Thinking Highly of Humility

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Humble so not to stumble

In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of passengers died as they were hurled into the icy waters below. The cause of the disaster made matters worse. It wasn’t a tech. problem, radar malfunction, or thick fog. No, the cause was human stubbornness. As it turns out both captains were aware of the other ship and could have steered clear, but according to news reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. By the time they came to their senses, it was too late.

Pride is a killer. And while you probably will not be serving as a ship captain in the coming week, each of us has been given a life to steer. And whether we’re aware of it or not, either pride or humility will colour the choices we make and the actions we take.

Solomon makes it crystal clear in Proverbs: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (11:2). The wisdom to turn away from another ship. The wisdom to lead a God-honouring life.

In Mark 9, we’re going to see that humility should be a defining quality the disciple of Jesus Christ. And Mark is going to provide us with four examples of what it looks like to be humble; four manifestations of God-honouring humility that we want to consider this morning.

Humility = dependance

The first picture of humility Mark provides for us in found in verses 14 through 29 and it is that humility means depending on God. A humble follower of Christ understands their own inability to do anything of eternal significance. Humility means depending on God. 

When they came back to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. Immediately, when the entire crowd saw him, they were amazed and began running up to greet him. And he asked them, “What are you discussing with them?” And one of the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it” (vv. 14–18).

There’s a commotion at the bottom of the mountain when Jesus, Peter, James, and John return from the Transfiguration and it centres around a desperate father and his demonized son.

Having heard of Jesus and his power, the father set out to find him but, arriving at the mountain, only finds the nine remaining disciples. Unfortunately, in spite of successfully performing many exorcisms in chapter 6, in this instance, the nine are unsuccessful in freeing this boy.

And he answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to me!” (v. 19).

Jesus’ question shows that the disciples were capable of ministering to this family. But, in spite of all they had seen, heard, and done, their belief was insufficient. The problem was not one of power but of faith.

They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth.

And he asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!”

And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If you can?’ All things are possible to him who believes” (vv. 20–23).

If I can do anything?” The father wondered if Jesus would be able to help. Jesus reveals that the real question is whether the father could believe that Jesus could help. Again, the problem was not one of power but of faith.

It’s one thing for me to think If that chair can support my weight, I’ll sit. It’s altogether another thing for me to believe it can support my weight enough for me to sit and experience the truth that it can.

What’s preventing the deliverance of this boy is not a lack of power but a lack of belief in the Source of that power. This struggle is one any honest believer can identify with and is perfectly summed up in the father’s humble response:

Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

The man believes but he recognizes its an imperfect belief. He believed enough to take his son to find this rabbi. He believed enough to wait for Jesus even after his disciples failed to help. He believes, but imperfectly. There are areas where he doubts. His experiences in life have left him unsure, skeptical, and perhaps jaded. He believes, but not without blemish. But he wants to!

When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.”

After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up.

When he came into the house, his disciples began questioning Him privately, “Why could we not drive it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer” (vv. 25–29).

The father wasn’t the only one wrestling with imperfect belief—the nine were also. After seeing Jesus send the demon packing with a simple command, they had to ask: “Why couldn’t we do that?” Jesus say, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” 

He’s is not saying there are types of exorcisms that don’t require prayer. What he’s reminding his disciples is that it’s not your power and your authority that the demons fear! It’s the power and authority of God, accessed by prayer through the humility of a disciple that knows they are dependant on that power.

To follow Christ faithfully means to take on his mission with humility, depending on God.

Jesus made this clear just before he went to the cross when he told his disciples in John 15, “No branch can hear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” A faithful, fruitful disciple is one that understands their dependance on the vine.

You and I can’t will ourselves away from sin anymore than the disciples could scare off that demon. We can’t bring a wayward child back to the Lord, we can’t offer true forgiveness or reconciliation to those who’ve hurt us. We’re powerless to win souls for the kingdom and, like the desperate father, we even need God’s help believing! Humility means understanding this dependance.

Humility = service

And when this type of humility gets ahold of us, it changes the way we serve. Starting in verse 30 we find that humility means serving the least. Not only must disciples come to the realization we are dependant on God, we are also to be people that seek to minister to and care for those who can really do nothing in response to our care. Humility means serving the least.

From there they went out and began to go through Galilee, and he did not want anyone to know about it. For he was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he has been killed, he will rise three days later.” But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask him (vv. 30–32).

Jesus predicts his own death for the second time in Mark’s gospel, this time adding the detail about his betrayal. Again, we’re told that the twelve don’t get it and are too scared to ask for clarification. Instead, they find something else to talk about:

They came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house, he began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest (vv. 33–34).

