Would you like to be known as a humble person? There are few qualities that are admired nearly as much as humility. A humble person is considered a virtuous (good) person. We love world-class athletes and sporting heroes who are great at what they do, yet humble. We acclaim a true champion with the accolade, “They’re so humble!” Humility is prized today as one of the greatest virtues a person can attain. However, there was a time when humility was seen as weakness and something to be ashamed of — resembling its linguistic cousin — humiliation — and non-one ever wants to be humiliated! But then something dramatically changed the way the world regarded humility. Jesus the Christ entered the world. He exhibited a humility which involved the selfless care of others. This is what people saw (and experienced) when they encountered Jesus. Thus, no one challenged His claim of being humble when He declared-
Take My yoke on you and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:29 NET
Jesus gave the world a different perspective on humility. Those early followers of Christ became renowned for their embracing of humility. They set the example for future generations of Christ-followers to live humbly in service of others. Many of these godly Christ-followers were ordinary people who didn’t seek wealth or fame or even public attention. Their pursuit of humility was genuine and often resulted in costly selfless serving of others. Their lives became admirable and inspired millions of others to seek a relationship with the Christ and to follow His life of humility and service to others. There are many things that can be taught in this life, but there are some things that can only be caught by seeing it for yourself in someone else whom you come to admire.
With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love
IS TRUE HUMILITY TRULY ATTAINABLE?
Would the New Testament command followers of the Christ to do something that was impossible to do? Hardly! Would the New Testament command people to strive to attain an attitude, a virtue, that was unachievable? If you can demonstrate that you have become a considerate and gentle person, can you claim to be one without sounding arrogant (the opposite of humility)? Can someone take seriously the command to be humble and truly claim that they are without negating their claim in the process? Is it more humble to claim that you are not humble even if you are (and then, can a truly humble be truly humble if they lie about not being humble)? Perhaps the answer to these questions lies in what humility truly means. Consider these biblical commands to be humble:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
¶ Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience
Considering these New Testament commands, we soon realise that the commands to be humble are couched within lists of other reasonably attainable commands: treat others kindly, be considerate of others, have compassion for people, be patient with others. Since these things can be done (and claimed to have been done), this supports the idea that humility can also be achieved. Perhaps then, the one who has demonstrated their obedience to the New Testament to be humble may not necessarily be proud or arrogant if they declare that they claim to be humble.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Humility is a hallmark of a true follower of Christ, because it was so integral to the character that Christ displayed. It is one of the goals of the Christian life. The two other most important Christian virtues, holiness and love, are the means by which a son or daughter of God becomes humble. In fact, this triumvirate of the Christian virtues lies at the core of what it means to live Christianly. Each of these virtues speaks to how we treat, think of, and relate to others.
To live a holy life is to treat others respectfully in the light of our respect for God (Rom. 12:1). Thus, sexuality is expressed within the respect that we have God for decreed its exclusive boundaries within the covenant of marriage (1Thes. 4:3; Heb. 13:4).
To live a life of love is to treat others in a way that seeks their highest good and is considerate of their welfare (1Cor. 13).
To live a humble life is embody both of the virtues of holiness and love and in the process not seek to promote yourself but to help others who may not have anyone promoting them and their welfare. It demands that we not assume judgmental opinions about others, but seek to learn their stories and use our power for their benefit.
HUMILITY AND POWER
Can you be a powerful person (with position, privilege, influence) and also be a humble person? The answer from Christ seems to be, “Yes.” But it is a yes that comes with warnings. Power tends to corrupt people. Humility makes a person virtuous. Humility embraced by a powerful person makes them an admirable person. In John Dickson’s book, Humilitas, he defines humility as using one’s power for the good of others. He gives many examples of how this has been the case in the lives of those universally acknowledged as humble. His story of the three white Detroit teenage boys who got on a bus in the 1930s and thought it might be fun to taunt the solitary black man who was sitting quietly at the back of the bus is brilliant example of humility. The boys jibed the black man attempting to pick a fight with him. They called him all kinds of names and threw various insults at him. The black man just sat there unfazed and silent. When the bus came to the stop where the black man stood to his feet to get off, the three boys noticed for the first time that this black man was bigger than they had realised. Much bigger. As he stood us they noticed that he wasn’t quite the scrawny man they had assumed. As he walked past the now silent boys he took something from his pocket and gave it to one of the boys. After he go off the bus, the boy looked at what this black man had handed him. It was a card. It read – JOE LOUIS, Boxer.
