It’s Hard To Be Humble
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matthew 18 is the Magna Carta for Children. Jesus put dignity on little ones. We gladly sing about it, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Believers love this truth. The writer Dostoevski had one of his characters say if she were painting a picture of Jesus, she would show Him resting one hand on a child’s head.
Jesus’ care and concern for children was duplicated nowhere else in the ancient world. Before Him, the world had little regard for children. Baby girls were especially in danger, regularly abandoned or abused. The abandoned ones died or were raised as slaves, sex objects, or prostitutes.
Children were deemed burdens on society, as were women, old men, the sick, barbarians, and slaves. Jesus lifted the lot of the disenfranchised. By word and deed, He proved God loves all individuals equally.
Jesus’ love for children was a new, radical concept. His presenting them as special objects of God’s love made a permanent difference in the attitude of Christians, and wherever Christ’s influence spread.
The change in customs was abrupt. Christians began altering society immediately, collecting abandoned children and raising them as their own. They thereby established the long revered tradition of Christian adoptions.
From early days of the church, child abandonment and abortion were opposed. Justin Martyr railed against child abandonment. The Epistle of Barnabas, written about 131 A.D., declared “Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born. Thou shalt not withdraw thy hand from thy son, or from thy daughter” (19:10).
The capstone in the early church’s battle for children’s dignity was Augustine’s autobiography, “Confessions,” the first book to take childhood seriously. The renowned Church Father wrote of how he could look back and see God had worked even in his childhood. His point was, if God deals with the young, then a child is of equal worth to an adult in God’s Kingdom.
Matt. 18:4 (Holman) “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this
child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Humility is the main childlike trait believers are to imitate. Matthew Henry well said, “The humblest Christians are the best Christians.” Bishop John Ryle wisely wrote, “The surest mark of true conversion is humility.”
Humility births many beautiful virtues, including obedience to the Bible, love for others, kneeling in prayer, forgetting self. Humility removes ugly ambition, and lets us be content to treat others as equals. A rich child will play with a poor child until adult prejudices frown on the interaction.
Children don’t care about personal advancement or job promotions. A competitive adult world teaches them to scramble to be king of the hill.
Humility’s best result is that it lets us turn away from ourselves, and focus instead on God. We can’t look up if our eyes are riveted on self.
If we think of ourselves as being most important, we cannot know God. This is why Jesus has to humble us before He can elevate us. God always needs to empty us of ourselves before He can fill us with Himself.
Humility lets us trust God. Children trust until an unworthy adult breaks their trust. A child is humble, believing food, clothing, and other needs will be provided. Humble Christians trust God will provide for them.
Humility lets us depend on God. A child’s life is tied up in reception. They receive naturally, and don’t reject gifts due to wounded pride or ego.
Children are by nature content to be dependent on parents and other loving adults. Adults, on the other hand, want to be independent and self-sufficient, traits which often make it hard for them to depend on God.
True humility is wonderful and beautiful, a foretaste of Heaven, the essence of what’s expected of believers, yet tough to possess and do. Some say humility is the hardest Christian virtue to achieve. Why is this the case?
One, humility is impossible to gain in our own strength. We find it hard to humble ourselves enough to be willing to receive true humility from God. When we try to live the Christian life in our own strength, it is amazing how well we can mask, but not destroy, the sins of our former life, after being born again. Traits are often baptized without being converted.
God can dislodge our ambition, but if we try to remove it on our own, our old ambition can become lust for power in a church. Without God, our old habit of loudly trumpeting a cause can become a new habit of showing inordinate zeal. Unless God changes us, sinful performances and sinful acting for selfish fame and glory can turn into using piety to gain notice.
Two, humility is hard to achieve because the world does not value it. Would anyone disagree with the notion that USA could stand for United States of Ambition? Corporate America can be vicious, a dog-eat-dog world. Often, all that matters is climbing to the top, whatever the cost.
Three, humility is hard to gain because we are by birth, nature, and habit proud. Pride is strong in us. King Self is a formidable foe to King Jesus.
Four, humility is hard to have because we often don’t feel completely loved. We tend to be proud when in the presence of people we think don’t like us. But if we feel unconditionally loved, we can be content to be little.
Five, humility is hard to learn because it’s hard to pinpoint precisely. We often aim at the wrong target, befuddled by two extremes. One is vanity masquerading as honest humility. We have every right to state who we are in Christ and what we do for Him, but must avoid grandstanding.
There will be no crowing roosters in Heaven. We have to be examples—we must not hide our light under a bushel—but our sharing of who and what we are must be humble.
For years I did my daily devotions when and where no one could see me. I did not want to look self-righteous. Ruth one day said we should be more open about our devotions in order to be examples for our family.
That was a good word. It’s beautiful to see powerful dynamic Christians who show exemplary behavior without blowing their own horn.
A second extreme is self-castigation masquerading as humility. Humility is not morbid moping, being down in the dumps, looking sullen, stooped shoulders, or saying bad things about yourself. Some people take pride in their self-denying put-downs. By the way, if you have friends who always run themselves down, never agree with them, or you won’t have a friend any more. This fact proves they are not as sincere as they let on.
Artificial humility will not earn us credit for real humility. Humility is not being timid, shy, or self-deprecating. These attitudes, despite their initial air of humility, still make life “all about me.”
We are not to grovel. We are children of God with God-given gifts and strengths. Don’t throw yourself under the bus. Don’t lie by piously denying who and what you are.