13 “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13–14, NKJV)
This man knew his sins and what they had done to his spiritual condition before God. He was not bold to move close to the presence of God at the temple. Standing “afar off” from the sanctuary in the court of the men, he recognized his unworthiness before God. With lowered eyes of contrition, he beat his chest in shameful sorrow for his sins. His only hope was in God. He believed God to be a merciful God, ready to forgive a sinner like him. And so he pleaded for mercy, and God heard his prayer. Jesus declared the man’s humility before God resulted in gracious exaltation. The contrast is profound between the tax collector and the Pharisee, whose self-righteous pride prevented mercy from the throne of God (Lk. 18:9-12). Both were sinners, but only the humble was justified. We must confront our sins with honest humility when we approach God for mercy. By doing so, we will find His mercy and grace (Heb. 4:16).
4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! (James 3:4–5, NKJV)
Words are powerful. A fellow-Christian recently reminded me that one way God made us in His image is in our ability to communicate, to use words. God’s word is powerful, and so are our words. Small rudders maneuver great ships at the helmsman’s desire. A spark can engulf a forest in flames. Learning to control our tongues is about learning to control our hearts. Pride promotes the lust for power over others, and words are often the vehicle used to exert that power. “There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and whose fangs are like knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men” (Prov. 30:13-14). Our words have great power and potential for both good and evil (Eph. 4:29-32). Pride prompts the destructive use of words (like gossip, profanity, and strife, Jas. 3:14-16). Just as surely as pride is the spark that kindles much self-seeking strife, humble purity of heart helps steer our words and our lives toward peaceful shores (Jas. 3:17-18).
11 “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 12 Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:11–14, NKJV)
Jesus, the Son of God, was humble. He lowered Himself, humbled Himself, to help the helpless, to save His enemies – sinners, like you and me. We are not humble when we only bless those who can repay us. Such conceit arrogantly judges others as it says, “I will only treat you nicely because I expect you to be nice to me in return.” That is not loving, merciful, or the attitude of God (Matt. 5:43-48). Reciprocity is not the Christian’s motivation for being kind and pleasant. The gospel goes out to all, and we must try to bless all with whom we have contact, trying to save some (Rom. 12:17-21). So, keep and show godly attitudes, even toward those who mistreat you (Matt. 5:10-12). Always treat others kindly, even when they are not kind toward you (Matt. 7:12). The Lord will repay you at the resurrection (Jno. 5:28-29). That will be enough.
21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, (Romans 1:21–22, NKJV)
The elevation and exaltation of human wisdom comes at the expense of gratefully honoring our Creator. Knowing God exists should compel us to revere Him and thankfully obey His will. After all, it is His power that created us and that now sustains us each day (Rom. 1:20; Acts 14:15-17). Wisdom was the companion and possession of God at the beginning of creation and before (Prov. 8:22-31). How arrogant it is to think wisdom begins and ends with us (Job 12:2)! The apostle calls our attention to the futility of thoughts when void of a faithful recognition of God. The philosophy of humanism – a materialistic, purely humancentric view of life that rejects the divine – does not successfully answer the most basic questions of our existence: “Where did I come from?,” “Why are I here?,” and “Where am I going?” Asserting we are wise does not make it so. In fact, it exposes our foolishness (v. 22). Such prideful conceit darkens the heart and numbs the senses to the evidence of our Creator’s power and deity, and to the faith we should place in Him. Without God’s wisdom to guide us we are left to our own devices and sin’s demise (read wisdom’s plea in Prov. 8:32-36). “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (Jas. 4:10).
31 The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise. 32 He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding. 33 The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility. (Proverbs 15:31–33, NKJV)
When these proverbs are combined they give us good insight into developing and living in wisdom. First, we must accept the rebukes of life (v. 31). There are lessons to be learned from the school of hard knocks. Life’s ups and downs will teach us wisdom – if we will hear them. Otherwise, we foolishly continue to repeat the same mistakes. Secondly, redirecting our lives through instructive rebukes means we care our about our own soul (v. 32). Understanding comes from accepting wise instruction. Unfortunately, pride and selfishness will prevent us from learning and heeding the rebukes of life, as well as the rebukes contained in God’s inspired word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Matt. 16:26). Thirdly, when we couple fear (reverence) of God with humility we will gain wisdom and its honor (v. 33). Jesus repeatedly said only by humbling ourselves will we be exalted (Lk. 14:11; 18:14; Matt. 23:12). God gives grace to the humble, but He resists the proud (Jas. 4:6). Let us humble ourselves to hear the rebukes of life (v. 31). Let us reverence God and properly value the life He gives us (v. 32). And let us fear God, receive His wise teaching, and humbly do His will (v. 33). God will come in due time if we will hear, heed and humble ourselves before Him (1 Pet. 5:6).
