Jesus said that his followers should be humble. He said it often. My dictionary says that “humble” means “having a low estimate of one’s own importance”. Jesus said that his followers should be like little children – and little children had no status or importance, at all, in his day. He said that his followers should be servants of each other. And Jesus didn’t say these things once or twice, he said them over and over again (Matthew 18:2-4; Matthew 19:14; Matthew 20:26-27; Matthew 23:11-12; Mark 9:35; Mark 10:14-15; Mark 10:42-44; Luke 9:46-48; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14; Luke 18:17).
It gets worse. Jesus didn’t just say that his followers should be humble. He gave himself as the example of humble service for his followers (Matthew 11:29; Matthew 20:25-28; Matthew 21:5; Mark 10:45; John 13:3-15). So, being humble isn’t an option for followers of Jesus, it is a core requirement. We must commit ourselves to being humble because Jesus tells us to be humble and because he was humble.
Being humble is recognizing one simple, basic truth about ourselves – we are no better than anyone else. All human beings make mistakes and get things wrong sometimes. We are all human beings; therefore, we all make mistakes and get things wrong sometimes and we will continue to do so. Being humble means acknowledging and affirming this simple truth. For me to be humble does not mean showing others how humble I am by my actions and the things I say – it means recognizing, in my heart, before God, the truth that I really am no better than anyone else.
What does it mean for us, 21st Century followers of Jesus, to be humble? What does “be humble” look like in our modern culture? It means we stop pretending that we are better than others. It means we stop promoting ourselves. It means we stop saying that members of our group (for example, those who share our religious or political views) are correct and that anyone who disagrees with us is incorrect, stupid or being deceived. Importantly, it means we stop behaving in many ways that our culture says we should behave and we start behaving in ways that our culture says we should not. But the starting point is me recognizing the truth that I am no better than anyone else.
How can we be humble and still get on in the world? If we are followers of Jesus, we should not be trying to get on in the world. We should be looking to serve in God’s Kingdom. There is nothing to fear. God is loving and gracious and will take care of us.
We may have the idea that someone who is humble will not be noticed. I would suggest that, in today’s culture, someone who is genuinely humble – someone who doesn’t pretend to be better, smarter or more talented than others – will be noticed. In fact, they will really stand out.
One last thought. A person who is genuinely humble will be a great team player. Sensible bosses are always on the lookout for great team players.
Jesus is Lord.