QUESTION: WHAT IS TRUE HUMILITY?
STUDY REFERENCE: 1 Peter 5:5-6, Mark 9:33-35, Luke 18:10-14
Proverbs 22:4 says; "Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life."(NIV)
True humility is not based on pleasing men but pleasing God. As the bible says in James 4:10; "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." If a man is low hearted, giving alms and loving men but is not willing to accept Jesus, God sees him as rebellious. He is proud in his own heart to God.
Moses told about the rebellion of the Israelites in Deuteronomy 9:23; "And at Kadesh-Barnea the LORD sent you out with this command: ‘Go up and take over the land I have given you.’ But you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God and refused to put your trust in him or obey him."(NLT)
True humility is obedience to God's word. He has given us his word as a guide to success. "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right."(2 Timothy 3:16 NLT).
The clearest picture of humility in the Bible, indeed, in history, is Jesus Christ. He modeled godly humility for us. Philippians 2:5 and 8
(5) Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…
(8) …he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Jesus “became obedient.” That, in a nutshell, is “humility.” We think of ourselves as lower than God so we obey Him, which Jesus did. For example, Jesus wanted to live, not be tortured and die. We know that because on the eve of his arrest he prayed three different times to God, asking if there was a way he could fulfill his messianic mission without going through what the prophecies had foretold (cp. Ps. 22:6-18; Isa. 52:13-53:10; Zech. 13:6, 7).
Matthew 26:39, 42 and 44
(39) Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
(42) He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
(44) So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Jesus certainly modeled true humility, and from his example, we learn that humility is putting the will of God before our own will. It is imperative that we understand that, or we will get caught up in trying to judge humility by the standard of behavior. Some examples from the Bible will help us to be clear about this. One myth about humility is that if you tell others you are humble, then you are not. While that may be generally true, it is not “truth.”
Again, let us look at the example Jesus set.
Matthew 11:29; "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
Jesus pointed out to his followers that he was humble. Although the Bible does not say why he did it, we can certainly imagine one possible reason. The Greco-Roman culture in which Jesus and his followers lived extolled strong, self-willed people who bullied their way through life and “came out on top.” King Herod, the man who was king when Jesus was born, is a good example of this. Through singular focus, worldly ways, and forceful moves, he came to reign over Judea even though he himself was from Idumea, the Greek name for Edom. The fact that he was a terribly oppressive ruler often gets skimmed over, and he is referred to as “Herod the Great” in our history books. People such as Herod would never have been thought of as “humble,” and they were not. In that culture, just as in ours today, “humble” can be mistaken for “weak.” Thus, one reason that Jesus might have said that he was humble in heart was so that others could see what “humble” really was.
It takes great inner strength and confidence to be humble. We have to be completely comfortable with who we are before God alone, and with not being recognized by earthly authorities. In that light, it is significant that the angel Gabriel told John the Baptist’s father that John “would be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15), because John was never acclaimed by earthly powers, and ended up dying in prison.
Jesus told a parable about one way that humble people act: they take the least important seats at a feast. Luke 14:7-10
(7) When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:
(8) “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.
(9) If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.
(10) But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.
This parable has a happy ending. The humble person did not vie for an important seat, but the host noticed him and invited him to move up to a more honored place. However, we all know that does not happen very often. What usually happens in situations like this (if the seating is not assigned) is that no one really pays attention to where the guests sit. At that point, the situation becomes a test of true humility. The humble person recognizes that he or she is a servant to everyone and is comfortable with the seating and the people he or she is close to. In contrast, the person who is not humble, but prideful and self-important, is upset at the company close by and wants to be with “more important” people.
The above example fits our standard idea of humility; that a humble person would naturally take the lowest seat at a banquet. But notice the humility Jesus demonstrated in the following record. John 2:13-16
(13) When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
(14) In the temple courts, he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
(15) So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
(16) To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
Although we may not be used to humility looking like this, Jesus was once again demonstrating humility. Jesus had been in the Temple many times before and had never done anything aggressive like this. Furthermore, he would be in the Temple many more times, but only confronted the dishonesty and merchandising that regularly occurred there one more time (Matt. 21:12ff; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45ff). Why this show of his authority? God prompted him to do what he did, and he obeyed (John 5:19, 30). This action of his, along with the other things he was doing, led many to conclude that he was the Messiah (John 2:23).
Interestingly, it would be possible to confuse Jesus’ action in the Temple and call it pride instead of humility. What Jesus did was so powerful and assertive that many people could assume it was motivated by pride. However, pride is two sided. In what some linguists would refer to as a “happy coincidence” of the language, the English word P-R-I-D-E portrays both sides of pride. In the middle of “pride” is always “I.” On the left side is the kind of pride we are used to, which is “personal reputation.” Pride bolsters and protects its personal reputation. The other side of pride, however, is not as well known, and actually, masquerades as humility! In fact, we often refer to it as “false humility.” That is the “D-E” of pride, “devalued estimation.” Devalued estimation occurs when we do not submit to God’s will and thankfully and fearlessly accept what He has done for us. Paul’s humility shines brightly when he says, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…” (Col. 1:1). Paul accepted who he was and the ministry God gave him.
In the instance of Jesus clearing the Temple, Jesus knew he was the Messiah and he was acting on the will of God. He would have been happy to walk right by the moneychangers and animal salesmen without a confrontation, as he no doubt had done many times before. But humility is submitting to the will of God.
It is humility when we read the Bible and accept it as the will of God for our lives. Note, for example, what 1 John 3:1 says about us: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” God has made us His children. It is not humility that says, “Oh, a child of God. That is such a huge honor; I am not really in that category. I am happy just to try to be a good person.” Does that sound humble? It is not, it is prideful (or perhaps done in ignorance). It is pride that denies the work of God and holds a devalued estimation of itself. Humility recognizes and accepts the work of God for what it is, and lives accordingly.
In summary, humility is submitting ourselves to the will of God and obeying Him. Humility is expressed as believing what God says and doing what He asks. It is an attitude of the heart that naturally recognizes that we are lower than God and owe our lives to Him. We learn about humility from studying the words and actions of Jesus Christ, the only perfectly humble person who ever lived. Finally, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that developing and maintaining a humble heart takes constant work and great courage. If we are not careful, our sin nature will rise up within us and produce pride and an entitlement attitude that will then be quickly followed by greed, anger, gossip, and other such sins. Also if we are not careful, our courage will give way to fear, and we will submit to it and not to God, and act in ways that do not bring the honor and glory to God that He deserves. Yes, it is hard to be humble, but God deserves it, so as Paul wrote, “…we make it our goal to please him…” (2 Cor. 5:9).