The Humility of a Child

Mark 9:30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. 33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." 36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."

We don’t know her name. We only know her as the Israeli servant girl to Naaman’s wife. This little girl had been ripped out of her parent’s hands by bands of raiders from Aram. Her parents knew her and loved her, but she remains anonymous to us. That does not mean that she was unimportant or powerless, though.

When Naaman, the commander of Aram’s army – and this little girl’s master – contracts leprosy, it is this little girl who says, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:34). She doesn’t appear to have any animosity or ill will toward her master. She doesn’t delight in her master’s misfortune. She doesn’t announce to Naaman, “See, this is God’s judgment on you for kidnapping me from my home! You get what you deserve!”

No, she is humble and unassuming and respectful. Because of her, Naaman goes to Israel, washes in the Jordan River, and he is miraculously healed of his leprosy. One of the greatest miracles happens because of the humility of an anonymous servant girl.

The little girl is easily forgotten for she is in the shadows. Not even her name is remembered. Yet without her — without her humility, without her compassion, without her taking no thought for being last — this miracle would never have occurred. The most powerless person in this story is the key to it all. God uses her who is nothing to affect everything. (Chad Bird, The Nameless Little Girl Who Changed a General’s Life)

Jesus very well could have used this example when speaking with His disciples when they arrived in Capernaum. None of them had the guts to answer His question, “What were you arguing about on the road?” Jesus might then have said to them, “I heard you arguing about which of you is the greatest. I do have divine hearing, after all. Peter thinks he’s cooler because he got to walk on water. Matthew thinks he’s superior because he left a lucrative tax collecting scheme. Nathaniel thinks he’s more illustrious because I saw him under a fig tree. Andrew thinks he’s special because he followed me first. Judas thinks he’s more talented because he controls the money purse. But let me tell you, until you are like this little unnamed servant girl who rescued her servant’s life with her unassuming character and powerful witness of God’s wonders, then you’ve got it all wrong. I exalted her in my kingdom. She allowed herself to be nothing and allowed me to make her everything.”

Then He added, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

The disciples found it necessary to figure out who among them was the greatest. Their sinful pride was getting the better of them. The Bible preaches that humility is wisdom (James 3:13) but that God detests the proud (Proverbs 16:5). In fact, Solomon writes that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34). The Bible is filled with people who fell from their lofty perch of self-promoted greatness. Miriam mocked her younger brother Moses for marrying a foreigner and the Lord gave her leprosy for seven days. Naaman didn’t want to get into the Jordan River because it was dirty and almost missed out on his cleansing. King Solomon had built a magnificent temple for the Lord, but his faith became lost in too much worldly wisdom, too much money and too much sex. King Hezekiah was proud and did not thank God for curing his illness, so the Lord’s wrath was on Judah and Jerusalem.

Jesus knew the danger of pride when He watched Satan rebel against God’s authority in the beginning of creation. Pride was then the bait that Satan used to lure Adam and Eve away from God and into eating the forbidden fruit.

Ever since then, we have been infected with pride. Whenever we sin, we are arrogantly asserting that we know better than God does. Husbands and wives hurt the one they love because they don’t want to put the other first in their marriage. Teenagers remain sullen and locked in their rooms, thinking they are fine while fighting their depression. The addict won’t seek counseling for his or her addiction – the arguing that ruins the marriage, the alcohol that rules the mind, or the sexual images that control the computer.

We don’t want to pray because we don’t want to admit we need help. We don’t read the Bible because we don’t want God telling us what to do. We don’t want to go to church because we don’t want to hang around with all those hypocrites. “Sunday after Sunday, sermons, children’s devotions and Bible classes, the pastor just keeps harping on sin, sin, sin. I don’t want to hear all that talk. I’m better than that!”

It’s all pride! And pride is a terrible master. Pride makes “Me, Myself and I” into the new three persons of my own personal trinity. Then we refuse to bow before the real Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus settles the argument by bringing a child into the disciples’ discussion and teaches, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” With this, Jesus not only shatters their pride and explodes their notion of greatness, but He also gives them a picture of Himself. The Son of God, who, though the greatest, became for us the least. Who came down from heaven and became a child. The Creator became a creature. He emptied Himself of all His heavenly splendor, taking the very nature of a slave. The One who was subject to no laws, put Himself under the laws of both God and Caesar. The One who is Life and the Giver of Life, surrendering His life to be executed on a cross.

Jesus is the answer to the disciples’ argument. The Greatest One was standing right in the midst of them, serving them as a labor of love. Coming and serving the least, the lowest, the outcast, the sinner, and even those twelve who were arguing that day about who was the greatest. Coming in humility and compassion toward us helpless children. Giving His life so we might have life. Risen and glorified, He now calls us to believe in Him and be like Him, “proud” to be a humble servant.

In Jesus we see true greatness and glory in the eyes of God – in His humility, in lowering Himself, in His self-sacrifice. Greatness in the eyes of God is not ascending to the heights, but descending to the depths. It is not to be served, but to serve. It is not to elevate yourself, but to lay down your life for others. It is not to act like a proud adult, but to act like a humble child.

God shows us that a little servant girl, nameless and powerless, is the perfect choice for Him to do great things. Rather than building a tower to make a name for ourselves like the builders of the tower of Babel, the Lord wants us to submit to His will. To understand that when we allow ourselves to serve others, Christ is serving them through us. To appreciate that when we don’t try to become great and powerful, Christ makes us truly great and powerful in Him. We simply believe in the God who made Himself the last of all, the servant of all, that He might make us first of all – kings and queens, coheirs with Him of the glory of the heavenly Father.

Jesus took a little child into His arms and said to the disciples, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

The radical nature of Jesus’ words is hidden in this simple statement He made about children. In Jesus’ day, children were largely unseen and unheard. It was not that they were not valued, but that they were valued about what they would become and not valued by what they were. Today we live in a world that is even more unfriendly to children. There has been a holocaust among our children for over four decades. Parents use their children as pawns in their chess game in the courts. Parents are consumed with their careers and desires and personal happiness, and the kids are secondary. Children are kept busy with sports and entertained by television so that parents do not actually spend time conversing and communicating with their own kids. Children often grow up strangers within their own homes.  

How do you demonstrate the humility of a child? You can begin by taking care of God’s children – your children. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. Put your wife on a pedestal. Make your desires secondary to those of your wife. Serve her the way Christ served us. Your children will see that love. They will experience that love. Then they will demonstrate that love.

Mothers, respect your husbands the way the Church respects Christ. Build him up. Encourage him. Speak well of him – to his face, to your children, among your friends. Submit your desires to the will of the leader in your home. Serve him the way the Church serves Christ. Your children will see that respect. They will experience that respect. Then they will demonstrate that respect.

Together, raise your children in God’s Word. Train them from little on so that when they are older they will not turn from that Word implanted in their hearts. Naaman’s servant girl shared a miraculous message with her master. Miriam kept her younger brother safe while he was floating in a reed basket down the Nile River. Joseph remained respectful to Potiphar as a teenager sold into his employ. The little boy gave his lunch basket to the Son of God. All of these children must have had God’s Word implanted in their hearts by their parents so that when the time came, they demonstrated humility in their godly service to others.

None of you will become famous or great in the eyes of the world by loving her wife or respecting your husband or teaching God’s Word to your children. But that’s OK. You will be an unsung hero to your children. You will be humble before the Lord and therefore great in the kingdom of God. You will be welcomed to sit on the lap of Jesus. To be the greatest is to be the servant of all. We learn that from an anonymous servant girl. Amen.