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.
Indeed, I have noticed at times a tendency even to fail to appreciate what is regarded by the Bible as the greatest virtue of all, namely, humility. I have heard people on a committee discuss a certain candidate and say, ’Yes, very good; but he is rather lacking in personality.’ when my opinion of that particular candidate was that he was humble. There is a tendency rather to exalt a certain aggressiveness and self-assurance, and to justify a man’s making use of himself and his own personality and trying to put it forward, or as the horrible phrase has it, ’to put it across.’ The advertisements that are being increasingly used in connection with Christian work proclaim this tendency very loudly. You read the old records of the activities of God’s evangelists and others, and you observe how self-effacing they were. But, today, we are experiencing something that is almost a complete reversal of this. Advertisements and photographs are being put into the foreground.... Alas! How the church is allowing the world and its methods to influence and control her outlook and life.
Paul wrote that we should "not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think of ourselves with sound judgment" (Rom. 12:3). Humility is nothing more than having a realistic evaluation of our condition. Humility is being weak and pitiful and knowing it. Pride is being weak and pitiful and believing otherwise. "True humility is not an abject, groveling, self-despising spirit; it is but a right estimate of ourselves as God sees us." Tyrone Edwards, 19th Century
Measure your humility by your sense of unworthiness of God’s goodness and grace. If you are truly humble, you will be constantly amazed that God is so good and gracious to you. God has already proved His love to you in numerous ways, but you do not take this for granted. You don’t subconsciously feel God owes you favors because you are faithful to Him. No. Every time the Lord rewards you, deep gratitude wells up in your soul. You feel compelled to exclaim in the words Jesus taught, "I am an unworthy servant of the Lord; I am only doing what it is my duty to do" (Luke 17:10). Wesley Deuwel
And when he hath done all that is to be done, so far as he knoweth, let him think that he hath done nothing . Thomas á Kempis
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "What do you have that you did not receive, and if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not" (I Cor. 4:7)? The scriptures are full of warnings about forgetting what our condition was when we were rescued.
You might reply to this, "But how can a Christian think of himself as having a lowly state and being weak if he is God’s child and is seated with Christ in heavenly places?" Indeed, that is a good question: There is a troublesome tension between realizing what we are, and remembering what we were. If we are to live a victorious Christian life that bears fruit and pleases God, we must forget neither our past nor our future condition. We should never forget our high standing, but though we have the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, and many blessings because we are in Christ, we must never forget that all of them are undeserved gifts.
On the other hand, we see that the result of receiving the gospel is a lifting of one’s head. Men should be humble, and at the same time, they should have a holy pride in the values of their sonship. We should live in awe and wonder of the good fortune that found us when we were taken from sin’s gutter and were brought into God’s family. This is one of the reasons that Jesus said, "He that has been forgiven little loves little" (Luke 7:47).
I was born in a Christian family in rural, central, Pennsylvania. I grew up in quite a moral environment where people paid cash, there were few bounced checks, and the local jail was small and usually empty. There had been a lot of Christian influence in the forming of that community, followed by periodic spiritual renewals through the years. There were no drugs in school, no drunken parties that I was ever invited to, and no "adult bookstores" (an oxymoron). Instead, there was scripture reading and prayer over the school’s public address system every morning. It was better than Mayberry, USA.
Probably the worst thing I ever did as a child was to take $5.00 from my mom’s purse and then tell my father I had found it along the street in town. After going door-to-door along that section of the street and asking if anyone had lost it, my father finally let me keep the five dollars. Because of my protected life, it is harder for me than for a lot of people to appreciate the despicable condition I was in when Jesus rescued me. Compared to the people in the news, I was next in line for sainthood. However, the day came when I had to face up to the fact that I too was just a sinner: another rotten apple in a great big barrel of rotten apples. All were destined to be thrown out on the trash and hauled away to the dump.
The Spirit of God showed me that I was selfish, had a very deceitful heart, and did not want to obey him. Fortunately, since then, God has continually intervened in my life to keep me out of jail; from living with my foot in my mouth, or of knowingly doing great harm to my neighbor. For that I thank Him and his abundant grace.
