Humility: It’s a word we often say and a quality every believer in Christ should possess. But sometimes we have difficulty knowing exactly what the word means in day-to-day life. You could ask your friends for their definition. You could look up the meaning in a dictionary. But the best way to understand what being humble is all about is by examining Scripture, and in particular John the Baptist’s self-emptying devotion to God.
John was an unusual man. He didn’t dress or eat like everyone else, and he certainly didn’t fit into the religious system of his day. As he began baptizing people in the Jordan, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” the religious leaders came to check him out (Matt. 3:2). When they questioned him, John claimed his job was to announce the coming Messiah. His baptism was merely with water as a sign of repentance, but the Messiah would baptize people with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11).
Shortly thereafter, Jesus came to be baptized and begin His ministry. For a short time, both men were ministering in the land of Israel. They had the same message of repentance and the coming kingdom, but there was a vast distinction between them.
True humility exalts Jesus Christ, not self. John the Baptist understood who he was in relation to the divine Savior—he came onto the scene not to draw attention to himself but to point to the One who was greater than he. When his disciples became concerned about the larger crowds Jesus was attracting, John explained that Jesus was far superior (John 3:26-36):
- John was Christ’s forerunner; Jesus was the Messiah (John 3:28).
- John was the friend who stands by and rejoices in the Bridegroom’s voice; Jesus was the Bridegroom (John 3:29).
- John was strictly of earthly origin; Jesus came from heaven and was above all. (John 3:31).
- John had the Holy Spirit; Jesus was given the Spirit without measure (John 3:34).
- John was the Lord’s servant; God had given all things to His Son (John 3:35).
- John pointed people to the One who could give them life; Jesus offered eternal life to those who believe in Him (John 3:36).
Humility doesn’t call for human comparison. In the eyes of John’s disciples, numbers determined success, and this kind of comparison is still prevalent today. If we look around at the impressive work others are doing, we may feel insignificant. Now, some people think this is a sign of humility, but it’s not. True humility isn’t seeing ourselves as worthless but seeing the Lord as worthy of service no matter what assignment He gives us.
True humility isn’t seeing ourselves as worthless but seeing the Lord as worthy of service no matter what assignment He gives us.
John didn’t consider his mission demeaning, and neither did Christ. At one point Jesus told the crowds, “There is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28). No life lived in obedience to God is ever worthless or unimportant. When we stand before Him in heaven, our rewards will not be determined by how impressive our work was by human standards, but by how obedient we were to complete whatever He called us to do.
John exemplified The Goal of Humility. John’s life was a beautiful display of humility and unwavering loyalty; he didn’t become jealous or wallow in self-pity when the people started flocking to Jesus. John was a man who knew the role he’d been given by God and was committed to fulfilling it.
What John said soon came to pass: Jesus increased in popularity and power, whereas John’s influence diminished. John’s role as the Messiah’s forerunner eventually came to an end when he was imprisoned and later beheaded. His death may seem premature, but from God’s perspective, he had successfully completed the mission he’d been given. To borrow Paul’s words, John had fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith (See 2 Tim. 4:7).
We are not the light but the lanterns that point others to the Lord.
Do you know what God has called you to do? There’s much emphasis today on accomplishing something great for the Lord, and that can lead some of us to think that an ordinary life doesn’t amount to much. However, not everyone is called to preach to thousands or serve in distant lands. Being a mother, a student, or a hardworking employee is a tremendous calling, if that’s the task God has given you.
A humble life is Spirit-led. The reason John the Baptist could so obediently fulfill his role was because he was filled with the Holy Spirit. There are only two options in the Christian life: We can either walk by the Spirit or be controlled by our old sinful desires (Gal. 5:16). And it is only when we obediently yield to the Spirit’s authority that Christ’s likeness within us becomes obvious.
John the Baptist was like a morning star whose light dimmed in the dawn of Christ’s arrival. He didn’t fight to surpass Jesus but paved the way for the true Son to shine forth and then rejoiced in His light. That’s the kind of humble spirit we need. We are not the light but the lanterns that point others to the Lord. Only as we decrease will those around us be able to see the Savior, who can give them eternal life.
Adapted from the sermon “A Study In John: John the Baptist” by Charles F. Stanley