When asked what were the three most important Christian virtues, Augustine replied, "Humility, humility, and humility." Yet, this great virtue is in rather short supply in our culture. Even very good people seem to have a hard time being really humble. One day Linus tells Charlie Brown, "When I get big, I'm going to be a humble, little country doctor. I'll live in the city, and every morning I'll get up, climb into my sports car, and zoom into the country. Then I'll start healing people...I'll heal everyone for miles around. I'll be a world-famous, humble, little country doctor." Linus didn't realize that wanting to be world-famous and humble don't quite mix. I also think of a well-known Christian businessman who was visiting a church and was asked to give his testimony. He said, "I have a fine family, a large house, a successful business, and a good reputation. I have plenty of money so I can support some Christian ministries very generously. Many organizations want me on their board of directors. I have good health and almost unlimited opportunities. What more could I ask from God?" As he paused for effect, a voice shouted from the back of the auditorium, "How about asking Him for a good dose of humility?"
Humility is not a popular human trait in the modern world. It's not touted in the talk shows or celebrated in valedictorian speeches or commended in diversity seminars or listed with core values. And if you go to the massive self-help section of Dalton's or Barnes and Noble, you won't find books on humility.
Before Christ came into the world, the worst thing that could be said about a man was that he was humble. That was considered to be a quality of a slave, not a free man. Christ came teaching a new concept. The way up is down. To be exalted, men must humble themselves. He illustrated this principle throughout His life and ministry. And He called us, as believers, to put on humility.
Colossians 3:12 (NKJV) Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
Paul explains humility this way in Romans:
Romans 12:3 (NKJV) For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
Who is this command to? The Roman Christians of the first century. Does it apply to us? Does God want us to think soberly? Yes! It would be nice to think that this verse is cultural and has no significance to us. Or to say that times have changed, we don't have a problem with pride today. But have times changed? No, this exhortation is to every believer. No one is immune from exaggerated self-importance. This is a natural human tendency. Denny said, "To himself, every man is in a sense the most important person in the world."
Do you have illusions about who you are and what you can do? Peter did:
Matthew 26:31-35 (NKJV) Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: 'I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' 32 "But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee." 33 Peter answered and said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble." 34 Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." 35 Peter said to Him, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And so said all the disciples.
Peter is saying, "You're wrong, Jesus. You might me God, but you're wrong." Notice:
Matthew 16:15-16 (NKJV) He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Does that make sense to you? Peter says, "You are the Christ" and then he says, "You're wrong, I won't stumble or deny you." Was Peter thinking more highly of himself than he should have? Yes!
Matthew 26:72-75 (NKJV) But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!" 73 And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, "Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you." 74 Then he began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the Man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." So he went out and wept bitterly.
This reminds me of what Paul said:
1 Corinthians 10:12 (NKJV) Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
We all do well to realize that apart from the grace of God, we are all capable of sin or failure. This command in Romans is to all believers, "Don't think more highly of yourself than you should."
Let me just say here that there is an opposite form of this problem that is prominent today, which is too think to little of yourself and talk about yourself as though you were nothing. But that is merely another form of pride. The reason people talk like this is because they hope others will correct them. People say, "I'm no good, I can't do anything. I have no ability." They say this hoping you'll say, "Oh no, you're wonderful." If you agree with them, they'll get upset, because you will have offended their pride. If you say, "You know I think you're right, you are good for nothing", you'll have a fight on your hands.
Now, before I go on, I need to say just a few words about humility and self-esteem. Many folks think helping people build greater self-esteem is the most important thing we can do for them. I doubt that it is the case. We need to remember that studies show that about 80% of the American people believe they are more intelligent, more honest, and more talented than the average person. Now, perhaps some of the other 20% struggle with low self-esteem, but it is clear that is not the problem for many folks. Biblical humility is not the same thing as low self-esteem, however. Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles were very humble people, but I think it is obvious that they had a very healthy self-esteem. Humble people are really those who esteem, or think of themselves accurately. They do what Paul tells us to do in Romans 12:3, "...not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think...." As Christians, our goal should not be low self-esteem, or high self-esteem, but humility, which is simply a realistic view of who we are; sinners who have become God's saints through Jesus' death on the cross in our place.
What Romans 12:3 is calling for is the attitude of humility. Are you humble? In order to answer that, we need to know what humility is. Humility is first a feeling toward God that he has absolute rights over your life - that he can do with you as he pleases and that he has absolute authority to tell you what is best for you - and that's just fine with you. It is a spirit of utter yieldedness and submissiveness to the Lord as master. The humble person sees him self as clay in the Potter's hands.
Secondly, humility means feeling indebted to all people because of how graciously God has treated us. It's the opposite of feeling that everybody owes you something - owes you an ear or owes you strokes or owes you time. Now, of course, there are relationships in which those things may be true - someone may in fact owe you something. But the more you are driven by what others owe you rather than by what you owe them in love and service, the less lowly you are.
The Bible teaches us that Humility is dependance:
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 (NKJV) "And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 "So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.
