“Do you have a few items you’d like me to wash?” I asked a visitor to our home in London. His face lit up, and as his daughter walked by, he said, “Get your dirty clothes—Amy’s doing our laundry!” I smiled, realizing that my offer had been extended from a few items to a few loads.
Later as I hung clothes outside on the line, a phrase from my morning’s Bible reading floated through my mind: “In humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). I had been reading Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi, in which he exhorts them to live worthy of Christ’s calling through serving and being united with others. They were facing persecution, but Paul wanted them to be of one mind. He knew that their unity, birthed through their union with Christ and expressed through serving each other, would enable them to keep strong in their faith.
We might claim to love others without selfish ambition or vain conceit, but the true state of our hearts isn’t revealed until we put our love into action. Though I felt tempted to grumble, I knew that as a follower of Christ, my call was to put my love for my friends into practice—with a clean heart.
May we find ways to serve our family, friends, and neighbors for God’s glory.
A few years before he became the 26th U.S. president (1901–1909), Theodore Roosevelt got word that his oldest son, Theodore Jr., was ill. While his son would recover, the cause of Ted’s illness hit Roosevelt hard. Doctors told him that he was the cause of his son’s illness. Ted was suffering from “nervous exhaustion,” having been pressed unmercifully by Theodore to become the “fighter” hero-type he himself had not been during his own frail childhood. Upon hearing this, the elder Roosevelt made a promise to relent: “Hereafter I shall never press Ted either in body or mind.”
The father was true to his word. From then on he paid close attention to how he treated his son—the very same son who would one day bravely lead the landing of Allied soldiers on Utah Beach in World War II.
God has entrusted each of us with influence in the lives of others. We have a deep responsibility in those relationships, not only to spouses and children, but to friends, employees, and customers. The temptation to press too hard, to demand too much, to force progress, or to orchestrate success can lead us to harm others even when we don’t realize it. For this very reason, followers of Christ are urged to be patient and gentle with one another (Col. 3:12). Since Jesus, the Son of God, came in humility, how can we withhold such kindness from one another?
A women’s prayer group in my country holds regular monthly prayer sessions for Ghana and other African countries. When asked why they pray so incessantly for the nations, their leader Gifty Dadzie remarked, “Look around, listen to and watch the news. Our nations are hurting: war, disaster, diseases, and violence threaten to overshadow God’s love for humanity and His blessing upon us. We believe God intervenes in the affairs of nations, so we praise Him for His blessings and cry for His intervention.”
The Bible reveals that God indeed intervenes in the affairs of nations (2 Chron. 7:14). And when God intervenes, He uses ordinary people. We may not be assigned huge tasks, but we can play our part to help bring about peace and the righteousness that exalts a nation (Prov. 14:34). We can do that through prayer. The apostle Paul wrote, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1–2).
As the psalmist exhorted the ancient Israelites to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6), so may we pray for the peace and healing of our nations. When we pray in humility, turn from wickedness, and seek God, He hears us.
Two men sat down to review their business trip and its results. One said he thought the trip had been worthwhile because some meaningful new relationships had begun through their business contacts. The other said, “Relationships are fine, but selling is what matters most.” Obviously they had very different agendas.
It is all too easy—whether in business, family, or church—to view others from the perspective of how they can benefit us. We value them for what we can get from them, rather than focusing on how we can serve them in Jesus’ name. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
People are not to be used for our own benefit. Because they are loved by God and we are loved by Him, we love one another. His love is the greatest love of all.
During my friend Myrna’s travels to another country, she visited a church for worship. She noticed that as people entered the sanctuary they immediately knelt and prayed, facing away from the front of the church. My friend learned that people in that church confessed their sin to God before they began the worship service.
This act of humility is a picture to me of what David said in Psalm 51: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (v. 17). David was describing his own remorse and repentance for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Real sorrow for sin involves adopting God’s view of what we’ve done—seeing it as clearly wrong, disliking it, and not wanting it to continue.