The disciples aren’t talking about the latest exorcism or the fact that Jesus keeps bringing up his own death and resurrection; no, the twelve are fighting about their future roles in the kingdom of God! Who’s going to have a better seat at the banquet table in the end times?

Knowing this, Jesus calls his disciples in order to grasp this teachable moment:

Sitting down, he called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35).

Greatness in the kingdom depends on sacrificial service. If you want to be great, you’ve got to willingly stoop low. If would want to be revered, you have to voluntarily give yourself up. It requires a humility that serves the least.

And to describe what the ‘least’ is, Jesus uses an object lesson.

Taking a child, he set him before them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child like this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me does not receive me, but him who sent me” (vv. 36–37).

Children were the least significant people in that culture—helpless, vulnerable, and powerless. Jesus says, “serve people like this.” These are people to whom it benefits you nothing to serve, those who can’t sing your praises, bolster your reputation, or even pay you back. The humility that marks a faithful follower of Jesus is one that serves the least.

Who are the least in our culture right now? The most vulnerable? The most overlooked? Those with drug addictions? Those with special needs? The unborn? Perhaps the least of these could include child who need foster care or adoption or those families that live below the poverty line. Who are the people God has brought into your life that are easy to overlook? A burden for those people is a mark of Christlike humility because Humility means serving the least.

Humility = acceptance

As we move on in our passage we find that not only does humility mean depending on God and serving the least, but, starting in verse 38, it also means accepting the insignificant. Rather than being quick to divide the body of Christ, a humble Christian welcomes unlikely brothers and sisters in Christ.

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us” (v. 38).

Apparently this mystery exorcist was a believer (he was using Jesus’ name to cast out demons and, unlike the nine, was successful). But the twelve didn’t know him and that bothered them. He wasn’t in their crew.

But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in my name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For he who is not against us is for us. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea (vv. 39–42).

Jesus didn’t mind. The fact that the demon shuddered and submitted to the name of Jesus used by this man was proof positive that he wasn’t against them, but with them. While the knee-jerk reaction of the twelve was the divine—this is our tribe; if you’re not with us, you’re against us—Jesus encouraged them to practice humility and accept the man as a teammate warning them that should they instead put obstacles in the way of those following after Christ, the consequences would be dire.

If we’re not careful, we can make the same mistake as the disciples. If we lack humility we can confusing distinctives within the family of God for characteristics of the family of God. We mix up core tenants of the faith with matters of preference or philosophy. 

A follower of Jesus is to be humble enough to accept the insignificant, those who we may dismiss because we’re unfamiliar with them, they make us nervous, they don’t do things the same way we might. This isn’t an invitation to throw truth and discernment out the window, but it is a call to serve them by letting them be, by praying for them, by talking them up, by gently correcting them so they can work better. Humility means accepting the insignificant.

Humility ≠ sinfulness

Finally, starting in verse 43, humility means taking sin seriously

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (vv. 43–50).

Jesus had just warned about leading other disciples astray. Now he cautioned against being led astray oneself. 

Many people are too proud to see the severity of their own sin. Many think to themselves, I’m not that bad. It takes God-given humility to look in the mirror and see the wretch that is truly staring back at you, to listen to the council of fellow believers who highlight your possible sin, to submit yourself that that scrutiny. It takes humility to then look at that sin, cry out to God for forgiveness, and then ask him for help to deal with it as drastically as necessary. Humility means taking sin seriously. 

How to get humble

As pride sunk those two ships and killed hundreds, so pride in the life of the church leaves wreckage in its wake. Pride motivates us to be self-sufficient, self-serving, self-centred, and sin-ignorant. Humility, as Mark has shown, moves us to depend on God constantly, serve the least willingly, accept the insignificant joyfully, and take our sin very seriously. It’s that type of humility that is to characterize a disciple of Jesus Christ.

And how do we grow in humility? Well, it obviously can’t be through our own effort!

We grow in humility by remembering our humble state out of which we’re being delivered and by remembering our humble Saviour into whose image we’re being conformed. 

We grow in humility by remembering our humble state. How can we be anything other that humble when we remember that even our belief is imperfect? That without God’s love, God’s Son, God’s Word, God’s Spirit, we’re lost, destitute, helpless, blind, dead, cut off, powerless. We’re being delivered from that humble state.

We grow in humility by remembering our humble Saviour. Jesus depended on God totally. Jesus served the least perfectly. Jesus accepted the insignificant constantly. Jesus took sin very seriously. Everything we’re called to do, he modelled. Everything we’re called to be, he empowers. We’re being conformed into the image of our humble Saviour.

May God, by his grace, expose our pride and facilitate growth in humility in our lives and in the churches we attend.