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In the Church today, we like to talk about how humble Jesus is. We think this is biblical because Jesus Himself said:
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
But the problem is that though we are quoting Jesus’ words, we are attaching a very different definition to them. The kind of humility God wants from us is not at all the kind of humility we promote in the Church. Our humility is limited to a set of behaviors. A humble man is polite. He doesn’t push for his way. He doesn’t start fights. He acts embarrassed when he’s complimented. He pretends not to love being in the spotlight. The problem with our definition of humility is that it’s only a surface act. Underneath the phony pretense lies a raging ego, a condescending attitude, and a firm belief that we deserve all the praise we’re getting and then some.
Now in Bible times, people were using the same lousy definition of humility that we do today. A king was considered humble if he walked among the common people without demanding that they all bow before him. A man “humbled himself” by adopting subservient body language: bowing low to the ground, kneeling down, etc. Now Jesus comes along. If a human king gets points for humility for mingling with the commoners, an Almighty God gets far more for mingling with His little creatures.
It’s interesting to note that this yoke passage is the only context in which Jesus refers to Himself as being humble. In this passage, Jesus is demanding total submission from His followers. He is calling them to give up their freedom and invite Him to totally dominate and control them by putting a metaphorical yoke around their necks. Well, this is a scary proposition. These people are quite familiar with the wooden collars they put over their farm animals in order to steer them around when plowing fields. Once an ox is trapped inside a yoke, he has no way of getting it off. Some human farmers are cruel. They beat their animals, and they turn the yoke into a torture device. What kind of Master will Jesus be? Jesus has already demonstrated supernatural powers with all of His miracles. If a Man can heal people, surely He can inflict them with terrible diseases as well. Is Jesus going to be the kind of Master who beats on His creatures or is He going to be like the humble human king who takes the time to notice and care about the little people? It is in this context that Jesus claims to be humble, and He is using the human definition of humble. “I’m not going to be an abusive jerk. You can trust Me to care for you and treat you well”—this is what He is saying here. He says He is gentle and humble as opposed to harsh and condescending.
The important point we need to learn from this passage is that today we have blown the humility of Jesus all out of proportion. He was just using the word to assure people that He was a safe and trustworthy Master (which He is). But today when we talk about the humility of Jesus, we often switch over to God’s definition of the term, and this means a soul attitude which says, “I am not worthy of praise, for I am lower than God.” Jesus doesn’t have one iota of godly humility in His entire Being. Jesus does not consider Himself to be less than anyone, and that includes Yahweh. Jesus is equal to Yahweh and the Holy Spirit in magnificence, power, and brilliance. Jesus is awesome and He knows it. Jesus is zealous to be praised, exalted, and honored. Jesus doesn’t wave away our praise with a blushing face and shy demeanor; He snatches it up and wants more. Jesus demands that we submit to Him as our glorious God and Savior, He doesn’t ask politely. Jesus is the polar opposite of godly humility because godly humility is only a valid concept for created beings.
As creatures who are utterly dependent on God for everything, it is ludicrous to go taking the bows for the things He accomplishes through us. Godly humility is a soul attitude which naturally develops within us the more we understand certain core truths about who God is and who we’re not. Acquiring godly humility results in an intense repulsion to praise. When people try to give us the glory for what God has done, we don’t politely wave it away while secretly hoping they’ll say more. Instead, we are intensely bothered by it. We feel like God is being grossly insulted and we want to separate ourselves from the blasphemous fool who is trying to heap praises upon us. Godly humility HATES having anything but God being exalted. It isn’t a surface act, it is a mindset which springs from a more accurate perspective of reality. We are NOTHING. God is EVERYTHING. God is zealous for glory. We revere God, so why would we dare to try and steal what belongs to Him alone?
Our Creators are not humble according to Their definition of the word. They are the antithesis of humble. They demand humility from us (which They help us cultivate) while simultaneously demanding that everything They create exalts Them as the magnificent Beings that They are. So if the Jesus you picture in your mind is some shrinking violet who shies away from being center stage, you need to ask Jesus to give you a more accurate picture of Him. Jesus is not humble.
What is humility?
Understanding Jesus: “Take My yoke upon you…”