From a worldly perspective, I could claim that I don’t have a lot to be humble about; but there is where the danger lies -- to think more highly of myself than I ought to think. Just because God rescued me before I ended up on the trash heap doesn’t make me any better than the person God rescued from the ditch. D. L. Moody was once walking along the streets of Chicago with another man. On seeing a drunk sleeping in a doorway, Moody said, "There, except for the grace of God, go I." He recognized that his life was different because of God’s grace and not because of any merit of his own.
Martin Luther was a man mightily used of God to bring revival to many people trapped in the stone-cold church of his time. Though God was working through him to bring new hope to multitudes, Luther recognized that God was the source of the new life, and not himself.
The Papal Bull of 1521, which excommunicated him, called his followers ’Lutherans.’ This horrified him. ’Please do not use my name,’ he wrote. ’Do not call yourselves Lutherans, but Christians.... Why should I, a miserable bag of worms, give my meaningless name to Christ’s children?’
Humility is not destructive
Though Luther knew that compared to God he was nothing but a worm and unworthy of his favor, he did not go around dragging himself along the ground.
It is not abject depreciation that the Bible teaches. It is not ignominious groveling in the dust. That would be a denial of your being the loved creation and handiwork of God, of your being purchased by Christ’s precious blood. Bible humility is fully consistent with your preciousness to God, with God’s purpose for you that you bring glory to Him, and your exaltation through grace until you are seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6).... True Christly humility is attractive. Wesley Deuwel
True humility doesn’t mean that we will dress shabbily to draw attention to ourselves, or brag about how little we spent on our wardrobe, or speak about how unqualified we are, or do anything to bring attention to ourselves. A. W. Tozer wrote, "I have met two classes of Christians: the proud who imagine that they are humble, and the humble who are afraid to be proud. There should be a third class: the self-forgetful who leave the whole thing in the hands of Christ and refuse to waste any time trying to make themselves good and humble. They will reach the goal far ahead of the rest of us."
Dr. Frank Crane defines humility as follows: "It is the wish to be great and the dread of being called great. It is the wish to help and the dread of thanks. It is the love of service and the distaste for rule. It is trying to be good and blushing when caught at it."
Happy at second fiddle
Humility is not pushing ourselves forward, nor is it pushing ourselves backwards. It is forgetting self and pushing others forward and upward. Barnabas is a good example in Scripture of someone who didn’t mind being in second place. He was a real team player-- his name was actually Joseph, but someone had nicknamed him Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement."
Barnabas risked his life to bring Paul, the persecutor, to see the apostles when he first came to Jerusalem. He saw that Paul had potential for ministry and Barnabas believed in his conversion. Later, he saw the same hidden potential in John Mark who Paul thought was a failure. When the missionary team started out on its first journey, Barnabas was in charge, but somewhere along the way it became Paul and Barnabas. Yet, Barnabas never seemed to raise a stink about being in second place, except in the case of defending Mark and continuing to disciple him.
Barnabas knew about harmony and obviously about humility. He seemed to be perfectly happy to see others promoted and honored ahead of himself and to cheer them on. He had the gift of seeing in other men what God saw and coaxing it to the surface.
An admirer of Leonard Bernstein, the famous orchestra conductor, came to him on one occasion and said, "Mr. Bernstein, what is the most difficult instrument to play?" He responded, "Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with enthusiasm, or second French horn, or second flute, now that’s a problem. And if no one plays second, we have no harmony."
It seems to be a very common phenomenon that among musicians, pilots, actors, politicians, models and a number of other people from high status professions, humility is frequently absent. At this moment, it occurs to me that many pastors I have seen from several different countries fit into this category as well.
"Measure yourself by your eagerness to decrease so that Christ may be all in all. Measure yourself by your willingness for others to receive the prominence while you are forgotten, for others to receive credit for what you have worked so hard to achieve. Measure yourself by your joy in working the hardest in the most obscure positions." Wesley Deuwel
What God has said about humility
For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
For this is what the high and lofty one says -- he who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken spirit and a contrite heart, o God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17
This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:2
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. I Peter 5:5,6
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing (emptied himself), taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself (made himself low) and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Phil. 2:5-8
In this last outstanding passage describing the Incarnation of Christ, we see that Jesus literally emptied out his self and made himself low before his father. He gave up all the rights and privileges of one with the nature of God. He is our example to imitate.