These boys had just encountered the future undefeated heavyweight boxing champion of the world. In fact, not just any heavyweight boxing champion, but the longest undefeated reign of any heavyweight champion in the history of boxing — who is widely acclaimed as the greatest boxer of all time. These boys had nearly picked a fight with a man who would knock-out cold 52 of some of the toughest men on the planet. Yet, Joe Louis Barrow, ‘the Brown Bomber’, had used his power for their good!
But Joe Louis is not the greatest example of holding your power in restraint for the good of others, as an aspect of humility. Jesus is. Christ was not bragging when He said, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). Christ is therefore the greatest example of withholding your power for the good of others. But we should not be confused into thinking that humility is weakness. Having the power to hurt someone but choosing to restrain this power for their good is an act of humility. (There are times of course when evil must be restrained for the good of others which requires resistance and sometimes force which does not negate humility.) Most of us will be repeatedly tempted to use our power to hurt others who hurt us. When we yield to these temptations it undermines our pursuit of humility. Let us consider how we might pursue humility when we are tempted to get defensive and snap back at someone, or when we might use sarcasm or gossip to demean someone, or when we might present ourselves as being better than we actually are.
INSPIRATIONAL EXAMPLES OF HUMILITY
Having said that Joe Louis was a great example of humility, and that Jesus Christ was the greatest example of humility, I want to close my exhortation to regard humility as attainable by the example of a Polish priest by the name of Jerzy Popieluszko. Jerzy faced great oppression from the Polish Communist government in the early 1980s. Communists at this time treated Polish Christians with blatant brutality. But Father Popieluszko taught his congregation to love their persecuting enemies and not hurt them back. So powerful and popular were his sermons that they were shared widely around Poland on cassette tapes (ask your grandfather what these were). Then one day, the Communist Secret Police could take it no more and they kidnapped Jerzy and brutally murdered him and threw his battered body into a reservoir. The Sunday after his death, thousands gathered to hear Father Jerzy by a cassette tape of his last sermon, broadcast on loud-speakers by his church, in which he appealed to his flock to obey Christ and “do good to those who persecute you” and not to do harm (Luke 6:27-29). The Police braced themselves for the anticipated riots to follow. But none came. The people had heeded their pastor’s words to obey Christ and the result was that, within six years, communism collapsed in Poland.
Humility is lowering yourself rather than belittling yourself.
Humility is being honest without exaggerating.
Humility is listening and talking.
Humility is more asking and less telling.
Humility is helping more and still being prepared to be helped.
Humility associates with the unlikely not just because it blesses them, but because there is also a blessing in doing it.
Humility is prepared to join with others and blend into the crowd even when the spotlight is on someone else.
Humility admits dependency upon others—especially God and His mercy and grace.
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
First Peter 5:5
Humility must be attainable because we are commanded to exhibit it. “Humble yourself” the apostle Peter told his audience (1Pet. 5:6). The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that this was indeed what he had done when he came to them (2Cor. 11:7). He then proceeded to remind the Corinthians of his ministry among them in a fair and honest assessment of it. We shouldn’t confuse sharing such an honest assessment of ourselves as bragging. But neither should we think that we need to do it to anyone who would listen. In this instance, Paul was responding to opponents who were undermining the gospel and the faith of the Corinthians in it. May God help us each to be humble and all that that entails. And may we, by His grace, attain to this kind of humility and thereby reflect Christ more accurately to an increasingly confused, conflicted, broken world. And one final thing, just be careful who you pick a fight with on your next bus trip – or better still, make it a habit to not pick on anybody (especially heavyweight champions of the world!).
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
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