Humble Yourself - Matthew 18:1–9

Ronald Reagan once recalled a time when he was governor of California and he made a speech in Mexico City. President Reagan said, “After I had finished speaking, I sat down to rather unenthusiastic applause, and I was a little embarrassed. The speaker who followed me spoke in Spanish -- which I didn't understand -- and he was being applauded about every paragraph. To hide my embarrassment, I started clapping before everyone else and longer than anyone else until our ambassador leaned over and said, ‘I wouldn't do that if I were you. He's interpreting your speech.’”

Humble Yourself - Matthew 18:1-9

Arrogance in a person repulses us, doesn’t it? But isn’t it true that while we can stand pride in someone else, we are much more patience with and forgiving of pride in ourselves? Pride comes naturally to us. We set ourselves above others. We look down on others, speak down to them, and consider ourselves greater for some reason. Even in the most humble among us, sinful pride bubbles us at some time or another.

But Jesus lowered himself to save prideful people like you and me. Philippians 2 says that Jesus, “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

According to the plans of God, Jesus lived a humble life in the place of his prideful people, and by grace through faith, we can exchange our prideful life for his humble life; we can rid ourselves of the prideful record for which Jesus suffered and died. And having done this for his people, Jesus calls us to lower ourselves. He calls us to serve God and one another with humility.

But how do we lower ourselves? Jesus gives insight in these first verses of Matthew 18.

You can find an outline on page 6 in the worship guide. It’s there to help you follow along.

To lower, or humble, ourselves, Jesus calls us to acknowledge our limitations and neediness toward God, toward each other, and to do so at all costs.

The apostles were more convinced than ever that Jesus was their eternal king. They believed in his kingdom more than ever, even though they still did not fully understand. But being entrusted with power from Jesus, they naturally begin to think about themselves. They wondered, “What will the pecking order be in Jesus’ kingdom?” They looked around at each other, and asked, “What kind of place will I hold, and will you hold, in the kingdom? And for that matter, who will be the greatest?”

In verse 1, they ask the question. Notice Jesus’ response in verse [2]. “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them [3] and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You must turn - in other words, change your mind. You must think differently. What is it about a small child that would help these now powerful men understand not only greatness in the kingdom of God, but entry into the kingdom?

Let’s put aside where you rank for a minute. How do you even get in? Jesus says look at a small child. It’s not the child’s supposed innocence. We know that even children are born sinful. But children are naturally lower in the sense that they cannot successfully hide their limitations. Of course, kids have their moments where they may act briefly like they are independent, but really they’re not. A small child is not self-reliant, and they accept this. A small child make can’t his or her own way in the world. They’re not puffed up about their abilities or their knowledge.

A small child must accept that he or she is dependent on others and accept their need for someone else to provide for them.

The small child must trust. In fact, they don’t seem to have a hard time trusting and accepting their neediness. Notice verse [4], Jesus says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” or is exceedingly great in the kingdom. In Jesus’ kingdom, we must put aside pride.

Can you accept your neediness before the living God? You must, if you would be saved from sin.

Do you think you deserve any credit for entry into his kingdom? In Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul says, [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Saving faith is childlike trust in and dependence upon Jesus. And we should never get away from this fact. It defines a Christian. It is everything, everyday. It characterizes our relationship with God.

We should acknowledge our limitations and neediness. We fall into the same old sins; we are guilty because of things in our past. We act like we have it all together, when really we don’t.

We tell ourselves that we are pretty good people, rather than boasting only in the righteousness of Jesus. We should humble ourselves toward God, and also toward each other.

Look at verse [5], Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, “One such child” is how Jesus is describing a person who has entered his kingdom. He’s talking about those who demonstrate this humility. Why would he say this? Well often, when you act with humility, folks might try to run you over or take advantage of you. Humility might be mistaken for weakness or timidity, though they are not the same thing. But isn’t it true that out in the real world, and in the arena of conflict, when people are puffing out their chests and boasting in themselves, we feel like we need to do the same. We think, “I need to speak like them or act like them so they don’t think I’m weak.”

But when you act with humility born out of faith in Jesus Christ and people reject you, they reject Christ. And conversely, when you respect and honor a humble follower of Jesus, you respect and honor the Lord Jesus Christ himself. But if you despise a humble follower of Jesus - if you run over them or take advantage of them - you’re trampling Jesus underfoot. God does not despise humility.

Neither should you. If you are puffed up with pride, thinking too highly of yourself, you look down on others. And if in pride you behave toward a humble follower of Jesus in a way that would cause them to respond in pride or some other sinful in some way, then you deserve what was, at that time in the first century, the most awful punishment.

Verse [6] whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. “Cause them to sin” how? By behaving pridefully toward them. This is an encouragement for those who practice humility. The apostles were prone to rivalry, and really, all people are this way. Jesus is saying that if your typical way of behaving toward others is prideful, judgment awaits. There will be no “getting away with it,” so to speak. You should repent, “turn and become like children.” This was directed toward the apostles. They were in danger of spiritual pride.