God is pleased to bless, guide and protect those who have a humble heart. Thomas á Kempis understood this truth, "God walks with the humble; he reveals himself to the lowly; he gives understanding to the little ones; he discloses his meaning to pure minds, but hides his grace from the curious and proud."
Perhaps you will not agree completely with Augustine, but nevertheless, he wrote, "Should you ask me what is the first thing in religion, I should reply, ’The first, second, and third thing therein.... nay all, is humility." St. Augustine - 4th century
Francis of Assisi, 8 centuries later concurred, "Above all graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit, that Christ granteth to His beloved, is to overcome oneself, and willingly for the love of Christ endure pains and insults and shame and want: insomuch as in all other gifts of God we may not glory, since they are not ours but God’s; but in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may boast, since this is ours; and therefore saith the Apostle: I would not that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here is true humility, the first and most fundamental quality of the Franciscan."
This glorification of humility affected all Francis’ thinking, not least in his attitude towards authority, especially the authority of the church. There were at this time a number of fraternities going about preaching the gospel and living lives of poverty and simplicity. But they appear not to have had any great interest in humility, which to Francis was essential.
Andrew Murray of South Africa at the turn of the 20th century wrote,
When we see that humility is something infinitely deeper than contrition, and accept it as our participation in the life of Jesus, we shall begin to learn that it is our true nobility, and that to prove it in being servants of all is the highest fulfillment of our destiny, as men created in the image of God.
When I look back upon my own religious experience, or round upon the church of Christ in the world, I stand amazed at the thought of how little humility is sought after as the distinguishing feature of the discipleship of Jesus. In preaching and living, in the daily intercourse of the home and social life, in the more special fellowship with Christians, in the direction and performance of work for Christ, --alas! How much proof there is that humility is not esteemed the cardinal virtue, the only root from which the graces can grow, the one indispensable condition of true fellowship with Jesus.
Unless we make, with each advance in what we think holiness, the increase of humility our study, we may find that we have been delighting in beautiful thoughts and feelings, in solemn acts of consecration and faith, while the only sure mark of the presence of God, the disappearance of self (italics mine), was all the time wanting. Come and let us flee to Jesus, and hide ourselves in Him until we be clothed upon with His humility. That alone is our holiness
Humility is the very essence of holiness as of blessedness. It is the displacement of self by the enthronement of God. Where God is all, self is nothing.
I, at times, am happy to call myself a Methodist. I was saved in an Evangelical United Brethren Church over 40 years ago. While away at college, a vote was taken to see if our denomination wanted to merge with the Methodist Church. The merger passed though I can’t remember ever talking to anyone of the E.U.B. who voted for it. I am not proud of many things in the Methodist denomination today because there is too much of man and so little of Jesus.
One of the reasons I feel that way is because of the spiritual coldness of many Methodist churches. I remember on one occasion when I was making a cross-country training flight while in USAF Pilot Training School. My instructor and I went to visit his sister and family in a new suburb of Houston, Texas. We were there over Sunday, so I asked if there was a church nearby. There was a Methodist one, and I soon found myself in a large, brand-new impressive building they called a church. I sat patiently through the service, but ill-at-ease for two reasons: 1) The church was so spiritually cold that I was afraid the icicles would start dropping on me from the ceiling, and 2) the preacher’s message would have been nice at a pep rally or politician’s meeting, but was a zero in spiritual content.
On the way out, the preacher had the audacity to ask me what I thought of his message. Very graciously (I think) I replied that "It was OK, but you never mentioned Jesus." To which he replied in a somewhat mocking tone, "No, I guess I didn’t, did I?"
Fortunately, not all Methodist churches and preachers are like that one. God has preserved for himself a remnant, which has not sold out to the world.
Though I am not especially proud of the modern Methodist denomination for the liberal theology and lukewarm ways of many of its leaders, I am proud to call myself a Methodist when I read and learn about John and Charles Wesley and the early Methodist movement that swept England and the American frontier with the gospel of free salvation by grace.
Something else I like about the Methodists is that they occasionally still practice some customs that date back to the times when there was a lot more fire in the stove. From the book, Church Order of Services comes this prayer to be used before participating in the Lord’s Supper.
