One of the necessary attributes a Christian should have is humility. To stay in the background with sincere humility must not be overdone, however, lest the spark of individualism be lost and frustration and defeatism set in. Oh, to find the balance! This is the task to which we must address ourselves. Let us turn to the verses in the Scriptures that tell of that exemplary, humble man—John the Baptist. There we may find the inspiration and help we need.
"Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him" (John 3:25, 26).
The challenge to humility usually comes when a question or dispute arises. Rare judgment is needed to see beyond the immediate answer that one might give. John had here an excellent opportunity to advance self, to smooth a hurt pride with a surreptitious, so-called harmless answer (which would really be loaded with seeds of dissension), or else simply state the truth. He chose the truth. Humility is truth. The truth was that he was simply the messenger, not the Messiah. He left his disciples in no doubt by his unequivocal answer.
"John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him" (verses 27, 28).
Here is the core of our exposition. John could not be bought; he could not be tricked; he refused to let his mental equilibrium be touched by either guile or ignorance, which prompted the question. The unassailable humility of John, received through Christ, must be the hallmark of each Adventist Christian today. We must be examples of unselfishness.
Just a few months ago, when I was studying in my basement, my oldest boy came down the steps and stood in front of me with a package of chewing gum. As I raised my eyes from my book and looked at him, I thought perhaps this was the ideal time to plant a little seed. I said, "What do you think about dad having a little gum?" The expression on his face indicated that he was not so sure about that. "Think it over," I said. A few moments later, after looking at some of his toys, he came over to me and said, "Here, Dad, have a stick." I thanked him and he walked away. After a short time he came running up and said to me, "Say, I'm glad I gave you that stick of gum, Dad." "Why?" I questioned him. "I don't know. I just am." May this act be a seed that will eventually grow into unselfish habits as the years go by.
We have each been given a talent by the Lord: some in business, some in music, others in art. Some in creative or mechanical ability; others have the gift of organization. It is our privilege to share our talents with others. They were given to us for that purpose. We do not have the right to hide behind any single talent as a pride mechanism, nor do we have the right to overpower or burden any one or any group with our particular gift. Only as it is shared as John shared his can it be used of God and directed by Christ for its fullest blessing.
John the Baptist was no weakling. He was not a fearful man. He was simply truthful. He knew he was a miracle child. He had heard of the year his father was speechless. He knew his parents were old when he was born. He had studied the scrolls in the desert that pertained to his peculiar work. He knew from prophecy that the
time of his appointment was right. He accepted his work and applied himself with force and vigor to his task. But, strange to our day and age, he knew just how far to go and where the lines of his task and authority ended, and so, willingly and humbly, when his period of service was over, he let go the reins.
There are two times in a person's life when he is likely to be honestly humble. First, when he is young and just getting started. The world, the church, life itself, is new, and one does not know which way to turn. The other time the person is humble is just after conversion. But these are not enough. To write an epic of humility ourselves, we must keep the balance between vigorous work and truthful humility for a lifetime, as did John the Baptist. There are plenty of traps in between. We must watch out for them.
I was a ministerial intern for one year before I married. I lived in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country with a wonderful couple who gave me a real home. The lady of the house was always interested in young people. Many an hour was spent in discussing the future of this person or that person, boy and girl alike. In her own particular way she would give the young people of the church quiet guidance, a cheerful smile, and her kind actions made them feel that they were wanted. It was interesting to hear her speak of the possible matches of the various young people who together could be used of God to accomplish great deeds for His kingdom.
John the Baptist pointed his disciples to Christ and thus matched them with his Lord and Saviour. The highest calling that a Seventh-day Adventist can have today is to be a matchmaker between man and Christ. Do you know the glow that comes from turning the hearts of the people to the one matchless love of all, Christ Jesus? If not, you are hiding a part of you that should be showing Christ. It was humility that prompted John to steer his disciples away from himself and direct them to the One "beyond Jordan."
"He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled" (John 3:29).
John did not regret that Christ was the bridegroom. He knew that he had been in the presence of the Divine. Was not that face clearer and fairer than all others as He made His way through the crowd at Jordan? Was not this He upon whom the dove had settled and the One who bowed bt the banks of the river as a suppliant? John truly was the "best man." He had learned the lesson spoken of by William L. Sullivan in his book, Epigrams and Criticisms in Miniature: "Genuine humility does not arise from the sense of our pitiable kinship with the dust that is unworthy of us but from the realization of our awful nearness to a magnificence of which we are unworthy."
"He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). Nebuchadnezzar was a humble man when he was the crown prince, but as he grew in power and stature he did not develop the wonderful grace of humility. One day we find him on the walls of the city saying: "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built ... by the might of my power?" (Dan. 4:30). The next day we find him crawling on all fours, eating the grass of the field, while the dew gathered on his body. The seven years he spent doing this need never have been had he approached greatness as did John, who said, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
But the day came when John the Baptist lay in a dark prison. His thoughts tortured him. Why was he here in this foul hole? Was the Man whose coming he had proclaimed really the Messiah? Had his (John's) message been in vain? He sent his disciples to find out. Jesus answered them not a word but preached, healed, and taught. He did not need to say anything. John's disciples, in love with Christ and His ministry, returned and exclaimed, "This is He, John. You were right. This is the Bridegroom." John then went to his death with courage and with peace, twin marks of humility. His strength lay in his humility.
May we, who are a type of John, and who bear the glorious truth of the second advent of Christ, do so in the spirit and power of this humble man. Through the strength and wisdom of Christ let us hide ourselves and only reveal the attributes of the coming King. Thus we will strike the balance of the meaningful vigor and poignant reserve that will indeed write a modern epic in humility.
"And He took him aside from the multitude." (Mark 7:33)
In the Gospel According to Mark, the seventh chapter and the 33rd verse, these words are written: And He took him aside from the multitude. That day, they had brought unto the Master a broken wreck of a man who was deaf, and Mark tells us he also had an impediment of speech. As our Lord gazed upon him He was moved to compassion by his pitiful plight. Then it was that Jesus "took him aside from the multitude." He could just as easily have said, "Be thou healed," but instead the Master . . . took him 'aside.
How many men and women who read these words have been "taken aside."
Once upon a time a great soldier and warrior of the cross was taken aside and placed in the solitude of captivity. He had fought and preached and ministered as a missionary. He not only stood the test of Christian activity, but when they placed his hands and feet in chains and stocks he, Paul, stood the test of inactivity, the greatest test of all. Taken aside! Paul in prison! That was another side of life for him; yet see how he takes it. I see him writing an epistle and signing his name to that document; he had no complaint that he was a prisoner of Festus; he wasted no time in crying that he was a persecuted victim of Caesar; he had no bitter words of criticism nor accusation against the members of the Sanhedrin, whose violent opposition had helped to place him within grim prison walls. That grand old warrior signed his name as "a prisoner of the Lord." He saw only the hand of God in it all. To him, that prison was a palace, and its corridors rang with his songs of triumph of praise and joy. He was taken aside from the missionary work he loved so well, but within those gray stone walls he built a new pulpit, a new witness stand, and from his place of bondage and from the dark shadows of his captivity there came the precious message of light and life and the sweet ministry of Christian liberty which have brightened a world of darkness through the ages.
Friend of mine, within the four walls of a darkened sick room, shipmate of mine, taken aside from the fields of activity you loved so well; my brother, my sister, removed from all you once held dear, remember that man of whom Mark tells us, whom the Master took aside "from the multitude."
"First Mate Bob"
* Reprinted by permission of The Log of the Good Ship Grace, vol. 24, no. 19, 1958.