The humble God and the issue of authority

June 21, 2010 — 30 Comments

The humility of God on Women in Ministry blog by Cheryl Schatz

In our past discussions on Ephesians 5:21-22, we have been discussing the issues of mutual submission and whether there is authority in marriage.  In this post, we will discuss the foundation of humility.

One very important part of the nature of God that is rarely talked about is God’s nature of humility.   In fact God as the humble One is revealed in the Old Testament and also through the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

Psalm 113:5–6 (NAS)

5 Who is like the LORD our God,
Who is enthroned on high,
6 Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in heaven and in the earth?

While the amazing Sovereignty of God and His nature of omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience seems inconsistent with humility, yet there was something about God that was mostly hidden until Jesus revealed the nature of God.  In fact it was God’s humble nature that was the very cause of Jesus becoming man.  Jesus spoke the truth when He said that to see Him was to see the Father as Jesus revealed the very nature of the Father as God.

John 14:8–9 (NAS)

8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Jesus came in the nature of the humble God as He set aside all of His rights as God to come in humility to earth.  Paul explained that this humility was evidenced as looking out for the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3–8 (NAS)
3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus said that He did not come to be served, but to serve and give of Himself.

Matthew 20:28 (NAS) just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

As the embodiment of the humble God, Jesus did not use His power for His own benefit and His miracles were never done for His own use, but for the benefit of others.

Because the foundation of God’s character is humility as evidenced by Jesus giving up His own rights and His own comfort to come for our benefit, we too are required to be like Him.  We are to walk in the path set before us in humility.

Micah 6:8 (NAS)
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
God Himself dwells with those who are humble:
Isaiah 57:15 (NAS)
15 For thus says the high and exalted One
Who lives forever, whose name is Holy,
I dwell on a high and holy place,
And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit
In order to revive the spirit of the lowly
And to revive the heart of the contrite.

In fact the call for us to be humble is such a basic part of God’s requirement for His children, He has stated that He knows the haughty not intimately but from a distance.

Psalm 138:6 (NAS)
6 For though the LORD is exalted,
Yet He regards the lowly,
But the haughty He knows from afar.

All of us in the body of Christ without exception are called to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another.

1 Peter 5:5 (NAS)
5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.

This instruction is a classic one another passage that is reciprocal in nature.  We are to take on an attitude of humility toward one another.  It isn’t an attitude that is for some to others but for all toward each other.

Are those who are in leadership exempt from showing humility towards the rest in the body of Christ?  No, they can’t be exempt for the humble example of the Father shows that even the most honored of all humbled Himself.

In the story of the prodigal son, there is an angry second son who would not come in to the presence of the father because of his anger.  So the father went out to him and showed him the example of a humble man.  Watch how the story unfolds as the son who had remained in the father’s household rebels at his father’s compassion and grace toward his brother:

Luke 15:21–28 (NAS)

21 “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;
23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;
24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 “And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be.
27 “And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’
28 “But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.
Notice how the second son was unwilling to come into the house so his father humbled himself to come out to his son. Let’s keep reading for the rest of the story:
Luke 15:29–32 (NAS)
29 “But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;
30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’
31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.
32 ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”
Notice also that the second son refused to call his brother my brother but referred to him in his father’s presence as this son of yours.  Notice also that the father had given both sons their share of the estate:
Luke 15:11–12 (NAS)
11 And He said, “A man had two sons.
12 “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them.

Yet even though both sons were given their inheritance while the father was living, the father in humility did not withhold anything that he had from his sons.   When the youngest son returned, the father gave him a feast, his best robe, a ring and sandals.  The feast was in honor of the son who had returned to him alive from the dead.  The robe was the very best that the father could offer.  The ring would be the signet-ring showing that the son was accepted as one who had the full rights of the father.  The sandals were the marks of a free man as slaves did not wear sandals.

