“…He humbled Himself…” (Philippians 2:8)
If your pride is hard to surrender, humility may be harder to keep. It’s a unique quality because at the moment you realize you have it, you’ve just lost it. Maybe it was with tongue in cheek that Mignon Mclaughlin said, “The proud man can learn humility, but he will be proud of it.” You see, I can be proud of my work and you can be proud of your punctuality. Others can be proud of their abilities. A professor can be proud of his education and degrees. However, one can never be proud of his humility. It just doesn’t work.
James M. Barrie, a British playwright, once said that “life is a long lesson in humility.” I believe that is a good synopsis. Life, along with time and God, have a peculiar way of humbling us, usually multiple times. However, true Christian humility comes through a “self-abasement” in light of the cross. William Law said, “Humility is nothing else but a right judgment of ourselves.” We not only understand who we are, but we understand who Christ is and what he has done for us. From that position we willingly humble ourselves to Christ, which means we lay aside our pride in order to have fellowship with Him. True humility doesn’t produce pride in our hearts but rather gratitude.
When we study Paul’s writings, we notice a change in his letters or, better said, a change in how he viewed himself. Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians around 55 AD and told them “I am the least of the apostles” (I Corinthians 15:9). About six years later he wrote to the Christians at Ephesus and said that he was “less than the least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8). Around 66 AD he explained to his son in the gospel that he was the chief of all sinners. (See I Timothy 1:15.) Do you notice the downward trajectory? He went from the least of the apostle, to the least of all saints and then the greatest of all sinners. There was no “up and up” for Paul.
Normal Christians usually feel better about themselves the longer they are in the church. They start off as sinners, then become saints and later become involved in ministry. In modern, “normal” Christianity you are suppose to feel great about yourself and have great self-esteem and use all of your great talents. But Paul wasn’t normal. The closer he grew to Christ and the more knowledgeable he became of the cross, the more he “self-abased,” or humbled himself. In his letter to the Ephesians, Greek scholars say that he made up a word to convey the idea of humbleness. To Paul, there was not a Greek word strong enough to show how little he thought about himself so he created one. (The phrase translated “less than the least” comes from the single Greek word elachistoteros.)
Humility is more than a virtue. It should be part of the Christian lifestyle. I hate to admit this, but some of the most arrogant, prideful people I have met are members of the church. This should not be, my brothers. After all, Jesus “humbled Himself.” As His followers, shouldn’t we do likewise? The Old Testament prophet clarified some things for us when he wrote, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 – AMP) Do a quick mental checklist and see how well you score. Do you do justly, or do what is right? Do you love kindness? What about mercy? Do you humble yourself? Do you walk humbly with your God?
While we can say we are humble, the true test is what others say about us in this specific area. How do they view our level of humility? If I feel compelled to tell others that I am humble, then chances are that I’m not. Humility does not brag nor does it speak about itself. Humility lowers itself. One day I hope I can reach that level in Christ where I am humble. I also hope no one points it out to me, lest I become proud of my humility and in the end lose it.
In closing I want to leave you with a quote from John Wooden, a famed and highly successful college basketball coach. He said, “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” Let’s try to live our lives humbly, gratefully, and carefully and maybe we can grow more Christ-like along the way.
Written by James C. Marse. Copyright © 2011.