HUMILITY: THE SECRET TO GREATNESS AND TRUE REST
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (NASB).
“The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.” (Phillips Brooks)
The Navigators are well known for their emphasis on having a servant attitude. A businessman once asked Lorne Sanny, president of the Navigators, how he could know when he had a servant attitude. The reply: “By how you act when you are treated like one.”
In Matthew's Gospel chapter 11:28, Jesus invites us to come to Him. The invitation is for salvation, but He does not end there. He also commands us to learn from Him, for He is gentle and humble in heart (v. 29). The problem with many people today is that they want to come to Jesus to receive salvation but they don't want to learn from Him. In other words, they think all that they need is salvation but not the fruit of the Spirit that Christ wants to build into their lives. The reason many Christians do not have peace, rest, and contentment in life is that they have ignored or rejected the gentleness and humility of Christ. In fact, there is no harder lesson to learn than the lesson of humility. It is not taught in the schools of men, only in the school of Christ. It is the rare fruit of the Christian life.
I believe that humility was the hardest lesson, which Jesus had to teach His disciples while He was here on earth. I also believe that if you are humble enough you will experience the richest blessings of the Lord. The conditions for God's blessings upon your life depends more on you than on the Lord, because He is always ready to give a blessing and give it freely, but you are not always in a position to receive it. God always blesses the humble, and if you can get down on the dust before Him, you will not go away from His presence disappointed. It was Mary at the feet of Jesus, who had chosen the “better part.”
Have you considered the reason Jesus gave for you and me to learn of Him? He could have said, “Learn of Me, because I am the most advanced thinker of the age. I have performed miracles that no one else has performed. I have shown My supernatural power in a thousand ways.” But no: the reason He gave was that He was “Gentle and humble in heart.”
We read of the three men in the Bible whose face radiated with the glory of God, and all of them were noted for their gentleness and humility. We are told that the face of Jesus shone at His transfiguration on the Mountain. Moses, having been on Mount Sinai for forty days, came down from his communion with God with a shining face; and when Stephen stood in the presence of his accusers before the day of his death, his face was lighted up with glory. If your face is to shine you must get into the valley of humility; you must go down in the dust before God.
Someone asked Saint Augustine what was the first of the religious graces, and he said, “Humility.” They asked him what was the second, and he replied, “Humility.” They asked him the third time, and he said, “Humility.” If you and I have humility we have all the graces of God we need. Humility is like a sensitive plant, when you breathe on it, suddenly it drops its head, and when you touch it; it withers away. Humility is so sensitive that it cannot be brought out on exhibition. A Christian who is flattering himself that he is humble and is walking close to the Master is self-deceived. It consists not in thinking meanly of oneself but not in thinking of oneself at all. Moses did not know that his face shone.
A man was given an award for his humility but the award was taken away from him because he received it. If humility speaks of itself it is gone. Today, we hear of Christian men and women who call themselves “anointed men and women” of God. In the Bible only Jesus called Himself “The Anointed One,” which means “The Christ.”
A person can counterfeit love, he can fake faith, he can counterfeit hope and all the other graces of God, but it is impossible to counterfeit humility. You soon detect mock humility. In the East among the Arabs they have a saying that as the tares and the wheat grow they can show which of them God has blessed. The ears that God has blessed bow their heads and acknowledge every grain, and the more fruitful they are the lower their heads are bowed. The tares, which God has sent as a curse, lift up their heads erect, and high above the wheat, but they are only fruitful of evil.
Many years ago, the London Times told a story of a petition that was being circulated for signatures. It was a time of great excitement, and this petition was intended to have great influence in the House of Lords. But there was one word left out. Instead of reading, “We humbly beseech thee,” it read, “We beseech thee.” So it was ruled out. Ladies and gentlemen, if we want to make an appeal to the God of the universe, we must humble ourselves; and if we humble ourselves we will not be disappointed.
As I have been studying some of the Bible characters that illustrate humility, I have been ashamed of myself, and our contemporary Christianity. When I put my life beside some of these men and women of God in the Scriptures, I say, “Shame on the Christianity of the present day.” If you want to have a true picture of who you are before God, look at some of the people in the Bible that have been clothed with gentleness and humility and see what a contrast is your position before God and man.
One of the gentle people in history was John the Baptist. You recall when the Sanhedrin sent a delegation to him to inquire if he were the Prophet Elijah who had come, or this prophet or that prophet. But John said, “No.” He could have said some very flattering things about himself. He could have said, “I am the son of the old priest Zacharias. Haven't you heard of my fame as a preacher? I have baptized more people, probably than any man alive. The world has never seen a preacher like me.” There are some preachers today who would have done that were they in the shoes of John the Baptist. Today is the age of boasting. It is the day of the great “I.” Have you noticed that in some Christian quarters the pastors' names are mentioned more than that of Jesus Christ? But man-centered Christianity is an abomination to God. Man centered-Christianity is curse from the Garden of Eden. That is why we do not experience true revival from God. John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Let me challenge you to study the Psalms of David carefully. In all the Davidic Psalms there is not a single reference of his victory over the giant Goliath. If it had been today there would have been volumes of dissertations written about this victory of David. We live in a day when people publicize their achievements and say little about what Christ has done. If David were alive today he would be in demand as a lecturer, and he would have the title G.G.K.—"Great, Giant, Killer." That is how life is today; great evangelists, great preachers, great theologians, and great bishops.
