“Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.” Proverbs 25:6-7 (NIV)
Have you ever thought too highly of yourself? Pride can get the best of us, for sure. When I was in the seventh grade, I just knew I was supposed to get an award for the highest average in at least one of my classes. Two or three of them, actually. So, when I arrived at school on Awards Day and realized I wasn’t dressed correctly for my special prize, I hurried to the school office to call my mom and ask her to bring a dress for me to wear. The office would not let me make the call. Persistent as I was, I tried a second time, and found myself being marched back to class by the assistant principal! Instead of trusting that my mom would have known ahead of time if I was getting an award and that she would have sent me in appropriate attire, I thought I knew better, and even worse assigned myself the honor prematurely.
As it turns out, of course I didn’t get the highest grade award – that honor went to my nemesis Scott Donaldson (yes, I still remember his name), to whom I lost by only one tenth of a point! I could have saved myself embarrassment and heartache (and a lecture from the assistant principal as I was literally pushed back up a set of stairs to class), if I had only heeded Proverbs 25:6-7.
Solomon understood the value of humility. When we honor others above ourselves, we avoid the risk of demotion. The Lord exhorts us to honor the leaders in our lives, whether they are a parent, an elder, a pastor, a teacher, a boss, or a political leader like the President of the United States. All positions are appointed by God (Romans 13:1). And when we find ourselves interacting with our leaders, whether we like them or not, we should give them the honor and respect they are due because of their position.
Jesus spoke on this same principle in Luke 14:7-11 when he taught the Pharisees about the wisdom of humility and proper behavior at social functions:
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (NIV)
Seeing others through the eyes of the Lord will help us to remember our place. It is always better to regard others as more important than ourselves, and to remember that life is not about being seen, but about what we did with our lives. People remember how you made them feel. They remember what you did or did not do for them. For an explanation of what it means to be “other-focused” we can look at Paul’s beautiful description of Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11 NIV)
Jesus is our ultimate example of humility. He fully understood his place before God, the Father. He knew that “taking the back seat” was actually the best seat!