The Glory of Humility
Humility begins by accepting an invitation from Christ to draw near to him. When we make space for God to be God and rest in his character and nature, we create an environment for humility to grow. Though many of us would heartily agree with our need for rest, few of us actually embrace humility. Why is that? Because you and I are fueled by a desire to make a name for ourselves. To embrace Christ and accept his invitation, will require that we let go of the need to make ourselves great in this life.
We should desire to do our best, but for the right reasons—to love and serve others. But what often fuels our efforts is not altruism, but a need to BE somebody. We want to be great in this life. We see this attitude displayed as we listen in on the conversations between the disciples of Jesus. They were frequently arguing about which one of them was the greatest. They were even discussing this during their last dinner with Jesus, on the night that Judas betrayed him to his death. (Luke 22:24)
On that night, Jesus did something extraordinary. He stood up from the table, took off his outer garment, and dressed in servant-like attire, he proceeded to wash the disciples’ feet. Because they were not wealthy enough to travel with servants, and apparently every single disciple felt it beneath him to volunteer for the task, they had begun dinner without washing. In their culture, this was like sitting down at the table with dirty hands. Their Jewish mamas had all taught them better!
Imagine what they felt, as Jesus, the greatest among them, knelt down before each disciple. What went through their heads as he poured water over their filthy feet, and gently dried them with the towel wrapped around his waist? When he was finished, he put his robe back on and resumed his seat of honor at the table. He looked at his disciples and said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15)
You see, Jesus wasn’t like us. He didn’t come to earth to make a name for himself. He didn’t set himself up in competition with others or use his power to make himself great. He came as a servant to all. One pair of feet that Jesus carefully washed and dried that night were those of Judas, the betrayer. He lovingly served friend and enemy alike.
Jesus didn’t have anything to prove. He didn’t need to make a name for himself here, because he knew exactly who he was. John starts this whole story with these words: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper [and washed] the disciples' feet.” (John 13:3-5, emphasis mine) Jesus wasn’t afraid that doing something menial would diminish his worth or lower his self-esteem. He knew exactly who he was—to whom he belonged—and he was confident.
That’s the irony of it all—It takes true confidence to be humble. You and I are always trying to make a name for ourselves because we think that when we finally get the prize and receive the glory, when we prove that we can BE somebody, then we can rest—then we will feel secure. But no amount of accolades or glory can settle the cry of our hearts. We will always need more to bolster our confidence—one more prize, one more promotion, just one more piece of evidence that I am enough. It’s a treadmill that gets us nowhere. The competition and comparison consume us, and we are exhausted and empty. At the end of the day, we don’t even have the energy to wash our own feet, let alone anyone else’s.
When I feel reluctant to serve someone, especially if that someone is irritating or difficult, how would it change my heart to see the Savior washing my feet? What a thought—that the King of Heaven and Earth would get down on his knees to take care of my tired and weary feet! My irritation with others would melt away and be replaced by humility. As I watch his head bent to the task, I am filled with a sense of my own unworthiness. But not just that—of my value and worth to him. He loves to serve me. It brings a smile to his face to take care of me.
Andrew Murray writes, “Oh that all would believe that this is the nobility of the kingdom of heaven, that this is the royal spirit that the King of heaven displayed, that this is Godlike, to humble oneself, to become the servant of all!” We reflect God most when we are free from self absorption, and refuse to compete with others for our value and worth. We are radiant when we are confident in who we are to Christ—when we know to whom we belong. Our confidence comes from his love, not what we accomplish in this life. We no longer have to make a name for ourselves, because we are already valuable to God.
When we meditate on the ways that Christ has served us, it changes the way we live. We are propelled to love, not just our friends, but those who irritate us as well. We are motivated to care for those who criticize and dislike us. Why? Because while we were still his enemies, Christ stooped to wash our feet. It was his love that changed us from enemies into friends, from orphans into children of God.