1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:1–3, NKJV)
Is your life full of conflict with others? If so, you may be unaware of the war that is raging within you. Today’s passage says the desire for pleasure and personal satisfaction fuels our fights with others. Hedonism is “the belief that pleasure or happiness is the most important goal in life” (Merriam-Webster). This philosophy suggests a satisfying life is about fulfilling personal pleasures, desires, and sensual delights. Yet invariably, this leads to selfishness and ill treatment of others, not kindness and love. The pursuit of such worldly desires makes one an enemy of God (Jas. 4:4). By contrast, Christians are to “pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). James had just taught that “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jas. 3:17). If you want peace with God and with others, then reject fulfilling your own desires as the true course to joy. A good dose of humility will help us win these battles in our war against the devil (Jas. 4:6-7).
“submitting to one another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:21, NKJV)
Submitting to one another in the church grows out of our fear of God. Submission means to “subordinate” or “subject oneself” to another. This requires yielding up our will to the will of the other person. Sometimes that is easy (when our wills agree). The challenge comes when we are called on to subordinate our will and our preferences to another person’s will and preferences. (Of course, we are discussing non-sinful things here. The Scriptures do not teach us to submit to sin and error, Gal. 2:4-5.) To successfully submit to one another requires that we fear God. Honoring and yielding to His desire and will must be paramount to us. When we fear God we are equipped to “be submissive to one another” and to “be clothed with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5). If we think of ourselves as better than others we are being driven by “selfish ambition or conceit” instead of humble love and the fear of God (Phil. 2:3-4). In today’s verse, “fear” is translated from phobos (“to be put in fear, alarm or fright,” Strong’s). As we revere and respect God, we dread displeasing Him because of its terrible result (Matt. 10:28). The fear of God compels us to respect one another and submit ourselves to each other in genuine efforts to seek each other’s salvation and spiritual blessings (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31-33).
14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:14–17, NKJV)
Nothing in the context of this text demands the conclusion that Jesus was instituting a foot-washing ceremony for today (John 13:1-17). Far from it. He was, however, setting an example of humble service that every disciple must follow in our treatment of each other. At this Passover meal, none of His apostles lowered themselves to the menial task of washing the dirty feet of their companions (or even to wash their Master’s feet). In fact, there had been an ongoing squabble among them about who would be greatest in the kingdom (Mk. 9:34-37; 10:35-45). Earlier, Jesus had taught them, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Jesus is great because Jesus served. And so, the Son of God sees greatness when we humbly serve each other (Matt. 20:27). Practicing humble service toward others is crucial. Jesus said the blessing comes when we actually follow His example and become a servant of others. We cannot say but not do, and expect to be blessed. By serving others we remove self-interest and give ourselves over to the welfare of others. That’s the example of Jesus we are called to follow.
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4, NKJV)
Combative mindsets and contentious conduct permeate society. The works of the flesh (“adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like”) are producing devastating results all around us (Galatians 5:19-21). Look at the contrast in today’s passage with the works of the flesh. Selfish ambition thrives in the arrogant heart that sees others as “less than” we are. Pride feeds the desire to look out for ourselves first – before others. When we estimate others to be better than ourselves it follows that we will not injure and harm them through the works of the flesh. (Look at that list again and see how often our sins invariably hurt others.) By developing hearts of humility we become servants of others instead of users and takers. Living for others instead of ourselves protects us from sin as it spreads the influence of righteousness. Be the salt of the earth by maintaining a humble heart that values others and becomes a blessing in their lives (Matthew 5:13).
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7–9, NKJV)
We miss the point of this passage if we conclude God sent an ailment upon Paul to restrain his arrogance (John 9:1-3). His physical limitation was an opportunity for the grace of God to be magnified. Paul admitted he had been arrogant before his conversion, but also that he had been humbled by the mercy of God he received in Christ (1 Timothy 1:13-17). His thorn in the flesh was an occasion for the power of Christ to be glorified in him. And so, Paul trusted the Lord instead of his wisdom, strength, and accomplishments (Philippians 3:1-11). Most of us will face ailments and illnesses at some point in life. These are chronic for some and short-lived for others. But every one of them is our opportunity to learn to live with our limitations and to be strengthened in the Lord. His grace is sufficient for us to endure life’s temporary trials so we may live eternally with Him (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).