This past weekend, I met with about 30 North Korean defectors who had been in South Korea for less than a year. They were all different ages and had varying levels of education and experience in the workplace. But almost all of the North Koreans I talked with were very humble and willing to learn whatever I had to teach them.
This makes a lot of sense, considering their difficult lives in North Korea and harrowing thousand-mile journeys to make it South Korea. And when they arrive in South Korea, they realize how much they need to learn and how much they are dependent on others in order to be successful in a modern society.
But generally speaking, after North Koreans live in South Korea a little while, their attitudes begin to change. They get a sizable financial package from the government and churches pay them good money to attend their services. The humble and teachable attitude they once exhibited begins to fade away.
I don’t think North Koreans are any better or any worse than the rest of us. I fear that I would react in a similar way. As sinful human beings, the more things we get, the more we think we actually deserve them. As pride and arrogance bubble up in our lives, the less grateful we become.
The disciples (and a certain mother of the sons of Zebedee) also reacted in a similar way. The disciples had undoubtedly seen many miracles and had participated with Jesus in many of them. They saw their master had not only fed the five thousand, (Matthew 14:13-21) but had even been transfigured so that his face literally shone like the sun (Matthew 17). It was only (sinfully) natural that this certain mother would want to guarantee her sons’ place of importance in the Kingdom of God. And it was only sinfully natural that the other disciples would become upset . . . because they wanted to be important in the Kingdom of God as well!
That’s why the attitude that we see Jesus portray in John 13 is simply amazing. Verses 3 & 4 say,
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.
What a contrast to how we often react when we get power and money! Jesus responds to the knowledge of his power and his destination by washing the grimy, smelly feet of each of his disciples. Truthfully, I would have responded by making the disciples wash my own feet, but Jesus took on the role of a servant by choosing an act of service that would normally be done by someone of a much lower social status. It’s obvious by the response of Peter in verse 8 that Peter is appalled by the thought of Jesus washing his feet!
And this wasn’t an isolated incident – this was an example was how Jesus lived his whole earthly life and ultimately how Jesus died!
The apostle Paul understood this struggle as well, because he encouraged the Philippian church to have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Or as Robertson’s Word Pictures says it, “Keep on thinking this in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”
We should not take our present humility for granted. It will not last. Success, money, and power have a way of drawing our focus away from Jesus. We need to keep looking into the life and mind of Christ to ensure that no matter what life situation we find ourselves in, especially the good ones, we respond with humility and a willingness to serve.