The Way Up is Down
"But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word."
~ Isaiah 66:2b
"No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God."
~ Charles Spurgeon
Forgiveness is about the resolution of conflicts. And certainly it is unwise to live with conflict.
Too much unresolved conflict is why we need to know Matthew 18 well.
Jesus' first point in instructing about forgiveness and conflict resolution was to tell his disciples to be humble. Dependent children, who accept a modest place in society, picture a biblical definition of humility. Biblical humility is seeing self in proper relationship to our Heavenly Father - completely dependent on him. The biblically humble do not chase status.
Jesus does not forbid the pursuit of greatness or honor. Instead he teaches what true greatness is like and how we can go about achieving it. Consider Mark 10:43-45. In these verses, Jesus encouraged the disciples to pursue greatness, and the way he taught them to pursue it was by serving one another, by being truly humble.
True humility as the legitimate path to greatness is also taught elsewhere in the Bible. Proverbs repeatedly describes how honor can be found legitimately: Proverbs 15:33, 18:12, 22:4, and 29:23.
If you want to get honor, here is how you go about it: rather than thrusting yourself into a place of prominence, be like a child. Assume nothing. Recognize your complete and utter dependence on God. "Serve others for the glory of God!" Wait for honor to come from and through him. The way up is down.
Now, remember, Jesus delivers this lesson on humility in the context of teaching on conflict resolution and forgiveness [in Matthew 18:1-35]. We see quickly how relevant humility is to those situations. First, true humility nips conflict in the bud. In one way or another, selfish pride causes all quarrels and fights (James 4:1-10; Matthew 7:1-5). Second, if we are truly humble, then when we do have conflicts, they will be resolved far more quickly.
So, that is it. Be humble. Pretty simple, right? True, it is an easy point to understand conceptually. But it is a difficult one to live out.
Pride is not limited to arrogance or cockiness; it is not just an inflated opinion of oneself. Pride is any way of putting self into the central focus. This distinction is critical because if we understand it, we can identify more subtle, more insidious kinds of pride.
- Are you overly critical? Discernment is a good thing (Philippians 1:9-11; Romans 12:1-2). But discerning people sometimes go a step too far in feeling the need to critique everything. Pride is the root problem.
- Are you shy? For instance, are you unwilling to pray in front of others? Why is that? Is it because your central concern is how you will appear in front of others?
- Are you overly sensitive? People who are too sensitive sometimes imagine criticisms when they have not even been given because they center too much on themselves.
- Do you tend to presume upon others? Are you slow to meet with others or to follow through? Do you do poorly at returning phone calls? Any of those may reflect a tendency to elevate self.
- Are you impatient with the shortcomings of others? Do you ever get frustrated and use the phrase, "I don't have time for this"? Who does not have time?
- Do you find yourself easily embarrassed by friends or family? This may indicate that you are too concerned with how others make you appear.
- Are you given to worry? Worry may betray self-reliance (or at least relying on someone other than God).
If you couldn't find yourself in this list, you are not off the hook. We all struggle in some way with centering too much on ourselves. The question is not if you struggle with pride but how.
If you are really going to unpack forgiveness, one of the first things to do is to see how self-centeredness or pride shows up in your life. Remember, pride is often why conflicts happen in the first place. And pride often prevents forgiveness and resolution from happening.
Once we have identified where pride shows up in our lives, we can determine to put off that sinful behavior, to be made new in the attitude of our minds, and to put on the right behavior (Ephesians 4:22-24)
The first truth that Jesus stresses in his discourse on relationships in Matthew 18 is that the way up is down. Jesus does not necessarily tell his disciples to abandon the pursuit of greatness. Rather, he redefines greatness and teaches them that humility is the proper way to pursue it. True humility is not self-deprecation. Biblical humility is increasingly seeing ourselves as completely dependent on God. It is serving others for God's glory. We achieve humility only by seeing and savoring Christ. The more we see Christ, the more we will be truly humble, the more conflicts we will avoid, and the more easily the ones we do encounter will be resolved.
(from pages 75-83)