Scripture is significant in its silences no less  than in the information conveyed. The common  run of biographers would have given  us a mass of detail about the early years of Christ;  the four evangelists are strikingly reticent. We are  grateful to Matthew and Luke for their nativity narratives  with their exquisite mixture of romance and  pathos. The purpose of these records is not, however, to purvey trivialities but to demonstrate that Jesus  is the Son of God and the promised Messiah of  Israel. Matthew leaves Christ as a young child in  Nazareth; in his gospel our Lord next appears as a  fully developed man on the banks of Jordan.

Luke alone affords us a glimpse of the growing  child. He gives us the first record of any words  spoken by Christ: “How is it that ye sought me? wist  ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”  Thus in his reply to the anxious Joseph and Mary  he reveals his early preoccupation with heavenly  things. Then follows one of those graphic summaries  so characteristic of Luke’s writings: “And  he went down with them and came to Nazareth,  and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all  these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in  wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and  man”. “… And was subject unto them”; able at the  age of twelve to confound the wise of Jerusalem with  his insight, he nevertheless submitted to parental  control and guidance. He is not a difficult child  but already displays the humility which later will  make possible the unique flowering of heavenly  grace in his life.

We next catch sight of Christ upon the banks  of Jordan, and we turn to Matthew’s account for  the second recorded utterance of Christ: “Suffer it  to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all  righteousness”. It is worth noting that these are the  very first words spoken by Christ to be encountered  in the New Testament. If we recognize any design  in Scripture, they must be important and invite our  special attention. They reveal the same humility in  Christ which we have already detected in him as  a lad of twelve. John the Baptist is a mere herald.  When he encounters Christ, he is conscious of  the moral superiority of the other: “I have need  to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?”  John wants to reverse the rôles, but Christ insists.  Why? John may be a mere herald but his words  are binding; the call is not his own: his baptism is  from heaven. There is great propriety in this public  submission on Christ’s part to John’s summons; he  thus recognizes the sovereignty of the Father’s word.  This word has been communicated, in a variety of  modes, by prophets all inferior to Christ, but God  has spoken through them. Their message must accordingly  become the guide of Christ’s life.

Humility, submission, obedience; the surrender  of self to God; these are the qualities we note in  Christ at the beginning of his ministry. He comes  to do God’s will, for he knows that God has created  all things for His pleasure. In Christ’s attitude, and  in the tokens of God’s approval, we see a pleasing  contrast with the story of Eden. The first Adam  had rebelled and been cursed; the second submits  and is blessed. So to speak, the garden gate had  closed behind Adam. The heavens open for Christ.  Henceforward, the emphasis will be on opening. In  the power of the Spirit bestowed on him at his baptism  Christ was able to open the eyes of the blind,  the ears of the deaf and the grave of the dead. His  own sepulchre opens because of his holiness. After  his resurrection he opens the understanding of his  disciples (cp Luke 24:45). Because of his obedience  to the cross, he prevails to open the scroll upon  which is written the Revelation (cp 5:5). As his  disciples we look forward to the time when Christ’s  own promise will be fulfilled: “Verily, verily, I say  unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and  the angels of God ascending and descending upon  the Son of man” (John 1:51). This consummation  when the fellowship between earth and heaven,  broken by Eden, will be restored, would not be possible  but for that initial act of obedience upon the  banks of Jordan: “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it  becometh us to fulfil all righteousness”.

Must not humility be reckoned as the basic  quality in a child of God? Long before the public  ministry of Christ, the prophet had said: “The Spirit  of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord  hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the  meek” (Isa 61:1). Hence it is not surprising to find  our Lord opening the Sermon on the Mount by  pronouncing blessing on the poor in spirit: “Blessed  are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of  heaven” (Matt 5:3). The meek are mentioned in the  third beatitude: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall  inherit the earth”. Now we cannot hope to explain  what is meant by being poor in spirit or meek  without using the terms “humble” and “humility”.

From this we can see how important an attribute  humility must be. It is essentially realistic, involving  as it does the recognition of our true estate before  God, of His complete sovereignty, and of our utter  dependence upon Him. The humble perceive with  Christ that the object of being is not to magnify  self but to serve and glorify God: “Thou art worthy,  O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power:  for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure  they are and were created”. As the lowly soul  contemplates the majesty of creation and feels his  imagination almost cower before the spectacle, he  echoes the words of the psalmist: “What is man,  that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man  that thou visitest him?” Isaiah strove to give his  contemporaries a true view of themselves by recalling  that before God the nations are as a drop of the  bucket, as fine dust settling upon balances in which  mountains can be weighed (Isa 40:12–18). It is indeed  chastening to reflect that we are microscopic  specks on a diminutive orb. Yet in each human heart  there is a disposition to reduce the whole vast cosmos  to the sphere in which we move and of which  we are the undoubted centre. Sanely considered,  there is nothing more ludicrous and pathetic than  human pride, but there is nothing more common.  However, we do well to remember that for the man  who swells with pride in this life, there is reserved  but one fate: to burst with mortification hereafter.

Those who submit to baptism show at least an  initial humility. We have thereby acknowledged  our sin; we have bowed to God’s requirements. But  our humility must increase, and that is not so easy.  As we grow older, for a variety of reasons, we may  come to regard ourselves as important people. We  may prosper in business or advance in our profession.

