For more than thirty years I’ve hauled trash to the Grassy Hill dumpsters. Remember those early dumpsters? Those with sliding metal doors, you didn’t have to lift your trash over the top; you simply pitched it through the square opening.
I recall seeing dogs loitering around those green boxes, especially — a white and brown beagle-type dog. He was too busy to pay me any notice; his focus was on scrounging and gulping down goodies like moldy pizza and chicken bones. And so, “Dumpster Dog”, as I named him, would be hanging vertically, head inside the metal door opening, body, feet, and tail suspended on the outside of that big trash bin.
Attending our church in Rocky Mount, a visually impaired young woman, always sat in the front pew with her black Labrador retriever, a well-trained seeing-eye dog. Since Baptists are somewhat reserved folks in church, seldom uttering a sound, when the preacher made a vital sermon point, raising his voice moderately, that well-trained dog would let out a little sigh — perhaps an amen?
So as a Bible teacher and preacher, always looking for down-to-earth illustrations of spiritual truths, my question is this — I must warn you it is a trick question. Which of the two dogs is the more humble? Dumpster Dog — very much in control of his own life, or the seeing-eye-dog — an extremely disciplined and tightly-controlled animal?
My mind turned to the Bible, of which I’m convinced, is God’s inspired book of truth. “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” NIV (James 4:6,7).
Which dog is the more humble? According to the Bible, humbleness is linked to submission. So which dog lives to direct his own life, following his own life’s path, not submitting to anyone or anything, living to please his every appetite? And which dog is submitting all day, every day, to her master?
Humility is, according to scripture, about submitting to God and his always wise directives. I’ll try to illustrate. When in Ephesus, Turkey, a few years back, I purchased a handful of “ancient” coins including silver coin picturing Emperor Nero. History relates that Nero, after killing his mother, likely set Rome on fire, blaming Christians for his crime. He is remembered for tormenting and murdering Christians.
Unlike the Christians, Nero had a low view of human life. To him his empire’s 60 million slaves were mere property, to be used, abused and disposed of when worn out. Tradition tells that Nero ordered Paul beheaded and Peter crucified. Ultimately Nero took his own life.
Now how were those first century Christ-followers admonished to view this evil emperor, enshrined on my Roman coins? Paul wrote to Roman believers: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established…Consequently he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves…for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him … if respect; if honor, then honor.” NIV (Romans 13)
Godly humility means to submit to, honor and respect our leaders. Pride on the other hand, could move us to speak disrespectfully of them, perhaps even escalating to slander. Paul didn’t agree with Nero, or even like him personally, but he ordered respect for the office Nero held. Meanwhile, Paul never compromised his beliefs as a follower of Jesus, if he had, perhaps he could have avoided the death penalty by beheading, but Paul followed in the footsteps of our Lord Who taught: “Love your enemies and pray for those persecuting you.” Hatred of one’s enemies is not Christ-like.
In our politically charged country, Christ-followers avoid the prideful Dumpster Dog attitude and replace it with submission — unless our faith in Christ is compromised, then we must obey God as Ruler rather than men.
Returning to those old Grassy Hill dumpsters on a harsh winter day, there was Dumpster Dog, huddled next to a ragged cardboard box, seeking protection from freezing rain. He still loves his pride, his freedom to do as he wishes. Down in town, the humble seeing-eye-dog lies next to a glowing fireplace at peace. She lets out a little whine and her master blesses her with yet another doggie treat.