“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I’ve got some bad news for you. You cannot humble yourself any longer. You are dead. You had your chance and now you’re dead. You cannot humble yourself . . . I know, how humiliating, right? Your dreams of glory are over. Sorry. But, humility is not a prize to be won. It’s not a trophy to show off in front of others less pious than you. It’s awful! It’s death. And yes, you are dead, humbled to your very core!
Prayers for patience usually end with a prayer to God that he would just hurry up with it! Prayers for humility are done with great pride. “Oh dear God, please grant me a little humility so that I might be exalted, glamorized, and glorified in your eyes!” “Tough luck old man. You get to stay right where you are—in your grave until I come,” Christ says. You are dead. And now that you have heard it you are finally humbled.
This is how God works. He work is hidden. Disguised. Concealed. Hidden from your eyes. Disguised within humility. Concealed by the law to be revealed in Jesus Christ. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The Lord kills and makes alive. He brings down to the grave and he raises up again. He hides and he finds. He humbles and he exalts. He conceals and he reveals. But take note of your role in all of this. Pay attention to what you need to do: Nothing. God is the actor and you are not. He hides himself from your eyes and he finds you in deepest darkness. You are dead. You are humbled. God is at work and you are not.
But that’s how God likes you—smiling in your sepulcher. It’s embarrassing, yes, for you don’t even know you’re dead for goodness sake! Another humiliation. Another death. And yet, this God, who loves you, has developed a funny taste for sinners like you. He invites the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind and feeds them with his very own body and blood. Giving all of himself, withholding nothing, so that he might be all in all for you. Even when you are all too ingloriously dead.
I want that poor girl, he says with glee, with the Lexus and the penthouse mansion! I have stockpiled treasure for her and she will want for nothing more. I want that crippled one with the great health and such pride! He’ll walk with me so he can finally rest. Where are the lame? Let me carry them in my arms. That way they can’t run away from me again. Where is that blind man with the two good eyes? He can’t see his wife; he’s always looking at himself. You shall be my houseguest. You shall live with me. You shall be my people. You will feast on me. You are my chosen one. You are blind and lame. You are deaf and crippled and don’t even know my name. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
You’ve heard the bad news, now hear the good news! Humility is not your job. It is not your work and it is not your act. It’s the humility that you didn’t want to have happen in the first place. You tried to do your best and found out that you had killed God’s only Son. How humbling! How humiliating! It doesn’t feel good at all. But the good news is that even though you are dead, look again! You are alive! Your life is hidden with Christ in God.
I know that you have come today to sit with the sinners. To humble yourself before the almighty. To deny yourself a few more hours of blissful sleep. To hear about the law. To be motivated. To hear of tolerance and godliness. To find out what you can do. To die another day. But, today, this is God’s word for you: “Come up here dear sinner! Sit in my heavenly places! Sit with my saints for I have chosen you! I have made you humble and I will exalt you.”
Does that sound like good news to you? Isn’t there anything left for you to do? God’s word says that you are to humble yourself, right? That’s the law, clear and simple. Are you still waiting for the next shoe to drop? Are you still looking for a loophole? What about that verse from Psalm 112, “Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.”? Are you weighing the possibilities that maybe you could still learn to like the law?
In other words, are you supposed to like being humble? Feel bad and like it or pretend that humility feels exultingly good? Do you want to delight in your sufferings? Is that it? Be a big Christian and don’t cry? Well, before you accept this as your lot in life, listen to that great theologian Mac Davis and a very insightful song he wrote. In this song, I think you can begin to hear God’s word another way . . . and maybe even hear some hope for your freedom.
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble
When you're perfect in every way.
I can't wait to look in the mirror,
Cuz I get better lookin each day.
To know me is to love me.
I must be a hell of a man!
Oh Lord it's hard to be humble,
But I'm doin' the best that I can!
Yes Mac, I think you’ve got the human condition down to a tee! It’s true! We do delight in God’s commandments believe it or not. It gives us a sense of accomplishment, I guess, to “be doin the best that we can”. Keeping the law makes us feel alive and living by it nourishes our egos while God always seems to try to destroy our sense of self worth with his constant choosing and calling. He who delights in the law is like a tree planted by streams of water, as Psalm 1 puts it so succinctly, and who doesn’t want to be a luscious tree in the garden of God? God’s Word, calling us to lives of humility, begins to look like a big, delicious carrot you can chase after in your race toward perfection. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Maybe being humble doesn’t trip your trigger, but some commandments really do just sound darn right delightful, you’ve got to admit. For example, “Let mutual love continue”. Ahhh. Now, there is a delightful law if I ever did see one! I agree, let mutual love continue! I will love you and you will love me. I will scratch your back and you scratch mine. “Those who humble themselves will be exalted?” Well, sure! I can do that! I will be humble Lord if you exalt me, alright? This law is oh so delightful, dear Lord, because by loving you I get loved back. If I’m perfectly humble, aren’t I doing God a favor? Then he wouldn’t have had to die for me after all . . . or you, for that matter!
But the problem with this law as with any rule, law, or commandment is that it just won’t stay where it belongs. It quickly finds its way into your mind and into your worries. Then the law becomes your big salvation plan. Then the law becomes anything but delightful. It becomes addictive. You see, you can’t just keep one, you’ve got to keep them all. “I can’t wait to look in the mirror, cuz I get better lookin each day,” Mac says. That’s the idea at least. But the day soon comes when lookin in the mirror is the last thing you want to do. “For all fall short of the glory of God. When you break your favorite law, what will God think of you? In your failure to be humble, you find humility. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The apostle Paul once said in his letter to the Romans, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” In other words, you can love the law all you want, but you treat it like a wicked little thing. Paul goes on to say, “For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!” Can you hear it? Paul, the great apostle is calling himself a wretch! You too can delight in the law all you want, but the truth still stands: the more delightful the law becomes the more you either begin to either hate it or hate yourself. Why? Because the law is humiliating for you because it asks you to be humble. This is why Mac Davis’ song is so wonderfully ironic. The more you sing the praises of your humility the more your humility becomes pride . . . a very humbling thought, indeed.
The truth is that even God’s request for your humility ends up with all the other laws he gives you: you fall short and God saves you from your own efforts. God humbles you through the law because the law asks you to serve someone besides yourself through humility to your neighbor. You start spending more time looking at others than looking at yourself in the mirror. You forget about humbling yourself and start thinking of others as more important than yourself—you start acting out of humility without even thinking about it.
“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” So, what hope is there? What can you do in the face of this law? Wait. Just wait. Wait for God’s salvation. Wait for Jesus Christ. You are dead, remember? And Jesus has defeated death for you. You will be humbled—you can be sure of it! In your greatest accomplishments. . . in your longest sufferings. And then, when you least expect it, you will find your life hidden . . . and exalted . . . in humility . . . in Christ . . . in God. Amen.