The Nature of Humility: The Apostle Peter vs. Jesus

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Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will
understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
—John 13:3–11

There is true humility and there is affected humility. Look at the contrast between Jesus and Peter. When Jesus came to Peter to wash his feet, Peter resisted: “Lord, do not wash my feet” (author’s paraphrase). I’m sure there was real sincerity in that. But sincerity and humility are not the same.

Peter was struggling in his relationship with Jesus, struggling with his own life, struggling with what was going on because things were not turning out as he thought they might when he left his fishing boat and followed this itinerant preacher. And he certainly didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. He couldn’t understand why Jesus was deliberately taking the position of a servant, so he acted humbly and backed away from Jesus because he didn’t want his leader washing his feet. It was a kind of affected humility.

But not the humility expressed by Jesus. The humble know who they are. Jesus knew who He was; Peter did not yet know who he was. In our culture, it is easy to have distorted notions about humility. We think of it as a kind of cowering, taking a backseat kind of style. In our most mistaken notions, we stereotype the humble person as being without strength, allowing people to take advantage of them, and staying in the shadow. That’s not true humility.

A father made this confession. Every night he would bring work home from the office;
lots of work, work he would begin doing right after the evening meal. One night his son
asked him why he brought all this work home. He explained, probably too adult-like, that
he was a very busy person, his job was demanding, and he just had more work to do than
he could get done at the office.

I like what the little boy said. From his world, and the way they did it at school, he asked, “Well, in that case, why don’t they put you in a slower group?”

Is anything more needed—to know who we are and, thus, to be genuinely humble? This means knowing our weaknesses, as well as our strengths. Perhaps more than anything else the humble not only know they are vulnerable, they know their Source of power. They live from the inside out, not the outside in. The humble have power, but the power is not so much in them as through them.

I’m not a baseball fan, but I relish sports stories of perspective and power, of humility and greatness. One of my favorite stories speaks to this issue of humility, of living from the inside out, not the outside in.

After the Dodgers won the Pennant in 1988, they gave their star pitcher, Orel Hershiser, a three-year contract for 7.7 million dollars. Though I have real problems with that sort of price tag on sports stars, it does say that Hershiser was a phenomenal player.

In Game Two of that series, Hershiser was pitching. He got two doubles and a single at bat, as many hits and more total bases than he allowed the competing team. He ran the bases like Jackie Robinson, and shut out Oakland 6–0.

Then came the fifth and final game. Folks wondered if Hershiser was going to make it again. He had to talk his manager into letting him stay in when he got into trouble in the eighth inning. He went on to win the series by winning that final game 5–2.

What fans remembered for a long time, though, was watching Hershiser on television on the bench in the top half of an inning, leaning back, mouth wide open, singing to himself that last night. It wasn’t until later on that we learned exactly what he was doing.

He was singing to himself two songs: The Doxology—“Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . .”—and a contemporary Christian tune by the late Keith Green called “Rushing Wind.” A line in that song goes: “Rushing wind, blow through this temple, blowing out the dust within.”1

Hershiser said he wanted to cleanse his mind of all the clutter of the world in that moment, to block out the pressure, and concentrate on the game at hand. This was a convincing picture of living from the inside out, not the outside in. As with Jesus, so with Hershiser and us, when we know who we are, we know our Source of power.

Enjoy this entry? Get With Jesus in the Upper Room by Maxie Dunnam. In this seven-week study, Maxie Dunnam leads readers through John 13–17 to this most precious legacy of Jesus’ teaching, the distillation of His thought and message—what He really wants us to hear. We are His modern friends, to whom He speaks as lovingly as He did to His friends in the Upper Room.

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