Preemptive Humility
by Pastor George Van Alstine

One of Jesus’ pivotal teachings is expressed in Matthew 23:12, Luke 14:11, and Luke 18:14—“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Years later, when the Apostle James wrote his letter of advice for Christian living, he put it this way – “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10).

We’ve really got quite a bit to be humble about. We’re very tiny creatures in the expanse of the universe, and the span of our lives is like a blip in the billions of years since time began. Given such a little time and space in which to exist, we’ve made a mess of even that opportunity, often leaving more of a negative than positive impact on people, history, and our environment. So humility ought to come naturally to us.

But the truth is, we spend much of our time and energy in an attempt to find something to be proud about. We huff and puff and try to make ourselves bigger. Yet with all our efforts, we can at most become a bigger speck; but still a speck. When you look at it from this point of view, human pride is kind of like a sad cartoon.

Over the span of a person’s life, there are many humiliating experiences. These are actually moments when prideful illusions are stripped away and reality is exposed. Humiliations do not bring us down from who we truly are; they reveal the truth behind the prideful smoke-and-mirrors we have created.

So Jesus’ teaching about humility is really Gospel – Good News. It’s the good news that we don’t have to work so hard at building up a portfolio that gives us value. If we are honest about how small and weak and insignificant we are, God will give us value! He will “exalt” us. Ironically, that which we are seeking can only be found when we give up the search.

James’ way of putting this is an exhortation—“Humble yourselves before the Lord.” James is encouraging us to make a preemptive strike on our pride, to humble ourselves before life’s cruelties drive us into humiliation. From his experience, he has learned that it’s always better to be humble voluntarily than by force.

These same words are used in an ancient hymn about Jesus’ act of coming to earth and entering human flesh:

“He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name…”

The hymn goes on to show that every human will ultimately learn humility, whether voluntarily (by becoming Jesus’ followers in this life) or involuntarily (by bowing on the final Judgment Day):

“…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth…”

Humbling yourself before him now is a lot more pleasant than being humbled before him in that day will be.