement, believers are to value others better than themselves. Paul defines humility as regarding others more important than oneself. Jesus taught to love one’s neighbor as oneself and Paul is applying that command to the Christian community.
We do not devalue our own worth in placing others first, but we see the value in others. The humility that a Christian has before God should pervade every aspect of their life and direct how they treat others. For Paul, the ultimate example of humility is Jesus Christ.
Jesus was invited to dine with a Pharisee and his friends on a Sabbath. There was a man out of place in that banquet who was probably there to create a dilemma for Jesus. The man was in need of healing, but before healing him, Jesus asked if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. When he was answered with silence, Jesus healed the man and pointed out the provisions of the law to save a life.
The Pharisees had been carefully observing Jesus, looking to catch him in some infraction or mistake. Healing on the Sabbath bothered their sensibilities and their regard for the healed man was minimal.
While the Pharisees had been observing Jesus, he had also been observing them. He noticed that they were mostly concerned about their seating arrangement at the banquet, which indicated their status. The Pharisees were primarily concerned with recognition by their peers.
Jesus responded with wise advice. Wedding banquets were among the most important events in their society and a prestigious place at these banquets was highly sought. Jesus warned that those who took a highly honored seat might be embarrassed when he was asked to give up his seat for someone more important. It would be better to seek a humbler seat and be asked to move up.
Luke points out that this is a parable and it is more than advice on dinner seating. Ultimately humility is before God and those who humble themselves before God will be exalted by Him.
The Pharisees sought honor before both God and men, but honor would be bestowed only on the humble.
To further explain humility, Jesus provided more advice on banquets. It was common for a man to invite people to a banquet and then they would feel obligated to invite that man to a banquet. The host pretended to be generous, but in reality expected his guests to pay him back.
Rather than playing a social advancement game, Jesus suggested that they invite those who could not repay their host. Rather than seek the praise of men of the same social rank, Jesus placed greater value on helping the needy.
To invite the poor and sick instead of the rich and prosperous required a great deal of generosity and humility. Ministry is not performed to gain the praise of men, but to humble oneself before God.
John 13:3-5, 14-15
In the final hours of His earthly ministry, Jesus gave the ultimate example of humility. Jesus was fully aware of His Divine identity and the power and authority given to Him from the Father. All honor and glory belong to God and His Son Jesus Christ, but Jesus laid aside the honor that He deserved. In these last hours Jesus literally takes the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7) and performed the most menial task.
Walking in sandals down dusty Mideast streets resulted in filthy feet. Meals were eaten
while reclining on low couches, which meant that feet were very close to both the food and the faces consuming the meal.
No one wanted dirty feet at a banquet, but no one wanted to touch feet. Usually the lowest servant, a Gentile or woman, would have the assignment to wash feet.
Disciples would perform menial tasks for their teacher, but footwashing was considered too low for disciples. A Rabbi would never wash feet, especially the feet of his disciples.
Jesus, though, was not concerned about the sensibilities of their culture. He performed the humblest action as a lesson for his disciples.
If Jesus lowered himself to the role of a menial servant, then His disciples should follow his example. There is no task too low for a servant of Christ.
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