The oldest son too had every right given to him as the father told him that all that he had he also willingly shared with his son (see verse 31 above).  While the father had every right to retain what was his own possessions to provide a living for himself, he was humble at heart and willingly shared everything with his sons. He was the perfect example of the Heavenly Father who although Sovereign in power and the One who holds the full right to reign alone, has shared all with us so that we would be lifted up to rule and reign at His right hand with Christ.  He didn’t keep to Himself His sole rights, but gave up what had belonged exclusively to God in order to allow us to benefit from His riches.

2 Corinthians 8:9 (NAS)
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
The humble God became poor so that we could through His poverty become rich and be beside Him as joint heirs:
Romans 8:16–17 (NAS)
16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,
17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…
As God through Christ has revealed His humble nature and as He requires that we follow in His footsteps, are men exempt from living a life of humility?  No, not at all.  All of us are to be humble in spirit.
1 Peter 3:8 (NAS)
8 To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit;

Just as we are to be humble towards one another in a reciprocal way:

1 Peter 5:5 (NAS)
5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.

…so too we are to submit to one another in a reciprocal way:

Ephesians 5:21 (NAS)
21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

This has nothing to do with being subject to someone in authority over us.  It is being in submission to those who are worthy of our care and our humbly lifting them up.  Both humility and submission are to be reciprocal which means that both are “one to another” in back and forth fashion.  If God Himself can set forth the example of One who gave up His rights to share all of His wealth and authority with us, why would it be so hard for us to give up our rights to lift up our brothers and sisters in Christ?

What about those who refuse to submit?  What if a husband says that he will not provide Christian submission to his wife for the benefit of his wife?  What if a husband wants to hold onto his male trump card and refuses to give it up his own “rights” rather than lift up his wife?

Proverbs 29:23 (NAS)
23 A man’s pride will bring him low,
But a humble spirit will obtain honor.

Pride does not bring honor but dishonor.  In contrast, Paul was a man who had “rights” as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet he willingly humbled himself so that the Corinthians could be exalted:

2 Corinthians 11:7 (NAS)
7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge?

Those who refuse to give up their “rights” so that others can be exalted and receive a benefit may find themselves in the pitfall of pride.

Proverbs 16:5 (NAS)
5 Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD;
Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.

Think about it this way.  Who does the husband serve if he takes out his male trump card?  If a husband and wife disagree on a decision and the husband takes out his male trump card that gives him the right to make the final decision, what are the chances that he will make a decision to go her way?  May I respectfully suggest that if the husband and wife disagree over a decision and the husband resorts to taking out his male trump card to take advance of a perceived male right to make the final decision, he will always choose his own way.  It is because there is always selfishness tied to a trump card.  It is not God’s way of humility nor is it God’s way of sharing the honor and His own rights with others.

1 Peter 3:7 (NAS)
7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

For a man to override his wife’s will by taking for himself a male trump card in order to have the right to make a decision for her, he is not honoring her.  Remember the humble God who came to show the way.

Matthew 23:12 (NAS)
12 “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
Psalm 37:11 (NAS)
11 But the humble will inherit the land
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
Matthew 11:29 (NAS)
29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.
Matthew 18:4 (NAS)
4 “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Cheryl

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30 responses to The humble God and the issue of authority

  1. You said
    “May I respectfully suggest that if the husband and wife disagree over a decision and the husband resorts to taking out his male trump card to take advance of a perceived male right to make the final decision, he will always choose his own way. It is because there is always selfishness tied to a trump card.”
    Doctor: With this operation Mrs Smith, you will be able to walk much more comfortably, with less pain.
    Mrs Smith: It is just too expensive, I will just have to manage as I am.
    Mr Smith: It is expensive dear, but I am sure we could find a way. I insist that we go ahead.
    How does this sort of situation fit in with “always selfishness” tied to a trump card?

  2. Craig,
    I declare that you have the best questions that cause us all to think!

    In your example above, the husband is desiring his own way which is an unselfish desire, but he has not yet taken out the trump card. He is only strongly advocating for his position. Let’s see what taking out the trump card might look like.

