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Humility: Making ourselves nothing

By Darius Johnston

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. …

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:3-8, NIV).

A young minister was invited to give his first sermon. When the moment arrived, he walked proudly to the pulpit with his head held high, radiating self-confidence. But he stumbled reading the Scriptures and then lost his train of thought halfway through the message. He began to panic, so he did the safest thing: He quickly ended the message, prayed and walked dejectedly from the pulpit, his head down, his self-assurance gone.

Later, one of the godly elders whispered to the embarrassed young man, “If you had gone up to the pulpit the way you came down, you might have come down the way you went up.”

With His life, Jesus taught us tremendous lessons about humility. Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that Jesus made himself nothing.

Jesus refused to parade His superiority. Instead He taught, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Servant

Jesus made himself nothing by becoming a servant. He demonstrated this in John 13. The disciples had come to eat the Passover meal, and there was no servant to wash the disciples’ feet. Jesus took off His outer robe, clothed himself in a towel, took a basin of water, and began to wash their dirty, smelly feet. Imagine the awkward silence that filled the room. Peter broke the silence by refusing to let Jesus wash his feet. Jesus assured him this was part of God’s plan. So Peter relented. Jesus finished all 12 disciples — including Judas — and returned to the table. Jesus was saying we should make ourselves servants — to touch people’s lives and meet their needs.

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Jesus was not after position. He was the Master … they were students.

Can I willfully serve those who may appear to be below me on some ladder of social importance?

Jesus was not after recognition. Our ego will sometimes use humility as a means of self-promotion. Jesus never practiced this. There was no award for washing feet.

Am I willing to serve without expectation of recognition?

Jesus was totally secure in who He was. The key to Christ’s ability to wash feet is: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (v. 3). Jesus understood where He came from, where He was going, and what He had. That’s a good formula for overcoming insecurity — understand that our worth has come from our Heavenly Father, that we are going to spend eternity with Him, and that He has entrusted us with His authority. With that sense of understanding we can be free to wash feet.

Jealousy

Jesus made himself nothing by refusing jealousy. In Mark 9, we get an insight into Jesus’ view on competition. The account begins with the disciples feeling a little concerned that someone is cutting in on their operation. There is a person who is not one of the chosen who is going around casting out demons in the name of Jesus. The disciples tell the man to stop. John informs Jesus that they have taken care of this fellow.

Much to John’s surprise, Jesus does not give him an award of merit but a rebuke. Jesus says, “Do not stop him” (Mark 9:39). Jesus was thrilled that the kingdom of darkness was losing and the kingdom of heaven was advancing.

Here’s the test for you: Do I rejoice when others are blessed?

A few years ago I struggled with this question when a pastor in my area was experiencing tremendous growth. I was working hard and this new kid on the block was blowing everything away. His church was twice the size of mine in less than two years — I had been working for five years. Then God told me I had to start praying for this brother to be blessed even more. I disagreed with his philosophy. It took months for me to be able to honestly pray for God to bless him. The lesson was painful but effective. When I learned to honestly rejoice in his growth, God began to bless our work as well. The war with jealousy is never won — there are always new battlefronts. That’s why I must keep a daily prayer closet. Humility and jealousy can never coexist.

Judging

Jesus made himself nothing by refusing to be judgmental.

This is illustrated in John 8, when men interrupted Jesus’ teaching by bringing in a woman who the religious leaders said was caught in the act of adultery. Case closed; she deserves to die. It is right there in the Law. What do You say?

Jesus writes in the sand.

Come on, Jesus. What should we do with someone caught in the obvious act of sin?

Jesus speaks. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). Jesus goes back to sand writing.

Interrogation over. Awkward exit of accusers.

Jesus stands. Looks around. Speaks. “Woman, where are they?” They are gone. “Then neither do I condemn you!”

Another illustration is in Luke 9:51-56. Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus sends some to a Samaritan village to get things prepared. The people of the village refuse to welcome them. James and John are indignant and ask permission to call down fire from heaven to destroy the village. Jesus rebukes James and John and simply goes to another village.

There have been occasions in my ministry when I knew that vengeance belongs to God, but I wanted to be His hand extended. There were people who were saying things and doing things and needed to be set straight. I felt I should be the one. But God hasn’t yet released me to be His spiritual enforcer. Humility means I don’t have to correct everyone.

Trusting

Jesus made himself nothing by trusting the Father’s timing. Back in Philippians 2, Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death; then God highly exalted Him. Travel with me to the cross. Suspended between heaven and earth is the Son of God. Unjustly tried and sentenced, He is brutally pinned to the wood by three nails. His body is beaten and torn. Each breath is a painful struggle. He gathers enough strength for one last statement, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). And then it is over.

The key word is “commit.” According to Strong’s Bible Dictionary, the word can be translated “to deposit as a trust or for protection.” Jesus was saying to the Father, “I deposit myself as a trust for You to protect.” Jesus chose to trust the Father with the outcome.

Self-ego often wants to help God out when it seems that nobody notices our sacrifice, service or efforts. Yet Jesus showed us that true humility can trust God for the outcome.

One day many years ago I sat in a cafeteria with my father sharing some unpleasant news. I will never forget his words: “Darius, your number one job is keeping your heart right with God. God will take care of who is right and wrong.” I was learning that day to trust God’s timing.

Have you learned to humble yourself before God and trust His timing in your life? In an age when everyone seems to demand his or her rights, the life of Jesus provides a dramatic contrast. It is time to return to Christ’s example — we must lay down our robes of pride, jealousy and prejudice. Then we can learn to trust God with the outcome. The world is waiting to see Jesus through us.


Darius Johnston is pastor of Christ Church Assembly of God in Fort Worth, Texas.

Adapted from Living Like Jesus, compiled and edited by Ken Horn and James O. Davis (Springfield, Mo.: Onward Books, 2001). Reprinted with permission.

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