As I’ve gotten to know more pastors and have formed closer relationships with them, I’ve been able to speak to them about a lot of different things. One thing that may sound silly that I’m always interested in talking to pastors about is how they handle compliments. If you’ve ever tried to praise the pastor for a great message they preached, you’ve probably experienced that slightly awkward interaction. They’ll say something like “All glory to God” or “I’m just the messenger”. Honestly, before I started teaching and preaching regularly, these responses annoyed me. I understand that a great message comes first and foremost from God, I’m not trying to take away from that, I just want them to know they did a great job. And yet time and time again I’d get “Well, amen, it was all the Lord” or “I just preach what God tells me to.”
This extreme resistance at being praised or honored used to baffle me but I definitely understand it a little better these days. It’s almost instinctual, like a man of God simply can’t compute what to do when someone tries to praise them for a message or a lesson that God gave them. My natural awkwardness combined with this spiritually awkward situation has already led me to some embarrassing moments. A church elder praised some of my recent teachings and in a moment of complete confusion and failure I half shrugged and said “oooookay?” (not sure I’ll ever live that one down, by the way). After preaching to the young adults at my church last week I responded to a compliment by saying “I just read a bunch of the Bible to you.” Which again, is a clearly awkward response. Sometimes I get it right and say things like “Thank you, God gave me a good one this week” or “I appreciate it, it’s all God”, but I’ve come to believe that being praised or honored for carrying out God’s will is always going to be a little awkward.
That’s all a long intro to the part of Luke I want to focus on today, as Jesus used a dinner to illustrate how to properly handle being honored. It’s a welcome lesson as we live out a faith that so heavily emphasizes our need to be humble and to be the servant of all those around us.
Luke 14:7-11 When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: 8 “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? 9 The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table! 10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests.11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
You know, this is just a random thought, but I don’t think Jesus gets enough credit for how clever he is. If you really think about what he just said, it’s a pretty clever plan. It’s social protection and spiritual direction, a way to avoid embarrassment while also avoiding pride. You look at verse 11 and Jesus sums up the story with such a profound and direct statement. “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I’ve really been on a serious kick lately about something when it comes to the Bible. We need to start paying much closer attention to the Bible when it tells us these if/when statements. Some of the Bible takes intense study and meditation before you find how to relate it to your life, and then we have some of it that clearly states “IF you do this, then I WILL do that”. These are guarantees, clearly spelled out so that even us dense humans can identify and claim them. And Jesus is offering one up right here and now, both a warning and a promise, exalt yourself and you will be humbled; humble yourself and you will be exalted. So what is the key to being exalted? Humble yourself. Easy as that.
There are two more very important things that I take away from this lesson. First is this. God is the one who lifts us up and honors us. Every acclaim and award of man is garbage compared to one single moment of being honored by God. I know that in his story, Jesus is talking about people and having other people honor you, but this verse translates into the heavenly as well. I will gladly position myself at the back of every earthly line because doing so moves me forward in the eyes of heaven. We need to start attaching more value to the eternal and less on the temporary of this world. There needs to be such a powerful hunger for the things of God inside of us that we resist all promotion unless we are certain that promotion is blessed and of God. Jesus tells us in these verses to leave exaltation up to others, to focus on being who He called you to be and not where we’re going to sit or how much attention we get or how often someone pats us on the back and tells us how great we are. 1 Samuel 2:30 says that God honors those who honor Him, so guess what my focus is going to be on in life? I’m just going to honor God and watch Him stay true to His word and honor me in return. There’s no need for any extra effort or seeking out of promotion or recognition, God’s got that His way, in His timing.
The second and final thing that I want to mention about these verses is the fact that Jesus doesn’t say to deny the honor if it’s presented to you. Present yourself correctly, enter into every situation with the correct humble heart, and if something happens and you are exalted or honored, Jesus in no way says to turn that down. God loves us, and He knows that encouragement and recognition go a long way toward making us feel valued. If you find yourself being recognized and honored in some way, there’s nothing wrong with accepting it. Embrace it and enjoy it.
I don’t want anything that God doesn’t directly bring into my life. We live in a society so obsessed with status, with social media “likes”, with the number of followers. We used to just be slaves to wealth, but now that fame is possible for ordinary people through social media we are slaves to that as well. So many people spend so much time trying to exalt themselves and position themselves to be praised and adored on social media, especially people from my generation and those younger. We’re living opposite of how Jesus told us to live. Humble yourself. Sit at the far end of the table, as far from the spotlight as possible. If and when Jesus needs you or wants you at the head of the table, he’ll get you there. In the meantime, who’s to say that there’s not important and meaningful work to be done at the far end of the table, far from the limelight?
I love all of you. I’m a big fan of new weeks in large part because it means getting back to this Bible blog. I hope everyone is having a blessed day so far!
If you need prayer for anything or just need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org