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The Power of Being Small

There is a very powerful, quite underappreciated, and under-comprehended verse in James.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. (James 1:9-10)

In Roman culture, being poor or being a slave was looked down upon—even more so than today. Having wealth, influence, and honor was celebrated. And you were encouraged to flaunt such power. If you were a patron (you helped those of lower status), those “clients,” as they were called, would pay you back by singing your praises in public.

There was something called the cursus honorum (the race of honors), it was a social ladder upon which those of prominence, whether in military or politics, would climb to increase their status. The idea of humbling yourself was unheard of in the Greco-Roman world. None of the Greek philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, or Socrates, spoke of the virtue of humility.

We even see this in the Hebrew world of that day. When Jesus explains how hard it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God—(it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle) his disciples did not respond “But for those of us who are humble, it will be much easier.” No, it says, “The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26) In other words, “If rich people will have difficulty entering the Kingdom of God, there is no hope for us!”

We also see the disciples, without any shame, competing for the highest positions of authority in Yeshua’s future kingdom. This was the normative mentality of the day. More than once, Jesus explains that a leader is to be a servant. I cannot even begin to expound on how backward this must’ve sounded to his disciples. When James encourages believers who find themselves in humble situations to see themselves in a high position, it is revolutionary. And of course, it is built on the theology of his older brother Yeshua.

A wrong understanding of humility

Sometimes we present humility as a necessary negative on the road to power. There is no question that God promises honor to those who humble themselves. But once God raises that person up, are they to forsake humility for pride? Of course not. Referring to Yeshua’s words: “Whoever wishes to be great, must become your servant,” Dr. Chris Green says, “Now, if you hold to the logic of master and slave, that sounds like a technique: You want to be great tomorrow? Serve today. Start out by being a slave, and God will promote you.”[1] By this logic, are we seeking to become a master over slaves? Or is Jesus saying that the power is in seeing yourself as a slave? He teaches that the key to being a great leader is to see yourself as a servant. But there’s nothing in the teaching that would lead us to believe that this servant mentality is temporary. In fact, James tells us that it is a position of strength, not weakness.

As a young youth pastor, I thought I had arrived. I had served other leaders, and now it was my time to be served. As I expressed this to my youth, several parents took issue with me. I quickly saw the error of my ways and repented to the youth group. There is no arrival when it comes to humility. We simply continue to grow in humility, and thereby grow in spiritual strength. I have both met megachurch pastors who demand to be treated like kings, and others who continue to live a humble life despite their success. I believe that Yeshua would wash our feet today, just as he did the disciples in John 13.

Think about it this way, Yeshua came from heaven with a holy task. Surely, he would take the most powerful position he could in order to fulfill his goal of world redemption by purchasing the souls of men through his death. Of all the different ways he could have entered into this world, he chose the humblest of circumstances. He comes to earth as a helpless baby, born without the help of a doctor or midwife, in secret, and placed in a feeding trough (manger), suggesting that he was amongst animals.

You see, he understood something that we don't. It's not just that he was humble, but he understood that the place of power and strength is not in power and strength but in humility. That's what James is saying. Or let me tell you what he's not saying, “you poor humble people, you have such a hard life...but in your miserable life you can find God.” What he's actually saying is this, “Though culture would tell you that you're of little value because of your low position, it is in that low position that you will find power. In God's eyes, there is great power in lowliness.” In fact, finding power without humility has destroyed more than a few ministers.

Francis of Assisi

We can see this in the life of Francis, who founded the Franciscan Order. “Francis was the son of a wealthy merchant in the Umbrian town of Assisi, who was captivated by the vision of personal poverty that he found in the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.”[2] Francis renounced his fortunes and lived for others, attracting a great following. Through his poverty, he found power.

Although he was unskilled in preaching, Francis enjoyed an abundant anointing of the Holy Spirit. As a result, the Spirit taught him, and his words were full of spiritual power and sound teaching, and those around him realized that the Holy Spirit had come to rest upon him. Bonaventure tells us that many miracles accompanied his preaching.[3]

William Seymour

How ironic that just a few years after slavery, when racism was still the norm, God chose a one-eyed black man whose name is “see-more,” to birth the greatest revival since the early church. William Seymour was so hungry for God that he sat outside the classroom while a professing White supremacist minister, Charles Parham, taught on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Seymour headed to Los Angeles and continued to preach on a second blessing, a baptism of the Holy Spirit after salvation. And one day it came, and the world has never been the same. Today there are over 600 million Pentecostals and Charismatics that trace their roots back to Azusa Street in Los Angeles.

Seymour took pride in his low position, as opposed to demanding a higher position. I am not sure I could have done that. I wonder what would happen today if believers would stop fighting for their rights and seek God for a greater outpouring of power? Would we see a revival like at Azusa Street? Peter and John and the apostles were bold before the Sanhedrin, but they never fought for their rights (not that they had many in 1st century Judea), and God poured out power.

Being a master is too small for God

Let's go back to my friend Dr. Chris Green. This is a very powerful revelation he’s going to share.

When in Philippians 2, we're told that Jesus comes among us as the Son who has intimacy with the Father; He doesn't cling to it but he empties himself into human life. He pours himself… takes on the form of a human being, takes on the form of a slave. We're not being told that God loves us so much, he's willing to humiliate himself for us. We're not being told that God, even though he's a master, is willing to disguise himself as a slave. What we're being told is that the fullness of God can only come among us in the form of a slave because the form of a master is too small for God… There is no one on earth God is less like than the person with power. [4]

Yeshua comes as a slave because he understands that that is the most powerful position. Yes, he will return as a king, but he never stops being a servant…and neither should we.

[1] Chris Green, “God is not a Master,” YouTube, October 17th, 2021, 19:30,

[2] McGrath, Alister E.. Christian History (p. 101). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

[3] Burgess, Stanley M.. The Holy Spirit: Medieval Roman Catholic and Reformation Traditions (Kindle Locations 1336-1339). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Green, “God is not a Master,” 20:30

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Peter Wollensack
Peter Wollensack
03 ago 2023

I very much appreciate your refreshing insights concerning humility. To balance out what you've written just a teeny bit, I'd like to point to just one scripture: John 15:15 ( "I no longer call you servants [slaves] ...but now I call you friends..."). With that said, I agree that your emphasis on the necessity of having a humble spirit is much needed -- especially in the age of megachurches and pastors who operate more on the basis of hype than anointing.

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