“Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4, NIV).
“He represented God extremely well,” the preacher said in his eulogy at a funeral I attended recently. Many other words were used to describe this honorable, Christian man–faithful, dependable, kind, caring, loving–all of which were quite true. But, to me no description of this man’s life was as appropriate and relevant as, “He represented God extremely well.”
After all, isn’t that what Christians are supposed to do–represent God? And represent Him extremely well because we know Him personally?
That’s certainly an epitaph I aspire to! Unfortunately, more often than not, my life doesn’t represent God extremely well. In fact, sometimes I don’t even represent Him well! Especially when things in my life don’t go my way.
When I think about the life of this kind, soft-spoken Christian man being eulogized that day, I think his life must have exemplified what St. Francis of Assisi meant when he said, “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words.” In everything–career, family, community, church–he represented God extremely well. He was the quintessential father and grandfather, loyal and caring friend, respected businessman and faithful church member and leader.
Living a life that visibly reflects the love of Jesus is the essence of what Christianity means. It is the backbone of every Sunday School lesson. It is what gives our lives meaning.
So, how do we do it?
In one of the encounters recorded in the gospels between Jesus and children, the disciples were arguing among themselves about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3ff; Luke 9:47ff). The disciples asked Jesus to settle the argument. Jesus resolved the dispute by calling a child to stand beside Him and then said: “Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4, NIV).
The Greek meaning of the verb for “humble” denotes a state of lowliness or abasement. Jesus said that humility is something that a person does or becomes of their own volition. A person must realize his or her own state of eternal helplessness and hopelessness apart from God just as a child recognizes its need for parents to provide for its food, clothing, shelter, and well-being. God becomes a Heavenly Father to those that make themselves humble before Him by setting aside their own will in favor of the loving care of the Father.
As is common with the teachings of Jesus, in this encounter with His disciples He strikes right to the heart of the matter—the moral dilemma of human nature that is the basis for the downfall of the human race and its subsequent separation from God.
My will versus God’s will!
And the solution He gives is actually quite simple: Humble yourself!
But notice that humility is something you do for yourself, not God does for you. In fact, I would venture to say that you probably don’t want God humbling you if you can help it!
Jesus Himself was the ultimate example of this self-humbling: “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but 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” (Philippians 2:6-8, ESV). Jesus demonstrated humility by counting others (all human beings) as more significant than Himself and considering Himself their servant.
Unfortunately, this simple admonition on how to live a life that reflects the grace and love of God is actually quite difficult for most of us to fulfill because we’re so busy grappling with our moral dilemma–my will versus God’s will.
But, when like Jesus — and the Christian man being eulogized at the funeral that day — we finally empty ourselves of ourselves and become a servant to others, then our lives will represent God extremely well.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Philippians 2:3, ESV