“Everyone who Exalts Himself will be Humbled” Luke 18:14

by Steven Chan
26 July 2009

In James 4:5, the Bible warns us not be unfaithful in our relationship with God. Using the marital relationship to describe our relationship with God, the Bible warns thus: “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God”. In other words, if one seeks to be a friend of the world, one would in effect become the enemy of God because one would then be unfaithful and thus be deemed as “adulterers and adulteresses”.  There is no happy medium whereby one can be both a friend of the world as well as be a friend of God – in spite of what man may suggest.

One of the ways of the world is that of exalting oneself. To list one’s credentials of “good deeds/achievements” seems to be the way of the world – to publicize our good works/achievements – possibly so that one can be exalted above all others. Could one not list one’s struggles?  In 2 Cor 11:23-30, the apostle Paul gave his list: “Are they ministers of Christ?–I speak as a fool–I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned ; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness– besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.” But the key lies in his last statement: “If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity or weakness”. The apostle Paul did not give his list so that he may be exalted but because there were those who boast of their worldly recognized credentials; he wanted them to know that his credentials are the true credentials that one ought to be cognizant of. He had suffered greatly in many different ways as he served the Lord. Even then, the apostle wrote in the later part that “it is doubtless not profitable for me to boast”. (2 Cor 12:1).

Later in his letter, in 2 Cor 12:6-7, the apostle Paul wrote: “For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”

The apostle Paul was acutely aware of the danger of being exalted whether by great accomplishments or by sufferings, and he recognized that the Lord actually gave a thorn in his flesh to buffet or discipline him lest he be exalted above measure.

Being exalted above measure so as to lose one’s humility is a real danger to each and every Christian – regardless of whether the exaltation is in the church or in secular areas. One should be aware of the danger posed by being exalted above measure.

In James 4:6, the Bible declares: “Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  And again in James 4:10: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” One of the outstanding traits of Jesus Christ that we are to emulate was stated in Phil 2:3, 5-8: “in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself….Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

We need to resist the tendency to boast of our status, achievements or abilities – lest we be exalted beyond measure – and be resisted by God.

In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus “spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

It is important to note that it was the attitude of mind that resulted in one prayer being effective, bringing justification to him – while the prayer of the Pharisee reeked with an attitude of self-righteousness and a condemning spirit towards others – the definition given by the Bible is that of one who trusted in himself that he was righteous and despised others. His list of so-called righteous acts was rejected by God because in reality, “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” in the sight of God (Isa 64:6).

Brethren, we must watch out against the danger of having the attitude of the Pharisee in how we view ourselves and how we view others.

No wonder the Bible says in Gal 6:1-3: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” When one does not possess the self-righteous attitude accompanied with a contemptible/condemning attitude towards others, then one would be well suited to help restore one who has been overtaken in any trespass. Some have unfortunately understood Gal 6:3 to mean that so long as one thinks that one is “somebody” or “something” because he is truly “somebody or something”, then it is okay for him to have the self-exalted attitude because he is not deceiving himself. But such a one is sadly mistaken because he does not truly understand his status in the presence of the Lord – for the Bible says in Rom 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In Luke 17:10, Jesus taught His disciples thus: “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” Let us all cultivate the proper attitude of humility in serving one another and our Lord. Without this humility, we would not be able to accomplish much for God because God resisted the proud and gives grace to the humble. Even though the world may applaud and advocate “one’s right or entitlement to be proud”, the Bible still advocates the good old fashioned virtue of ‘humility’ regardless of how much one may have accomplished for God or for mankind in this life. If one is still inclined to want to be exalted, then perhaps one may well have to look out for “the thorn in the flesh” that God is likely to give so that one would not be exalted above measure!