In our previous article we considered the words of the Lord Jesus, “whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased”, and now we look at the other side of the picture, “he that humbleth himself shall be exalted”. The reference is Luke 14. 11, and the scene is a meal in a Pharisee’s house. Some guests who were entitled to sit at the top of the table because of their status had found themselves crowded out by others who had sat down first, and they were therefore compelled to take seats lower down the table. The matter was rectified, however, by the giver of the meal who, noting what had happened, requested those who had exalted themselves to take a lower place and gave to those whose social status justified it the higher place. In the eyes of all present some were abased and some exalted. It may be pointed out that, in the illustration before us, those who took the lower places took them because they had to, not from choice. The Lord is concerned to show that God is going to adjust things, and that His approval is extended to those who, without compulsion, voluntarily choose the lower place.
Comparing this with standards recognized by modern man, we see at once how other worldly tall is, and we recognize that the different standard set by the Lord Jesus can only be attained and maintained by divine aid. In contrast with man’s attitude, the Old Testament is full of exhortations to humility. Proverbs 16. 19 points out that “better it is to be of an humble spirit … than to divide the spoil with the proud”. In Isaiah 57. 15 we see that “the high and lofty One" dwells with him that is of a “contrite and humble spirit”. Proverbs 15. 33 and 18. 12 stress that “before honour is humility”. This is the divine outlook, so it is not surprising to discover that when the High and Lofty One came to earth in incarnation He spoke of Himself as “meek and lowly in heart”, Matt. 11. 29. It was the mind that was in Christ Jesus, Phil. 2.
5, that caused Him to humble Himself and become obedient unto death. In Matthew 11. 29, which has already been quoted, we see the claim to humility against the background of claims that established His inherent greatness; see verse 27. This is no mere man talking of being lowly in heart, but One who could claim equality with the Father within the mystery of the Godhead. How great He is!
Isaiah saw Him in the temple, Isa. 6, 1, 3, “high and lifted up”, and the centre of heavenly worship, “Holy, holy, holy”. That this was the Lord Jesus is confirmed in John 12. 41. This view of our Lord in Philippians 2 is given to us for the primary purpose of teaching us humility in dealing one with another, of looking “every man also on the things of others" rather than on the things of self. In the background, there were in Philippi sisters who were at cross purposes, and when this position exists a solution of the problem demands that someone must be the first to yield. No one however was willing to do so; this would have been “humbling”, so the impasse remained and fellowship was spoiled. “Look”, says the inspired writer, “look at your Lord – so great yet so humble – be like Him”. As we look at Him, we see One who did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped at, but who stooped from the highest glory to the lowest – possible place, a Roman gibbet. Is there here a designed contrast with one who, being a created being, looked at the throne of God and grasped at it?, Isa. 14. 13-14. This blessed One did not; He made Himself of no reputation – He emptied Himself. There was an utter absence of personal ambition. The following clauses in Philippians 2 define the emptying – they speak of “the form of a servant" for Him who was in the form of sovereignty. They speak of “the likeness of men" (elsewhere Paul speaks of “the likeness of sinful flesh”, Rom. 8. 3). There were other forms borne by servants of God, cherubim, seraphim, archangels, but this One passed them all by and for a little while was made lower than the angels, Heb. 2. 9, even in the place of humanity.
But as we go on through Philippians we see this One, having taken the lowly place in the likeness of sinful flesh, humbling Himself still further. He could say to His disciples, “I am among you as he that serveth”, Luke 22. 27. He took the towel and girded Himself, John 13.4, and He took the water and washed the disciples’ feet. Could He go any lower? Yes He did! He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”. No human reasoning will ever explain just what was involved in this, but our passage of Scripture shows it to be the lowest point in the descent from the throne. As we gaze at the “wondrous cross, on which the King of Glory died”, we hear the echo of the Scripture, He made Himself of no reputation – He humbled Himself. “Look at Him’, says the apostle, and “let this mind be in you which was in Him".
When we talk of humility in relation to ourselves, we are talking of something which is distasteful to the flesh, and very difficult to practise; yet it is a “must" if we are to know exaltation at the hand of God. It becomes a possibility when we are “filled with the Spirit”, Eph. 5. 18, and the fruit of the Spirit, Gal, 5. 22, is produced in us. We may not know this exaltation by God in this earthly life, but the adjustment will be made by God when our life of service is reviewed at the judgment seat of Christ.
A divine principle – “he that humbleth himself shall be exalted”. We look again at the High and Lofty One as He became the meek and lowly One, and we see this principle in operation. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name”, Phil. 2. 9. The word “wherefore” indicates that what follows is a direct consequence of what had gone before. It is because this Blessed One went so low that God is now putting Him so high. Hebrews 2. 9 continues the theme, “we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour," while Revelation 5. 9. reminds us that the redeemed will ever have with them the thought that He is worthy because He was slain. As God exalts our glorious Lord, it is not an act of sovereign grace on His part, but the divine establishment of the law of recompense which He has promulgated. “He humbled himself”, therefore He must be “exalted”. How delighted God is to do this!
As we bring this article to a close, may we again listen to the words given to us by the Holy Spirit, “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”. He stooped from sovereignty to service, and then from a life of goodness to the cross. Our response to this may well be “but how Lord?”. We have referred to the work of the Holy Spirit in achieving this desirable frame of mind, and we may well add to this the divine power which is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think”, Eph. 3. 20. Indeed, when we look at Ephesians 4.1 -3, following the reference to God’s abundant power, we see it being worked out in a “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. God’s almighty power is needed and available to keep us low.
In our previous article, we saw that both James 4. 6 and 1 Peter 5. 5 speak of God resisting the proud. We go back to these references again, and find the comforting truth. He “giveth grace unto the humble” – they need it!