When we are truly broken over our sin, God lovingly puts us back together. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness produces a fresh sense of openness with Him and is the ideal starting point for praise. After David repented, confessed, and was forgiven by God, he responded by saying, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:15).
Humility is the right response to God’s holiness. And praise is our heart’s response to His forgiveness.
In traditional African societies, leadership succession is a serious decision. After a king’s demise, great care is taken selecting the next ruler. Besides being from a royal family, the successor must be strong, fearless, and sensible. Candidates are questioned to determine if they will serve the people or rule with a heavy hand. The king’s successor needs to be someone who leads but also serves.
Even though Solomon made his own bad choices, he worried over his successor. “Who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill” (Eccl. 2:19). His son Rehoboam was that successor. He demonstrated a lack of sound judgment and ended up fulfilling his father’s worst fear.
When the people requested more humane working conditions, it was an opportunity for Rehoboam to show servant leadership. “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them . . . ,” the elders advised, “they will always be your servants” (1 Kings 12:7). But he rejected their counsel. Rehoboam failed to seek God. His harsh response to the people divided the kingdom and accelerated the spiritual decline of God’s people (12:14-19).
In the family, the workplace, at church, or in our neighborhood—we need His wisdom for the humility to serve rather than be served.
Tibetan-born Sherpa Nawang Gombu and American Jim Whittaker reached the top of Mount Everest on May 1, 1963. As they approached the peak, each considered the honor of being the first of the two to step to the summit. Whittaker motioned for Gombu to move ahead, but Gombu declined with a smile, saying, “You first, Big Jim!” Finally, they decided to step to the summit at the same time.
Paul encouraged the Philippian believers to demonstrate this kind of humility. He said, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4 nkjv). Selfishness and superiority can divide people, but humility unites us, since it is the quality of “being one in spirit and of one mind” (v. 2).
When quarrels and disagreements occur, we can often diffuse them by giving up our right to be right. Humility calls us to show grace and gentleness when we would rather insist on our own way. “In humility value others above yourselves” (v. 3).
Practicing humility helps us to become more like Jesus who, for our sake, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death” (vv. 7-8). Following in Jesus’ footsteps means backing away from what is best for us and doing what is best for others.
A fishing buddy of mine observed, “Shallow streams make the most noise,” a delightful turn on the old adage, “Still waters run deep.” He meant, of course, that people who make the most noise tend to have little of substance to say.
The flip side of that problem is that we don’t listen well either. I’m reminded of the line in the old Simon and Garfunkel song Sounds of Silence about folks hearing without listening. Oh, they hear the words, but they fail to silence their own thoughts and truly listen. It would be good if we all learned to be silent and still.
There is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Eccl. 3:7). Good silence is a listening silence, a humble silence. It leads to right hearing, right understanding, and right speaking. “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,” the proverb says, “but one who has insight draws them out” (Prov. 20:5). It takes a lot of hard listening to get all the way to the bottom.
And while we listen to others, we should also be listening to God and hearing what He has to say. I think of Jesus, scribbling with His finger in the dust while the Pharisees railed on the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11). What was He doing? May I suggest that He could have been simply listening for His Father’s voice and asking, “What shall we say to this crowd and this dear woman?” His response is still being heard around the world.
My niece’s husband recently wrote these words on a social media site: “I would say a lot more online if it weren’t for this little voice that prompts me not to. As a follower of Jesus, you might think that little voice is the Holy Spirit. It isn’t. It’s my wife, Heidi.”
With the smile comes a sobering thought. The cautions of a discerning friend can reflect the wisdom of God. Ecclesiastes 9 says that the “words of the wise, spoken quietly, should be heard” (v. 17 nkjv).
Scripture warns us not to be wise in our own eyes or proud (Prov. 3:7; Isa. 5:21; Rom. 12:16). In other words, let’s not assume that we have all the answers! Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” Whether it is a friend, a spouse, a pastor, or a co-worker, God can use others to teach us more of His wisdom.
“Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning,” declares the book of Proverbs (14:33). Part of recognizing the Spirit’s wisdom is discovering how to listen and learn from each other.