    Mrs Smith: But if we go ahead with the operation right now, we will go into foreclosure because we cannot afford both the operation and our house. Let’s just take the time to pray about it and to see how God is wanting us to proceed. I do not want us to lose our home.

    Mr Smith: No. I insist that we go ahead with the operation right now.

    Mrs Smith: I don’t want that. I am in pain right now but I can handle the pain. But I can’t handle the thought of losing our home. Let’s just take the time to consider our options. If we wait until next year when our credit card bill should be paid off, we may just have enough money left over to take out a loan for the operation.

    Mr. Smith: No. I think that we should just go ahead with the operation right now. It doesn’t matter to me if we lose our home. I am perfectly fine living in an apartment. I want to go ahead with the operation and see you free from this pain once and for all.

    Mrs. Smith: No dear, I insist that we wait. I do not believe that God would have us lose our home. I have been given God’s grace to live with the pain this long, let’s wait for another year until we have some finances to go ahead. I cannot bear to lose our home. I would rather be in pain forever than to lose everything that we have worked so hard at attaining. This home means everything to me and I ask you to consider my feelings on this matter. I do not want to spend the money on the operation right now. I do not support going into an apartment just so that I can be pain free right now.

    Mr. Smith: It is my place as the husband to make the final decision. God has given me that right. I choose my way. We are going to proceed with the operation right now.

    In the above example the husband has completely overridden his wife’s will. While it may seem “unselfish”, making a unilateral decision by going against his wife’s will without her consent, no matter how “unselfish” it may seem, it is taking away something precious from her.

  3. You will also note from the example above, that when the husband takes out the trump card, it will always be a decision for his own way.

    Think about how much better it would be for the husband to work with the wife for a mutual decision. God is the one who has chosen to give us free will in the first place. There are many places in the Bible where God pleads with the sinner to turn from his sin and to come back into fellowship with Himself. Yet God is the ultimate One who could take out the trump card and make the decision for the person. He could just bring them into fellowship with Him against their will. But a person’s will is something very precious and God chooses not to violate our will even if it causes Him great pain of separation from us. Think about this. If God Himself will not violate the will that He has given each one of us, would it be reasonable to think that He has given the husband a godlike trump card that gives him permission to violate his wife’s will? It doesn’t seem reasonable to think that a sinful human would be given the right to do something that God Himself has chosen not to do. Rather, the husband should do what God Himself does do. There are ways to work through to a mutual decision without treating the wife like her own will has been given into his hands to override and overrule. If no mutual decision can be reached and if she agrees that the husband can make the final decision, her will has not been outwardly overridden. But this also might be an easy way out for her. Taking the time to come to a mutual decision even if it means to make no decision for a period of time allows God to work in both person’s hearts and also it allows Him to provide a way where there was no way before. Those are godly things, I would think.

  4. Thanks Cheryl for your explanation. This helps me to understand what you mean by “trump card” and I can better understand what a terrible thing this would be.

  5. Just awesome Cheryl. But it will still be hard for many to accept. The obsession with authority and hierarchy that permeates not just our culture but our very nature makes the “humble God” paradigm seem to be an irreconcilable paradox.

  6. ” The sandals were the marks of a free man as slaves did not wear sandals.”

    Where did you get this information? It struck me, because those who are Christian ministers are called to be slaves for God. Yet, instead the new attitude is for leaders, especially pastors, to require as many benefits as is possible. The attitude is something to the effect of, “if you want me to serve you well, then you must provide for me plentifully. I don’t work for nothing.”

  7. TL,

    Where did you get this information?

    I got the information from A critical and exegetical commentary on the Gospel According to Luke:

    The (sandals) were marks of a freeman, for slaves went barefoot. None of the three things ordered are necessaries. The father is not merely supplying the wants of his son, who has returned in miserable and scanty clothing. He is doing him honour.
    Plummer, A. (1896). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Gospel According to S. Luke (376).

