Have you ever met someone who thinks they are ‘number one’, or thinks that their needs are more important than the needs of others? It’s worth a check in the mirror, because many people live only to please themselves, or to show off to others – and Christians are not immune from this. That’s one reason the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, encouraging them to work together with an attitude of humility rather than ‘selfish ambition or vain conceit’. (Phil. 2:2-3)
If the Son of God could wash the feet of his disciples, is there anything, no matter how lowly, that we shouldn’t be willing to do for one another?
Being humble involves the way we think about ourselves and others, which is why Paul told the saints to ‘value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others’ (Phil. 2:3-4). In other words, it’s treating people with respect, and putting their needs and wishes before our own. But it’s not about putting yourself down and thinking that everyone else is better than you. Paul made that clear in Romans 12:3 when he encouraged ‘sober judgement’ – in other words, knowing what we are good at but not getting too big for our boots. We have all been given different skills and we should use them to the best of our ability.
So what does humility look like in practice? Paul told the Philippians to imitate Jesus because he is the perfect role model; he was ‘gentle and humble’ (Matt. 11:29) and he had ‘not come to be served, but to serve’ (Mark 10:45). Although Jesus is in very nature God (and therefore should be served by everyone) he made himself nothing and took the nature of a servant, which eventually led him to give his life for our sins (Phil. 2:6-8).
Another great example for us to imitate is when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet (John 13). In fact, he told them specifically that this was an example for them (and us) to follow – if their Lord and Teacher could wash their feet, they certainly should wash one another’s feet! It wasn’t just an act of extraordinary love and kindness – he knew how important it was that we learn to be humble. So, putting aside his own rights and position, he didn’t just wash their feet but dried them too. Jesus never does anything reluctantly or in half measures and so, when we serve one another, we should do likewise.
But it’s not about putting yourself down and thinking that everyone else is better than you…We have all been given different skills and we should use them to the best of our ability.
We said earlier that being humble is about recognising our self-worth and still being willing to serve others. The disciples at the time had no idea of how worthy Jesus was: they knew him as their ‘Lord and Teacher’ but didn’t really understand that he was also the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, creator of all things, giver of life, the Almighty God. Jesus was fully aware of who he was (John 13:1,3), but he was still willing to get down and wash their feet. If the Son of God could wash the feet of his disciples, is there anything, no matter how lowly, that we shouldn’t be willing to do for one another?
A group of monks once asked a local hermit how they could save their monastery which had gone into decline. The wise hermit said he didn’t know how to save the monastery, but he did know that one of them was chosen by God for great things. They had no idea who he was referring to but, believing that one of them was a great man of God, they each started to treat each other with more dignity and respect. In time, this new attitude of humility towards each other transformed the character of the monastery and it began to flourish once more.
We have all been chosen by God for great things. May we learn to follow the example of our Lord Jesus and serve each other in humility.
Ian Seddon, The Church of God in Manchester