Summary: A thorough study on the Christian Quality "Humility" from my book, The World is Up-Side-Down
Humility -The Lowest are the Highest
I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above another and the taller we grow, the easier we can reach them. Now, I find, that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath another and the lower we stoop, the more we get. F. B. Meyer
Today, in the world and in the church, there is a unity crisis because there is a great scarcity of humility, and an over-abundance of pride everywhere we turn. Fewer and fewer people are willing to take orders. We see more and more wars for independence and new countries born. There are more and more broken marriages and fewer and fewer that get to the "until death do us part." It is hard to get people to work together when neither the leaders nor the followers are humble. All of us want to be chiefs and no one wants to be the Indian, especially the squaw or the papoose. Every man does what is right in his own eyes.
What does it mean to be humble? One dictionary defines it as, "having or showing a sense of lowliness or inferiority." The most common Greek words used in the New Testament are:
tapeinos - low, lowly (James 4:6, I Pet. 5:5)
tapeinoo - to make low (Mat. 18:4, 23:12, II Cor. 12:21)
tapeinomai - to make oneself low (Phil 2:8, James 4:10, I Pet. 5:6)
tapeinophros- lowliness of mind (Col. 2:18, 2:23, Acts 20:19)
Simply said, humility means being of low estate. It means seeing others as higher than our self. The word (tapeinoo) literally means "to level a mountain or a hill." Humble people are those who have no hills sticking up. They are not filled up with the hot air of arrogance and pride. They are not people who clamor to be President or Prime Minister. Jesus told the Jews that when invited to special dinners, they should assume that they were to take the seats that are for the least important people (Luke 14:7-11).
Luke 3:2 (a quote from Isaiah 40:3-5) tells what the mission of John the Baptist was; "the voice of one crying in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled up, every mountain and hill made low." John’s mission was to preach a gospel of repentance -- of humbling oneself before the almighty God, so that people could receive the gospel of Salvation. His mission was to "fill in the valleys and flatten the hills."
When the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah to announce the coming birth of John the Baptist, he said that John would "go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous -- to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17 I believe that this text is usually translated incorrectly. Instead of "turning the hearts of the fathers to their children", which makes almost no sense, the Greek only says, "turn hearts of fathers to children." One could well argue that John’s mission was to make people’s hearts like those of children; to prepare the soil to receive the good seed of the gospel. When the Spirit works in men’s hearts, they have the attitude of well-behaved, submissive children. They are dependent, believing, unconcerned about the future, respecting their Father.
Instead, in the church today, we have too many adolescent Christians who question everything the Father does, and often just do their own thing. We don’t understand that in God’s family, children never grow up; they grow down. The more Christ-like the person, the more humble and dependent he is. "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 18:3-4).
The term "little children" used often by Jesus, and John the apostle, is not just a term of endearment -- it is a fitting description of what we are supposed to be like.
Humility is conviction of sin
Conviction of sin and the awareness of our low estate before God are necessary before God can do much else in us. Humility means to be poor in spirit. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, the last of the great puritan preachers, said regarding the first beatitude:
’Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ As I have already indicated in our last study, it is not surprising that this is the first, because it is obviously, as I think we shall see, the key to all that follows. There is, beyond any question, a very definite order in these Beatitudes. Our Lord does not place them in their respective positions haphazardly or accidentally; there is what we may describe as a spiritual logical sequence to be found here. This, of necessity, is the one which must come at the beginning for the good reason that there is no entry into the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, apart from it. There is no one in the kingdom of God who is not poor in spirit. It is the fundamental characteristic of the Christian and of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, and all the other characteristics are in a sense the results of this one. As we go on to expound it, we shall see that it really means an emptying, while the others are a manifestation of a fullness. We cannot be filled until we are first empty.... There are always these two sides to the gospel; there is a pulling down and a raising up.