“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but in humility count others as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). If only every person in this world would understand and apply this definition of humility, then what a world it would be! Unfortunately, only the most genuine Christians every come to grasp the full meaning of such an attitude – for it is in the image of the ultimately humble Jesus Christ that we try to mold our lives (Ephesians 5:1-2). “Humility is the state or quality of being lowly in mind, unassuming, meek, unpretending, or modest” (Attitudes, Leach, 75). It is the characteristic that truly defines Christianity, just as it most appropriately defines the life of our Lord and Savior, who “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). No other man, God, or religion so completely espouses humility and self-sacrifice as Christ – in many Eastern religions, for example, each person is encouraged to take care of himself: In Buddhism, the phrase is, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” (Udana-Varga 5:18). In Confucianism, they say, “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” (Analects 15:23). Even in the Mormon religion, they have got it slightly wrong, claiming, “Let every man esteem his brother as himself” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:25). In many world religions the emphasis is on not doing evil, or at least regarding others as equal to oneself. But there is more to humility than simply not harming another person – that is, in abstinence from evil. A truly humble person will look for ways to assertively commit good deeds, as much as he abstains from evil deeds done to another (Romans 12:17-21, Matthew 5:43-48).
Humility As A Preventative Attitude
If we can learn to maintain humility before sin has a chance to set in, then we will have made life a lot easier on ourselves. As a preventative attitude, humility is able to safeguard us from pride as young men and women, as preachers of the Gospel, as brethren, and especially in our interaction with unbelievers. Establishing a pattern and a reputation for humility takes a long time, and it cannot be won with ease. After all, it takes many years to win a good reputation, but the same can be lost in a moment if pride intercedes.
We ought to teach our young people to practice humility always – “For by the grace given to me, I bid everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). How many cocky young people today fall into the trap of thinking too highly of themselves? And it is no surprise! Young people are generally healthier, stronger, faster, and can easily believe that they are “cutting edge,” modern, or more enlightened than their elders. Like the fools from Ecclesiastes 1:10, many modern religious thinkers want to flaunt some new doctrinal discovery. We ought to avoid such proud thinking, however, and diligently practice self-control and humility in our speech. There are times when young people need to stop talking and just listen. What a world it would be if more young men acted like Elihu in Job 32:4-10, who was humble enough to allow all of his more experienced and educated associates speak before he did. He was unwilling to interrupt the conversation until everybody else had spoken their mind.
Guarding the Lips
· “The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; the one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3). Albert Guinon once said, “” A big dose of humility will help all of us in our speech because it stops us from saying stupid things. Only proud fools who cannot admit they are wrong will waste their time arguing a falsehood!
· “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes…” (Proverbs 12:15). Also, it becomes very clear from passages such as Proverbs 16:18, one of the most frequently quoted of all Bible verses, that “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” We can all be pretty sure that where pride and haughtiness go, an embarrassment will come soon after. Haman will always serve as one of the best examples of this truth. It was his pride that made him so angry with Mordecai, which swelled into vengeance, which led to his being hanged on his own gallows (Esther 7:10).
· “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). Friends, humility is our safeguard against the troubles of pride. We must learn it at a young age and utilize it throughout our lives as a prevention for dishonor, shame, arrogance, and conceit.
Humility As A Responsive Attitude
In the face of rebuke, it is so tempting to allow our pride to swell so that we never see our own faults. There is just something politically incorrect about trying to correct someone else, which is essentially a product of two things: human pride, exacerbated by our society’s fixation with relativism (there is no moral truth). The people of Jeremiah’s time must have felt like this, as we read, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you shall find rest for your souls. But they said, “We will not walk in it.” And I set watchmen over you, saying, “listen to the sound of the trumpet!” But they said, “We will not listen”’” (Jeremiah 6:16). It is pride that leads us to resent the honest, genuine plea for repentance. Without humility as our guide, we can easily become bothered and offended when the truth is peacefully, respectfully presented to us.
