by Andrew Murray

Humility in the Disciples of Jesus

But among you, those who are the greatest should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant (Luke 22:26).

We have looked at humility in the person and teaching of Jesus. Let’s now see if we can find evidence for it in the circle of His hand-picked companions—the twelve. If we instead discover a lack of humility in them, then the contrast between Christ and men will be that much clearer. We’ll appreciate even more the dramatic change that Pentecost produced in them. It will prove how real our participation can be in the perfect victory of Jesus’ humility over the pride that the devil injected into man.

From the words of Jesus, we have already seen that the disciples demonstrated how spiritually bankrupt they were when it came to humility. Early on, it seems, they began a long running argument about which of them was the greatest. This dispute seems to have reached a new low when James and John put their mother up to requesting the places of honor—at the left and right hands of the throne—for her sons. Finally, during their last meal with Jesus before the cross, the squabble about which of them was “number one” erupted again.

Of course the disciples had their moments when one of them would genuinely humble himself before his Master. When he first met Jesus, Peter had enough sense to cry out, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around You.” All of the disciples had fallen to their knees and worshipped Jesus when He calmed the storm. But those sporadic moments of humility only serve to make their habitual pride that much more obvious. Their true colors were shown in the natural and spontaneous outbreaks of self-life in them. If we consider these men, they can teach us several critically important lessons.

First, we can see how much there can be of a very zealous and active Christianity while humility is still sadly lacking. Surely the twelve are “exhibit A.” They had a sincere, passionate attachment to Jesus. They had forsaken everything for Him. The Father had revealed to them that Jesus was the Christ of God. They believed in Him, loved Him, and obeyed Him. When others turned away, they clung to Him. They were ready to die with Him. But deeper down than all their sincerity and good intentions lay a dark power. They were hardly aware of how hideous it was or that it even existed. But this power had to be killed and thrown out before they could serve as witnesses that Jesus is able to save sinners.

Things haven’t changed much in 2000 years. We find many professing Christians—including those who would consider themselves “ministers,” “evangelists,” “missionaries,” “teachers,” or “full-time workers”—who seem to possess many Spiritual gifts, yet lack humility. There are people who seemingly are channels of blessing to millions, but who demonstrate, when the time of testing comes or when light shines on their lives that humility is hardly to be found in their characters. These sad examples confirm the fact that humility is the greatest and highest characteristic a person can have. It is difficult to attain, and we can’t be satisfied with any less than a diligent effort to seek it. Humility is a grace that only comes with power, when the Christ is formed in us.

Second, we can see how weak all external teaching and personal striving is to overcome pride and produce a meek, lowly heart. For three years the disciples had been under apprenticeship to Jesus Christ. He let them know His main curriculum: “Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle” (Matthew 11:29). Time after time He had spoken to them, to the Pharisees, and to the crowds that humility was the only path to the glory of God. He had not only lived His life before them as the Lamb of God in divine humility, He had openly shared His “secret ambition” with them. “For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give My life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). “For I am your servant” (Luke 22:27).

Jesus had washed their feet and told them they were to follow His example. And yet, every last one of them had learned so little. At their last meal with Him, that argument was still brewing. No doubt they had tried to learn His lessons and had made up their minds that they wouldn’t disappoint Him again. But it was no use! Like them, we must learn that much-needed lesson that outward teaching, even from Jesus Himself, cannot cast out the devil of pride. No arguments can convince pride away. No appreciation of humility can create it where it doesn’t exist. No resolve is sincere enough to change a person’s heart. When satan casts out satan, it is only to enter again in a stronger but more hidden power! Nothing can make a lasting difference, unless a new heart, with Christ-like humility, takes the place of the old. It takes a miracle.

Third, it is only by the indwelling of Christ in His humility that we can become humble. We didn’t create pride. We can’t create humility, either. Pride belongs to us, and we belong to it, because it is who we are—our very nature. Humility must be ours in the same way. It must be our very self, our very nature. The promise is, “as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful kindness became more abundant” (Romans 5:20). All Jesus’ teaching of the twelve, and all their effort, were the necessary preparation for His entering into them with power. He had taught them to desire something. Now He had to give it to them and be it for them.

In His death, Jesus destroyed the power of the devil. He put away sin and accomplished an eternal redemption. In His resurrection, He received from the Father a completely new Life. It was the life of a man in the power of God, able to touch men’s hearts, to enter and renew and fill their lives with power. In His ascension, Jesus received the Spirit of the Father, through whom He could accomplish what He could not have done had He stayed physically present on earth. He was able to make Himself one with those He loved, and actually live their lives for them. Then they could live before the Father in humility like His, because it was He Himself who lived and breathed in them. And on Pentecost, He came and took possession of them. The work of getting them ready, of awakening a desire and hope in them through His teaching, was completed with a powerful transformation through the Spirit. The lives and letters of James and Peter and John testify that everything had changed for them. The Spirit of the meek and humble Jesus truly had possession of them.

I am sure that those who hear these words find themselves in many different places spiritually. Some may not have given their pride much thought. The immense importance of this subject just may now be starting to sink in. Others may be living in condemnation. They have tried to change their pride with sincere striving, but have suffered one discouraging failure after another. Still others may testify joyfully of the spiritual blessing and power they have received in many areas, but the people close to them can testify with a good deal less joy that the power to be humble isn’t one of those areas. And others may be able to say that the Lord has given them deliverance and victory here, too. He has taught them how much they still need and may expect out of the fullness of Christ.

Wherever you are personally, I urge you to seek a deeper conviction of the unique place humility holds in becoming like Jesus. We have to understand the utter impossibility of the church or of the individual believer to become what Jesus wants them to be, as long as His humility is not recognized as His greatest glory, His unchanging command, and our deepest blessing. Let’s deeply consider how “mature” the disciples seemed to be when humility was lacking from their characters. Let’s pray to God that other gifts won’t satisfy us. May we never forget that the absence of humility is the secret reason why the power of God cannot work in us. It is only when we, like the Son, truly know and show that we can do nothing of ourselves, that God will do all.

It is when the truth of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” becomes true in the experience of believers that the Church will put on her beautiful garments and humility will be seen in her members as the beauty of holiness.

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