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The power of humility

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topic Scripture: Luke 5:1–11

When George H. W. Bush was president, he visited a nursing home, where he began talking with the residents. One elderly woman in a wheelchair seemed rather disinterested in his presence.

He approached her, smiled, patted her shoulder, and gently squeezed her frail hand. She smiled back but said nothing. “Do you know who I am?” the president asked. “No,” she replied, “but if you’ll ask the lady at the nurses’ station over there, she’ll tell you.”

If we know our identity, we can fulfill our purpose. But as we will see today, that identity is centered in genuine humility.

What challenges are you facing today? Name them. Now let’s learn how humility is God’s answer to the greatest needs of our souls.

Obeying Jesus

Our text finds Peter in Luke 5, perhaps a year or more into Jesus’ public ministry. Peter had already become one of Jesus’ followers but had not yet made a full-time, unconditional commitment to discipleship. The events of this section would change Peter’s life, and our world with him.

Teaching the crowds (vv. 1–3)

Our story begins “one day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God” (v. 1). As Jesus extended the good news of God’s love to this teeming crowd, “he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets” (v. 2). “Washing” is a medical term for “cleansing” a wound. Here it refers to the daily work of removing sand and pebbles from fishing nets after a night of use.

Jesus recognized an opportune teaching opportunity, both for the crowd and for these fishermen. Out on the Sea of Galilee, his words would carry across the water and be more audible to the people. And this connection with these fishermen would change their lives forever.

So “he got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat” (v. 3). “Put out” is the typical nautical term for launching boats to sea. “Taught” is in the imperfect, indicating continuous action—as they floated from the shore in fishing boats, Jesus continued the teaching ministry he had begun on the beach.

Showing his power (vv. 4–7)

His message to the crowd completed, Jesus turned his attention to Peter and his companions: “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch'” (v. 4). The tenses of Luke’s Greek are instructive. “Put out” is singular, addressed to Peter as the leader of the fishing group. “Let down” and “nets” are plural, however, indicating that more than one boat and fisherman were involved.

Peter and Andrew were joined in this event by James and John, along with their employees (cf. vv. 9–10). Peter was clearly their leader, however, as he spoke for the men: “Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets'” (v. 5).

Fishing was typically done at night, when the fish were more active. Now that it was morning, no one would try to catch fish, especially if they had failed during the evening. The fisherman was informing the rabbi that this effort would likely fail, but “because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Here is the first example of that obedience which would come to characterize Peter’s commitment to Christ.

“Let down” was a medical term used to describe the relaxing of limbs, loosening of bandages, or putting of herbs into a pot to be boiled. Luke uses it to describe the way Paul was lowered in a basket from the walls of Damascus (Acts 9:25), and for striking a ship’s sails and lowering a boat into the water (Acts 27:17, 30). “I will let down the nets” shows that Peter was in charge of the fishing group.

What comes next would change the course of Peter’s life: “When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink” (vv. 6–7).

Fishing nets were constructed to prevent just such a calamity, since broken nets would be catastrophic for a fishing business. They would lose their fish for that day, and for all the days they were mending their nets. As a result, this “large number of fish” must have exceeded all normal experience.

Peter and Andrew immediately “signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them,” indicating that James and John were not far from them. But the catch overloaded both boats so that “they began to sink.” Since the text does not indicate that the boats did in fact sink, the fishermen must have immediately begun throwing fish overboard to lighten their boats.

Calling his men (vv. 8–11)

With this spiritual result: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!'” (v. 8). “Go away from me, Lord” was not meant literally, for Jesus and Simon were both in a boat at sea.

The fisherman meant something like, “Don’t pay any more attention to me, for I am unworthy of your notice.”

Luke explains Peter’s reaction: “For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners” (vv. 9–10a). “Astonished” translates thambos, to be “shocked.” The Greek could be translated, “they were overwhelmed with shock.”

Now to the point Jesus intended all along: “Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men'” (v. 10b). “Don’t be afraid” (literally, “stop being afraid”) was Jesus’ response to these awe-struck men. They did not need to fear God’s wrath, for they were about to experience his calling: “from now on you will catch men.”

The syntax of “catch” indicates ongoing action, a habitual lifestyle. The Greek could be translated, “take captive” or “take alive,” in contrast to the military action of killing captives.

These Galilean fishermen responded not with a verbal affirmation of faith but with the unconditional commitment of their lives: “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him” (v. 11). And history would never be the same.

Fishing for men

Peter became the spiritual leader and spokesman for the other disciples:

He is named first every time the Twelve are listed.

He uttered the Great Confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16).

After the resurrection of Jesus, “he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:5).

After the resurrection:

He was a pillar apostle: “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me” (Galatians 2:9).

He was the preacher of Pentecost (Acts 2:14ff) and earliest leader of the Christian movement (cf. John 21:15: “Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs'”).

He was an apostle to the Jews: “I [Paul] had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. . . . They [Peter, James, and John] agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews” (Galatians 2:7, 9b).

But none of this would have been possible apart from the humility that positioned Peter to receive all his Lord would do with and through his life. If he had leaned on his professional success, financial possessions, or cultural status, he would have been just another first-century businessman. By admitting how much he needed Jesus to forgive him, transform him, and use him, he became the leader of God’s movement on earth.

In the classic book, Good to Great, business analyst Jim Collins studied nearly 1,500 Fortune 500 companies over a thirty-year period. He looked for companies that had been performing at or around the market average for at least fifteen years before a transition point, after which they outperformed the market at least three times for the next fifteen years. He found eleven such companies, describing them as “Level 5.”

Collins wanted to know what made the difference in companies that were able to move from “good to great” and sustain their greatness. His research uncovered two distinct characteristics among the leaders of their companies: humility, and a determination to do the right thing at any cost.

Collins: “Level 5 leaders display a compelling modesty, are self-effacing and understated. In contrast, two-thirds of the comparison companies had leaders with gargantuan personal egos that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.”

Humility is not thinking less of ourselves than we should. It is not thinking more of others than we should. It is seeing ourselves as God does: Jesus is “Lord” and I am a “sinful man.” I am a man in need of a Lord, a Master, a King and Savior.

The amazing good news is that he sees me as someone worthy of such grace.

Conclusion

Every morning, start the day by admitting that you’re a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior. Remember what he has done for you. Know that your personal worth is found in his mercy, not your merit. Remember that you are loved, and you will be free to love yourself and to love others.

In Luke 12:6, Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.” Commenting on this text, Max Lucado notes: “One penny would buy two sparrows. Two pennies, however, would buy five. The seller threw in the fifth for free.

“Society has its share of fifth sparrows: indistinct souls who feel dispensable, disposable, worth little. It’s time to deal with the fear of not mattering, the fear of insignificance. Why does God love you so much? You are his idea. And God has only good ideas.”

Do you agree?