Labor to be clothed with humility. Humility makes a man peaceable among brethren, fruitful in well-doing, cheerful in suffering, and constant in holy walking (1 Pet. 5:5). Humility fits for the highest services we owe to Christ, and yet will not neglect the lowest service to the lowest saint (John 13:5). Humility can feed upon the lowest dish, and yet it is maintained by the choicest delicates, as God, Christ, and glory. Humility will make a man bless him who curses him, and pray for those who persecute him. An humble heart is an habitation for God, a scholar for Christ, a companion of angels, a preserver of grace, and a fitter for glory. Humility is the nurse of our graces, the preserver of our mercies, and the great promoter of holy duties. Humility cannot find three things on this side heaven: it cannot find fullness in the creature, nor sweetness in sin, nor life in an ordinance without Christ. An humble soul always finds three things on this side heaven: the soul to be empty, Christ to be full, and every mercy and duty to be sweet wherein God is enjoyed. Humility can weep over other men’s weaknesses, and joy and rejoice over their graces. Humility will make a man quiet and contented in the lowest condition, and it will preserve a man from envying other men’s prosperous condition (1 Thess. 1:2, 3). Humility honors those who are strong in grace, and puts two hands under those who are weak in grace (Eph. 3:8). Humility makes a man richer than other men, and it makes a man judge himself the poorest among men. Humility will see much good abroad, when it can see but little at home. Ah, Christian! though faith be the champion of grace, and love the nurse of grace, yet humility is the beautifier of grace; it casts a general glory upon all the graces in the soul. Ah! did Christians more abound in humility, they would be less bitter, willful, and sour, and they would be more gentle, meek, and sweet in their spirits and practices. Humility will make a man have high thoughts of others and low thoughts of himself; it will make a man see much glory and excellency in others, and much baseness and sinfulness in himself; it will make a man see others rich, and himself poor; others strong, and himself weak; others wise, and himself foolish. Humility will make a man excellent at covering others’ infirmities, and at recording their gracious services, and at delighting in their graces; it makes a man rejoice in every light which outshines his own, and every wind which blows others good. Humility is better at believing, than it is at questioning other men’s happiness. I judge, says a humble soul, it is well with these Christians now—but it will be far better with them hereafter. They are now upon the borders of the New Jerusalem, and it will be but as a day before they slide into Jerusalem. A humble soul is more willing to say, Heaven is that man’s, than mine; and Christ is that Christian’s, than mine; and God is their God in covenant, than mine. Ah! were Christians more humble, there would be less contention, and more love among them than now is. —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” —Galatians 5:13, 26
In contrast to the commended humility of 5:13, we have the forbidden pride of 5:26. Pride is a failure to keep in step with the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit includes love, kindness, patience, and gentleness. Pride grows the opposite direction. Pride is a rotten onion. We’re after the sweet fruit of the Spirit, not the rotten vegetables of the flesh.
Pride is never private; it always goes public. Personal pride is social. You cannot sin the sin of pride unto yourself. We are limbs, which when bent in on self, lash out at others. John Stott rightly deduces that “our conduct toward others is determined by our opinion of ourselves.” If you are big on self you will be small on others.
There are two possibilities, two ways our pride could be expressed: provoking one another or envying one another. This is most illuminating and a needed corrective as to what we normally think of as pride. Biblically, there is strong pride, and then there is what John Piper calls “weak pride.” Pride can provoke with an upturned nose, or it can envy with downcast eyes. When pride feels superior, it provokes others. When pride feels inferior, it envies. As a wounded horse is still a horse, so wounded pride is still pride. It takes more than felt shame to turn pride into humility.
It isn’t wounded pride that leads to serving one another through love. Wounded pride will lead to envy. So then, the opposite of conceit isn’t self-contempt, but a contrite-confidence. We’re aiming at a service born out of freedom. Humility means that we bow our head before our Creator, but then we lift it before man, though not with upturned noses. We were once slaves bound in sin and under the law. By sovereign effectual grace we’ve been made sons. In our freedom, we now walk in the Spirit, seeking to love our brothers and neighbors.
Our confidence isn’t in ourselves, but an assurance of who we are in Christ. If we are finding our identity in Christ, this is what it will look like.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves [the idea isn’t to loath self, but esteem others]. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:1–8).
It is from the position of freedom and assurance and comfort, not self-loathing, that humble service of our brothers grows. And if Jesus washed His disciples’ dirty feet, how can we not serve our brother through love?
The natural weakness of man is conspicuous in his most important undertakings: having no fund of sufficiency in himself, he is forced to collect all from without ; and if the greatness of his preparations are not answerable to the extent of his designs, he has little hopes of success. Farther: when he has planned and provided to the utmost of his power, he is still subject to innumerable contingences, which he can neither foresee nor prevent ; and has often the mortification to see his fairest prospects blasted, and the whole apparatus of his labour and care only contribute to make his disappointment more conspicuous and painful.
