Prologue | Table of Contents | Chapter 9

Anyone who reads the gospels will notice Jesus' repeated warning, "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12, Luke 18:14). In this instance, we find yet another nugget of truth that reveals the nature and authority of the kingdom that Christ conferred upon His disciples.

Jesus Washing Feet

Jesus was invited to eat at the house of one of the chief Pharisees. He noticed how the other guests were choosing the places of honor nearest the head of the table, so He told them a parable. "When you are invited by anyone to a marriage feast, don't sit in the best seat, since perhaps someone more honorable than you might be invited, and the host would come and tell you, 'Make room for this person.' Then you would begin, with shame, to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when the host comes, he may tell you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:8-11).

Jesus was not just teaching good feast etiquette. He was teaching a rule of life--more sure and inalterable than the law of the Medes and Persians. Without exception, everyone, on every occasion, that exalts themselves shall, without remedy, be abased. And everyone that abases himself shall, without striving, be exalted. This is an immutable and universal precept of the kingdom of God.

This is why Jesus not only rejected the kings-of-the-Gentiles paradigm of authority but also the natural family paradigm (Luke 22: 24-27). Yes, even natural paternal authority cannot be used to define kingdom authority. Jesus made it very clear that, in the kingdom of God, the elder shall be like the younger. Even natural family authority does not correspond to kingdom authority, because in the natural family the father sits at the head of the table being served by the younger. Jesus asked his disciples, "For who is greater, he that sits at table, or he that serves? Is not he that sits at table? But I am among you as he that serves" (Luke 22:27 KJ21). Remember the context here. We are in the upper room and Jesus is answering the argument among the disciples regarding which of them should be accounted the greatest (Luke 22:24). Jesus deflated their egos by bringing them down from king's palaces, through the living room and out the kitchen door into the servant's quarters.

Regardless of our spiritual maturity, our place is not at the table and certainly not at the head of the table, like the Pharisees who loved the uppermost seats. Our place, according to Jesus, is on our knees washing feet. In the upper room that day, Jesus called as much attention to the act of foot washing as He did to the bread and wine. It is interesting that the church holds the one as a high sacrament and chooses to totally ignore the other.

But didn't John teach that the members of Christ's body are made up of fathers, young men and little children? Doesn't this point to a hierarchy of sorts? No, this is not what is being put forth in his letter. 1 John 2:12-14 speaks of levels of spiritual maturity--spiritual infants, young children, young men, and fathers. The emphasis is on growth, not position and status. Stages of spiritual maturity are spoken of throughout the letters of the apostles, but this doesn't imply that certain ones have earned the right to rule over others.

Though Christ often issued the warning that everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted, it is not a new precept. In Proverbs 16:18-19, we find similar words. "Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall." Even further back than that, this law was in effect before creation, before the fall of man. It was the standard by which God judged the angels that rebelled. Virtually every Christian agrees. Pride goes before a fall. The danger lies in the simplistic contemporary Christian definition of pride as non-submission to authority.

What is pride then, if it is not refusing to submit to authority? In First Peter 5:5 we read these words,

Likewise, younger ones be subject to older ones; and all being subject to one another. Put on humility, because God sets Himself against proud ones, but He gives grace to humble ones. (1 Peter 5:5 LITV)

The setting of this passage must be understood before we can fully appreciate its meaning. At the time Peter wrote his first epistle, the Church was not an institution defined by priests/clergy, laity, sanctuaries, services, opening prayers, ceremonies, worship services, sermons, and closing benedictions. These things were the inventions of emperors, pontiffs and other ambitious men and were added much later. Peter wrote to a family--the family of God. This family met in homes. From house to house, they broke bread with one another, living in community, having all things common. For this reason Peter's words must be taken in a community and family context. When he speaks of elders he is referring to the older ones as opposed to younger ones in a home and community setting, not men who had the title of "elder" bestowed by a hierarchal system. All this was in consideration when Peter wrote, "younger ones be subject to the older ones." You see, to Peter the church was not a building with a steeple down on the corner somewhere in Jerusalem. It was a heavenly society of people placed divinely in the body of Christ as He wills, not an ecclesiastical institution. When Peter spoke of elders, he spoke of the elderly in every aspect of that society in warm family terms.

So when Peter exhorted the young ones to submit to the old ones he was not asking the believers to submit to a hierarchical rank and file. To encourage them to do so would have been a violation of Christ's teachings and example. Neither is Peter accusing those who refuse to submit to ecclesiastical overlords of being rebellious or proud. Pride is not the act of non-submission to a hierarchy but the act of ignoring Christ's lowly example of being a servant of all and exalting yourself above others. So Peter adds, ". . . and all being subject to one another." Pride is the act of setting yourself above others, not the refusal to submit to those who have already done so. God resists the proud and so should we. Humility is embracing the lowliness of Christ with a heart of love for all, "who, although He was God, humbled himself and made Himself of no reputation."

