“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,” - Ephesians 4:2
In this short blog, I want to reflect on the first virtue mentioned in this verse. We all tend to think that we have a surplus of humility and paradoxically we are sometimes even proud of our humility! We are quick to see a splinter of pride in others and try to ignore the gigantic plank of pride which we are carrying. And yet, pride is a real barrier to spiritual progress and growth. God unequivocally condemns pride. Humility is therefore a characteristic of a Spirit-filled Christian life.
In the much quoted passage in Paul's letter to the Philippians, we are given the high standard of Christ's humility as the example to follow.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” - Philippians 2:3
I find that verse personally challenging. There may be times when I put someone's needs before my own but this verse raises the bar even higher - nothing to be done from selfish ambition or conceit. Do other Christians or family members or neighbours matter more to me than myself and my own reputation or comfort or well-being? The next verse expands on this:
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” - Philippians 2:4
It might be tempting to think that this verse permits us to think of our own interests as long as we equally consider the interests of others. However, the example of the Lord Jesus which is then presented, makes it clear that he put the needs of others before himself. Christ Jesus, while remaining fully as God, chooses to come to earth and carry out the mission assigned to him from the Father. As the eternal Son of God who is himself the form (Greek word morphe i.e. very nature) of God, he must come in the form (Greek word morphen i.e. very nature) of a servant. That is, he must come fully as a man, and as a man he must live His life and give his life as one of us. In so doing, the Lord pours himself out (all who he is) as he takes on, in addition to his full divine nature, a full human nature.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2: 8.
Jesus Christ is the supreme example of humility.
In today's materialistic society, such self-sacrificial humility is not always admired. The pervading culture encourages us to be ambitious and to seek advancement socially, professionally and economically. If there is a blockage in our path to advancement, we will assert our rights and challenge anyone who stands in our way.
Humility is not an optional extra from God's perspective. The Bible is full of examples of people who fell because of their pride. One example of the condemnation of pride is found in Jeremiah 13: 15-17.
“Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness. But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the LORD's flock has been taken captive.”
God has spoken again to Jeremiah and this passage reveals that His greatest concern is the people's pride and absence of humility. The core of the problem is clearly identified - a failure to recognise God's sovereignty. They were not "giving glory to God." They did not fully appreciate the glory and power and majesty of the Sovereign Lord, the
Creator of the universe.
Note the repeated references to God's sovereign control of the universe:
"he brings darkness"; " he turns it (light) into gloom"; "(he) makes it (light) deep darkness".
There is also the acknowledgement of God's possession of His people - "the LORD's flock". It is against such a backdrop of divine sovereignty that human failure stands out in sharp contrast.
The leaders are especially singled out for criticism for their love for the symbols of earthly power - their crowns. They had lost sight of the One who was really in control and they imagined that power belonged to them.
The king and his mother thought that they had ultimate authority and they had lost sight of God on His throne.
Say to the king and the queen mother: "Take a lowly seat, for your beautiful crown has come down from your head." (Verse 18)
Jamieson, Faussett and Brown identify these two individuals as Jehoichin and his mother. As he was only 18 when he came to the throne, his mother was the real power. If we study a map showing the political situation at this time, we soon discover that the tiny state of Judah was dwarfed by very powerful 'super powers.' And yet this small state felt that they did not need God and believed that they were strong enough to survive with the help of their allies.
If we are marked by pride, we are failing to realise God's sovereign control over the universe, over the church and over our individual lives. If we fail to take account of his warnings he will act in judgement. This happened to Judah when God used one of the super-powers - the Babylonians – to invade the country and cause massive destruction and bloodshed and take many of the people into exile. Although God's intervention might not be on the same scale as what happened in Jeremiah's day, this passage serves as a stark warning against pride and the need for humility in Christian service.