Being humble promotes Christian conversion
Most young children are inherently humble, and are happy to submit and trust the authority of their parents and other leadership figures. Even the sly-est of of children instinctively know they need some degree of trust and obedience in order to survive. However, sincere submission is an immensely noble quality which the Lord desires in adults too so that they can follow Him and obey Him. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name". (Philippians 2:5-9 NASB) If the cross was an incredibly humbling path for Jesus to submit to, then we too should embrace this aspect of Jesus' character as He is our character role model. His exceptional humility is the perfect example that we too should emulate. We can start by taking heed of what He taught.
Jesus response probably upset the disciples' expectations, when they were seeking to acquire powerful positions in His Kingdom. "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:1-4 NASB) Humility is the hand-in-hand partner of all other Christian qualities.
Children reside at the bottom of the social ladder, they are perceived to have little status or power, because they are mostly small, weak, naive, humble and lowly. On the other hand, the adult disciples were looking for prestige, power and position. Through their association with Jesus, they saw an opportunity to become the greatest in Heaven and wanted to know what to do to ensure it. Jesus revealed that advancing in God's Kingdom doesn't work in quite the same way as power-broking in the world, and many worldly practices are incompatible with Kingdom principles. Conversion means operating from a much different mindset and rule-book. Jesus advised His disciples to become humble as a child and invited them to emulate Him: in modesty, meekness and subservience; instead of seeking glory and status for themselves.
While Jesus was a confident leader, He still demonstrated the extremely humble qualities of compassion, forgiveness, grace to all, and service. Jesus is the light that shows us that a mature and healthy mix of character is cultivated when we eliminate pride and become inherently humble. Humility removes the emphasis away from our own self-importance and pride, so that we become less important and others become more important. New and important character traits can then develop. Humility is a necessary component to serve God and others with sincere empathy, consideration and kindness. Humble Christians allow themselves to be shaped, moulded, refined and purified into the vessels that God can empower and put to good work for His Kingdom.
We need not fear that being a servant of the Lord, with a mind to advancing other people's welfare, will diminish our dignity and self-worth. On the contrary, humility admits we all need God and that He is there for us. Humility admits that there is a wisdom greater than ours, and if we are to please God more than pleasing ourselves, we must change and follow godly wisdom. Humility can be offered to God first, in the form of gratitude, respect and obedience to Him as our superior; and then to others, considering them more important than ourselves. Gloriously, being willing to offer them respect, mercy, forgiveness, grace and help, are the signs of godly influence over us. Humility may sound like very simple advice, but there are many aspects of God's Kingdom like humility, that are often beyond man's natural capabilities. Becoming mature and Christ-like is a work done in us by God Himself, but only when we have chosen to be yielded to Him and are willing to change our prideful ways.
Just as the natural order in families is for children to openly submit, love and obey their parents out of gratitude, trust and respect; the same is true of our relationship with God. Only sincere respect of God can move us to forsake our selfish ambitions and submit to an inner conversion process of the heart, soul, mind and strength toward completely honoring Him with our thoughts, words and deeds. With a humble demeanor, comes learning and wisdom, but God's wisdom cannot thrive where there is pride, arrogance or a lack of integrity. Humility shifts our focus from our personal, narrow interests to the greater issues concerning the welfare of others and our obligations to love others as Christ loved us. By way of transformation, a humble spirit eliminates the tendency towards being self-righteous, which is often associated with prejudices, control issues and injustices. Our clinging to self-righteousness must be forsaken, for the overwhelmingly superior gift of being made righteous with God forever through Christ.
Humility also assists us to be converted towards servant-hood. Jesus wasn't here on earth simply to gain popularity, status, riches, or collect experiences or trophies; like most Westerners try to live. If we are to follow Jesus then the opposite would be closer to the truth; we are to have different priorities. Like Him, we would be "other" people focused. The principles that Jesus espoused, aim to give us direction and purpose. "He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to he first, he shall be last of all and servant of all". (Mark 9:35 NASB) But unlike Jesus who needed no conversion, believers are faced with a constant ongoing process of conversion towards being other people focused, a process of re-evaluating priorities and coming to accept new purposes and ways of life. As God's newborn children, we are asked to adopt and exhibit the new attributes that are typical of God's own nature, often forsaking our own will, and becoming enthused to do His will, more and more.
With the attribute of humility, we are better able to respond to life's negatives with understanding and grace, rather than with anger and despair. Graciously, a merciful heart yearns to choose forgiveness and acceptance of others, while helping to free ourselves from grudges or the tendency to seek revenge. Jesus taught us to reconcile with our adversaries, to forgive the transgressions of those who hurt us, and to let go of anger and hatred which could easily lead us to acts of hostility or harm. There is nothing apart from humility that can enable us to perform these Kingdom principles.
Humility also makes learning possible. Any father would be happy to show their son the things that will prosper them if the son is suitably receptive to the father's teaching. Such advice is rarely forthcoming when the son already thinks he knows everything and has little interest to learn. So, it goes without saying that humble people will avoid attitudes of self-importance, showing off or conceit; but be open to change. Christian conversion means adopting a new purpose and a new set of behaviors. The practical reason for embracing humility is so that we can ready ourselves to have the heart and mind of Christ, ready to do the work that is fitting of a child of God. As a consequence of receiving the same advice that was given to the disciples by Jesus, Christians are to consider it fitting to commit humbly to God's will, to His service and serving others with empathy. However, puffing ourselves up with undeserved self-promotion, status and a desire to be served will be a total hindrance to doing God's work.