The reverse of this is the character of the wonder-working God. To his power every thing is easy; he knows how to employ every creature and contingence as a means to accomplish his designs; not a seeming difficulty can intervene but by his permission, and he only permits it to illustrate his own wisdom and agency in making it subservient to his will. Thus, having all hearts and events in his hands, he fulfills his own counsels with the utmost ease and certainty; and, to show that the work is his own, he often proceeds by such methods as vain men account weak and insignificant, producing the most extensive and glorious consequences from small and inconsiderable beginnings. Thus the Lord of hosts hath purposed to stain the pride of human glory. —John Newton, Works
During His ministry Jesus uses only two modes of transportation, foot and boat. When He is on land, Jesus always uses foot. I have to qualify this because when Jesus is on water He mostly uses boat but occasionally uses foot as well. Jesus has walked all the way to Jerusalem and now, just prior to entering the city, He sends His disciples to fetch a donkey. Jesus isn’t tired. He is making a statement.
Imagine a young man in a long distance relationship going to meet her parents for the first time. Twenty miles outside of the city he parks his rust bucket lemon and rents a car that says intelligent and safe, being sure to conceal the green Enterprise logo. What is doing? He wants to make a statement, but it’s a false one. Or consider the teenager who rents or borrows the expensive ride for a formal. Likewise, a statement is being made and that statement is, “Me!” Jesus rides into town to make a statement, but unlike my examples, Jesus isn’t being deceptive, nor is He being shallow and vain. He is being humble. Jesus is saying He is King, but He is a humble King. He has come to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
None are ever so humble, yet none are ever so kingly. Don’t miss the Lion for the Lamb. Say that when the US invaded Iraq in 2003 she went with the intent to make her a United States territory. The American flag was raised, the pledge now their pledge, the president now their president. Weeks in Qusay Hussein strolls into town with a motorcade, with red, black, and white flags waving, and crowds shouting, “Save us! Allah bless the son of Sadam.” Even if the followthrough is laughable, such actions wouldn’t be taken lightly.
What is the charge that the Pharisees charge Jesus with in their own courts? Blasphemy. But what charge do they bring before Pilate? Insurrection. Jesus previously used smoke when He came to Jerusalem (John 7:1-11), but now He grabs the bee hive, shakes it up, and spreads His arms to accept the stings.
The crowds see a war horse where there is a donkey. Indeed Zechariah 9 speaks of Jesus defeating our foes. The irony is that Jesus as He comes humbly, mounted on a donkey will defeat our greatest foes. The Lion as Lamb delivers, saves, and conquerors. Hosanna!
Jesus is heading south to Jerusalem, down to the cross. But Matthew and Jesus tell us that He is going up to Jerusalem. Did Jesus miss His turn? No, Jerusalem is always up. Psalms 120-134 are “Songs of Ascents.” These would be sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the feasts. Jesus and the disciples may have very well be singing them on their journey to Jerusalem for the Passover. Remember when the kingdom divided after Solomon into the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah? This gives you the lay of the land. The majority of Israelites, before the split, would head south toward the Temple, singing Songs of Ascent. This is because Jerusalem was spiritually up. It was also up in elevation, drastically so from Jericho, which, being situated near the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth, is one of the lowest cities on earth at over 800 feet below sea level. Jerusalem in contrast is over 2500 feet above sea level.
So down (directionally) is up (in elevation). But up (in elevation) is down (humiliation). But ultimately down (humiliation) is up (glorification). This is true for Jesus, and that is why it is true for us. At the cross, Jesus sets the standard for greatness. He stoops to serve, and He stoops to the lowest depths.
There was no abasement ever so deep as Christ’s was, in a double regard. First, None ever went so low as he, for he suffered the wrath of God, and bore upon him the sins of us all; none was ever so low. And then in another respect his abasement was greatest because He descended from the highest top of glory; and for Him to be man, to be a servant, to be a curse, to suffer the wrath of God, to be the lowest of all – Lord, wither doest Thou descend? —Richard Sibbes
Jesus does just set the standard for us, He sets it for us. The cross is not only the standard, it is the source of all human greatness. He gave His life as a ransom. His death purchased us and delivered us from our bondage. Christ set an example for us, but His example empowers us to follow. The most important thing to know about following Jesus, are the steps you cannot take. We cannot go to the cross as He did. But because of His greater service, we can do lesser acts, empowered by His, that point others to the only one who is truly great.
Many today want to emphasize the cross only or mainly as a moral act to be replicated, an example to be followed, rather than an atonement in our place, but if there is no redemption, then the example is ludicrous. Tim Keller illustrates,
Imagine that you are walking along a river with a friend, and your friend suddenly says to you, ‘I want to show you how much I love you!’ and with that he throws himself into the river and drowns. Would you say in response, ‘How he loved me!’ No, of course not. You’d wonder about your friend’s mental state. But what if you were walking along a river with a friend and you fell into the river by accident, and you can’t swim. What if he dived in after you and pushed you to safety but was himself drawn under by the current and drowned. Then you would respond, ‘Behold, how he loved me!’ The example of Jesus is a bad example if it is only an example. If there was no peril to save us from—if we were not lost apart from the ransom of his death—then the model of his sacrificial love is not moving and life-changing; it is crazy. Unless Jesus died as our substitute, he can’t die as a moving example of sacrificial love.
Underlying Christus Exemplar is penal substitutionary atonement.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. —1 Peter 2:21-24 (ESV)
Christ’s atoning service makes ours possible and makes it potent. The cross is the standard and the source; every lesser sacrifice points to the greatness of His.
[W]hoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. —1Peter 4:11 (ESV)