“In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill; and he prayed to the Lord, and the Lord spoke to him and gave him a sign. But Hezekiah gave no return for the benefit received, because his heart was proud; therefore wrath came on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. However, Hezekiah humbled the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come on them in the days of Hezekiah” (2 Chronicles 32:24-26). Hezekiah’s arrogant heart probably led his people to mimic such a foolish attitude – after all, where the leader goes, so the people follow. How many of us risk everything for pride’s sake? But there was time for Hezekiah to repent, and he did. It is astonishing to see the contrast between the fruits of pride and humility! In his haughtiness, Hezekiah only alienated himself from God and brought trouble to his nation. But humility only result in God’s love, mercy, and blessings. It amazes to see how many people never understand this simple truth!
Another king who faced a similar situation was Ahab, who we read about in 1 Kings 21:27-29. “And it came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, ‘Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.’” There is nobody so sinful that he or she cannot repent and find favor with the Lord! If Ahab could do it, then anybody can. Consider how evil he was in his description in 1 Kings 21:25-26, how no other person had ever sold himself to do so much evil. That is quite a hefty accusation! But even Ahab could change. It is so sad that some people in this life never want to change. They do not believe they can do any better, so they refuse to give God a chance – they have become so accustomed to a miserable life of sin that they have essentially lost all hope of finding anything better.
New Testament Examples
As a New Testament example, think about the humility of Simon, the former sorcerer, in Acts 8:17-24. Look at the pride of his life of sin – he thought he could purchase the power of the Holy Spirit with worthless gold! Who knows what kind of mischievous antics he would have undertaken had Peter and the apostles been more gullible! But it is his repentance and humility that amaze me so much. When he is rebuked by Peter, he is unwilling to even pray for himself. How often do we think about our sins like that? How often do we stop and think about just how wicked we are compared to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is perfect?
As a final example of the contrast between pride and humility, turn to Luke 18:9-14. It is important to notice that Jesus wants us to know exactly who needs to hear this parable, although one can easily argue that we all fall into the category, at times, of people who trust in ourselves. This is an interesting phrase – “Who trusted in themselves.” These are the kind of people who see only one standard of righteousness, which is their own, as applying to them. It sounds very much like what is written in 2 Corinthians 10:12, “For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.” It is a silly thing to say that you can measure anything accurately unless you have an outside source, such as a ruler. But there are people out there whose only standard of measure is their own sense (or lack of it) morality. Of course, when a person’s only standard is himself, it is only natural to say that he is always right! That is easily refutable, however, after one reads John 12:48. In the parable, the Pharisee is the figure used by Christ to represent the people to whom he is speaking, that is the people from the previous verse who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” This phrase depicts exactly the kind of mentality the Pharisees had! The completely believed that they were the best Jews of the time, as one writer notes, “They claimed salvation as a right on two grounds: (1) because they belonged to the chosen race; (2) because they rigidly and minutely obeyed the precepts of a singular code of laws, many of them devised by themselves and their fathers” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. XVI, Spence, 109). In contrast to the Pharisee’s arrogance is the humility of the tax-collector. The truly redeeming quality of this man is his deep understanding of how utterly undeserving he is. There is absolutely nothing he has done to go before God justified – he has, in fact, done many cruel deeds to drive himself away from God. What should impress us is the great similarity between ourselves and this destitute man. Consider Ephesians 2:4-6, 8-9. Here, we find that it is only by grace, working through our faith and obedience, that we have been saved.
The Dangerous Attitude
A dangerous attitude that we often encounter, perhaps even in our souls, is the idea that it is never too late to start being humble – someday everybody will be humbled, but not by their own will. Paul writes, “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12). On the day of judgment, we can be sure that all of the atheists and agnostics of the world will believe, and that all of the apostates will cry, “Lord, lord!” In Hell, every wicked soul will cry to the Lord in all humility, bowing their hearts and heads in their agony (Luke 16:19-31). In the end, we must all work hard to humble ourselves. But how? How do we truly learn to cultivate such an honorable attitude? The answer is simple, and it is summed up in the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40). If we can put God first in our lives, and sacrifice our will to His will, and if we can regard other people as more important than ourselves, then humility will be the natural product of such a selfless and pious life. How will you humble yourself?