Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Power of Humility and the Arrogance of Power

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Humility is defined as the lack of pride, and is more a state of mind than a virtue.  It is the way we see ourselves in relationship to others and should be distinguished from noblesse oblige, which is the duty of the privileged and powerful to be charitable to the less fortunate.   Humility is based on the belief that we are all equal in the sight of God and it is expressed in loving others as we love ourselves (the greatest commandment), especially those we would rather avoid. 

The power of humility is diametrically opposed to the arrogance of worldly power, and Jesus distinguished the two when he told his disciples: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)  Earlier, Jesus had told his disciples, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

            The disciples believed that the coming kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus would restore the power and glory of ancient Israel, and they wanted to participate in that power and glory.  Jesus disabused them of that idea, and distanced himself from those Jewish zealots of his day who were committed to overthrowing Roman rule.  The kingdom of God did not require a political revolution and would not rest on worldly power, but was instead based on the power of humility and the love of God and neighbor, as this teaching attests.

            The arrogance of power and the power of humility are as incompatible as oil and water.  Worldly power is a corrupting force, as stated in Lord Acton’s razor: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We see the truth of that maxim every day, with the powerful exploiting and controlling others, not serving them.  Humility in social matters avoids humiliation (Luke 14:7-11) and unlike ostentatious giving it seeks nothing in return (Matthew 6:1-4).  Jesus taught that the redeeming power of humble service, like the transforming power of God’s love, is reciprocal in nature and must be given in order to be received (Luke 6:36-38).

            President Obama related humility to our faith and freedom at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015:  
President Obama said we must rely on basic principles, such as humility, to protect our rights to freedom of speech and religion and the rights of others to the same.
"The concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment, and if in fact we defend the legal right of a person to insult another's religion, we're equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults and stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are targets of such attacks," he said.
Obama told those in attendance, including the Dalai Lama, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, politicians and faith leaders, that the right to free speech can and should be used to defend others, too.
"Just because you have the right to say something, doesn't mean the rest of us shouldn't question those who would insult others in the name of free speech," the president said. "Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they too are full and equal members of our countries."
Obama said the Founding Fathers had it right when they outlined the distinction between faith and government.  "They also understood the need to uphold freedom of speech," He added, "that there was a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion. For to infringe on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal of both."
Ashley Alman, Obama Calls for Balancing Free Speech with Respect for Religion, The Huffington Post, February 5, 2015 (see URL in Notes below),

It is ironic that President Obama speaks of humility, since he, like other Presidents, is known more for his arrogance of power than for his power of humility.  But here he is right, and Jesus would likely say about him what he said about the religious leaders of his day: So you must obey them and do whatever they tell you.  But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. (Matthew 23:3).                

With the exception of Jewish prophets like Jesus, there was little emphasis in Judaism or Islam on humble service and no distinction made between the power of God’s kingdom and that of worldly kingdoms.  While ancient Hebrew prophets condemned those rulers who abused their power, none before Jesus suggested that God’s kingdom was based on the power of altruistic love and humble service, nor did Muhammad, for whom there was little room for humility in asserting the domination of his religious regime over others (Islam means submission to God).

            The power of humility conflicts with worldly power, but is an essential element of God’s redemptive love and at the foundation of God’s kingdom, which is eternal while worldly kingdoms are only temporary.  Sharing the transforming power of God’s love through humble service to others is the only way to experience God’s kingdom, which is a metaphor for our salvation and reconciliation into the family of God.  That makes the power of humility far superior to worldly power and the arrogance associated with it.

Notes and References to Resources:

This topic is from Lesson #11, Humility: leaders as servants (Mark 9:35; 10:41-44) at pages 54-56 of the J&M Book.  The following topics in the J&M Bookare related to humility and pride (or sanctimony) and hypocrisy: Child-like faith (Mark 10:13-16) at page 66; Ostentatious giving (Matthew 6:1-4) at page 107; Hypocrisy: practice what you preach (Matthew 23:1-12) at page 175; Give in order to receive (Luke 6:36-38) at page 212;  Humility in social matters (Luke 14:7-11) at page 253; Serving the least of those rather than friends (Luke 14:12-14) at page 255; Sanctimony and humility(the parable of the Pharisee and the publican at Luke 18:9-14) at page 289; Jesus Washing the disciples’ feet(John 13:12-17) at page 320. 

Related blogs are Faith and freedom, posted on December 8, 2014; Faith and new beginnings: salvation and reconciliation in the family of God, posted on January 4, 2015; The greatest commandment: a common word of faith posted on January 11, 2015; Religion and human rights posted on February 22, 2015: and The kingdom of God and the Church, posted March 15, 2015.

Alman at

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Ashley. The power of humility is greater than the greatest worldly power with its attendant arrogance.