Publication:Pastoral Letter, September 2000
Dear Friend in Christ:
I am writing about one of the most profound keys to divine favor – humility. It is a key that I have often lost, but whenever I have found it, doors opened into the Lord’s Kingdom. David said, “The humble shall hear and be glad” (Psalm 34:2). Humility is the key to be able to listen and find joyful rewards. Pride, on the other hand, causes one to be spiritually deaf and ultimately to stumble into destruction.
Ezekiel 28 describes Lucifer’s problem and why he was cast out of Heaven. Lucifer seemingly “had it all,” but verse 17 tells us that his heart was proud because of his beauty. Pride led a revolt even in Heaven, before time and history as we know it. And pride remains first among the things that God hates even now (see Proverbs 6:17). There was no room for pride in heaven then and there isn’t any room for it on earth now.
Then came the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve. The Serpent, the incarnation of Lucifer, said, “Eat this and become like God.” And so the original proud one appealed to beautiful but naive Eve. Then disobedient Adam ate the fruit also. So pride led us all on the historical journey away from what could have been, had humility led the way.
Pride promises so much, but delivers disaster, shame, contention, and destruction. Pride is the usher that leads us to a fall. Pride uses our resources, gifts, and successes to blind us to the fact that it is all by God’s grace. It blinds us to His counsel and to our own weaknesses. Pride makes us deaf and blind, groping through unreality.
A common assessment in postmodern culture is, “Humility is for losers.” Ted Turner jokingly said, “If I was only humble, I would be perfect.” No doubt you have heard of the book, Humility and How I Achieved It. Or perhaps you heard about the church member who is given a badge for his humility. It was taken away, however, because he wore it. John Wesley was asked, “Are you sanctified?” He replied, “If I said that I was, I wouldn’t be.” Humility is elusive.
Winston Churchill said of a certain politician, “He is a humble man with much to be humble about.” King Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was a proud man with many apparent reasons to be proud, but he failed to realize he was in his position by the grace of God. For seven years, he lived in insanity. His descendent, King Belshazzar, failed to learn from Nebuchadnazar’s experience and he was struck down in his pride and never recovered.
Though I have preached and taught on humility, and have at times even manifested small measures of it, I have come to believe that I know very little about it, and I am saddened by that fact since I have discovered it to be so crucial to Christian character. This has caused me to revisit the subject scripturally.
THE TRUTH ABOUT HUMILITY
Humility is often equated with weakness or weak people. Such people are humbled by necessity. But who knows if they were given better circumstances that they would remain so? To other people, humility is a condition to be put on or taken off, depending on their proximity to Sunday morning or to someone who could benefit them. Such humility is a feigned condition.
Consider some of those whom the Bible gives us as models of humility: Moses, who was still powerful at age 120; David, who slew the giant; Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God; and Paul, the great apostle. All truly great people, who are great in the biblical sense, have humility of heart. What are some of the characteristics of biblical humility?
- Humility is not the absence of options; that is defeat and failure.
- Humility is the choice to take a lower seat when a higher one is available.
- Humility is knowing that promotion comes from God.
- Humility is refusing to boast, because God is our strength.
- Humility is refusing to be selfish, because God is our Provider.
- Humility is refusing to proclaim our own merit, because God is our righteousness.
- Humility is refusing to be presumptuous, because our times are in His hand.
- Humility is a crown of grace upon the truly righteous and a regal robe that covers true greatness.
- Humility waits on God
- Humility opens hearts.
- Humility rides the donkey when stallions are available.
Let me give a biblical example of that last statement.
RIDING THE DONKEY
Zechariah 9:9 prophesied that the Messiah-King would come to Zion, humble, riding on a donkey. There it was plain as could be, right in the Old Testament. The Pharisees memorized it, but they missed it when it finally happened. When Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, they didn’t “get it.” The shouts of “Hosanna!” gave way in a matter of hours to shouts for crucifixion.
I am afraid that the problem is bigger than Israel 2,000 years ago. Most people just can’t see the donkey. They admire Jesus, but don’t understand why He rode a donkey. Jesus was entering a failing kingdom with failing values riding on a symbol of humility. His would not be a forcible entry. His Kingdom would be an entry into hearts, and humility was the key. It was the key for Him in His Incarnation and the key for those who would receive Him.
That is why He said, it is with difficulty that the rich enter the Kingdom of God. It is more difficult to be humble when you have achieved so much. And whether or not we have achieved much, humility is difficult for all of us…but it remains the key. Some people seem to have a basis for pride – others are proud for no obvious reason at all.
