“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Christ began to preach the kingdom of heaven by urging people to repent (Mt 4:17). The first step of repentance is to realize that we are sinners and to humble ourselves. In order to achieve a complete repentance and the hope for heaven, we are to follow the way of humility.
Humility is the opposite of arrogance. Studying the previous lives of the kings of Tyre and Babylon in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14, we can see that pride is the basic cause of sin. Because of our arrogance, we were implicated in Lucifer’s sin and were cast down to earth. We were angels in heaven, being placed in high positions, but by being proud we defiled ourselves and committed sin to be hurled down to the earth. Through this fact, we understand why we must humble ourselves before God.
Martin Luther the Reformer ever said, “I’ve never tried to learn the miracles of Jesus. I just want to learn His humility.” Jesus Christ came to seek and save the lost; He gave His disciples many teachings on humility and showed them His personal example of humility. Apostle Paul strongly urged the saints to have the same attitude or mind as Christ-which is the attitude of humility.
… but in humility consider others better than yourselves…. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Php 2:3-11
Whoever wants to repent and returns to heaven must have the same attitude of humility as Christ. Just as Paul and Luther said, humility is one of the most important virtues we should learn from Christ. God asks us to humble ourselves to remove our pride that caused us to sin in heaven.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”Lk 18:9-14
God justified the tax collector rather than the Pharisee, and showed him favor; for the tax collector would not even look up to heaven and acknowledged himself to be a sinner, asking God for His mercy, while the Pharisee proclaimed his own righteousness.
Whoever exalts himself, whoever is arrogant, will be humbled. But he who humbles himself and recognizes his sinfulness like the tax collector, will be exalted and receive glory in heaven; for he always thanks God for saving him a sinner and lives in accordance with His will. Think of Christ, the example of exaltation after humility; since He humbled himself, He became highly exalted and glorified.
Apostle Peter, who was taught by Jesus about humility, gave us a teaching as follows:
… All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.1 Pe 5:5-6
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble and lift them up in due time. If we realize our sins in heaven and always have the attitude of the tax collector who deeply repented his sins, saying, “Lord, I am a sinner,” how dare we proclaim our own righteousness before God and insist upon our own opinion and reign over others?
… Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.1 Pe 5:1-4
When we set a good example of humility, when we seek to gain the understanding of others rather than insist upon our own opinion and consider them better than ourselves just as Christ taught us, the hearers of the gospel will attain to its full understanding under the guidance of God. God is with him who is lowly in spirit (Isa 57:15), and He saves the humble (Job 22:29; Ps 149:4). Power comes from humility; for it is stronger than pride. Taking it to heart, we shall follow Christ’s example of humility.
There are many biblical cases of those who were brought low due to their arrogance. In Daniel 4, when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon became proud and completely forgot about God, thinking that he did it all by himself, he lost his mind and lived like an animal, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven. He lost all his power and was brought low, lower than any men. After that, he learned humility. When he became humble, his wisdom and understanding returned to him and his kingdom was restored to him (Da 4:24-37).
Man has a sinful nature of pride which caused him to fall into sin. So just being praised makes him easily haughty and arrogant. One such example pertains to King Saul.
Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” … Samuel said to Saul. “… Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’ Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD? … To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”1 Sa 15:10-23
Considering the case of King Saul, we can fully understand what kind of people God uses. When Saul was small in his own eyes, God made him king. But when he became arrogant, God regretted that He made him king.
From the moment Saul thought to himself, ‘Now I can do everything all by myself,” he began to disobey God’s command. Such a thought made him proud, and he dared even to exalt his own opinion over God’s command; God had commanded him to completely destroy the Amalekites, but he didn’t obey God and spared the fat calves and lambs. For this, God rebuked him through the prophet Samuel.
If Saul had remained humble after he was exalted to the throne, he would have obeyed God’s word. However, he became full of pride and disobeyed God. Finally he was rejected by God and died a miserable death.
All this was written to teach us. God humbles the proud and exalts the humble. We must understand why God emphasizes humility. Pride is a root cause of every sin which makes us separate from God. That’s why God re-peatedly tells us to be humble.
Ezekiel 28 shows that the king of Tyre was anointed as a guardian cherub in heaven, who was blameless in his ways from the day he was created, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. But his heart became proud on account of his beauty and foolishly thought that he would exalt his throne above the throne of God. This shows how proud the first criminal was in his heart.
Pride arises in our hearts when we forget that we sinned against God and were cast down from heaven to the earth. It becomes greater when we depend only on our own wisdom, knowledge and strength, not asking for God’s help. We are earnestly longing to go back to our heavenly home. To urge people throughout the world to repent, first we must remove all pride from our hearts and humble ourselves.
… Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his command. He humbled you, causing you to hunger … Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you. Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him.Dt 8:1-6
God trained the Israelites in the desert for forty years, in order to make them humble. He thus trained His children on earth lest they should repeat Lucifer’s rebellion in heaven. Now God trains us in this spiritual desert. If we still want to be exalted, it is against God’s will, isn’t it?
God wants us to be changed into the humble ones. His teachings about humility is not hard to find in the Bible. If we refuse to humble ourselves and remain proud, exalting ourselves above others, until the end of our life of faith in this spiritual desert, we will lose the heavenly Canaan. Let’s consider the attitude of faith God wants us to have, through the following story.
A man dreamed he went to heaven. There were numerous thrones for the saints, the royal priests, and he found the highest throne unoccupied. He wondered who would sit on the throne. Then an angel beside him told that the throne would be occupied by his teacher.
When he woke up from his dream, he wondered if his teacher was really worthy to occupy the throne. He asked his teacher how he estimated himself. Then he replied, “I consider myself the most evil person in the world.” “What do you mean by that?” he asked in surprise. His teacher said to him:
“If God had given His grace to any other person, he would have been much better than me. In spite of having received such a great blessing from God, I’ve not completely humbled myself and repented enough, so I have failed to lead more people into the right path. That’s why I consider myself as the most wicked person in the world.”
The teacher’s attitude we should imitate. He humbled himself before God, feeling sorry for not leading more people to God in spite of having received His great blessing. Humility is a virtue Christians must have.
Everything we have comes from God. So we have nothing to boast of in the presence of God (cf. 1 Co 4:6-7). If the grace of God given to me was given to any other person, he would bring more glory to God than me and perform His gospel work more faithfully. Thinking that way, we must humble ourselves.
Apostle Paul called himself ‘the worst of sinner’ (1 Ti 1:15). He had received so much grace from God, but he thought that if it had been given to any other person, he would have made even greater achievements than him. He thus humbled himself and considered himself the least of all. He devoted himself wholly to the gospel of Christ, feeling obligated to preach the gospel to everyone, as a minister of the new covenant.
Let’s all have an attitude of humility toward one another along with a serving heart, following our Father and Mother’s examples. Like the tax collector in the parable, let’s humble ourselves and give thanks to God for His abundant grace given to us sinners. Brothers and sisters in Zion! Following the example of Christ, let us practice humility in our daily life, humbling ourselves before God and serving one another, so we will all enter the everlasting kingdom.