My church always has a children’s message as part of the worship service, so we try to tie it in with the sermon text for the day. One Sunday my text suggested that I speak to the kids about humility. I was stumped. “It would be nice to be able to give them some sort of object lesson…”
“[Jesus] called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2-4).
“Of course,” I thought, “humility is the whole point of Jesus’ statement about the little child, isn’t it?” So I approached newborn baby Easton’s mom, Cassie, and she graciously allowed Easton to be the object lesson that day. The point Easton helped us make with the kids was that, even though we know we are all equally important, valuable, and loved by God, we still choose to treat Easton as if he is more important than we are. Though helpless, he is the center of attention. And this is humility: honoring another ahead of ourselves.
Then again, I realized later, this is still not the humility that Jesus was emphasizing in Matthew 18. The humility of one who is gifted with saving faith in Jesus is a little different. The humility of saving faith is not how we respond to the child; it’s from the little child’s point of view. It’s not about choosing the position of a lowly servant to others. It’s about recognizing that I really am incapable of doing anything for myself. I’m the baby crying for help, because I am incapable of supplying my own need. It is not a choice; it’s an acknowledgement of reality.
In particular, in relation to God, I acknowledge I am incapable of measuring up to his holiness; I fall short of his glory every single day. As a sinner, I need the grace of God. I need the forgiveness freely offered through Jesus’ shed blood.
You’d think that acknowledging our actual state of complete humility before God as a hopeless sinner would be easier than choosing a position of servanthood humility toward other people. Funny thing is that so many people cannot see the hopelessness of their sin: “I may be a sinner, but I’m not hopeless. I can manage enough good things on my own, to cancel out the bad.”
They just can’t see it—until God gets hold of their minds, gives them his perspective on their lives, a hunger for his righteousness, and salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ.
Rev. Brent Juliot is Pastor of Oak Ridge Lutheran Brethren Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.