Man lives in dependance upon God, and understanding this is humility. Pride is self-sufficient. This will affect our attitude towards our fellow man, because if we are conscience of our entire dependence on God for all our abilities, we will not pride ourselves on them.
Humility towards others is demonstrated in our submission toward them.
1 Peter 5:5-6 (NKJV) Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,
Did you know that God has developed a certain garment where one size fits everybody? He says that all of us are to "be clothed with humility." That word "clothe" is a very interesting word. It's not as general as it appears. The Greek word is gkomboomai, which literally means: "to tie something on yourself with a knot or a bow." The word was used of an apron which you tie on yourself with a knot or a bow. And it had particularly in mind a work apron. In fact, it had the apron that a slave put on in mind. A slave would put on an apron over his clothes to keep them clean, just like you might do when you go to work, just like a housewife might do around the house. In order to keep your clothes clean, you put on an apron, you tie it in a knot or a bow. It became the word for putting on humble service. Put on the apron of the slave. That's what he's saying.
Peter might have been thinking about his Lord. You remember the incident recorded in John 13 where it says that Jesus looked and the disciples feet were not washed and no one was there to do it? And so He got up and He girded himself and He stooped and washed their filthy feet. This is the Son of God who put that garment that fits all on and tied the knot in the slave's apron and bent down and washed their dirty feet. Peter probably remembered when the Lord put that on and when the Lord did that. And he says you need to put it on, too. You need to clothe yourself with the attitude of a slave, the attitude of a foot washer, the attitude of a servant toward one another.
1 Peter 5:7 (NKJV) casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
One way to be humble is to cast your anxieties on God. Which means that one hindrance to casting your anxieties on God is pride. Which means that undue worry about your future is probably a form of pride.
Paul defined humility this way:
Philippians 2:3 (NKJV) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
This way of thinking is very much against the grain in our culture, which is extremely self-centered. We are still a part of the "me-generation." But, even though many folks claim it is their right to be selfish if that is what they want to do, we don't admire that quality in others. We like people who are interested in us, not just in themselves. We listen to people who talk about our concerns, not just their own. Therapists report that inmates of mental institutions say "I" or "me" twelve times more often than residents of the outside world. As their conditions improve, the patients use the personal pronoun less often. It is no surprise that a Christian who is constantly talking about himself or herself, doesn't have much impact on other people.
A very prosperous farmer was asked about the secret of his success. He replied, "I learned from an old rooster on my father's farm. He could peck harder, jump faster, fly higher, and fight better than any other rooster we had. But he lost most of his fights, even against tiny roosters. The trouble was that just as he was winning a fight, he would stop to crow. I learned a key to success is to not crow when you think you are doing well."
You have to see others as more important than you are. That is a challenge. I mean, you battle your fallen flesh and your pride on that one incessantly. To be able to see others as more important than yourselves is a major spiritual victory. But that's what it takes. Don't be selfish, don't be conceited. With humility of mind, regard others as more important than yourself. Then he says, "Do not merely look out for your own personal interest but the interest of others. Have the attitude in you which was also in Christ Jesus." And then he goes on to say how Christ Jesus was exalted with the Father, stooped, became a servant, and gave Himself even in death in order that He might serve us; humbled Himself in an amazing inconceivable way. And that's the heart attitude you need to have.
Once Winston Churchill was sitting on a platform waiting to speak to a large crowd gathered to hear him. The chairman of the event leaned over and said, "Isn't it exciting, Mr. Churchill, that all these people came just to hear you speak?" Winston Churchill responded, "It is quite flattering, but whenever I feel this way I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big." That is not thinking too highly of yourself.
Is humility important? Notice again what Peter says in the end of verse 5:
1 Peter 5:5 (NKJV) Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."
Peter is quoting this from the Old Testament. He quotes Proverbs 3:34, which says, "God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble." This is reason to be humble. Why? Because God gives grace to the humble but He opposes the proud. By the way, James quotes that same verse, Proverbs 3:34, in James 4:6, says the same thing, "God is opposed to the proud, gives grace to the humble."
Do you want to receive God's grace or his opposition? God's grace is available only to the humble. The reason is not that humility is a performance of virtue that earns grace, but that humility is a confession of emptiness that receives grace. We often define "grace" as: "Free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgement." Now, that is a good definition of "grace", but it isn't the only definition. Grace is also used in the Bible to mean: "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances."
Paul uses "grace" in the sense of "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances" in:
1 Corinthians 15:10 (NKJV) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
We use the word "grace" in this sense in modern speech. Have you ever heard anyone say, "By God's grace I was able to remain calm"? When we use the word "grace" this way, we are referring to "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances." In other words, apart from the enabling power of God, I would never have been able to do this or that.
We see this same idea in:
Philippians 4:12-13 (NKJV) I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME.
