I don’t know about you but when I would hear the word “humility,” my stomach used to turn a little bit. That word conjured up images of a person who hangs their head constantly and is convinced that no one likes them. Like that childhood song, their motto is “nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I guess I’ll go eat worms.” Anyone else?!
Perspectives like this come straight from our fallen world. The world gladly paints humble people as pushovers but in the same breath, so-called “research” says humility is necessary for success. Just look at this quote from the Huffington Post, “Studies have associated humility with healthy adjustment, good leadership and other positive emotions -- demonstrating that in order to reach total success, we could stand to benefit from getting in touch with our modest side.” Total success?! So, the world says that we should be humble because we’ll be happier, have better relationships, get a bigger promotion at work, and the list goes on and on. But who is the focus of that list? OURSELVES! Focusing on what I’m going to get out of being humble completely defeats the purpose of being humble in the first place! In fact, I’d say that the very opposite of humility is self-absorption. So, if the world’s approach to humility will actually lead us astray, how should we see humility differently as Christians?
I’m glad you asked! There are tons of examples of Jesus perfectly displaying humility in his dealings with other people. Probably one of the most well-known examples is in John 13, verses 1-17. In this story, we see Jesus as he is entering his last hours on earth. He has convened all the disciples for the Last Supper in the upper room and as they enter, Jesus prepares to wash their feet. This was shocking to the disciples since this task was normally performed by a servant. In verses 6-8 (The Message), it says,
“When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, “Master, you wash my feet?
Jesus answered, “You don’t understand now what I’m doing, but it will be clear enough to you later.”
Peter persisted, “You’re not going to wash my feet—ever!”
Jesus said, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”
WHOA. What could that possibly mean?! Well, practically everything that was recorded about the life of Christ was to show that what was written about Him in scripture was fulfilled. So, where do we find the true meaning of this washing as foretold in scripture? Let’s look at the Psalms.
Psalm 51:2 (NIV) Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Psalm 51:7 (NIV) Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
There are also verses such as Ezekiel 36:25, Acts 22:16, 1 Corinthians 6:11, and Hebrews 10:22. Suddenly this act that Jesus performed comes into sharper focus. Jesus wasn’t talking about the need for their feet to be clean, and he wasn’t doing this merely because a servant had not been provided. This simple act was to show that unless they be washed away of their sins, they cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
In verses 9-12 (MSG), it says,
“Master!” said Peter. “Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!”
Jesus said, “If you’ve had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now and you’re clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene.”
In this second part of his conversation with Peter, Jesus draws a parallel between baptism (the whole body being clean) and the daily process of surrendering ourselves to him (the washing of the feet). Jesus’ concern is for our holiness. And the true test of our holiness? Whether or not we have humility. In Jesus, a divine humility was the secret of His life and His death and His exaltation. For us, the one infallible test of our holiness will be the humility before God and others. Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness.
In our daily walk with Jesus, we must be humble enough to let him wash us clean of the things that separate us from him. Then, and only then, can we have humility with others, which is what he teaches the disciples about in verses 13-17 (MSG),
“So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.”
Jesus was guiding them and is now guiding us to live this way. No follower of Christ is above serving any other human being. And we don’t serve in order to gain something in return. We serve others with humility only after we have humbled ourselves before the One who created all of us!
Erin is a speaker and leadership development professional who has been in the learning and development field for over 12 years. She has a unique ability to engage with her audience and create learning experiences that inspire change and action. She is poised, articulate and delivers her message with passion.
Erin feels that God has called her to use her professional skills to further His kingdom. She is passionate about helping people develop skills and knowledge that will empower them to answer Jesus’ call in their lives and understand how they are uniquely wired to respond to His leading. See Erin's other writings at: www.erhspeaks.com