1. Humility in our Ambitions.
The disciples of Jesus would often argue about which one of them was the greatest. Its really humorous when you think about it. Here’s Jesus, God in human flesh a few steps ahead of them and they’re a few steps behind saying“I’m the greatest… No I’m the greatest… I’m greater than you are.” God is right in front of them and they’re arguing about who’s the greatest. It’s human nature. Jesus hears this happening and He turns around and He teaches them an incredibly important lesson. He said in Matthew 18 “Therefore whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Notice what Jesus said there. He didn’t say don’t want to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Notice that? He didn’t say deny you’re ambition or your desires for greatness. He said, “You want to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Fine. I understand that, that’s how you’re wired. Here’s how it can happen. You’re going to have to humble yourself like this little child. That is how it happens.” He said let humility manage your ambitions. If you want to be great here’s how. Be like a child.
We all face this daily greatness test of humility. Exalt yourself – Be demanding. Be like the disciples were demand your way, demand to be first, demand to be best, demand to be greatest.
Or you can make the choice to humble yourself and depend more on God. Demanding or depending. That’s a choice you and I are facing everyday throughout our lives.
When it comes to being demanding, it’s easy to do. It’s very easy to do because it looks like it works. In fact in a lot of circumstances of life it does work to be demanding. Have you noticed that? You can go into a restaurant and not get the order that you want and you can demand the order that you want and most of the time people will rush to your aide and they’ll bring you what you wanted. You got what you wanted by being demanding. You can go into a store and demand something and get what you want.
But here’s the problem. You can’t demand the most important things in life. You cannot demand a relationship to work. Some of you have tried. You can’t do it. You can’t demand yourself to be happy. You cannot demand that you’re never going to get sick, that you’re never going to die. You can’t demand the most important things in life. Demanding is tricky. It will get you the little things but it’ll keep you from the most important things in life. What happens for those of you who have learned to be demanding is all we have in life, you demand this, you demand that, you get this, you get that. All of a sudden you’re trying to demand something important like a relationship to work that’s falling apart and it’s not working so what do you do? You demand harder and it pushes you further apart and you wonder what’s wrong. Did the rules change? The rules didn’t change, you can demand the little things but you cannot demand the most important things in life. It just doesn’t work.
There is a different way to live. Jesus taught His disciples in order to be great you need to be humble.
These guys arguing, demanding, that they be recognized as the greatest amongst the disciples. Jesus says, “Guys! Look at this little child right here. Be like this child.”
What are children best at? Children depend on their parents. The good thing about children is they don’t worry about whether they should depend on their parents or not. They just do it. They see you as a friendly ATM. God wants you and I to realize “I’ve wired you to depend on Me. I’m the creator. I’ve made you to depend on Me. It’s all right.”
It really is the secret to greatness is to learn to depend. Unless you’re constantly asking God to meet your needs – financial needs, emotional needs, physical needs, relationship needs – you’re obviously depending on yourself and not depending on Him. Jesus says if you want greatness, learn to be like this child. Learn to recognize the truth, be honest about it. You do depend on God. I depend on God for everything in my life.
Depending on God doesn’t mean to let go of your ambitions. Far from it. A lot of people think depending on God it means I sit back in my easy chair and lean back and say, “Ok God, whatever You want to do, do it to me. Here I am.” That’s not depending on God. That’s laziness. It’s a very different thing.
Look at the people in the Bible, did they have ambitions? Moses had an ambition to lead millions of people out of Egypt into the promised land. That was ambitious. Paul had an ambition to take the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, to the entire known world of his day. That is ambitious. Jesus had an ambition. He had an ambition to go to the cross and give His life for us. That’s ambition. So humility does not mean you throw away your ambition. In fact, I believe every one of us should have huge ambitions in our life. We need more God given ambition in this world.
The incredible thing about a person who lives in dependence upon God, they don’t have to be demanding. They’re secure. They know God loves them. They know God has a plan for their life. They don’t have to demand their way through life. They can live in the security of knowing God has this plan for my life. Humility does not mean that you have to let go of your ambition. Humility means that you give your life to a greater ambition of God’s plan for your life. That’s what Jesus taught about humility.
The second key area Jesus taught us to have humility is this.
- Humility and our Desire for Recognition.
We all have a need we all have to be recognized or noticed. Jesus said in Matthew 23:11-12 “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” In this case Jesus is teaching us about humility and recognition in this crowd of people who are striving for recognition.
