Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. (John 8:54-55)
The context of this passage extends back to John 8:12 and Jesus’ assertion that he is the light of the world. The Pharisees immediately object that it is not legal for one to bear witness about himself. As with the entire gospel, this portion is focused on the identity of Jesus. Who is this man? Seven times in verses 12-58 Jesus provocatively uses “I am” to describe himself (8:12, 18, 23 (2x), 24, 28, 58); culminating in the inciting declaration, “Before Abraham was, I am.” At this, his enemies were prepared to commit murder within the temple precincts (8:59).
As Jesus revealed aspects of his true nature, he also gave an important lesson on humility. “If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.”
1. Humility does not avoid conflict at all costs. Humility is not weak-kneed wishy-washy spineless surrender. Here is Jesus, celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles at the temple. Certainly discretion alone would dictate that this is not to place to make a scene. While it might be going a bit too far to state that Jesus purposefully instigated the confrontation, calling the Pharisees sons of the devil did little to diffuse the situation. Jesus did not back down from the enemies of God.
2. The humble person does not lie about himself. It would not be humble of Leonardo to say he just liked to doodle; of Shakespeare to say he just got a lucky break; of Einstein to profess having a decent idea or two. There was no “aw shucks, who me?” in Jesus. Indeed, if there were any, he would not have been; he could not have been; who he claimed to be. One cannot claim equality with God one moment, and then back away from such statements the next.
3. The humble person does not lie about others. In these verses Jesus says of the Pharisees: they judge according to the flesh (15); they do not know God (19); they would die in their sin (21); they were from below (23); that his word found no place in them (37); that their father is the devil (44); that they are not of God (47); and that they were liars (55).
4. Humility is not arrogant. Amazingly, even in the midst of radical claims about himself and scathing descriptions of his adversaries, Jesus never comes off as arrogant. How could this be? How could he be so certain of himself and justified in criticizing others, and yet never appear proud, boastful, snobbish?
5. Humility is submissive. Jesus did have a true estimation of himself and who he was: the servant of the Lord. Jesus was sent by the Father (16); witnessed to by the Father (18); declared what the Father said (26); did nothing on his own authority but spoke what the Father taught (28); obeyed the Father (29); honored his Father (49); did not seek his own glory (50); and kept his Father’s word (55). In short, Jesus committed his soul to the One who judges righteously. The right he claimed was the right to speak the truth about himself. Jesus lived in obedience to God: that is humility.