We are taught to dream big. You can be anything you want we are told as small children. Just think about the amount of time we spend on training to achieve and dreaming big: primary school, military training, college, continuing education, etc. We train to achieve. We are wired to achieve. We spend our lives “working our way up” in whatever our chosen field is. We have ambition for greatness.
While we have ambition for greatness, one area that we don’t have ambition for is humility. Yet humility is one of the defining characteristics of a Christ-follower. Primarily because it is one of the defining characteristics of Christ. Isaiah 66:2 reminds us “This is the one to whom I will look; he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” To put it another way, those who are humble are the ones who get God’s undivided attention. How do we define humility? Let me suggest this definition: “humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.”
Humility and the lack thereof are the subject of Mark 10:35-44. The two sons of Zebedee, John and James, are dreaming big here in Mark 10. They are thinking about what they want . . . what should be coming to them. They have been faithful disciples and want a piece of the pie, if you will. “Let us be in glory with you,” they ask. Sadly, with this one request, they prove that they have misunderstood all that they have experienced with Christ.
Jesus’ response is interesting. He doesn’t criticize them. He redirects their ambition. They should “dream big” not in terms of glory, but service, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 43-45). Instead of asking what they could get being a follower of Jesus, they should have been asking how can they could serve. This was a lesson not only for them, but for the rest of the disciples as well.
Sadly, we often walk the same road as John and James. It was humanly impossible for the disciples to free themselves from their selfish pursuit of self-exaltation. It is equally impossible for us to free ourselves from the very same sins. We focus more on “getting what is coming to us” than we do developing an attitude of humility. The more we assess ourselves in light of God’s character, the more we realize that we don’t have reason to lift ourselves up - only to humble ourselves to serve God. We are called to a life of service to God and to others.
Peter gives us a promise regarding humility. In our pursuit of humility, we are covered in God’s care, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). Humility is giving ourselves over to God. Humility is trusting that God will take care of us so we can take care of others through serving Him and others.
This Maundy Thursday, let’s remember Christ’s humility in washing the feet of the disciples. Let us learn from John and James in Mark 10. Let us serve God and others as we develop a life of humility.