We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under the table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to partake of this Sacrament of thy Son Jesus Christ, that we may walk in newness of life, may grow into his likeness, and may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
The benefits of humility:
Why should we be humble? What advantage is there in stooping down, giving up our supposed rights, and submitting to God’s every whim and fancy? The benefits are many:
Protection and understanding
Thomas á Kempis said, in the Imitation of Christ,
God protecteth the humble and delivereth him; the humble he loveth and comforteth; unto the humble man He inclineth Himself; unto the humble he giveth great grace; and after his humiliation He raiseth him to glory.
Unto the humble He revealeth His secrets, and sweetly draweth and inviteth him unto Himself.
The humble man, though he suffer confusion, hath yet much peace; for that he resteth on God, and not on the world.
So, the humble man receives God’s protection, and to him he reveals his secrets, and he gives him peace.
Defense against Satan
Jonathan Edwards (18th century) said, "The best defense that anyone can have against the wiles of the devil is a humble heart": "Nothing sets a person so much out of Satan’s reach as humility." Humility is a great protection against falling headlong into Satan’s trap. Besides, it is hard to fall down when you are already prostrate before God.
Power for service
“Humility is probably the most unpopular virtue demanded by the gospel, yet until a man is humble, no good thing can come from him no matter what he may do. The Lord can do such great things for us if we are humble, and so very little for us when we are proud.” (author unknown)
May I urge the pressing need there is for our all seeking a still deeper conviction of the unique place that humility holds in the religion of Christ, and the utter impossibility of the church or the believer being what Christ would have them to be, as long as His humility is not recognized as His chief glory, His first command, and our highest blessedness. Let us consider how little the disciples were advanced while this grace was still so terribly lacking, and let us pray to God that other gifts may not so satisfy us, that we never grasp the fact that the absence of this grace is the secret cause why the power of God cannot do its mighty work. Andrew Murray
"He who goes out weeping, carrying precious seed to sow, will return with songs of joy carrying sheaves with him" (Psalms 126:6). The humble, contrite Christian is the only one who will bear eternal fruit.
The deeper your humility, other things being equal, the more God can use you. Holy total submission to God and holy humility make you great in the sight of God. Total dying to your own proud self-life, total crucifixion with Christ prepares you for God to use. After thirteen years of daily hungering and praying for God to send revival, Evan Roberts heard a message in which the minister said God needed to bend us in total submission before Him.
One night Evan became so hungry and desperate for God to work that in a prayer time in church he prayed over and over, "Bend me, bend me." He agonized in hunger of soul till the perspiration broke out. God "bent" him, crucified, cleansed, and filled him. Within a week revival broke out as he spoke to a small youth group, and Roberts became God’s instrument for revival across Wales in 1904-1905, and some 100,000 were powerfully converted and joined the churches. Harvest and awakenings spread to several other parts of the world. It was again the fulfillment of II Chronicles 7:14 ("If my people will humble themselves."). It was again the proof that God works when His children purposefully humble themselves before Him.
Oh, the beauty of a truly humble soul! Oh, the power of a truly humble life! Oh, the exceeding greatness of God’s power waiting to be revealed through those who are humble enough and small enough for God to use! Constant service with gracious humility, constant helpfulness with a sense of total nothingness, constant awareness of God’s greatness and personal nothingness, constant forgetting of self with constant rejoicing in God as all-in-all is the measure of a soul truly great in the sight of the Lord. Measure your life -- not by your position, not by your reputation, not by the kind words and praise that you receive. Measure your life by your happy and holy humility. Wesley Deuwel
In his retirement, Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. Because Jefferson trusted that students would take their studies seriously, the code of discipline was lax. Unfortunately, his trust proved misplaced when the misbehavior of students led to a riot in which professors who tried to restore order were attacked. The following day a meeting was held between the university’s board, of which Jefferson was a member, and defiant students. Jefferson began by saying, "This is one of the most painful events of my life," was overcome by emotion, and burst into tears. Another board member asked the rioters to come forward and give their names. Nearly every one did. Later, one of them said, "It was not Mr. Jefferson’s words, but his tears."
Jefferson’s brokenness set the tone for the meeting, and his humble leadership carried the day.
Humility is eternal beauty
Being humble is not something we do for a while until Jesus comes, and then we can be proud. No, humility is an eternal attribute of God’s children. In William Wilberforce’s 1829 book entitled Real Christianity, Contrasted with the Prevailing Religious System, he states:
In proportion as a Christian grows in grace, so he must grow in humility. Humility is indeed the principle first and last of Christianity. By this principle it lives and thrives. As humility grows or declines, so Christianity must flourish or decay.
