A Parable about Humility
Luke 14:7 says,
7 And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table; saying to them…
It appears that Jesus’ act of healing the man on the Sabbath in the house of the Pharisee leader did not result in His expulsion from the house. We are not told if His divine court ruling was accepted, but it had at least put them to silence. One would hope that they would ponder this legal issue.
Meanwhile, the invited guests began to grab the seats of honor next to the host. Perhaps they were doing this while Jesus was busy healing the sick man. There is little doubt that Jesus was supposed to be the guest of honor and that the host would seat Jesus next to him. So whoever had taken that seat was destined to be sent to the other end of the table in humiliation. So Jesus says in Luke 14:8, 9,
8 When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both shall come and say to him, “Give place to this man,” and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place.
It seems unlikely that the Pharisee’s dinner was a wedding feast. Since this was said to be a “parable,” it is more likely that Jesus spoke more hypothetically and put the setting into a wedding feast. Nonetheless, the meaning would have been clear, because an inappropriate person had presumed to take the place of honor. Jesus continues,
10 But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.
This is a lesson in humility. Humility does not lay claim to a position of honor, or to an honorable calling, but allows God to establish it and also allows men to recognize it for themselves. Prov. 18:12 says, “humility goes before honor.” Likewise, Paul tells us in Rom. 12:3 that we should not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. We need to have a realistic view of ourselves and to know our hearts.
Such knowledge will always give us good reason to be humble. Yet this must also be balanced by a knowledge of the grace of God in order to prevent us from wallowing in self-pity or in perpetual guilt. We must know that God has imputed us righteous, calling what is not as though it were (Rom. 4:17, KJV). Guilt is destructive, because it does not recognize this imputation of righteousness. Humility, however, is constructive, because it recognizes the astonishing plan of God to call what is not as though it were.
Hence, in reading the law and understanding the character of God, we are not paralyzed by our unrighteousness, but rather we can glorify the wisdom of God in making provision for us at the start of our walk with Him, while we are yet in an unrighteous state. It is in recognizing the vast contrast between the divine nature and human nature that we have no trouble being humble. It is in recognizing the wisdom of God that we can walk with boldness and confidence in spite of ourselves. We recognize that the source of our righteousness is in Him, not in ourselves.
The Fruit of the Kingdom
In the flow of Luke’s narrative, the gospel writer chose to place this story (and others) here to show the reader the fruit of the Kingdom that is acceptable to God. By this fruit they would distinguish themselves from those who were fruitless and thereby avoid the divine judgment yet to come.
This first story is about humility, the second story is about unconditional love, the third is about faith, and the final series of stories (at the end of the chapter) speak of wisdom. These are the sweetest fruit found in the Kingdom of God. One may search for other virtues as well, but these are the ones that Luke included in his narrative.
As for the moral of the story in Luke 14:11, Jesus used this on at least two other occasions when He saw the need. This saying is found in Luke 18:14 and Matthew 23:12. Matthew 23:12 is part of a series of sayings and teachings to summarize Jesus’ sermon to the multitude. Jesus’ statement about humility is given with no parable to illustrate it.
Jesus’ Parable in Luke 18
In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus told a parable about the difference between a Pharisee and a tax-gatherer.
11 The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people; swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.”
Oh, glory to God! He has made me to be righteous! Am I not a good example of the success of God in creating such a one as I?
13 But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”
This man had heard the law of God and saw that the character of God was vastly different from his own human nature. The reading of the law broke his heart and caused him to be humble. By contrast, the Pharisee read the law and thought to himself, “I am satisfied that I have kept it fully. What a wonderful person God has created me to be! Is God not great and powerful, and am I not proof of this?”
I have seen much pseudo-humility over the years, where men pretend to glorify God when it is really about exalting themselves. Such people find it necessary to inform others of their humility. They proclaim their worthiness and then take the honored seat at God’s table. The truly humble one is pained by the knowledge that he has reason to be humble. So Jesus says of the tax-gatherer in Luke 18:14,
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.
