“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
If there is one thing American society needs in particular, it is humility. (A warning: this is not only a post about the words of Christ, it is also thick with sports talk – at least, the first part).
For Christmas this year, my wife got me a framed picture of one of my childhood heroes: Walter Payton.
Not everything about Payton’s life was admirable, but certainly as a football player, there was none like him. And one thing that I personally appreciated was that he didn’t showboat on the field.
Today’s sport – more than ever – is full of egomania. Self-aggrandizement is celebrated. It is encouraged. At almost any sporting event, you can expect to see displays of shameless, self-proclaiming chest-thumps from one end of the field or court to the next. And it is infectious. My son played football last year and we saw it even at the youth level. It is an ugly thing to allow children to do.
We’ve somehow gone from a society that appreciated humility, to one that revels in acute acts of arrogance. As an American, I appreciate that one the current Republican presidential candidates seems to speak candidly, rather than where the donor money leads; however, the arrogance that accompanies it is “uglier than homemade sin,” as one lady I knew used to say. That same candidate had the arrogance to say that asking for God’s forgiveness was something that never really crossed his mind. Wow. Am I supposed to celebrate that?
How ironic (among other words) arrogance is, especially in team sports, where one person’s effort is only a small part (in football, 1/11) of the overall achievement. There is no one person on a football field who can take on the entire opposing team. There is no running back who can utilize his physical talent without a center to snap the ball, a quarterback to hand it off, and eight other people to block the opposing side – not to mention an entire coaching staff, training and scheming and studying, and usually calling the plays. So why is he all alone in the end zone thumping his chest, urging the crowd to take notice? He has only made use of all the benefits with which he has been surrounded. And I would say the sum total of those benefits are actually much greater than his individual accomplishment. And to boot, there’s a good chance that you’re going to have to eat a little crow before long, and then all that showboating just looks, well, stupid.
By the way, which of us is not playing a “team sport,” of some kind? Are we not all parts of the whole? Is it not the case that the very words I now write are but a collection of graces that have been heaped upon me by my fellow men, and my God?
As a football player, Walter Payton understood this deeply. From a young age, he decided that his work would do all the talking. And he out-worked pretty much everyone else.
That’s why footballs were (almost) always non-chalantly tossed to the referee after touchdowns, and chest-thumping, end-zone cheers to self were firmly supplanted by high-fives, given to his offensive linemen.
That’s also why, even though his great record was eclipsed by Emmit Smith, he is still considered – by Jim Brown and Emmit Smith – to be the greatest to ever play the game.
If you think all this is too shallow for biblical application, that’s fine. But there is tremendous parallel with all of this in the words of Christ. In a statement that hearkens back to Proverbs 25:6-7, Jesus illustrated this same thing, except in the setting of a wedding feast. He said:
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you (Luke 14:8-10, ESV, emp. added).
Then, in verse 11: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The need for encouragement, appreciation, a positive sense of self-worth – these are all perfectly human. We all need this at times. But sometimes – whether it be football, or any other realm of life – people are willing to do two unhealthy things (if not both):
(1) seek fulfillment in wrong places, or
(2) demand it by severe ego-centrism – that is, drawing undue attention to self.
But the people of God are not so. They do not self-promote. They do not seek their self-worth from those in the world. They do not seek glory from men. They wait patiently for, and find glory in, the Lord’s approval.
As Peter learned, and wrote, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).