"Put on humility" in the above passage is a rather vague translation. The KJV translation, "be clothed with humility," is somewhat more accurate, but still it fails to communicate the full depth of meaning. The Greek word rendered "be clothed" is egkombomai. It comes from the Greek word kombos--a garment fastened with strings. The word engkomboma refers to the slave's apron, commonly worn by household slaves. Peter was undoubtedly thinking back to that day, in the upper room, when Jesus took such a towel, girded Himself and washed Peter's feet. Peter did not understand what Jesus was doing for him at that moment, but it is obvious from this verse that he finally understood what the kingdom of God was all about (John 13:3-7).

In his commentary on 1 Peter 5:5, Kenneth S. Wuest wrote, "The word proud is the translation of a Greek word which means literally 'to show above,' and thus describes the proud person as one who shows himself above others. The word humble is the translation of the Greek word rendered 'lowly' in Matthew 11:29, where it describes our Lord's character. The word is found in the early secular documents where it speaks of the Nile River in its low stage in the words, 'it runs low.' The word means 'not rising far from the ground.' It describes the Christian who follows in the humble and lowly steps of his Lord."

In his "Fuller Translation" Wuest translated 1 Peter 5:5 as follows.

"Moreover, all of you, bind about yourselves as a girdle, humility toward one another, because God opposes himself to those who set themselves above others, but gives grace to those who are lowly."

We must have our minds renewed to view pride from God's perspective. You are not necessarily prideful when, for conscience sake, you will not submit to the demands of over-lording Pontiffs. If failing to submit to the established hierarchy was sin, all of the reformers would be guilty of great pride. Even Jesus, who openly criticized the Scribes and Pharisees (He called them "snakes," "whited tombs" and "of your (their) father the devil," in public) would have been guilty of pride and rebellion by this definition. God does not resist those who refuse to come under dominant over-lording leaders who claim to possess the divine right to rule. God resists those who set themselves above others in the same manner that Jesus resisted the scribes and the Pharisees who had shut up the kingdom of heaven against men. We are not suggesting that we should go around calling people snakes, and whited tombs. When Jesus openly resisted the Pharisees he was assuming the posture of God toward those who set themselves above others. His view of pride is very different from that of religious man. Pride is the act of posturing over others, often with titles of distinction, and refusing to follow in the humble and lowly steps of our Lord. God rises in battle array to oppose those who show themselves above the members of Christ's body.

Pride--Seeking the Highest Place

Jacques Ellul gives us the chief cause of strife and perversion in God's creation. "All the evils of the world stem from our taking ourselves to be the Creator. In a strange role reversal, men often then serve the creature rather than the Creator."

God created every living creature to humbly dwell within certain perimeters. When those boundaries are breached, pride results. Where pride is, perversion and rebellion soon follow. Lucifer is a classic example of this. He was not content to stay within the limits of His first estate, but instead cast his greedy eyes upward to God's throne, saying in his heart, "I will set upon the mount of the congregation. . . I will be like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:12-15). Jude described this event with the following words: "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jude 1:6). The Greek word translated first estate in our English Bibles is arche, "a beginning." It speaks of the origin or original purpose for which we were created. Humility then is to live within the habitation God has placed us in, our first estate. The moment we seek to be more or less than this, we stop being creatures and begin walking in pride, rebelling against our Creator. This is the essence of the temptation in Eden.

The lie "You shall be like God" appeals to fallen man's deeply-rooted errant ambition to be more than a created being. This lie that Satan used to beguile Eve from her appointed place, which resulted in horrendous consequences for all humanity, he now uses in hopes of enticing us from our habitation. Man's refusal to accept his place as a needy creature is a practical criticism of the God who created him so. "Who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?" (Romans 9:20 NASB)

The Tempter's words in the King James are more accurate, "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5 KJ21). This marked the beginning of mankind's quest for independence and ascendancy. Theologians rightly call this the fall, for he who exalts himself shall be abased. Since that day man's contempt for lowliness has been outdone only by his greed for power. Everything he does, he does to be as gods; self-sufficient and self-existent, seeking to reproduce himself in all who come under his control. He wants to determine good and evil for himself and others. He writes endless commentaries to spread those views and impose them on others. He seeks to soar on humanly engineered wings to the lofty heights of godhood, and in doing so, rebels against his creature-hood and his Creator, questioning everything that has to do with his Creator, "Has God said. . .?" Finally he questions God's very existence!

A. W. Tozer further defines this strange role reversal, "God was our original habitat and our hearts cannot but feel at home when they enter again that ancient and beautiful abode. I hope it is clear that there is a logic behind God's claim to pre-eminence. That place is His by every right in earth or heaven. While we take to ourselves the place that is His, the whole course of our lives is out of joint. Nothing will or can restore order till our hearts make the great decision: God shall be exalted above." (Pursuit of God)

Just as man in Eden exalted himself and was cast down, this perverted wisdom of Lucifer always leads to the usurpation of God's pre-eminence and ends in the worship of the creature rather than the Creator, elevating one particular creature, man, above measure (Romans 1:25). Our brightness is as much a problem to God as Satan's was. Our wisdom is corrupted when we forget whose brightness it really is (Ezekiel 28:17). God's words to Lucifer, "I will cast thee to the ground. . ." is His promise to all who seek to show themselves above others.

