8 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
Jesus takes His lesson about how not to act like the Pharisees to a whole different level. He admonishes His disciples and us to not seek out fancy titles or places of stature. The bible is inundated with scriptures that talk about the importance of humility and the destruction of the proud. Jesus calls us to seek being a servant and nothing more. It is in our service we are lifted up. Just as James 4 reminds us:
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
When I was getting ready to go to Parris Island, South Carolina for Marine Corps boot camp, one of the last things my recruiter told me was to not volunteer for the platoon guide position. This is a position of highest leadership you can achieve while in boot camp and if you graduate as guide, you could actually be promoted upon graduation to a higher rank. We all learned quickly, however, that it is not an easy position to maintain. As the guide, you are required to set the example. If you break one of the many new rules they oppose upon you, you are immediately fired. I avoided any opportunities to volunteer myself for this position until one day they asked, “who can yell the loudest?” I immediately stepped up and showed off the strength of my lungs and they put me in the guide position. It scared the daylights out of me knowing how easy it would be for me to fall but I did my best now that I was there. It took a day or two, but I eventually was humbled. I asked to go to the bathroom in an improper way and was suddenly reduced to just a platoon member, never to be considered a leader for the rest of my time in boot camp. Turns out a loud voice isn’t all you need to have to be a good leader in the Marines.
Jesus is revealing to us an important principle of pride and humility. I love Jesus’ parable in Luke 14 that puts this into perspective for all of us:
7 And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. 10 “But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher ‘; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. 11 “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
When we think ourselves more important than others, we set ourselves up for embarrassment and for the Lord to humble us and reveal our pride. We can see different situations such as trying to be a leader in boot camp or thinking more highly of yourself than you ought at a party, but what about in our daily interactions with others? How do we compare ourselves to others when we are talking to them? Do we expect them to treat us better than they should? Do we “deserve” to be talked to a certain way? Do we even demand to be regarded better than we are? If we think about it on the global-eternal-Kingdom of God spectrum, who are we that we should expect anything? Imagine the humble servant who is disrespected, without honor, and thanks his master for throwing him a few scraps of food from the table instead of to the dogs.
This is the kind of humility that Jesus is calling us to. He tells us that if we would only humble ourselves instead of trying to seek worldly stature and respect, then He will supply for us more than we would ever need (respect included). But we aren’t anybody who has any right to expect anything from anyone. We must be careful of our sense of entitlement. According to God’s law, the only thing we are entitled to is death.
We should be thankful that God allowed us to breathe today instead of demanding that someone treats us in a way that makes us feel loved and honored. God loves and honors us and therefore we do not need love or honor from anyone else. To take it to the level that Jesus is speaking in Matthew 23, not only do we not need love or honor from anyone else, we should not seek it because it will only lead to us being humbled. James tells us that being humbled by God is a wonderful thing because it brings us to a place where we can be lifted up by Him and we no longer worry about anyone or anything else that comes against us. Our trust in the Lord to follow through on His promises is what sustains us, not the kind words or honor of others.