    This commentary set came highly recommended as the “comprehensiveness and quality of scholarship (is) unmatched by any other series.” It is the commentary that I go to first when I am researching the background of a passage. It is a very expensive commentary set, but also extremely valuable in the high quality of details that it provides. I paid well over $1,000 for the entire 53 volume commentary set but the background information that it gives was well worth the price to me. http://www.logos.com/products/details/1906

    It is also amazing to me that many of today’s high profile church leaders are looking for people to serve them and to be paid a high figure for their “service”. They do not act as servants but rather as lords and masters who command respect and loyalty and their time is seldom given to the lowly sheep but to important other “servants”. It is such a contrast to the example that God himself set in His humility.

  8. gengwall,

    The obsession with authority and hierarchy that permeates not just our culture but our very nature makes the “humble God” paradigm seem to be an irreconcilable paradox.

    I agree that many will not be able to reconcile what they believe God is in His Sovereignty with His humble nature and His giving attitude. But their inability to accept all of God’s nature may have its roots in their own nature that loves the exhilaration of importance and the pride of life that produces many perks for them, rather than a real inability to study and understand Christ’s revelation of God. For when we truly understand this part of God’s nature, we are to be moved to be like Him. The man who says that he will not submit to anyone who is not in authority over him, and especially not to his own wife, is not revealing the character of God. We need to root out all sources of pride within us that hinder us from having a truly humble walk with God.

  9. Perhaps, the church needs an extensive study on how the Lord Jesus Christ as both Messiah and Husband treats His Body/Bride and raises her to sit beside Him.

  10. Cheryl & gengwall@8,

    And the irony of all that is that God, let me repeat, God condescended to die like a common criminal for us! What more does it take for humans to “get” it?

  11. Craig @4,
    I am so happy that you understand the message!

    TL,
    Perhaps, the church needs an extensive study on how the Lord Jesus Christ as both Messiah and Husband treats His Body/Bride and raises her to sit beside Him.

    Amen!

    Kay,

    And the irony of all that is that God, let me repeat, God condescended to die like a common criminal for us! What more does it take for humans to “get” it?

    I don’t know. God experienced frustration too when He asked what more could He have done?

    Isaiah 5:1–4 (NAS)
    Parable of the Vineyard
    1 Let me sing now for my well-beloved
    A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard.
    My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.
    2 He dug it all around, removed its stones,
    And planted it with the choicest vine.
    And He built a tower in the middle of it
    And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
    Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
    But it produced only worthless ones.
    3 “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
    Judge between Me and My vineyard.
    4 “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?
    Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?

    Indeed what more could God have done?

  12. Cheryl @4,
    “I am so happy that you understand the message! ”
    Well at least I now have a much better understanding of that bit :).
    I still have many more questions though on how it all fits together.

  13. Craig,

    I still have many more questions though on how it all fits together.

    Questions are good. This is one place that I am happy to say that questions and challenges are welcomed and embraced. And we welcome all respectful blokes too!

  14. Thanks for your article Cheryl. I find your theme of the humble God very thought provoking.

    I have found the insistence by some Christians for male authority in marriage to be inconsistent with the counter-cultural value of humility exemplified by Jesus and taught in the New Testament, etc. (Not to mention the Biblical values of selflessness, equality and unity.)

  15. Very good Marg. And of course, all those add up to the core Biblical value – love. “Insistence…for male authority” is, if nothing else, quite unloving.

  16. Of course it is, gengwall. (If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, odds are it isn’t a goose). The fundamental problem here is that there is no way to soften the “insistence on male authority”. It’s something like wrapping a bowling ball in a blanket: we still know the bowling ball is in there, and that it’s going to hurt like nobody’s business if you drop it on your foot (or it gets dropped on your foot by someone else).

