Genuine humility is initiated by a change of heart that works itself out to applications. The practice of Christian humility is summarized in James (notice the verbs)
· “Submit yourselves, then, to God.
· Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
· Come near to God and he will come near to you.
· Wash your hands, you sinners, and
· Purify your hearts, you double-minded.
· Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:7-10
The genuinely humble do not seek their own honor, but rather seek to honor God. But in the end, God honors them. A true servant does not seek his own reward, but rather serves because he has accepted the Lordship of Christ. But in the end, Christ rewards him. This is the dichotomy – similar to Luke 9:24 “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” By dying to self, and giving up what we may have sought in the flesh, we obtain it.
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple, the teaching about humility is more narrowly focused and has to do with humility in prayer. The proud, self-assured person is inclined to use God as a kind of mirror to reflect the personal excellence of the one doing the praying. “I’m glad I’m not like the others, Lord. I’m sure You are, too.” The humble person, on the other hand, prays with an awareness that he or she doesn’t have a leg to stand on, that the Lord is doing a favor simply by allowing this person to address Him. One might suggest that the prayer of the person in need is louder in God’s ears than the prayers of other people because it more accurately echoes the true relationship between God and God’s human creatures. The humble person expresses more clearly who he is and who God is than the proud person does.
Probably nobody consciously addresses the Lord in the terms used by the Pharisee in the Gospel. But it may well be that many of us are not particularly willing to cast our prayer in the terms that the tax collector uses. Why? Maybe because we are afraid that God will not bother with us if we do. Or maybe because we don’t really believe that we are lowly, needy, and truly sinful.
“False humility is practiced quite a lot in oriental societies, where people pretend to be humble, expecting to be exalted. It doesn’t work to the same degree in Western societies in which honesty is more highly valued, but the principle is there. But Jesus has elsewhere spoken to such man-pleasers thusly: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” John 5:44
Trying to please people falsely for one’s own selfish ends is not a characteristic of a servant of Christ, as Paul writes: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Gal 1:10. Yet Jesus was speaking to those who were still trying to please men to gain honor for themselves.
Does your practice match your talk? Jesus chides the scribes and Pharisees for their showy practices. In a way they wanted to be good models of observant Jews. See how well we observe all the ritual rules and regulations of our religion! In their misguided zeal for religion they sought respect and honor for themselves rather than for God and for his word. They made the practice of their faith a burden rather than a joy for the people they were supposed to serve. Respect for God and his ways inclines us to Godly humility and simplicity of heart. The word disciple means one who listens in order to learn. Christ shows us the way to the Father — the way of peace, joy, righteousness, holiness, and true happiness. He showed us the way by lowering himself as a servant for our sake. He humbled himself, even to death on a cross, that we might be raised up and exalted at the Father’s right hand in heaven (Phil. 2:1-11). What is true Christ-like humility? Humility is true self-knowledge — regarding oneself as God see each of us. The humble do not trust in themselves, but trust in God and in the power of his love and saving grace. True humility is a servant-like quality which enables one to place his or her life at the service of God and others. Do you know the joy of Christ-like humility and simplicity of heart?
Humility is important because it is God’s pathway to infinite pleasure. Listen to what God has to say: Proverbs 16:19, “It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil of the proud.” Better humble and poor than proud and rich. 1 Peter 5:5, “Clothe yourselves all of you with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Isaiah 66:2, “Thus says the Lord, ‘This is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”’
In the words of Jesus:
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven…
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…
Unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven…
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 5:3, 5; 18:3, 4; 23:12).
“Lord, teach us your way of servant hood and humility that we may walk in love as you have loved. Fill us with the joy of servant hood that we may inspire others to walk in your way of happiness and holiness.”