We become accustomed to telling others what to do,  and that can stimulate pride. It is said of Uzziah that  “when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his  destruction”. Some of us may advance in the ecclesial  world, a far easier thing than in the wider outside  world of fierce and ruthless competition. We may  then become followers of Diotrophes who loved  to have the preeminence or, like the Pharisees, to  have the chief seats. The brotherhood becomes the  arena where we parade our prowess, a special snare  to the popular speaker. The platform, the printed  programme, can exercise a fatal fascination; to see  one’s name in print can greatly flatter our ego and  it is something of a paradox that even an exhortation  on humility could minister to a speaker’s pride.

Enough of the pitfalls; the great men of  Scripture show us that it is possible, despite  wealth, success, prominence, to grow in humility.  As Abraham stood before the angel with the  Covenant Name and pleaded for the deliverance  of Sodom (how tremendously superior to Lot and  the inhabitants of the city would most of us have  felt!), he says, “Behold now, I have taken upon me  to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and  ashes” (Gen 18:27).

The early psalms of David exhibit a strong sense  of personal purity. His humility is evident from the  start. Hounded from society by the man who owes  all to him, his reverence for God and humility before  His word reveal themselves in startling fashion.  When Saul is delivered into his hand, David’s heart  smites him because he has dared even to touch Saul’s  robe. The situation repeats itself, but David again  holds his hand; he says to Abishai: “Destroy him not:  for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s  anointed, and be guiltless?” (1 Sam 26:9). Despite all  the injustice he endures, David still regards himself  as Saul’s servant (v18). Later, when seated upon  the throne, David succumbs to the weakness of his  nature. In a judiciously chosen parable Nathan lays  bare David’s trespass. The king makes no attempt  at self-justification but humbly confesses: “I have  sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam 12:13). It is clear  from Psalm 51 that David was thereafter haunted  by a deep sense of guilt and unworthiness: “For I  acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever  before me . . . Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and  in sin did my mother conceive me”.

There are many other instances one could cite.  Isaiah receives a vision of the holiness of God. In the agony of his mind he says: “Woe is me! for I  am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips,  and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips”  (Isa 6:5). How different the state of Israel would  have been had more shared the deep humility of  the prophet. Then there is Daniel, a young captive  who attained to great distinction in the realm of  Babylon. He stands out on the pages of Scripture  as a singularly pure child of God. There appears  to be no fault recorded of him, yet with complete  humility he includes himself among those who have  sinned against the God of Israel and encompassed  the ruin of the people (see Dan 9).

In the New Testament there are likewise many  fine examples of humility. The Baptist, for all his fire  and fearlessness, does not hesitate to recognize the  superiority of Christ: “I have need to be baptized  of thee”. To his disciples who anxiously report the  growing fame of Christ, he says: “He must increase,  but I must decrease”. John has the right appraisal of  the situation: “A man can receive nothing, except it  be given him from heaven” (John 3:27). With magnificent  logic, Paul makes the same point in writing  to the Corinthians, torn by faction and rivalry: “For  who maketh thee to differ from another? and what  hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou  didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst  not received it?” (1 Cor 4:7). Despite his tremendous  zeal and industry, Paul says of himself: “By the grace  of God I am what I am: and his grace which was  bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured  more abundantly than they all: yet not I but the  grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor 15:10).

It was Paul’s claim that “we preach not ourselves  but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). There is  much evidence in the epistles that this was true.  Perhaps the most remarkable evidence is furnished  by the epistle to the Philippians. The apostle is in  prison, probably in Rome. His own activities are  necessarily restricted though, for all the restraint  of circumstance, he can still say: “But I would have  you to understand, brethren, that the things which  happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the  furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in  Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other  places”. But outside, in the city, amongst the brethren,  there is opposition to him: “The one preach  Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add  affliction to my bonds”. Can we imagine a situation  more trying to the spirit of an ardent ambassador for  Christ? Paul loses no time in useless protestation or  invective but, with sublime humility, writes: “What  then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence,  or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein  do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice”. This humility on his  own part gives him authority later in the epistle to  enjoin the Philippians to cultivate the humility of  the Lord Jesus: “Let this mind be in you, which was  also in Christ Jesus”. Then comes the great passage  with its reference to the self-emptying of Christ,  culminating in the final act of surrender on the cross.  As a result of this, Christ has been given the name  which is above every name. It would appear from  the context that the cross occupies a unique place  not merely in human, but in cosmic history. We  must await the light of a fuller revelation to see its  complete significance. One thing is, however, clear:  humble obedience to God is essential. Moreover, it  would appear from this, and other passages, that the  hierarchy of the kingdom will be determined on a  simple principle: the greater our humility now, the  greater our exaltation hereafter: “And whosoever of  you will be the chiefest, shall be the servant of all”.

Humility, like all other Christian qualities,  needs to be cultivated. We must ask God insistently  to grant us the grace to think less of, and  about, ourselves. Developing humility can exercise  a softening influence, restraining the tongue of the  eloquent, checking the boasting of the vainglorious,  bridling the anger of the quick tempered, subduing  the resentment of the sensitive, sweetening  the judgments of the uncharitable. With growth  in humility, we come increasingly to see ourselves  as others see us, and as God sees us, and that has a  wonderfully sobering effect.

In one of his better known parables (Matt  25:31–46) Christ indicates one of the qualities essential  for acceptance in the day of account. The redeemed  are those who have done what was required  of them, and yet are not conscious of having done  anything. But the rejected are those with a false view  of themselves: they have neglected their duty but  are totally unaware of their deficiencies. God grant  us the humility to be found amongst the redeemed.