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What does it mean that those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:12)?

those who humble themselves will be exalted

The Jewish teachers and religious leaders of Jesus’ day—the scribes and Pharisees—exhibited many undesirable traits. Chief among them were pride and hypocrisy. In Matthew 23:1–12, Jesus warns His followers not to imitate their despicable behavior, concluding with these words: “The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11–12, NLT).

According to the paradoxical principles of God’s kingdom, the greatest person is the one willing to stoop to the lowest place and serve others (see Matthew 20:24–28). The Pharisees tried to prove their worth by lifting themselves above everyone else. But the Lord’s faithful servants don’t need to exalt themselves. They have nothing to prove. Instead, they humble themselves before God and are filled with His grace, trusting that God exalts the humble (James 4:6, 10).

God commands His people to “walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8; see also Exodus 10:3; Isaiah 57:15; Zephaniah 2:3; Luke 14:9–11; 1 Peter 3:8) and to “be completely humble” (Ephesians 4:2; see also Colossians 3:12; James 3:13). The Lord declares, “I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2, NLT). The Beatitudes echo with reminders that God exalts the humble (see Matthew 5:3–12).

Godly leadership is always marked by humility. Peter taught, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5–6, ESV). The Bible consistently characterizes people deserving of high positions as those with an attitude of unassuming servanthood (Proverbs 25:6–7; 2 Samuel 7:8; 1 Kings 14:7; Luke 1:52).

One day, the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). The Lord answered, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3–4; see also Matthew 19:14). Humility is linked with repentance and salvation (see 2 Kings 22:19; 2 Chronicles 7:14; 12:6–7; 12; 30:11; 33:12,19; 34:27).

Jesus Christ gave us the supreme example of humble, obedient submission to the Father: “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6–11, NLT). God the Son humbled Himself and became a human. He selflessly served others, ultimately sacrificing His life to save us (Matthew 20:26–28). And God exalted Him to the highest place of honor.

Just as “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18), “humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 15:33). The proud are brought low, but God exalts the humble.

True greatness in the eyes of God is letting ourselves “become less and less” and Him “become “greater and greater” (John 3:30, NLT). It means becoming like Jesus, who stooped down to wash the disciples’ feet (John 13:4–17). God will surely humble us if we try to exalt ourselves as the scribes and Pharisees did. But if we voluntarily humble ourselves by avoiding the limelight and serving others, God will exalt us in His time.

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What does it mean that those who humble themselves will be exalted (Matthew 23:12)?
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This page last updated: December 18, 2023