What if I was to tell you that I would be graduating high-school early? That I am really smart and am going to get a scholarship to college? While neither of those facts are true that kind of attitude is. People today are very arrogant and boastful. They like to point out the things that they do well and brag about them. I sometimes fall into this trap. It feels good to get compliments on things that you do well. Our society tells us to do this. Brag and tell everyone how good you are, but what does the Bible say about this?
In Matthew 23 Jesus is rebuking the scribes and Pharisees. Verse 12 reads, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”(ESV) The word humble is used twice in this verse. The first time it is used the Greek word is tapein?th?setia, meaning, “shall be abased.” At first I didn’t know what the word abased meant so I looked up some synonyms. The synonyms were words like belittle, lower, humiliate, shame, demean, etc… So when it says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled,” it means that they are going to be shamed and humiliated. That doesn’t sound good. The second time we see a word like humble in this verse the Greek uses a different word, so it has a different meaning. This word, tapeinos, means “to denote of low degree.” Another way of saying that would be, “to be a sign of low degree or be brought low.” According to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary it is used always in a good sense in the New Testament.
Going back to the Greek and seeing the difference in the words used adds more of an impact in my mind. Let’s replace the words with their definitions, then read the verse. “Whoever exalts himself will be belittled, and whoever brings himself low will be exalted.” We have several examples of people humbling themselves before God, such as: Ahab (1 Kings 21:25-29), Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:26), Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:10-12), even Jesus (Philippians 2:5-8). In all of these examples the Bible says that they were lifted up after this. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). They were blessed after they humbled themselves to the Lord. We also have examples of people not humbling themselves to the Lord: Amon (2 Chronicles 33:21-25) and Zedekiah (2 Chronicles 36: 11-12). Once again the Bible tells us about their outcome and when they did not humble themselves they were belittled.
What did they do? The Bible says that they humbled themselves, but how did they do that? In the book of Exodus there are several Bible stories that we tell a lot. One of these is the Israelite Captivity and the 10 Plagues. Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go so God sent the plagues until he did. If you look at Exodus 10:3 we see a message that God gave Moses for Pharaoh. It reads, “So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go that they may serve me.” Pharaoh was not humbling himself to God, he was by not obeying Him. What we can draw from this is the opposite, if we do obey God then we are humbling ourselves to Him. We can’t choose to listen to God about some things and not others. When He tells us not to do something we don’t do it and when He tells us to do something we do it. 1 Peter 5:5 says to “clothe ourselves with humility.” Humility is seen, we can’t just say that we are humble, we have to live it! In fact, if we tell someone we are humble that is a pretty good indication that this is an area we might need to work on.
In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. In the parable the Pharisee makes a big show about how he is better than the tax collector, while the tax collector won’t even look up because of his shame. This parable is a representation of people humbling themselves. The Pharisee wasn’t living his life in the way that God wanted, yet he still would brag and boast and thought himself better than everyone else. The tax collector knew that he was wrong so he humbled himself before God and was recognized for that. Verse 14 in this chapter very closely mirrors 1 Peter 5:6 and James 4:10. We can see Jesus, James, and the apostle Peter all telling us to be humble. They knew this wasn’t popular and it wasn’t easy but we are still to do it. Not that we can ever achieve “perfect” humility, but it is something we should work towards daily.
So how do we apply this to our lives? In the book of Colossians chapter 3 there are two lists. One is a list of worldly things and the other of godly things. Verse 5 reads, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” This is the list of worldly things, meaning not pleasing to God. If you go down to verse 12 we see the second list, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.” These are good, spiritual things that God wants us to show in our lives. So obviously the second list is what is pleasing to God, but there is another way that the lists are connected. The first list is a list of things that are about self, what we want, while the second list is about our relationships with others. So in order to humble ourselves to God we also need to humble ourselves to each other. Think about it, pride is antonym to humble. If you are prideful you aren’t going to lower yourself down. If we humble ourselves to our brethren we are going to put their needs and wants before ours. This could be something small like holding a door open for someone, helping a little kid get something they can’t reach, or helping someone younger find the verses during worship. Other times it might be something like filling in for the Ladies’ Bible Class song leader or for a Bible class teacher.
Our world isn’t getting any better at this. Kids don’t always have manners and adults don’t always act like adults. It is important that we remember to be humble. To put what God says and wants first, and put what other’s need second. Our efforts might not be recognized on Earth but they will be recognized in Heaven. We just need to remember to be humble.