Following on from my previous blog post about humility, a few further thoughts that occurred to me about this subject.
Firstly, I have to admit that I am a little bit embarrassed that I managed to write a blog post all about humility without really dwelling on the Person of Jesus, and the humility that He demonstrated. This might be a worse confession – that that blog post was not actually inspired through reading the Bible, but rather by looking at contemporary figures who have achieved excellence but still demonstrate humility. This is why Jesus was not exactly central in my mind when I was writing away… Anyway, this is clearly the time to rectify this, so let’s talk about Jesus!
The humility of Christ
There is one significant passage in the New Testament that explicitly dwells on the humility of Christ, and that is to be found in Philippians 2v5-7:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God…
The point of this passage is that Jesus actually is God. It is not as if He pretended to be God, or He aspired to be God, or He tried to be the best person He could be. He actually is God. As a Man He was also God. He had always been God. He always would be God. And yet, the Bible tells us, that as God He humbled Himself. v7: “Taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men…” v8 “He humbled Himself…”
So I think that what we can take from this is the following: No matter what we achieve in life, clearly we will never attain to the level of being God. Yet if God Himself were able to humble Himself, if He were able to take the form of a bondservant – literally a slave – then so can we! No matter what we might have achieved, no matter what success might surround our lives, no matter the depth of the intimacy that we have reached with God, we too can put other people first, we can perform menial tasks, we can choose to focus always on what needs to be done, rather than insisting always on our own dignity. And Jesus actually did this. In John 13 we have the account where Jesus literally washed the feet of his disciples. That is, He wrapped a towel around His middle, and He physically washed the feet of His disciples – with His own hands, and a basin of water! This is one of the reasons why to me it is so clear that the Bible is true: all the miracles continue to resonate through the ages, and remain as miraculous now as they were when they were first performed – that is, the relentless march of science has not made speaking animals or healed blindness any less remarkable now than then. So it is with this account of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. This is not a miracle as such. However, I’m sure that no culture exists where this account would not be breathtaking – where the master Himself stooped to wash the feet of His followers. Washing people’s feet must count among the most humble tasks in any human culture, across different languages, ages, timezones. And then when we consider that this same Jesus is not merely the master of His disciples, but even the Master of the entire Universe…! I cannot even imagine normal pastors doing this…
“What of you, Tosin?”, you ask – to which I reply:”You cannot be serious!” I don’t think I could wash someone’s feet even if they had previously washed them themselves! And yet this is the humility that we are to emulate – the higher we get, the lower we are to be prepared to stoop in service for others around us. This is part of what Paul means when he says “Let this mind be in you…..”
In a way though, this is the humility of excellence, when you actually are excellent. Because we are not perfect, and we are not Jesus, and we are fallible, we also have to embrace and exhibit the humility of imperfect people.
Part of the humility that we have to exhibit is the knowledge that we are prone to sin, and we are imperfect, and vulnerable. So for that reason, while we are on earth, we can never afford to rest on our laurels, or rely on our past glories. We can never think that we have arrived at the point where we are incapable of making mistakes. So part of our humility has to be openness to listening to others correcting us, or identifying destructive traits within ourselves, sometimes these traits will actually be wrapped up in our success. For instance, someone might be so driven to succeed and excel at work that they ignore their family, and/or their relationship with God, or in the desperation of their desire to push forward they might start displaying manipulative tendencies. Perhaps many people will ignore these tendencies for someone who appears to be “getting results” in life, however so many times things will eventually spiral out of control and everything will collapse like a heap of cards, and all the good-time friends will melt away.
Seen this way, humility is not a weakness, but is actually a strength, like an internal audit system, to make sure that you remain on a constructive rather than a destructive path. As Christians we are to deeply cultivate, even as we aspire to the utmost heights in our intimacy with God.
Candles image by George Hodan from http://www.publicdomainpictures.net