The delegation asked John, “Who are you?” I am nobody. "I am to be heard, not to be seen. I am only a voice.” John had no word to say about himself. If you can only get self out of sight and learn of Him who was gentle and humble in heart, you will be lifted up into the heavenly places.
In Mark 1:7 it is stated that John came and preached saying, “There comes one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” Think of that and bear in mind that Jesus Christ was regarded as a deceiver, a village carpenter, and yet here is John, the son of the old priest, who had a higher position in the sight of men than that of Jesus. Great crowds were coming to hear him preach, even Herod attended his meetings.
When his disciples came and told John that Christ was beginning to draw crowds, he nobly responded, “A man can receive nothing except it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, "I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him." He that has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice; thus my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase but I must decrease.”
It is easy to read that but it is hard for you and me to live in the power of such humility. It is very hard for us to be ready to decrease, to grow smaller and smaller, that Christ may increase. The morning star fades away when the sun rises. “He that comes from above is above all; he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaks of the earth: He that comes from heaven is above all, and what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no man receives His testimony. He that has received His testimony has set to his seal that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for God gives not the Spirit by measure to Him” (John 3:31-34).
Now search your own heart. Let the Word and the Spirit of God throw their light on you. Have you been decreasing lately? Do you think less of yourself and of your position than you did a year ago? Are you seeking to obtain some position of dignity? Do you want to hold on to some title, and are you offended because you were not treated with the courtesy that is due you? The Pharisees were interested in John's credentials, but John did not want any title. We live in a day and time when people buy titles, and some take the titles by force without laboring for them. But when you are right with God, you do not worry about titles. In one of his Letters written earlier, Paul calls himself the “least of all of the apostles.” Later on he claims to be “less than the least of all the saints,” and again just before his death, he declares humbly that he is the “chief of sinners.” Notice how Paul seems to have grown smaller and smaller in his estimation. So it was with John the Baptist. My prayer is that contemporary Christians will stop praising and honoring men and women and letting Christ have all the honor and glory. Humanist Christianity is like a curse of the Great Babel in the Old Testament.
In light of John's humility read what Jesus Christ says about him: “He was a burning and a shining light." Christ gave him the honor that belonged to him. If you take a humble position, Christ will see it. If you want God to help and honor you, then take a humble position.
If you had been in John's position you would have said, “What did Christ say? I am a burning and shining light?” You would have had that recommendation grafted on a plaque and hanged it in your office. You would have put it in the newspapers and you would have sent them to your friends, with that part highlighted with yellow marker.
Ladies and gentlemen let us stop patting ourselves at the back and let others praise us. Do not go around praising yourself. If you want God to lift you up, get down. The lower you get, the higher God will lift you up. The Bible says, “God resists the proud but He exalts the humble.” Jesus Christ's eulogy of John was, “Greater than any man born of woman.” Isn't it good to have Jesus Christ, the God-Man say something like this about you?
The one virtue of Jesus Christ Himself, which is next to His obedience, is His humility (Eph. 2:5-11).
In a class in homiletics in a theological school different students would preach their sermons before the class. After the sermon, the student would go into the office of the professor, who would criticize it and offer suggestions. One day, the saintly professor said to a student, “The sermon you gave yesterday was mighty fine. The truth you dealt with was well arranged and well presented. But your sermon had one omission—a grave one, too. There was no word in it for a poor sinner like me!”
Hsu Chu came from a wealthy Chinese family. He entered the China Inland Mission Hospital to be trained as a nurse. He dressed immaculately. One day he was asked to perform a menial service—to clean and shine some shoes. He felt insulted and refused. “No gentleman or scholar would do such a lowly work,” he said. The superintendent of the hospital took the shoes and shined them. Hsu Chu looked on with mingled feelings. “Come with me to my office,” said the superintendent. Then He asked Hsu Chu to read the thirteenth chapter of John. His eyes filled with tears as he read the verse: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another's feet” (John 13:14). “May Jesus forgive me,” he prayed. Thereafter no one scrubbed floors, washed dishes, shined shoes, or did other lowly tasks more joyfully than Hsu Chu. How sad it is that in some churches you cannot get volunteers to clean the sanctuary, and yet everyone expects God to bless and use him/her.
Brothers and sisters in Christ let us be filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ so that gentleness and humility will characterize our life. When that happens no work will seem menial or beneath your dignity. After all, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. That was the job of the lowest of house slaves in the First century. Humility will help you to ignore the approval of men and women and seek the approval of God. If Jesus were to say something about you what would He say? Pursue humility and Christ will exalt you in due time.