Jeremy Sarber

An example of humility in the Bible

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

Paul tells us to walk worthy of our calling. The word is axiōs, meaning to balance the scale. As spiritual, redeemed people in Christ, God calls us to reflect our Savior in the way that we live. Our position is in the family of God. In turn, our practice and behavior should align with our position. To balance the scale or walk worthy is to live as God expects his people to live.

In this passage, Paul gives us five characteristics to consider and strive for: humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and unity. I’ve written about about humility, but let me add just a bit more to it. I want to share with you one of my favorite examples of humility in Scripture.

Mark 7 gives the account of a Gentile woman coming to Christ to ask him to remove an unclean spirit from her daughter. If you didn’t already know the story, then you might assume that Jesus would be quick to say, Yes, of course. That’s why I’m here. I came to love, show compassion, and heal people. I came to save.” Surprisingly, though, that’s not what he says. Instead, he tells her, Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs (Mk 7:27). Ouch.

Jesus certainly had a unique approach to evangelism. How many times does he seem to make it harder for people to follow him? Why does Christ seem to throw stumbling blocks in their way? In this case, he appears to outright insult the woman. Why?

I wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s insulting her. He’s merely pointing out the long-standing divide and animosity between the Jews and Gentiles. Even so, it doesn’t seem very encouraging. How would you respond? Some of us would probably be outraged. How dare you imply that I’m a dog! Most of us would likely be saddened. I get the impression this woman was desperate. She had nowhere else to turn. There was no other way to save her daughter, so Christ suggesting he wouldn’t help a Gentile was devastating.

If he wasn’t insulting her, what was he doing? First of all, he was doing what he always did: He was testing her resolve. Thousands upon thousands of people showed interest in Jesus at one point or another, but for so many of them, their concern was shallow and vain. They weren’t genuinely converted. They weren’t looking to Christ as King and Savior. He was a celebrity with miraculous abilities. Perhaps he was a political zealot preparing a revolt against Rome. Who knows. But Jesus wasn’t interested in padding his stats. When five thousand families in the book of John wanted to make him a king (not the King), he sent his true disciples across the sea and disappeared into the mountains. Christ would accept nothing less than sinners seeking the Savior.

But I think there was even more to his response than testing the Gentile woman’s resolve and sincerity. I believe he was testing her humility, and she passed with flying colors. She answered, Yes, Lord (Mk 7:28). First, she affirmed his statement was true. Yes, I am a dog,” she said. You’re right about that.”

Second and equally important, she acknowledged Jesus as Lord (capital L). She didn’t see him as a mere political figure with awesome powers. She wasn’t starstruck by his celebrity status. She saw herself as a sinner and Christ as God in the flesh. In other words, she approached him with humility. She understood her place as a lowly sinner and knew she was to exalt Christ as the Holy God.

All the while, she maintained her resolve. She continued by saying, Yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs (Mk 7:28). With that statement, you can see how boldness and humility are not mutually exclusive. They can simultaneously exist at once. We can remain humble while acting and speaking in boldness. This woman was desperate. She needed help, and she wasn’t about to leave without pleading with Christ. Help me, Lord. Just grant me an ounce of compassion. Please.”

In turn, Jesus said, For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter (Mk 7:29). He responded positively because this woman was (1) persistent and (2) humble. She serves as a great example to all of us. Humility requires that we understand our place in relationship to God. Pride, on the other hand, is when we lift ourselves too high or lower God too much. Pride is when we compete with God for his glory.

Humility comes when the heart truly understands who we are as sinners. Humility comes when sinners behold the glory and holiness of God through faith. Like this Gentile woman, we think, Yes, Lord. I am a dog, and you are the Master.