“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5).
THE MEANING OF HUMILITY
I recently came across this interesting description of humility – ‘In the Bible, humility or humbleness is a quality of being courteously respectful of others. It is the opposite of aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness, and vanity. Rather than, “Me first,” humility allows us to say, “No, you first, my friend.” Humility is the quality that lets us go more than halfway to meet the needs and demands of others.’ How beautiful!
According to the NLT “God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” It is so difficult for people today to understand the true value of humility; we are taught that self-confidence and assertiveness are necessary for progress and survival in the rat race, or even simply for doors to open. Yet, in the spiritual realm, where reality lies, the opposite is true. God has no use for people who are full of themselves, but He delights to pour His grace into empty vessels, and to use broken vessels which He carefully mends.
Moses’ willingness to give up his position as a prince of Egypt and stand up for the enslaved Israelites might seem like a great act of humility to us, but not to God, who marked out forty years of abasement in the desert as preparation of His chosen vessel. In the wilderness Moses was emptied of all his former sense of self-identity, and felt he had nothing left to offer, but in God’s eyes he was at last ready. “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3 ESV). This meekness, so carefully cultivated by God, far from being a barrier to Moses’ progress, became a powerful instrument to nullify the schemes of the arrogant Pharaoh, and to equip a nation to conquer the kingdom of giants.
Why is humility so important? From a practical perspective, humility is an essential qualification for achieving anything of eternal value.
- Only a humble person can truly know himself or herself, and this self-recognition is a vital key to success.
- The humble do not see themselves through the lenses of their social background, professional standing or personal qualities; but they seek to align all these things within the purposes of God.
- The eyes of the humble are opened to what is worthwhile – to pursue – in the light of eternity.
- They understand the need to wisely steward, every gift or talent that they may possess, in the building of God’s kingdom.
- They are spared the endless struggle for the ‘treasure which decays’, and this is truly the privilege of the humble.
- A humble Christian will gladly choose the Father’s will over their own, and be happy to serve others.
- Humility result in productive labour for the Kingdom, and avoids waste. So the humble gather in the harvest, and reap the reward for their labour.
CHRIST – OUR EXAMPLE
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:3-11 ESV).
Jesus essentially emptied Himself, of all divine attributes and honour, in order to be clothed in sinful human flesh and weakness. In humility, He chose not His own will – for how could it ever be Christ’s will to experience separation from His Father on the cross – but He chose, or rather, learnt obedience to the will of the Father. We notice that He also did this for the joy set before Him (Hebrew 12:2) – the salvation of souls. Here we see the tension that Christ Himself experienced, being drawn in opposite directions, His soul delighting in the eventual joyful outcome, yet dreading the bitter cup that He was called to drink from. But in choosing obedience, He made it possible for us to do likewise.
The purpose of Christ’s act of humility was to set others free. We bear witness to Christ when others see His humility displayed in our lives, and when our focus is centred on the welfare of others rather than solely our own. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NIV). The out-working of this attitude of humility and other-centredness is obvious. Different versions of Philippians 2:3 show that humility causes us to abstain from strife (KJV), rivalry (HSB), faction (ASV), contention (Douay-Rheims) or acting in self-interest (Berean Literal), and to count others more significant (ESV), better than (NLT), more important than (HCSB), more excellent (YLT) or of more account (Weymouth) than ourselves.
In choosing obedience, Christ scorned ‘the shame’ of the cross (Hebrews 12:2). Not many in this world will applaud the Christian way of humility – it is a drab, unglamorous and often, a disdained path. Choosing to walk down this lowly path is hard, so God makes it easier for us by using the natural limitations of our lives and circumstances – whether lack of ability, talent, money or friends, and even personal weaknesses – as vehicles to carry us along that path. Churchill’s remark about Attlee, ‘He is a humble man, but then he has much to be humble about’, could be true of most of us, and thank God it is. It is never a good thing to have an overabundance of everything the world values or we would be puffed up with pride to our own destruction.
Humility – how does one do it?
Yet, God commands us to choose humility – “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). So what can one do to grow in this essential Christian quality?
Pray – As all Christian virtue and action are birthed in prayer, we must pray for the wisdom and grace to walk in humility and to reject pride. Ask God to search our hearts and reveal to us all that is ungodly within, including our prideful tendencies. As the Holy Spirit reveals to us the traces of pride, vanity or self-serving behaviour in our lives, we should repent, and renounce these sins. Like John the Baptist, we must pray for the willingness to decrease so that Christ may increase, for when we become less, He is magnified before this unbelieving world.
Practise – We must consciously practise humility. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14 NIV). Washing the feet of others entails looking up to them, serving them, and being willing to carry their burdens. If we have an attitude of humility towards others, we will be very sensitive to everything that is good and beautiful in them, slow to criticise and eager to do them good as often as we can. When a neighbour receives the honour that we might have wished for ourselves, we will not feel crushed, but rejoice in God’s goodness. We will continue to trust God and deliberately choose not to grow disheartened when things do not go according to our plans.
Self-abasement – Fasting, and giving up the things we enjoy for periods of time to focus on God and prayer, has the added benefit of cultivating this virtue in us. A phrase commonly used in many translations – lowliness of mind – in place of humility in Philippians 2:3, demonstrates the importance of a transformed mind, and we must regularly meditate on Scripture to effect the transformation of our minds. When we familiarise ourselves with God’s desire for us to be humble and dwell on the rewards for humility, we will be encouraged to seek and grow in this virtue, which so pleases God.