But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:30, NKJV)
Jesus had corrected the apostles’ implication that only the rich could enter the kingdom of God and have the blessings of salvation and honor (Matthew 19:23-28). All who sacrificially give their lives to faithfully serve Jesus are blessed now and eternally (Matthew 19:29). Jesus summed up this exchange with His apostles by reverting to where it began. Those who seek and expect places of honor from men will not find it in the kingdom of God. Such will not enter His kingdom with that as their expectation. The humble in heart, who do the will of the Father, are “first” (blessed) in the kingdom. Jesus had earlier taught the one who humbles himself as a little child “is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). Let us remove every vestige of prideful expectation from our hearts and seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Remember, the kingdom of Christ is not of this world (John 18:36). We must not expect it to conform to our expectations. Kingdom citizens conform themselves to the king’s will, and are eternally blessed for doing so (Romans 12:2).
Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:20, NKJV)
We must remember to rejoice in the right things. Jesus had sent out seventy of His followers to the cities where He was about to go, giving them miraculous powers to accompany their preaching of the kingdom of God (Luke 10:1, 9). They returned with joy that “even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (Luke 10:17). Jesus rejoiced with them in seeing the power of Satan being overwhelmed by the power of God as they did His work (Luke 10:18-19). Then, He quickly turned their attention to why they should rejoice. By doing so, He turned their joy away from the potential of pride in themselves (“subject to us,” Luke 10:17) to the humble faith needed to do heaven’s work (“your names are written in heaven”). As you do the work of God and rejoice in the gospel’s power, remember you are not the source of your joy, God is. He is the One who makes your victory over Satan and sin possible. You do not write your name in heaven, God does that when you faithfully do the work He gives you to do (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 20:12, 15).
And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12, NKJV)
Jesus gave a warning against the prideful religious display of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-12. This continues to be a trap into which we can too easily fall. In learning to be humble before God and men, we must be cautious against attitudes and actions that suggest we are so proud to be so humble (Luke 18:9-14). At the very moment we are convinced we have mastered the grace of humility, the sin of pride is lurking in the shadows. Those who take delight in asceticism or self-abasement as evidence of their spirituality have seemingly yielded to this temptation, for twice the Scriptures identify such “false humility” that has “no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:18, 23). Let us genuinely put on a heart of humility (Colossians 3:12). A heart of humility does not put on a show for others. It is not concerned with such things. Instead, it shows meekness, longsuffering, forbearance and forgiveness toward others as it lives among men and before God (Colossians 3:12-13). Humility serves, while pride expects to be served (1 Peter 5:5-6).
3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, (1 Timothy 6:3–4, NKJV)
Are you obsessed with disputes? Some see to hanker for an argument. (Note, we did not ask whether you are willing to contend earnestly for the faith, Jude 3. There is a huge difference.) Let your eyes gaze upon the contrasting words in today’s passage. On the one hand, there are the wholesome (sound) words of our Lord Jesus Christ – the “doctrine that accords with godliness” (v. 3). On the other hand, there are words of dispute that arise out of pride and ignorance that foment obsession with words (teachings) of men (v. 4). These words tear down faith as they elevate self and generate conflict that gives way to envy, quarrels, slander and evil suspicions. So, before you speak, be sure your words agree with the godliness that is produced by the sound doctrine of Christ, not words of strife that expose pride and a failure to understand the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, “It is honorable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).
7 So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: 8 “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; 9 and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place.” (Luke 14:7–9, NKJV)
Pride and ambition drives us to seek prominence and recognition before others. In vivid contrast to seeking the attention of others, Jesus taught us not to seek the place of honor before others. Instead, He said to “sit in the lowest place” (Luke 14:10). Eventually, your humility will be acknowledged and rewarded: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Don’t seek the honor and praise of me. Do your own work humbly, honestly, and without fanfare (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Whether or not men recognize you, the Lord sees and will reward your humble faith. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” (John 3:1–2, NKJV)
Nicodemus had heard the teachings of Jesus, and he had apparently seen some of His miracles (or their effects). From this, Nicodemus rightly concluded that Jesus had come from God, and that God was with him. From the context, we are not amiss to conclude that Nicodemus was an early believer (John 2:23). He was a Pharisee, and a ruler of the Jews (John 7:50). This indicates the influence of Jesus’ words and deeds was already beginning to reach the upper echelons of Jewish power. Although this night visit implies an element of fear on the part of Nicodemus, it also shows him acting on the conclusion he drew from the words and signs of Jesus. He did not withdraw from Jesus, criticize Him, or obstruct His work. This “teacher of Israel” went directly to Jesus to investigate for himself. We must never allow our place in society, our degree of education, or the authority we hold over others to prevent a humble investigation of Christ and His gospel. Pride would have prevented this night visit. Is pride keeping you from going to Jesus, learning from Him, and following His word? Remember, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
17 But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:17–19, NKJV)
Pride prevents repentance and salvation from sin. It is only when we realize the depth of our sin against our Father in heaven, that we become willing to entertain the thought of returning to Him in search of His compassionate forgiveness. God is always ready to give it. Just as a father whose child has wandered far away from him, wasting the blessings of the father’s love, God is always ready to receive and forgive the sinner who repents and abandons sin with a servant heart. There is no doubt that God compassionately forgives repentant sinners. The real question is, when we sin, will you and I humble ourselves before God, repent, and come to Him and cast ourselves upon His mercy?