Young children that are naturally humble are rarely found to be egotistical and self-opinionated; for these unsavory traits normally develop later in life. It's not too hard to see the plethora of problems caused by pride and selfishness in the world. Selfishness causes an inability to compromise. Selfish people are concerned with controlling. Even some cultures are particularly selfish, they have little care about the plight of others, only themselves. Christians need a deep appreciation of the benefits associated with being humble, for conversion requires a wisdom originated from the One in whom we trust. The Holy Spirit imparts this wisdom to us and works in us to make us "whole". "Whole" Christians are not hypocrites or double-minded; they are godly, righteous and holy.
Being a child is all about relying on the strength of the parent. Jesus would have spent His whole life, abiding by the highest wisdom of living in a pleasing manner to God His Father. To be born as a human, and being fully aware of man's limitations, He would have considered God's excellence as much more highly regarded than man's merit. Jesus always maintained a healthy dependent relationship with His Almighty Father. In His ministry, He was devoted to doing His Father's work, and saying what His Father wanted Him to say. Jesus revealed the heart of the Father, declaring that if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. Jesus was of exactly the same mindset, feelings and intentions as God the Father; yet being in human form, "just a man", He did not assume He was as important as God.
Similarly, the disciples were taught to question their notions of self-importance and selfish ambitions, and practice humility in regards to God and others. "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted". (Luke 14:11 NASB and Matthew 23:2) If you're not humble you're going to under-achieve in the Kingdom of God. "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride, arrogance, the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate." (Proverbs 8:13 NASB) "It is better to be humble in spirit with the needy, than to divide the spoils with the proud." (Proverbs 16:19 NASB) "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you." (James 4:10 NASB)
This New Testament and Old Testament principle is fundamental to progressing in the Kingdom of God. There are many reasons why humility is beneficial for Christians. Humility reduces resistance to change, facilitates correction, and enables obedience to instructions. Obedience prevents us from taking unwise shortcuts brought on by impatience, impulsiveness and ego-based decision making. Being in submission to God's commands, principles and values, ensures that a Christian is living in a holy, moral and God-pleasing manner.
Humility allowed Jesus to give Himself completely to God's agenda, not getting distracted by or caught up in His own agenda or other people's expectations of Him as a man or as a popular leader. While still having freedom to do as He pleased, He submitted His own will to do His Father's work, being obedient and loyal with the small things as well as the big things. He completed God's plan, the plan of grace, bringing redemption to mankind; proclaiming victory, glory and triumph in His Father's name.
On more than one occasion, the disciples clearly heard God's "booming" voice commending Jesus. "And behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17 NASB, Matthew 17:5) We could joke that this endorsement was not because Jesus had become a successful cult leader, not for cultural achievement, and not for being a good-looking Jewish man. He was endorsed because He knew what was most important and He had done the important things well. He lived a righteous life by doing the right thing. He lived a holy life by remaining free of sin. He lived a godly life by being compassionate, faithful and just. Jesus knew His place before God, He knew God's plan, He knew the mind and heart of God, and He did what He was supposed to do as He was led to do by God and the Holy Spirit. God was the supreme commander to whom Jesus chose to obey.
Jesus disciples were to learn that to progress in the Kingdom of God, they would require the same level of humility, to submit and become a servant of the work that pleases the will of the supreme commander. It's what Jesus had shown them by the way He lived His whole life, and what He meant when He said "Come follow me". In other words, "Come, be like me." Child-like conversion requires us to go back to square one and move forward in trust holding God's hand.
Like Jesus, God will not leave us as helpless babes but He will equip us and guide us. Ongoing humility allows ongoing learning and growth, not only in the development of earthly endeavors, but just as importantly in our spiritual concerns. Being humble in spirit may become more intuitive and instinctive to us due to the faith and transformation we are expressing in becoming children of God. While we are in submission to God, we will exhibit the disposition of Christ, made even more possible by the union we have with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Being humble does not mean self-humiliation, self-pity or self-degradation; in fact a healthy dose of humility can quite happily co-exist with a healthy self-esteem and self-confidence; because a deep self-esteem and confidence comes from being in a healthy relationship with God, whereby we are in submission to Him. Only with a changed heart and a humble spirit can we put God's wisdom before our own; and follow the honorable ways of living in this world according to His will, the way Christ lived. The Apostle James says that the wisdom of God us pure, peace-loving, considerate, merciful, impartial, sincere and submissive. (James 3:17)
As a servant of God, Jesus did for all mankind what we could not do for ourselves. In His ultimate act of obedience, by dying for our sins, He became the helper of the helpless, the hope of the captives and the poor, and the justifier of the undeserved. The cross was the Lord's special way of confronting all of man's problems, paying the penalty for our sins, and reconciling us to God. As beneficiaries of His grace, we can do no better than to adopt the attitude of genuine respect and gratitude, commit to becoming a true follower of Jesus, and nurture a child-like relationship with our supreme commander and Heavenly Father. Our highest appreciation and love is expressed through our willingness to serve and obey the Almighty One, which is His will for us.
Since Jesus always aimed to be a humble servant of God, He did not fit the world's understanding of what a "king" should be like. Christians won't fit the world's definition of success either because internally we will be quite different. But staying humble will enable our continual Christian conversion, so that we're able to face all situations quite differently, with godly resourcefulness.