Luke 14:7-11 - The Parable of the Guests
1. Some of you will remember that old country song by Mac Davis with the chorus that says:
Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror ‘cause I get better lookin’ each day
To know me is to love me, I must be a [heck] of a man
Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doin’ the best that I can.
2. Not only is it hard to be humble, it is also not cool. Actually, it never has been. The basic biblical word that is translated humble or humility in the New Testament was never used in classical Greek literature with a positive connotation. Because of that, it has been said that humility is a virtue created by Christianity and introduced to the world through Christianity. In the New Testament the word humble (which means to make low or to bow before as opposed to exalting or building up) is always used in a positive connotation. The Scripture teaches that we are to desire humility.
· Zephaniah 2:3 instructs us to “...seek righteousness [and] seek humility...”
· Colossians 3:12 tells us to “...put on a heart of ... humility...”
· I Peter 5:5 tells us to “...clothe yourselves in humility toward one another...”
· I Peter 5:6 instructs us to “...humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God...”
Humility is such an important virtue that Jonathan Edwards, the great early American preacher, described humility as “...one of the most essential things that characterizes true Christianity.” It ranks right up there with love as the highest of Christian virtues.
3. In this study we are going to focus on another of Jesus’ parables found only in the Gospel of Luke. This parable, found In Luke 14:7-11, has much to teach us about humility. It was a Sabbath day (Saturday, the Jewish day of worship) and Jesus had been invited to the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees for a dinner.
T.S. – To understand that story you have to understand something about the dining customs in the first century. The homes of wealthy, influential people—and certainly the leader of the Pharisees who was hosting this dinner would be in that category—generally had a spacious room which was used for large dinners. The tables in the room were arranged in a horseshoe configuration. There were no chairs; instead guests would recline on pillows on the floor around the low tables. Generally the host would sit at the head of the horseshoe, sometimes in the middle and sometimes toward one of the ends. The seats closest to the host were considered the most honored seats. Generally, the seats were not assigned. The people in that culture knew their status in relation to other people, so they just knew where to sit. But it was always dangerous to take a seat before the other guests arrived. For there was the possibility that someone with a higher status than you would show up and you would have to give up your seat. To avoid this embarrassing situation, Jesus said, “Play it safe. Take the lowest place at the table, then you can only move up!”
Of course, this story is not just about table etiquette; it’s about life. Jesus is saying, “Choose to live in humility. And if you do, you will discover that your life will be better.” But the question is, “How do we do that? How do we bridle our ego, our deeply engrained desire to be praised, our constant struggle for recognition and choose a way of living that, on the surface, seems so unnatural to us?” It seems impossible, but fortunately the Scripture gives us some clear direction about this. Look at I Peter 5:5b-6. Those verses tell us a couple of very important things about how to choose to live in humility.
I. We choose to live in humility by recognizing our dependence on God
1. It is important to understand where humility begins and what humility is. Humility does not begin with us; it begins with God. And humility is not about self-depreciation; it is about God appreciation. The truly humble person is not the person who is always talking about how bad or weak or inadequate he or she is. Being humble does not mean that we spend our time and energy—
· Putting ourselves down
· Beating ourselves up
· Viewing ourselves as lowly creatures who have no worth.
- Instead, humility is the kind of spirit that recognizes who we really are. It recognizes that we are not God. We are not the Creator; we are the created ones. It’s the kind of spirit expressed by the psalmist when he exclaimed, “Know that the Lord Himself is God. It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. [Psalm 100:3] And understanding who we are keeps us from living a life of arrogant self-centeredness and reminds us to live with a quiet confidence, a steady trust in God. To choose humility essentially means to place our lives in God’s hands with a spirit of utter confidence and complete trust. And, the truth is, that is very difficult for us to do because we just naturally trust ourselves more than we trust God.
