Theme: A Difficult School
This week’s lessons talk about the need for every Christian to be marked by humility, and that the sins that fight against this humility can only be taken away by the Lord Jesus Christ, whose own humility took him to the cross for us.
Scripture: Matthew 20:20-28
Brother Lawrence, whose collected conversations and letters are entitled The Practice of the Presence of God, lived in the seventeenth century. He was born Nicholas Herman in French Lorraine, served as a soldier, and then was converted through seeing a tree in winter, stripped of its leaves, and reflecting on the fact that within a short time its leaves would be renewed through the love, providence, and power of God. His conversion led him to enter the monastery of the barefooted Carmelites at Paris in 1666. In the monastery Lawrence, as he was then called, was assigned to the kitchen where he had charge of utensils. At first he abhorred the work. But he set himself so to walk in God’s presence that he could worship God and serve others in the most humble circumstances. In time Brother Lawrence came to worship God more in the kitchen than in the cathedral, and he could pray, “Lord of all pots and pans and things . . . make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.” He died at eighty years of age, full of love and honored by all who knew him. His meditations on the Christian life, recorded largely by others, are a classic. He chose humility and by it achieved lasting greatness.
How little we know of humility, even after many years of Christian life! Yet how essential humility is to true discipleship!
Humility was hard even for the disciples. In the last study I looked at the Lord’s parable of Christian service—His washing of His disciples’ feet. I pointed out areas in which we must serve other people. But what I did not talk about then was the reason the Lord was particularly led to this vivid demonstration. The problem was that the disciples had been fighting over who should be greatest in the kingdom, which they supposed Jesus would soon bring. They were thinking of pomp and circumstance, not the cross. They assumed that Jesus was going to take over the throne of His father David, and they were jockeying to see who would stand closest to that throne and exercise the greatest influence and receive the greatest honor in that day.
This had happened on several occasions. After the transfiguration, when the disciples who had remained behind had been approached by the father of a boy with an evil spirit and had been unable to drive the spirit out, the group fell to arguing about who was greatest. Jesus instructed them, saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (v. 35). Then Jesus used an illustration. He drew a little child into their midst and said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me” (v. 37; cf. Matt. 18:1-5; Luke 9:46-48).
We would think that the disciples would get the point, particularly since it had been reinforced for them visually. But in the very next chapters of Matthew and Mark, each of whom tells the story, we find the disciples actually turning children aside. They would have been telling their mothers that Jesus was too important or too busy, but they were really thinking that they were too important or busy. Jesus was indignant with the disciples. He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14, 15; cf. Matt. 19:14; Luke 18:16, 17).
This was an intensification of His earlier teaching. Earlier He had been speaking of relative positions within His kingdom—the first would be last and the last first. Now He was teaching that without humility it was not possible even to enter His kingdom.
What situation led Jesus to give his famous lesson and illustration of his washing the disciples’ feet?
Where else in the Bible do we see that the disciples needed to learn humility? What was the cause of their pride?
Application: As mentioned at the beginning, in his book Brother Lawrence prayed, “Lord of all pots and pans and things . . . make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.” Are we sometimes seeking to look for prominent opportunities of service that feed our pride? What are some ways you can apply Brother Lawrence’s prayer to your own life?
For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message on humility from Matthew 18:1-9, “Who Is the Greatest in the Kingdom?” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)