Israel clung to their traditions and glorious past with great pride. Even in their poverty and slavery to Rome, they maintained their sense of arrogance. The priests, the Pharisees, and the officials reeked with self-righteousness. Into that crowd, Jesus rode a donkey.
I recently read an interview with a former citizen of Germany, who as a young boy, saw the terrible horrors of World War II. Later, the boy left Germany and became a citizen of the United States. He was asked by the journalist, “Are you proud to be an American?” He said, “No, that was Germany’s problem; they were proud to be Germans.” He continued, “I am grateful to be an American.” Grateful is good. It speaks of humility and the fact that someone knows that what he or she has is a gift. But pride thinks of one’s blessings only as achievements, and that is what leads to a fall.
Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem. And even when He was in His mother’s womb, He rode a donkey to Bethlehem. In fact, you could say, “He always rode the donkey.” “Was Jesus weak? No! (Ask the money-changers in the temple!)
Many prophets had seen glimpses of the Messiah. Zechariah saw a humble king riding on a donkey. Micah saw him born in unlikely Bethlehem. One prophet saw Him growing up in unlikely Nazareth. Isaiah saw Him as the tortured sacrificial Lamb, and he saw Him dying with thieves_unlikely companions. All of this is so different than what Israel was looking for. This was not the Savior on a white horse. This was a Savior from among common men.
When Gabriel spoke to Mary, the young virgin and commoner, she said, “He has regarded the humble estate of His bondslave. He has scattered the proud in heart. He has exalted the humble. He has filled the hungry good things.” Everything about Jesus, from the prophets to the cross, speaks of humility. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he says that Jesus “emptied Himself.” That was a choice. He had chosen the donkey that He rode with dignity and grace right into the hearts of hundreds of millions of people.
The Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew, chapters 5 through 7, is perhaps Jesus’ best-known sermon. In Matthew 5:3-12, Jesus shares “The Beatitudes” (when I memorized them at age 12, I called them “The Blesseds”). These are keys to God’s favor and prosperity in His Kingdom. I always thought of them as referring to several spiritual traits that God would reward. Recently, I changed my mind.
I ask you to remember two things about the Beatitudes: First, Jesus is introducing His Kingdom to people who were used to a very different kind of rule. Second, He is telling them what condition God would favor most in His Kingdom. It is my belief that the entire passage is about humility as a basis for blessing. The One who rode the donkey of humility is offering us a ride on His donkey.
Poor in spirit – take the posture of a spiritual beggar seeking something from God.
Mourn – be grieved over our condition, so that we can be comforted by grace.
Meek – be restrained and wait on God for our inheritance.
Hunger and thirst for righteousness – realize our own unrighteousness, and seek the righteousness that can only come from Him.
Merciful– understand we give mercy because we live by His mercy.
Pure in heart – be open and honest with God.
Peacemaker – be free from pride, which is the source of contention.
Persecuted – realize that it is not personal and refuse to be defensive.
All of these traits are facets and, in fact, definitions of humility. Jesus’ sermon goes on to say that such people are the salt of the earth. That is, those traits hold together and preserve relationships in Christ’s Kingdom. To lose that character is to be divided and trodden down. We must judge whether or not we ourselves and the Church have lost humility.
RIDING THE DONKEY TO THE HARVEST
Jesus reached the humble through His own humility. The proud went away empty. He was gracious to those who saw their sin, but harsh toward those who were blind to their sin.
Perhaps many of us need to get off our “white chargers” and onto “donkeys” in order to more successfully share the Gospel to the humble in a truly humble way. The Bible is full of promises for the humble and full of warnings for the proud. If we humble ourselves, the Lord will bring a great harvest and bring us to it.
It is not easy to get down from a “great horse” to a lowly donkey. In fact, sometimes we have to fall off the horse to find the donkey. Sometimes we can see the donkey through tears of repentance, or by simply hearing God say, “Humble yourself.” However we make this transition, it will bring peace and joy, and it will open doors that only someone riding a donkey could enter.
I pray that we can all enter into that peace and joy. Please keep CSM in your prayers and in your giving, as we face many challenges and opportunities this Autumn. May God bless you and yours this month, and always!
Charles V. Simpson
Scripture reference: Psalm 34:2; Proverbs 6:17; Zachariah 9:9; Matthew 5:3-12