Summary: Biblical humility is not the same as common humility.
The Humility of Palm Sunday
Last Thursday night we began talking about “humility”—what it means from a biblical perspective. We saw that God has a general plan for humanity and a special plan for each of us, and, that there is a “blueprint” of this plan planted in each person’s heart. We also saw that, as in the case of the boy Ling, the courage to be faithful to this blueprint, even if it leads to embarrassment, is a vital character trait if we are to fulfill the special and unique plan that God has for each of us.
“Humility”, in this sense, is not at all the same as “humility” in the sense it is customarily understood. Every person seeking the office of President of the United States must endure criticism, mud-slinging, lies, and assaults upon his or her character. That’s part of politics. One of the chief accusations against many a candidate, whether implied or stated, is that the candidate is arrogant. “Who does he think he is that he should be President!”
Notwithstanding, running for high office is not arrogance from the biblical perspective. And there is really nothing praiseworthy about dropping out of the race or in not having presumed to enter it. In fact, biblical humility may, for some individuals, involve being willing to run for high office. It may be part of the inner blueprint that God has placed within their heart.
To say to oneself—I don’t think I want to be thrust into the limelight—I think I would prefer to remain an anonymous community development officer in Chicago—might be seen as arrogance by some. To not defer to an older and more experienced candidate might also be seen as lack of humility by some. Yes, to not assert ones inner call to greatness might avoid being accused of lack of humility. It might lead to a life of less hassle. But, if a blueprint leading to greatness were implanted in a person’s heart and if the person refused to follow that blueprint, it would not be humility. It would, in fact, be arrogance.
True humility, in the biblical sense, involves following God’s plan rather than the convenient plan or the plan prescribed for you by others. True humility, in the biblical sense sometimes means challenging authority, standing for principle, and trusting ones inner voice, even thrusting oneself into prominence… if this is part of the special blueprint specific to the individual placed within that person’s heart by God.
Our Lord Jesus is often held up to us as the chief model of humility, which he was. But many people do not understand what humility means from the biblical perspective. According to the usual perspective on humility propounded by the Prince of Lies, Jesus should not have been so arrogant as to talk back to the Pharisees, nor so full of himself as to have assumed the right to drive the money changers from the temple. According to the usual perspective on humility, taught to us by persons seeking to protect their own power, Jesus should never have allowed the people on Palm Sunday proclaim him king. When, during the Palm Sunday procession, the Pharisees urged Jesus to be “humble” in the usual sense of the word, Jesus replied: “I tell you that if these people were to keep quiet the very stones in the street would immediately cry out.”
Well… humility in the biblical sense must be a very different thing from “humility” as it is popularly defined. Humility in the biblical sense means surrendering self and all of our personal wishes to God’s blueprint, and sometimes that blueprint is a road to prominence, power, and authority. We might prefer to not be different from others. We might prefer to not stand out. We might prefer to not be called to leadership, but in the end if we are truly humble we will pray as did Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
If Jesus had been humble as humility is most often misunderstood, he would have told the people on Palm Sunday to hush up, to not proclaim him to be the Messiah. That would have satisfied the Pharisees and might have made life much easier for him. All he had to do was be “humble” as humility is usually defined. But… Jesus was not humble in the way the world trains us to think of humility, he was humble as the Bible defines humility. He was faithful to the blueprint that God had planted within his heart. And so, he assumed leadership, when the time arrived he allowed people to proclaim his authority, and he was faithful in this even unto death. That is true humility, in the biblical sense.