He knows we all like to be noticed. I do. We all like that. You see this in your family. Do your kids ever fight for notice? We have three kids. We can’t have one tell a story without the other two trying to interrupt or but in and tell their story. They want to be noticed. That’s the way it is in life. Do you ever play the game in your house, “It’s my turn to be noticed today. You got noticed yesterday, I get noticed today.” We all fight for this. We all have this as part of our lives. We all want to be noticed.
There’s this daily greatness test about this that Jesus talks about. Here’s the test: Exalt yourself – that’s when you need other’s notice. Not only like it but you begin to need it. It’s easy to need to be noticed everyday of your life, every circumstance of life in order to feel important. If you walk down that road that’s exalting yourself. Jesus says if you exalt yourself eventually you’ll be humbled.
In this case when He said this phrase He was talking to a specific group of guys called the Pharisees. They were in this crowd. They were trying to be recognized. Jesus noticed that they were trying to be noticed. He has some things to say about them. They were using religion as a cover for getting their need recognition met. Jesus reserved His harshest words for these guys. Not because they’re so different from you and I. But because everyone looked at them as a model.
Jesus is saying, “Don’t want to be like them.” Why? Matthew 23:5-7 “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide… they love the place of honor at banquets… and they love to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’” Jesus says everything they do is for men to see and then He gives some examples. Some examples that fit what we do to be noticed.
First of all He says, “They make their phylacteries wide.” What in the world is that? A Phylactery was this little tiny box that they wore on their heads. And they had scripture verses in it. They were trying to do what the Old Testament says, Carry God’s word with you throughout the day. But what the Pharisees did they would make their box a little bit bigger than the other guy’s box. So they had more of the Bible in their mind that this other guy. The next guy would make their box bigger than the next guy’s box. So they’re walking around with refrigerator sized boxes on their head because they’re so spiritual.
Phylactery – It’s the love of symbols. That’s what happens when you need notice. You begin to love symbols. Things that everybody looks at and goes, “They’re important because they have this symbol.” These Pharisees were ridiculous. They wore boxes on their head.
We’re not anything like that today. We wouldn’t do anything about symbols in our life to try to feel important would we? No. We walk around with little logos on our shirts to make us feel important. Not boxes on our heads. We are much more sophisticated than they are. We walk around thinking, we wouldn’t say it to anybody, but I hope somebody notices because I’ve got this. Look at me, world!
Or we buy a car for the first time with the symbol we’ve been looking for all of our lives on that car. We’re driving around thinking everybody in the world is noticing us because we’re driving around with that symbol on our cars. They’re wanting to be like us. It’s the love of symbols. I don’t think if God cares that much about what kind of car you drive. You don’t have to drive a Hundyai to be a Christian. That’s not what I’m saying. But He does care about why you drive the kind of car you drive. He does care if you and I get so in love with symbols that we have to have them all throughout our lives in order to be noticed. Some of you haven’t even noticed how much you need to be noticed. It’s made its way into every part of your life. Jesus says watch out for that. Because in the end you’re going to be humbled if you go that direction. “They make their phylacteries wide.”
He also said, “They love the places of honor at banquets.” That’s the love of recognition. If everywhere you go you have to be recognized, you have to be up on the front table, you have to have people say your name, you have to have the recognition of the fact that you are there, you have to be in the program. If everywhere you go you have to be recognized its a sign of pride not humility.
He also says that “They love to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’” That is the love of titles. Some of you have titles that you’ve worked ten, fifteen, twenty years for. Those titles that you have – “Doctor” or whatever are titles that mean you can serve other people. I think some titles are important. But when you start to love titles. When you start to live for titles, when everyone has to say your title to make you feel important, something is wrong.
You can live life needing other’s notice or you can make the humble yourself choice. How do we stop? The only way to cure yourself of this need that we all have to be noticed is to start noticing other people’s needs. That’s the only way. Not live a life just for yourself.
Let’s just get real practical about noticing other people’s needs. Let me give you a practical homework assignment. Notice other people’s needs at work or at home. What if this week you decided to notice the fact that the people you work with or live with they had some needs? What if this next week when you went to get a coffee or a snack. You bought them one too? Start to treat them like a human being. I think it would do some good to them. But that’s not why I’m saying this. I’m saying it for the good it will do for you. When you start to treat them like a person, start to notice their needs, you’ll see the stress level go down in your life and that one small thing may have more impact than you can possibly imagine.
Mother Teresa’s famous quote, “God doesn’t ask us to do great things. He asks us to do small things with great love.” Where can you do that this week? What would your little world be like if you just did that this next week? Because a life that is focused on yourself, meeting your needs, will never be a great life. It’s only you. Every great life is focused on meeting other people’s needs. Jesus said that one of the secrets to greatness.
In the next post we’ll look at 2 more key areas where we need to have humility.