Obedience, The Act of Humility

A research paper titled “The Religiosity of Mormon Men and Women through the Life Cycle” provides a table which compares how men and women rank themselves on several Christian virtues. The virtue men rank themselves lowest on is being humble. For women it’s patience, yet humility is a very close second. Sadly humility is the primary virtue of a saint. Pride (the opposite of humility) “is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others.” Now I don’t know whether the students polled in this survey were just trying to display humility by saying they weren’t humble, but I know for myself it is definitely an area in which I need improvement.

When trying to master a virtue, it is useful to find a role model of that virtue. This not only helps you believe it is possible to master that virtue, but a role model’s example also often provides clues about how mastery is achieved. In my search for a role model for humility, I found it somewhat difficult to think of many examples of humble persons besides Jesus. But even when considering Jesus, can you think of a defining instance where he showed humility? The opposite might be argued in that the Pharisees often accused him of being arrogantly blasphemous because he claimed to be the son of God. You might cite the case where he was approached by a man calling him “Good Master”, where Jesus retorts, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” I suppose that is a decent example, but I wanted to find more of an active example of humility.

After thinking about it for awhile, I realized the action of humility is obedience. There is definitely a connection between the two. The 1st commandment of the Ten Commandments given to Moses was “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” When asked “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” He also said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Putting these ideas together, the 1st commandment both of Moses and Christ is to love God, which is expressed by obedience to God. Not only does God require obedience, but he requires exclusive obedience. As Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Interestingly, each of us has his or her own will which is another master other than God. Jesus expressed it like this, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it well in his sermon “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father” when he stated, “the submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. … It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”

When we realize that acts of obedience to God are acts of humility, we find that many characters in the scriptures show by their works their humility. When Abel made an acceptable sacrifice to God, it was due to humility. Cain on the other hand had a better way of doing things and although he made a sacrifice, it wasn’t the sacrifice God asked for and therefore he wasn’t blessed like his brother Abel. Not being blessed, he fell into the sin of coveting what Abel had and killed him to obtain it.

In a similar vein, when Saul was commanded by God to “utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites,” Saul rationalized that this was a bit too much. After all the Amalekites had some awfully good cows. Maybe he could just kill the Amalekites and keep their cows. If he offered a sacrifice of those cows to God, surely God would be content with his offering. Again, God could not tolerate such an act of disobedience, so he sent his prophet Samuel to Saul. Samuel rebuked Saul in saying, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” For his rebellion Saul was stripped of the kingship which God had given him.

Abraham is yet another fine example of obedience. When God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham questioned God at first, because God seemed to be contradicting a former commandment (“Thou shalt not kill“). However, Abraham realized that whatever God now commands should be obeyed and so he went about the task of sacrificing his son. Could you be that obedient? Could I? Abraham had waited a very long time for a son. Isaac was his most prized possession. Ultimately God spared him this sacrifice, but Abraham’s willingness to obey was certainly tested. The fact that’s not as well known in this story is that Isaac was a grown man, fully aware of his father’s intent to sacrifice him. So this was not just a test of Abraham’s obedience, but of Isaac’s as well. Would you or I be willing to literally give up our lives in such a fashion to obey God?

The atonement of Christ was the literal fulfillment of the sacrifice which the story of Abraham and Isaac symbolized. In the ultimate act of humility, Christ willingly gave up his life in obedience to God’s command. If Jesus was married, as evidence indicates he was, can you imagine how much more difficult that made the task of leaving his family? As Latter-day Saints, we commit in the temple to be willing to do this very thing and we are reminded by it every time we take the sacrament of our Lord. Do we fully comprehend what we’ve covenanted to do?

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