The encounter between Elizabeth and Mary is more than a social meeting between cousins. Yes, they were both expecting a miraculously conceived baby, but there is more. This encounter affords us a vivid example of what it means to be humble. In Luke 1, Elizabeth demonstrates tremendous humility, which glorifies God.
Unlike pride, humility makes much of God and less of the self. Therefore we would do well to observe Elizabeth and even seek to emulate her. After all, our goal – in all that we are, say, and do – is also to glorify God by making much of Christ.
Unlike pride, humility makes much of God and less of the self. Therefore we would do well to observe Elizabeth
Let me quote a few verses from Luke’s Gospel. “When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?'” (Luke 1:41-43).
Pride: The Great Enemy Of Humility
The more I have reflected on this passage, the more I have been struck by its portrayal of the character of true humility. If you struggle with pride, as sometimes I do, these verses come right at you. For they clearly spell out what true humility looks like. Richard Baxter refers to pride as “one of our most heinous and palpable sins”.
Pride is an orientation that assumes that everything revolves around us
Pride is an unwarranted feeling of self-sufficiency and self-importance in relation to God and others. Proud people tend to overestimate or exaggerate their worth. More than this they are often ostentatious, making sure their abilities do not go unnoticed. They trust in their own wisdom and power rather than the grace of God. By contrast, humility is a sober and honest estimation of our self importance, relative to God and others (Romans 12:3).
You know what? There are subtle moments when I am preoccupied with myself. My mind tells me: ‘People ought to recognise and acknowledge your accomplishments.’ In these moments I am tempted to rehearse all my successes. I long to show people that I am worth something. You see, pride is an orientation that assumes that everything revolves around us. But Elizabeth’s words and response to Mary provide an excellent example of a truly humble disposition.
Learning Humility From Elizabeth
When her younger cousin Mary visited her, Elizabeth was six months pregnant. We read that her unborn baby leapt in the womb at Mary’s greeting. Filled with the Spirit, Elizabeth says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Do you see the remarkable humility of Elizabeth? When Mary shows up at her doorstep, she has nothing to say about herself. She does not draw attention to herself, or the significance of her own unborn child.
When Mary shows up at her doorstep, she has nothing to say about herself
An angel had come to her husband months earlier and told him that his wife would be the mother of the forerunner to the Messiah (Luke 1:13-17). She and her husband would be parents in their old age. This was in spite of Elizabeth being barren (Luke 1:7). In the person of her son, the great prophecies of the Old Testament were going to be fulfilled. Her son would prepare the way for the Messiah. Despite her miraculous conception and the divine expectation surrounding her son, Elizabeth draws no attention to herself.
Humility Magnifies God
Elizabeth’s words are directed to Mary; not herself. She also looks beyond Mary to the Messiah. “Blessed are you among women.” She could have said, ‘Mary, let me tell you the breathtaking news of how I’m going to be used of the Lord!’ But, for Elizabeth, it’s all about Jesus. ‘Blessed are you among women, Mary, because you’re going to bear the Messiah. You’re going to be the mother of my Lord.’ In her humility, Elizabeth does not demand any attention. She gladly celebrates Mary’s pregnancy. She makes much of Christ.
We even turn situations explicitly designed to make much of Christ into platforms for ourselves
A Family Trait?
As a preacher, a certain temptation is never far from my own heart. What temptation? After delivering what I know to be a good sermon, I am tempted to hear what people think about my sermon rather than what they think about Christ. We do this sort of thing throughout our lives. We even turn situations explicitly designed to make much of Christ into platforms for ourselves.
Elizabeth is not envious of her younger cousin, Mary. She does not for a second consider herself – older, more mature and perhaps more godly – as the one who should have been given the honour to give birth to the Messiah. No. She is content with God’s gift to her. And she is genuinely happy for Mary.
She is content with God’s gift to her. And she is genuinely happy for Mary
It struck me, as I was reading this passage, that Elizabeth’s son was just like his mother. Do you remember John the Baptist’s word? “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). John very likely learnt humility from his mother, Elizabeth. This latter self-denial, the focus on Christ displayed in his ministry, is evident in the heart of Elizabeth!
Inspired To Resist Pride
When I sit down in my study to pray and prepare my next sermon, I must ask myself: What is it that most captures my heart and my mind? Do I long to magnify Christ? Or am I eager to maintain my reputation as a good expositor? We can ask similar questions about much of our lives. What is it that we hope will come from our efforts and our excellence? Who do we think deserves recognition for our achievements?
The Bible’s answer to our fallen self-obsession is a great work of grace in the gospel that creates a worshipful fixation and focus upon God
My friends, we could learn something from Elizabeth. For many of us, life is: “all about me…all about mine…let me tell you about me…let me tell you what I’ve done.” Not so with Elizabeth. Nor her son. For both of them made much of God’s Son. Their focus is on Jesus. All Elizabeth’s encouragement is to Mary. What an example of humility she is to us. The Bible’s answer to our fallen self-obsession is a great work of grace in the gospel that creates a worshipful fixation and focus upon God.