This parable thus concludes with the same instruction as seen in Luke 14:7-11. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled by others or by God Himself. Those who humble themselves will be exalted by God.
Humbling by Tests and by Manna
I have found that God is less concerned about the sinful things we have done as He is about our heart of pride. Pride puts the hardness in one’s stony heart. This is illustrated in the two jars in Jeremiah 18 and 19. But if one is humble, the heart is soft and pliable, and God changes it into His image. In fact, this was the fruit that God looked for in the Israelites under Moses. Deut. 8:2, 3 says,
2 And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
God’s tests usually humble us, because they are designed to show us how little we have learned of the character of Christ. Likewise, the manna (revelation) that feeds us is also designed to make us humble. I have found that the manna from day to day reveals only a small portion of His mind and will, and that we must live by every word in order to get the big picture in the end. If we miss the pieces along the way, we will find ourselves with only half a picture when we need it most.
This has become apparent every time we are led to engage in a prayer campaign, for we find that many revelations from the past suddenly come together to give us understanding and to tell us how and when to do the present work. For example, a prayer campaign in 2014 drew from “manna” that God gave us in 1984, 2008, and 2011-2013. The “every word” principle again became important.
God “humbles” us by manna, in that each revelation is incomplete in the big picture. Seldom—if ever—does any single revelation reveal what God really intends to do in the end. Though a revelation may be complete in its first application, it usually has broader implications that are only revealed later when they may be tied to other revelations.
I have found that God leads us blindly by piecemeal revelation, so that when the picture finally comes together, we will know that it was not our own fleshly revelation. If we had known the complete revelation from the start, we might have opportunity to craft it by our own fleshly imagination. But when we are led by the Spirit one step at a time, not knowing where God is leading us, our flesh is “humbled,” because it has no reason to be proud of its own wisdom.
A.W. Tozer said that “humility is the root of all grace.” He was right.
Humbling and Affliction
The Greek word tapeinoo means “to make low” and appears to be contrasted with exaltation in this verse. The Hebrew equivalent is anah, “to afflict, depress, make low.” This idea of affliction is expressed in Gen. 15:13, where God tells Abraham his seed would be “afflicted” four hundred years. So we see also in Exodus 1:11 that Pharaoh set taskmasters over Israel to “afflict” them.
The Day of Atonement was also a day of fasting in which they were to “afflict” their souls (Lev. 23:27). The idea that is that humility is a condition where men’s souls are brought low, where men do not esteem themselves greater than they ought to think, especially in answering or responding to other people in conversation. For this reason the same word is translated “answer,” such as we see in Gen. 18:27,
27 And Abraham answered [anah] and said [amar], “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.”
The Hebraism, “answered and said,” seems redundant to us, but answering conveys humility, and saying conveys speaking. Together, the phrase appears to convey the idea of speaking with humility. Since amar by itself can convey the idea of speaking proudly or boastfully, perhaps the addition of anah is necessary to show that the response was not meant to be boastful.
One’s soul (carnal mind) is naturally self-centered and can therefore exalt itself easily. It needs to be afflicted, either by ourselves or by God, who sends circumstances to “afflict” us into an attitude of humility. Apparently, this was God’s purpose in sending Israel to Egypt, and He used Pharaoh to humble them. Even in the wilderness, God humbled Israel through many afflictions, knowing that they needed it.
One of the purposes of such affliction was to show them what it means to be an alien in a foreign land that was ruled by not-so-humble pharaohs. Hence, Israel was to treat aliens with respect and love with impartial justice. This shows up in the law of equal weights and measures, which begins in Lev. 19:33, 34,
33 When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
God knew that the carnal mind tended to exalt itself above aliens. Nationalism is often based upon such pride, causing men to mistreat or despise those who are not “one of us” in their way of thinking. Such pride causes men to be partial in judgment. Such carnal minds must be “afflicted” in order to obtain humility that is commanded in the law. When the law seems to make men proud, it is only because they have not understood the law by the Spirit.