- Notice the command of I Peter 5:6. It is not merely “...humble yourselves...” That is not enough. The command is to “...humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God...” And that phrase makes all the difference in the world. “The mighty hand of God...” is a common Old Testament phrase that is used to describe God’s protection over and deliverance of His people. In Solomon’s great prayer of dedication for the Temple in I Kings 8, he spoke of the Temple as being a place where people would hear of God’s “...great name...mighty hand...and outstretched harm...”
- There’s a beautiful promise here that I don’t want you to miss. As we humble ourselves, make ourselves low before God, we don’t become weak; we become strong. We don’t lose; we gain. We don’t find darkness; we find light. We bow to God’s “...mighty hand...” and find it completely adequate for all of our needs.
- I think that’s what Jesus meant at the end of the parable in Luke 14 when He said in verse 11, “For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
- Tom Elliff tells about meeting with his friend, Ron Dunn, shortly after Ron Dunn and his wife had come home to find the body of their son who had committed suicide...Eliff said to his friend, “I have no words that I can say to ease your pain. I just want to be with you. But I’ve got to know, what is that has kept you going through all this?” And there is what Ron Dunn said, “I’ve been to the very bottom and I have discovered that there is rock down there and you can stand on it!”
- Choosing to live in humility means to stand on the Rock -- to live in the recognition of our complete, utter dependence upon God and our helplessness apart from Him.
II. We choose to live in humility by giving ourselves away in service to others.
1. The instruction in I Peter 5:5 is “...clothe yourselves with humility toward one another...” The word translated “clothe” comes from the word for “knot” as in to tie a knot. It literally means to tie a piece of cloth to one’s body. There is a graphic picture behind this word that anyone who lived in the culture of the 1st century would immediately see. In that world, between one-third and one-half of the people were slaves. Slaves would tie on a white scarf or white apron over their other clothing to identify themselves as slaves. What this verse is saying is that Christians are to tie on the scarf or the apron of humility, and by doing so we show the world that we belong to Christ.
2. How do we do that? There is only one way. By giving ourselves away in service to others. Service is the tangible, outward expression of inward humility. No matter how much we talk about humility, no matter what humble demeanor we maintain, if we are not serving people we are not choosing the path of humility.
3. There is a sense in which we do not choose humility; it chooses us. We don’t really get humility by chasing after it. Humility comes as a by-product of serving others. In the 1700’s William Law wrote a classic book entitled A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. He pointed out the relationship between service and humility. He says that if we want humility then “...condescend to all the weaknesses and infirmities of your fellow-creatures, cover their frailties, love their excellencies, encourage their virtues, relieve their wants, rejoice in their prosperities, [show compassion] in their distress, receive their friendship, overlook their unkindness, forgive their malice, be a servant of servants...” [Quoted by Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline, p.131] That is the path to humility.
- There is a beautiful story about D.L. Moody, the famous evangelist...he invited a group of pastors from Europe to a Bible conference in the United States...following the European custom of the time, each guest put his shoes outside his room to be cleaned by the hall servants overnight. But of course there were no hall servants in America. Walking through the halls that night, Moody saw the shoes and determined not to embarrass his brothers. He gathered up the shoes, and, alone in his room, the world’s only famous evangelist began to clean and polish the shoes. Only the unexpected arrival of a friend in the midst of the work revealed the secret. When the foreign visitors opened their doors the next morning, their shoes were shined. They never know by whom.[Gary Inrig, A Call to Excellence, (Victor Books, a division of SP Publ., Wheaton, Ill; 1985), p. 98]
5. That is the kind of service that results in genuine humility.
1. Does it really work? Is it true ... what Jesus said about those who humble themselves being exalted? Well, it certainly worked in His life! Jesus is the perfect example of humility toward both God and others.
· Jesus trusted the Father fully and completely. He placed His life in God’s hands, He perfectly obeyed, He never wavered from God’s plan. The Scripture says that Jesus “...humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross...” [Phil.2:8]
· And in relation to others, Jesus served without reservation. He said that He came “...not to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many...” [Matt.20:28]
And the result was that “...God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name...” [Philippians 2:9]
2. And Jesus says that principle is at work in our lives as well. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” [Luke 14:11]