In my earliest years I attended a private Christian school. I remember second grade distinctly because the “character theme” one month was humble ourselves. At the end of that month, in an assembly before the entire school, I was named the winner of the “Humility Award,” but they took it away from me because I actually accepted the award! OK, perhaps the story is not true, but it does illustrate the conflicting ideas Christians entertain regarding what it means to be humble. Where do we get our ideas about how to humble ourselves ? If God “gives grace to the humble,” how can we eagerly pursue his best for ourselves without falling into mere self-interest?
We should draw our identity from the words of Jesus in Matthew 11: 25-30. These words point to an important revelation: Jesus invites anyone who would follow him to come under his instruction and learn his way of life. Surprisingly, his first reason for calling us to follow him is that he is “gentle and humble in heart.” Even as he offers the benefit of rest, he highlights his own personality–a gentle and humble man. The Teacher does not want to impart merely information, at least not first and foremost. His first lessons are his very own attributes–gentleness and humility. It is a bold offer to follow him, and perhaps the boldest aspect of this offer is the unimaginable possibility that we can learn to become like him.
Jesus uses the image of a yoke. This image was common enough in his day: A yoke is a large collar which places the strength of an ox or horse at the disposal of someone else. We are the ones placing our strength at his disposal. He will not conquer us, we must bow before him as a matter of choice. The path to becoming like Jesus starts with his invitation, “Come to me;” and after he speaks we can choose to accept that invitation by only one method: to humble ourselves.
In fact, on four separate occasions Jesus employs this phrase: “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” These passages are not simply repetition caused by the gospels re-telling the same story–each passage is unique (Matt. 18:4, Matt. 23:12, Luke 14:11, and Luke 18:14). Four times Jesus lays out the challenge: But how?