17th century preacher Jonathan Edwards wrote about spiritual pride. He states that it darkens the mind and misleads the judgement. He writes, “It is by spiritual pride that the mind defends and justifies itself in other errors and defends itself against light by which it might be corrected and reclaimed. The spiritually proud man thinks he is full of light already and feels that he does not need instruction, so he is ready to ignore the offer of it.”

Do you demonstrate the humility of a teachable attitude, or do you think that you already know all you need to know? Some of you might remember this old TV commercial. There were two crash test dummies who would tell you reasons why you should wear your seatbelt. Then they would ram their car into a brick wall and survive. And the slogan was, “You could learn a lot from a dummy.” You could learn a tremendous amount from someone who you think is beneath you.

How can the members of the church be a life-giving community if pride breaks down our relationships? If we act with pride toward each other, we provoke each other to sin. And that is dangerous ground. How can we live together in harmony for God’s glory if we are puffed up toward one another? We can’t. We must lower ourselves, be each others’ servants, and learn from each other. Edwards put it this way: “The humble person is like a little child who easily receives instruction. He is cautious in his estimate of himself, sensitive as to how liable he is to go astray. If it is suggested to him that he is going astray, he is most ready to check into the matter.” When we approach each other with this attitude, acknowledging to each other our limitations and neediness, we live in step with the Holy Spirit of God.

Now, in these final verses, Jesus tells us how far we should go to remove pride from our lives.

Verse [7], he says, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! In other words, temptation is part of life. We live between the cross and the second coming.

During this time, we experience great blessedness, but also much waiting. We exist in the time of what Jesus has “already” done and what he has “not yet” completed. And so we are subject to temptation, and the world will be judged for it, so “woe to the world.” Woe to those who tempt others and cause others to sin.

But how should we handle temptation - any temptation, but especially pride, which is in view here? To show us, Jesus reuses a command he gave previously. Back in Matthew 5 he said this, but there he was talking about temptation to lust. Here he’s talking about temptation to act pridefully toward God and others. Notice verse [8] if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. [9] And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

What should you do to rid your life of pride? Whatever it takes. There is no cost too high for dealing with your pride and arrogance. The illustration makes the point: stop taking your sin lightly. Deal drastically with your pride. Don’t mess around. Stop abusing grace, thinking it is a ticket to do whatever you like. To use the words of Hebrews, if you claim to be a believer, stop crucifying the Son of God again and publicly disgracing him.

Do you take this attitude toward your own pride? To stomp it out in your home, in your marriage, toward your children or neighbors, even where you work. There is not a different code of ethics at your job than there is at this church. If you are born again, you are born again wherever you go. You are an ambassador of Jesus Christ all day, every day. You want to reach your neighbors or co-workers with the gospel? Yes, talk to them about Jesus whenever you can. But also, display humility. You want to restore a relationship? Humble yourself. You want to raise your children to follow Jesus? Teach them with humility. You want to rid your life of some sin? Humble yourself, and seek help from others.

As always, when we examine these things, we realize that we all fall short. But when we look to Jesus, we see the One who has already done this for us in our place. Jesus acted with perfect humility toward the Father. He didn’t prefer death on the cross, but he said “Not my will, but Yours be done.” And as we saw earlier in Philipians 2, Jesus didn’t just get down on our level, he became lower than us. He became a servant. And his glory would be revealed after his death.

There’s an old anecdote about professional golf legend Arnold Palmer. In 1961, Palmer was already a two-time champion of the Masters tournament in Augusta, GA. And with one hole to go, he held a one-stroke lead over Gary Player. All Palmer needed to do to win was to make par on the final hole. Par was four strokes. Instead, Palmer shot a double bogey - two strokes over par - and Player was able win.

Later, Arnold Palmer said this about his collapse at the final hole. “I had a one-stroke lead and had just hit a very satisfying tee shot. I felt I was in pretty good shape. As I approached my ball, I saw an old friend standing at the edge of the gallery. He motioned me over, stuck out his hand and said, ‘Congratulations.’ I took his hand and shook it, but as soon as I did, I knew I had lost my focus. On my next two shots, I hit the ball into a sand trap, then put it over the edge of the green. I missed a putt and lost the Masters.” Palmer realized it had not been the time for puffing out his chest and receiving congrats. It should have focused on finishing.

Look at the end of the life of Jesus. No applause, no congratulations on an outstanding earthly ministry. No fanfare. No handshakes. No pats on the back. But that was ok. Jesus didn’t need it. He wasn’t looking for it. He knew the glory would come when he finished what he started. Let me read you the rest of that passage in Philippians chapter 2:[8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [9] Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, [10] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [11] and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

We don’t need to be looking for approval or pats on the back until our lives are done. When pride drives us, when we start seeking out the praise of others, lapping up the compliments, puffing out our chests like the tournament is over, we are going to fall. If you have fallen victim to your own pride, fall now at the feet of Jesus Christ. Surrender your heart and life to him - perhaps for the first time, or perhaps once again, like true believers must do every day. One day the humble King will return. Will he find true faith and humility in you? Let’s pray together.