Humility is a tricky value to possess. Once you think you have acquired it, you have already lost it.
We are to aspire to humility but never act as if we have acquired it.
The complexity of humility is seen well in the life of Moses.
- rescued from an ethnic cleansing (Ex 2:3),
- adopted into Pharaoh’s family (Ex 2:10),
- brandished his personal strength in order to redeem (Ex 2:12),
- confronted Pharaoh through miraculous signs (Ex 4:21),
- led the people through the parted Red Sea (Ex 14:29),
- received the Ten Commandments from the hands of God (Ex 31:18),
- and led the stubborn people up to the brink of the Promised Land (Deut 34:3).
Few ministry resumes exist with more clout than the list of accomplishments mentioned in Moses’ history. Given this type of experience, Moses could have easily struggled with pride.
Contrastingly, Moses’ life was marked more with humility than pride. It is written that “the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). The hilarity of that verse is that many translations have the entire verse contained within parentheses because most scholars believe that Moses wrote the Book of Numbers! Certain commentators believe that verse must be an editorial comment because as soon as you write that you are the most humble person in the whole world you just became the most prideful person in the whole world.
Can you brag about it if you are actually the most humble person in the world?
You can wrestle with the philosophical discussion concerning whether or not the most humble person could accurately write such a statement without disqualifying themselves at a later date, but the main takeaway is this: the closer you encounter God, the more humble you become. If Moses had been a part of so many incredible moments, how could he remain so humble? Simple. He knew the LORD face to face (Deut 34:10).
His proximity to the LORD kept his position in perspective.
Where is humility acquired? It’s in the presence of someone greater.
Moses wasn’t the only one like this though.
- Righteous Job covered his mouth speechless when he finally encountered God whom he so desired to question (Job 40:4).
- The presence of God made Joshua the commander on the eve of battle fall on his face and worship (Josh 5:14).
- King David marveled that God would even think about creatures as small as himself (Ps 8:3-4).
- King Solomon, the richest and most successful leader in Israel, saw himself in the presence of God as a little child unable to discern the simplest of tasks (1 Kings 3:7).
- After experiencing the LORD high and lifted up (Isa 6:1), Isaiah didn’t feel better about himself but feared for his safety given his sinful condition (Isa 6:5).
These examples from the great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1) are just a sampling. When people encountered God in the Old Testament and the New Testament, they rarely walked away thinking highly of themselves. In fact, they rarely thought of themselves at all.
Their gaze had been set on another much more magnificent and had displaced the need to focus upon themselves any longer.
Andrew Murray wrote, “True humility comes when before God we see ourselves as nothing, have put aside self, and let God be all. The soul that has done this, and can say, ‘I have lost myself in finding you,’ no longer compares itself with others. It has given up forever any thought of self in God’s presence.”
Most people attempt to exalt themselves in one way or another. Jesus once again breaks the paradigm by teaching that servant leaders don’t position themselves for exaltation. They do their job and allow God to do the positioning. Jesus taught that someone should not even desire to sit at the head table but instead seek out the lowliest place possible (Luke 14:8).
Nearing his death, Jesus even taught his disciples that no one should even aspire to an office of leadership (Matt 23:10). Combatting the Pharisees who thought that their efforts earned them special places of leadership in God’s eyes, Jesus actually opposed the very desire to be a leader based on one’s perceived qualifications. Jesus sated, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matt 23:12). The totality of Scripture affirms Jesus’ statement.
God can and will dramatically humble those who try to promote themselves.
As Jesus humbly washed his disciples’ feet during the Last Supper (John 13:5-20), he exemplified true humility. Not only was it an unthinkable, lowly task, omniscient Jesus willfully washed the feet of Judas who would soon betray him (John 18:1-9), Peter who would deny him (John 18:25-27), and the remaining ten disciples who would abandon him in the crucial coming hours (Matt 26:56).
If Jesus, who did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped (Phil 2:6), could humble himself, should it really be that difficult for someone like me to humble myself? Humility should be the natural response to encountering Christ.
If I truly encounter Jesus, how can I not be humble?
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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