How to be humble ;)
Proverbs 25:6-7, Luke 14:1, 7-14
Sometimes it’s takes time and patience to figure out what a passage from the bible is trying to tell us.
Sometimes the stories Jesus tells are subtle and discovering the message he’s offering isn’t obvious.
Sometimes we read stuff in the bible, and think ‘eh?’.
Not today. Today both passages say something pretty straightforward. Today we get to think about humility.
And humility is a key biblical virtue. I won’t list all the places that it’s spoken about in the bible now - there are too many, but to make the point, you’ll find it in 1 Samuel, Isaiah, the Psalms, the Proverbs, Zechariah, Daniel, every one of the gospels and in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, James and 1 Peter.
And clearly humility mattered to Jesus - as the story he tells today makes clear. Heading to the top of the table, where you’ll be noticed and praised, is likely to lead to your ‘being humbled’ - which is different to ‘being humble’.
But humility is an elusive virtue. After all, anyone who thinks they’re humble is likely to be precisely the opposite! As one writer has put it - ‘Lord, I long to be humble, but what if nobody notices’.
Take a moment to think about someone you know, or someone you know about, who you think of as ‘humble’. What makes them humble? What is it about them? What marks out humility in a person?
I don’t think being humble is a behaviour that we can just turn on or off. Humility comes from our character - from the deep attitudes with which we live our lives. Humility comes from a deep place - the place deep within where we meet God and are changed.
I think humility is an inner ease in the world which means we don’t need to compete for our place.
I think this kind of humility; this sense of being at ease in God’s world, is built on three foundations, all of them connected by one overarching truth.
We need to know: Where we’ve come from; Whose we are and Where we’re going. And through it all - the answer to each of these - is a relationship with a loving God. A God who looks at us like a parent looking at their newly born child, who feels something beyond words, beyond feelings - a passionate, committed, overpowering sense of the ‘rightness’ of this new life and of being bound together with it.
And it may be that one or other of these three is particularly important to you today - that one or other of these is the area that you need to focus on, as you learn to clothe yourself in humility.
Where we’ve come from.
The word humility is closely related to the word humus - not the Middle Eastern dip that goes well with pitta bread - but that miraculous part of the soil that makes things grow. The story of creation tells us that it was from the earth, the soil, the humus, that we were made. We are each hand crafted by God with loving care and attention. And being humble means remembering that it is from the humus that we have come.
And that matters because, if we know we were made out of love, and put here for a reason, then we can be confident in our place on earth. We don’t need to prove ourselves; we don’t need to show the world that we deserve to be here. We can just be - because God made us, and God wants us to be here.
Knowing that we are ’fearfully and wonderfully made’ gives us a foundation on which to build a humble life. We’re not just a random bundle of DNA that happens to be here, we’re not a mistake, we’re not here to survive in the midst of a dangerous world in which only the fittest will get through. We are made by God, out of love, with love and for love.
And if we know that truth, we can grow in humility, confident in our place in the world.
Take a moment to sit with God now and to ask him to show you how much he loved creating you. How he delighted in giving you the rich mix of gifts and talents that you, and you alone, carry. How he gave you that lift of the nose, that curl of the hair, that particular way you move when you walk. Take a moment to let Him tell you what a joy it was to make you, you.
Whose we are.
Second, we need to know ‘Whose we are’. If we have come from God, it is in relation to him that we know who we are.
How many of us spend time and energy scanning the people around us, wondering what they think of us. Humility says, it is only God’s opinion that matters.
The story in the gospel today reminds us of the dangers of trying to boost ourselves in the eyes of other people. The problem that Jesus points out is that the place at the head of the table is the place of honour, the place where someone becomes ‘valuable’ or worthwhile. But there’s only one chair up there, and there are lots of people trying to get to it. And so, like a game of musical chairs, everyone has to battle to get to the best one. It’s like there’s a limited supply of ‘value’ - so the more you have, the less I get, and so we’re in competition with each other for the top spot, and we have to constantly fight, not for a chair, but for the very sense of value and worth - and that way, says Jesus, everyone loses.
Instead, we know that we belong to God. It is in him that we live and move and have our being. Our value comes from our relationship with him; we have worth because he has declared us to be worthy of his love. And there’s no limit to that love - there’s enough for me to have value and for you to have value. There’s no need to struggle for the top seat, because every person, in every seat is loved.
Tyron Edwards, a nineteenth century American theologian, said ”True humility is not an abject, grovelling, self-despising spirit; it is but a right estimate of ourselves as God sees us." And God sees us as his precious ones, the ones that he brought into being. We don’t have to worry about how other people see us. We don’t have to scramble for the place at the top table. There is no need to compete with God. It is enough to know that we are created and loved by Him.
And then, if we know whose we are, we can learn that deep humility which says - I am not in a battle with anyone for anything. I am loved as I am, I can love others as they are.
Take a moment with that truth. Your value is given to you by God. Your place in the world is guaranteed by Him. You are worthy, not because you look cool, have a great career or are keeping up with the neighbours, but simply because God says you are. Because you belong to Him.
Where we’re going
Third, we need to be really clear about where we’re going. If we think that, as the popular theory goes - ‘you’ve only got one life’ - there’s a pretty heavy pressure to make it count. If you are going to be here for fourscore years and ten - or whatever it is - and that’s it, you’d better not waste a second of it. And that’s a lot of pressure. What if you can’t save the world? What if you can’t get to the top? What if you can’t tick off everything on your bucket list?
But we don’t just have one life. We have life here, and then eternal life to follow. So relax - what happens here matters, but death isn’t the end of the world. The end of your life won’t be the end of your life. Death is an end, but it absolutely isn’t the end.
And if we can be really clear about that, really confident that after our death we will be wholly embraced by the loving God who made us, and in whom we dwell, we can relax, we can grow in humility, less stressed about the never ending to do list - even that one that’s full of worthy and worth while things - and we can be at ease in God’s world.
Take a moment with that truth. Your life on earth will end, and that’s ok, because your life in God will go on. You don’t need to strive for power, or success, or prestige, because it’s all transitory, and one day it will end and then, we, who see as if in a glass darkly now, will see God face to face, and know God’s love in its entirety.