    The “insistence on male authority’ is the bowling ball in this case. We have no way of dropping it without hurting someone. No matter how loving the intent, the overriding of one’s free will by another is bound to hurt. Until we see that, we will continue to have these “bowling ball in a blanket” difficulties. Let’s just take the bowling ball out and put it back on the shelf–insist in love that “trump-card” authority has no place among us.

  17. Ooops! I meant to say: It hurts like nobody’s business if you (or someone else) drops the bowling ball on your foot, and it also hurts if you drop it on someone else’s foot. Dang caffeine hasn’t kicked in. Late nite w/storms by me. Should probably go running to clear my head….Ooops.

  18. “It’s something like wrapping a bowling ball in a blanket”

    Absolutely, hands down, the best analogy to soft-comp double-talk that I have ever heard.

  19. Thank you, gengwall. I have no idea where it came from, but it seems to work. Your support is much appreciated. :)

  20. I just read something fascinating from Kenneth Bailey in his book, “Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes.” He said that service from a position of power isn’t service, but is benevolence. Jesus didn’t serve from positions of power– He humbled Himself to serve in weakness. He did this with the woman at the well in Samaria when He asked her for a drink, placing himself in a place of need. He did this when He washed the disciples’ feet dressed as a slave.
    “Servant leadership” is “serving” from a position of power and thus is benevolence and not true service. Intimacy in relationships requires more than benevolence– it requires true service.

  21. Excellent, Kristen, thanks!

  22. Kristen, Oh yeah! <3

  23. “And of course, all those add up to the core Biblical value – love. “Insistence…for male authority” is, if nothing else, quite unloving.”

    For sure.

  24. Kristin@20,
    I’ve had that book on my wish list for a while…thanks for sharing that!

  25. Kristen (20)
    Such a good point!!!
    Do you know the page number where that Kenneth Bailey makes that point?

  26. Marg, it’s pages 202-205.

  27. Speaking of a humble God, this video on youtube speaks to me concerning this. Watch only if you love children. It’s called “God’s Ways are not our Ways.”

    Funny, the anti-spam word for me this time is ‘ways’. :)

  28. In God’s humility, he put us first.

    Romans 8:32 (NASB95)
    32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

    What God did for us, hurt Him, but God did not hold back from benefiting us and in that He modeled the perfect example of One who looks out for the interests of others.

    Philippians 2:3–4 (NASB95)
    3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
    4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

    In the DVD teaching series called The Truth Project, the host says that all of God’s prohibitions model His character. Thus we are told that we should not lie, because God does not lie.

    In the same way, I believe, we are told to do things that God does. God is unselfish and He models care for the interests of others. We are to be like our Father. We are to be humble because this is what models the character of God in us.

    There are some who promote the Sovereignty of God to the point that they cannot allow God to be humble. An imbalanced view of the Sovereignty of God dictates to God what He can and cannot do, but this puts God in a box that we have created for Him. In contrast, God is completely free to be what He is, whether we understand it or not. He is the perfect example for us and we are instructed to grow in His image. We are to be like Him and practicing humility allows us to be like Him.

  29. Hey Cheryl and crew. Wow. Long time.

    We ran across a verse in our Torah study today which is greatly troubling me. I’m sorry for bringing it up on such an old post but this is the most appropriate place for the discussion. The verse is Psalm 45:11 (or 12 in the Hebrew bible)

    Then the King will desire your beauty.
    Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him. (NASB)

    I presume this verse is Messianic and therefore talks about, or at least has relevance to, the marriage relationship between Christ and the church. Since Paul references the Christ/church marriage directly in the Ephesians 5 marriage section, it seems reasonable to link these two passages. Yet Psalm 45:11 seems to blatantly call for a hierarchy in marriage, not so much because of the reverence, which Paul also suggests in Ephesians 5, but because of the designation of the husband as lord. I don’t know how to reconcile this and hope that you or others here can help me.

    I did search to see if you have written specifically about this Psalm 45 verse, so I feel this is the most appropriate place to open this discussion. If there is a better forum to discuss it, please let me know.

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