In Ezekiel 28:14-15 we find these words, "You were the anointed cherub who covers, And I placed you [there.] You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you." The cloaked objective of Satan's temptation is to get believers to forget that they are creatures, placed by the Creator and so bring them into competition for the most sought after throne.

Because of the Angels

First Corinthians 11 is one of the favorite passages of those who teach "covering" or submitting to Christian authoritarianism. In it we find these peculiar words, ". . . for neither was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this cause the woman ought to have authority on her head, because of the angels" (1 Corinthians 11:9-10 WEB).

Though this passage applies to women, the principle applies to men and women alike because Christ is the Man and the church is the woman. Paul begins by telling us the original purpose or first estate for which the woman was created. She was created as a helpmeet for the man. For this cause she ought to have the power or authority of her husband upon her head. And no, we are not speaking of a woman wearing a hanky on her head in church. We want to bring your attention to the phrase "because of the angels." It is a warning to us and reminder of what happened to Lucifer when he did not keep his first estate but rather sought to show himself above others. Paul was clearly issuing a warning to both men and women not to forsake their habitation as the fallen angels did. When we abide within our habitation, the place or station where God has purposed that we abide, we are safe from pride and the anxiety that it brings. If the church would abide here it would bring an end to the endless hostility that exists among its members.

Christ came to bring an end to this struggle. He was creature and Creator, Son of man and Son of God. Where Adam failed, Christ, the last Adam, succeeded! How did he do this? Rather than seeking to be like God, yet finding Himself in the form of God, He stripped Himself of His divine prerogatives, taking on the form of a lowly servant. Jesus was perfect God and perfect man, and as the perfect man, He said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30 WEB). Jesus (the last Adam) did not fall, but kept his first estate and as a perfect man, walked humbly with His God. Rest can only be found in His gentleness and lowliness. What a contrast this is to that satanic unrest that springs from the inordinate desire to be like God and sit in positions of power over the mount of the congregation. This pride, the fruit of corrupted wisdom (Ezekiel 28:17), has no place in Christ's Church. The first Adam sought to be as gods, but Jesus, who was equal with God, became man and took on the lowest form in the social strata. He became a servant and from there He became obedient unto death. When the world would have made Him a king, He chose rather to serve and lay down His life. As Christians, it is unlawful for us to do otherwise. Nothing could be more un-Christ-like than position-seeking, for it violates everything Jesus, lived and taught.

Jesus practiced what he preached. He always took the lowest place. His life on earth exemplified the only posture that can rightly be called "Christian." Emanuel, God with us, did not come as a King, to rule and reign. He did not come as a Judge, to pronounce judgment. With the exception of the angelic announcement to the shepherds, and the appearance of a lone star in the eastern skies to a few Babylonian astrologers, His entrance was quiet, humble and undetected. Only the most discerning recognized who He really was. He came into this world in the same way everyone else does. He was born an infant. He subjected Himself to the vulnerability and weakness of infancy; unable to feed and care for Himself. His place of birth was not great either. It was one of the smallest "among the thousands of Judah" (Micah 5:2) He was born in a barn and wrapped in rags. His crib was a feeding trough for livestock. He was born into the poor family of a working carpenter. He subjected himself to the natural processes of growth and development, as He grew in stature and in favor with God and man. "There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him" (Isaiah 53:2.) He had no material status. He never even owned a home. He shunned all appearances of greatness. Though He was God, He emptied Himself of that prerogative, taking on the posture, and form of a servant. He hid Himself when they would have made Him king. He refused to be lifted up, except upon the cross of Calvary. He did not seek popularity. In fact, He did the opposite in instructing His disciples to tell no one that He was the Messiah. He made Himself of no reputation (Philippians 2:7) in every way. And at last, when He rode into Jerusalem in what is now called "The Triumphal Entry," He did not come sitting arrogantly astride a great white stallion. No! He came meek and lowly sitting on the back of a donkey. He further humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, crucified between two thieves, and was buried in a borrowed tomb. For Jesus to take the lowest place was nothing new to Him. This was the story of His life.

There in the lowest place is the end of position-seeking, the end of all religious electioneering and posturing. There, in loving service, our souls will find rest. The Spirit of the lowly Christ still calls, "Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls."

How we need Jesus' rest! But it cannot be known apart from His meekness and lowliness. Open our eyes, O God, to see how far we, too, have fallen from our first estate and restore us to the image of your holy Servant Jesus! Father, restore to the earth again that meek and lowly Church that takes the lowest place as servants of all!

Prologue | Table of Contents | Chapter 9

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