What Paul is saying here is that whatever circumstance he finds himself in, he can handle it through God's enabling power. The words "by His grace" could be substituted for "through Christ who strengthens me." The idea is the same. Verse 13 could be read, "I can do all things by His grace." "By His grace" and "through Christ who strengthens me" express an identical thought.
So, the word "grace" as used in the New Testament, expresses two related meanings. First, it is "Free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgement." Second, it is "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances." The second meaning is encompassed in the first, because God's enabling power is part of His unmerited favor. So, part of God's unmerited favor is the enabling power He gives us. There is a distinction, but they are related.
We are all susceptible to pride, but some of us are so proud that we won't admit it. What we must understand is that pride stands in direct opposition to grace. Please notice who it is that God gives grace to - the humble.
God designed His creation to have a dependency upon Him. Even in the ordinary decisions of a day we need to depend on God for wisdom and direction. The Fall itself was precipitated when man sought to live independently of God, and this human independence continues at the heart of sinful rebellion today.
God wants us, as His children, to always be aware of our need of Him in our lives. God often takes us through difficult situations in order that we might realize how much we need Him.
If you agree that humility is a virtue we are to have but, like me, you sometimes find it hard to be that way, let me give you some practical suggestions. These are steps to finding true humility:
1) Remember, you are only a Christian because of God's grace.
1 Peter 5:10 (NKJV) But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.
Grace by its very nature is undeserved and unmerited. I am a child of God, not because I am better than anyone else, but because God has graciously chosen me as His own. It is what Jesus has done, not what I have done; it is His cross, His blood, which makes me who I am. If it were not for the grace of God, I would deserve hell just as much as Hitler or Stalin.
2) Recognize that God is the source of everything we have.
1 Corinthians 4:7 (NKJV) For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
Not just our salvation, but the air we breathe, the water we drink or catch fish in, the food we eat, our friends, our family, our health, every talent or ability we have, all of the things which bring us joy and pleasure, are gifts from God.
If you are doing well in your business or career, getting good grades at school, doing great at sports or music, or raising children who are all above average, that should not cause you to be proud. The success you enjoy is only because of the gifts God has given you and because of His grace in your life. When we remember that, it helps keep us humble.
3) Admit your sins and mistakes.
Confess them to God and when it is appropriate, admit them to other people. I've learned that being willing to say, "I'm sorry. I was wrong" can be very important in maintaining good relationships with other people. I'm also learning that it can be very healthy for my spiritual life. Every time I say that I am sorry, every time I admit I made a mistake, I remind myself that I am far from perfect, and that I'm not as wonderful as I might like to think.
You know, there's something true about a humble person and that is this, they see their own sin as worse than everybody else's. That's a mark. If you are more critical of other Christians than you are of yourself, you lack humility. It is pride that allows you to crawl up out of your own hole and condemn others. And I'm not talking about evaluating truth, I'm not talking about being discerning, I'm talking about being preoccupied with criticizing the sins of others. That's hard to do when you're overwhelmed with your own. When the sins that most offend you are yours, when the sins that most grieve you are yours, when the sins that you would want to prevent are yours, and when the effects of those sins that impact the church are your sins and not somebody else's, you have a measure of humility.
4) Acknowledge the talents and abilities that other people have.
Admit that others have abilities and achievements equal to and greater than your own. Do that both in your mind and with your lips. Sometimes, in an effort to keep our pride intact, we minimize the accomplishments of others and magnify their flaws. We hear and say things like, "Oh, yeah, Mary is number 1 in the class, the valedictorian, but she's really not that smart. I bet the teachers gave her A's just because they heard she was smart. Besides, it would not hurt her to lose about fifteen pounds." Why can't we just say, "Yes, Mary is our class valedictorian. She really did a great job academically the last four years." Even pastors, maybe especially pastors, can struggle with this. Let's say you come up to me and say, "David, I listened to a tape last week, and I was really blessed by the message that the pastor gave." When that happens, I sometimes am tempted to say, "Yes, he is a pretty good preacher, but his theology is weak." "Yes, but there are some problems in his church." Or even better, "Yes, but he seems kind of proud and arrogant to me." Why can't I just say, "Yes, it is great that God used him to minister to you."? Well, the reason I don't say that is usually pride, but if I start learning to say that and think that, it will keep me from climbing onto a pedestal where I don't belong.
Dr. H.A. Ironside, a famous preacher of a few decades ago, felt that he was not as humble as he should be. Showing his concern he asked an elder friend what he could do about it. His friend replied: "Make a sandwich board with the plan of salvation on it and walk through the business and shopping area of downtown Chicago for the day." Ironside followed the advice. Upon completion of this humiliating experience, he returned to his apartment. As he took the board off, he caught himself thinking, "There's not another person in Chicago that would be willing to do a thing like that."
Friends, are you a humble person? If so, don't become proud of that fact. Keep hunting for true humility. If you know you should be a little more humble, I encourage you to pick one or two of the four steps we have just mentioned. Then, this week spend time praying that God would help you do that and become more humble. Humility is tremendously important because God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
We all need his grace every day, so let's make sure that we're walking in humility.