Summary: At times God brings a Christian through humbling experiences. Why would He do that? How are we to respond when that happens? What are the benefits of responding in the right way?
A paradox is a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet perhaps true.i Jesus stated a paradox in Matt 23:12 when He said, “…whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”ii The world does not believe that statement at all. People in the world may perform humble acts without, in fact, humbling themselves. A politician may bend down and speak to a child or kiss a baby with the motive of appearing humble so that he can win the election and ultimately be exalted. Down in his heart it is just one part of his strategy for exalting himself. So, superficial acts of humility are not guarantees of the real deal.
Most popular books in one way or another tell you how to exalt yourself, how to win friends and influence people so you will be successful; how to make your mark in the corporate world; how to win over the competition. We are inundated with a mindset that is the opposite of Jesus’ statement. The message of the world says “whoever exalts himself will be exalted: he will win out; he just needs to use the right methods and techniques to get it done.” Pride drives most activities in the world around us. The Apostle John identified three major motivations of the world:
(1) lust of the flesh (2) lust of the eyes and (3) the pride of life. By far the most subtle and deceptive of these is the pride of life.
“…whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” For us as Christians, we cannot allow that statement to just be a nice platitude that we quote. It has to be a principle that we live by. I will humble myself and I will trust God to exalt me as He chooses. And He has clearly said in His word that He would exalt-- anyone who would humble himself. God chooses to exalt you and me. In fact, His plan of salvation is designed to bring us into an eternal state of exaltation and glory. His part is to do the exalting; our part is to do the humbling. So how do we humble ourselves?
Let’s begin by looking at a few examples in the Bible. In Phil. 2:5-8 Paul gives Jesus as the ultimate example of humility. I’m reading this from the Amplified translation because it makes the statements a little easier to understand. “Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus [Let Him be your example in humility:] 6 Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained.7 But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], in that He became like men and was born a human being.” (Here is where KJV says made himself of no reputation). “8 And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross.”
Most of us put energy into building a good reputation. We don’t want to be known as criminals, we want to be seen as responsible, upstanding citizens. We want people to like us. We want to be considered smart in something. It is natural to want to be respected and esteemed. We were designed by the Creator to live in honor, not dishonor. And when God exalts us He gives us reputation.
The humiliation of Jesus was not the end of the matter as you well know. The next verse makes a distinct connection between His humiliation and His exaltation. Phil. 2:9-11 (Ampl.) “Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name. 10 That in (at) the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, 11 And every tongue [frankly and openly] confess and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
When God exalted Joseph, He gave Him a reputation as a wise ruler. When God exalted David, He gave him a reputation as a good king. But both of those men went through a valley before that happened. Both of those men were considered criminals first, and then exalted to a place of rulership. The valley was essential preparation for the mountaintop. There needed to be a right response in the low place before God could exalt either man. Put yourself in Joseph’s place. He was an upright man. He was faithful in Potiphar’s house. He refused to sin against God with Potiphar’s wife. That woman trashed his reputation and he went to prison as a criminal. What did Joseph do while in that place of humiliation? He submitted himself to God and trusted God with the outcome. He became a model prisoner. He worked hard and kept doing right.