Humility first disposes the sinner to have deep self-humiliation to accept the offers of the gospel. During the whole of his progress, this is the very ground and basis of his feelings and conduct --in relation to God, to his fellow man, and to himself. When at length God translates him into the realms of glory, this principle shall subsist in undiminished force: he "shall fall down and cast his crown before the Lamb, and ascribe blessing, and honor and glory, and power to Him that sitteth upon the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever" (Revelation 4:10, 5:13). William Wilberforce
Humility, as it is the mark of Christ the heavenly, will be the one standard of glory in heaven: the lowliest is the nearest to God. The primacy in the church is promised to the humblest.... Humiliation is the only ladder to honour in God’s kingdom. Andrew Murray
We should be humble because God is humble.
When we think that God only wants us to be humble so that He can lord it over us, it shows that we know very little about God’s nature. God himself is humble. He doesn’t abuse his rank nor his power. He is indefatigably patient with us. He doesn’t rise up indiscriminately in great anger in reaction to our insults and denial of him. He would do that if he weren’t humble: but he doesn’t.
Again, Andrew Murray enlightens us about the theme:
In this view, it is of inconceivable importance that we should have right thoughts of what Christ is, of what really constitutes Him the Christ, and specially of what may be counted His chief characteristic, the root and essence of all his character as our Redeemer. There can be but one answer: it is His humility. What is the incarnation but His heavenly humility, His emptying Himself and becoming man? What is His life on earth but humility; His taking the form of a servant? And what is His atonement but humility? He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death.
Christ is the humility of God embodied in human nature; and making humility the chief thing we admire in Him, the chief thing we ask of Him, the one thing for which we sacrifice all else. Andrew Murray
Jesus himself said it plainly, "I am gentle and humble in heart" (Matt. 11:29). Apparently God tried to tell us something through the social status in which Christ was born and lived, but we missed the point. As stated earlier, Jesus was born in a manger in a stable, in a little, out-of-the-way town. His family was poor and of no account in society. The witnesses of his birth were shepherds, sheep and cattle. He was called the Lamb of God many times in Scripture. A lamb has no power. It is at the mercy of its shepherd. Roy Hesson helps us see the irony present during the Messiah’s baptism.
What a suggestive picture we have here -- the Dove descending upon the Lamb and resting herself upon Him! The Lamb and the Dove are surely the gentlest of all God’s creatures. The lamb speaks of meekness and submissiveness and the Dove speaks of peace. Surely this shows us that the heart of Deity is humility. When the eternal God chose to reveal Himself in His Son, He gave Him the name of the Lamb; and when it was necessary for the Holy Spirit to come into the world, He was revealed under the emblem of the dove. Is it not obvious, then, that the reason why we have to be humble in order to walk with God is not merely because God is so big and we are so little -- but because God is so humble?
Is there not many a Church or assembly of the saints, many a mission or convention, many a society or committee, even many a mission away in heathendom, where the harmony has been disturbed and the work of God hindered, because men who are counted saints have proved in touchiness and haste and impatience, in self-defense and self-assertion, in sharp judgments and unkind words, that they did not each reckon others better than themselves, and that their holiness has but little in it of the meekness of the saints.... Jesus the Holy One is the Humble One: the holiest will ever be the humblest. Andrew Murray
Holiness implies becoming more and more like God and getting closer and closer to him. Throughout the Scriptures, we see that whenever a person got close to God, he felt like he needed to take a bath. We see it in Isaiah, who upon seeing the Lord, declared: "Woe is me. For I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty" (Isaiah 6:5).
When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God (Ex. 3:6). When the angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel, Daniel says: "I was terrified and fell prostrate." "While he was speaking to me, I was in a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me and raised me to my feet" (Daniel 8:18, 10:15). We cannot get close to God without being awed and overwhelmed by his purity, his majesty, his power and his humility.
Job’s words aptly describe the reaction of anyone who is allowed into the presence of God. "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6).
Peter was a proud, impulsive person before he met Jesus. He had an answer and a solution for everything. Like many politicians, he made wonderful promises that he could not keep. Only after he had been broken and wept bitterly was he ready for God to really use him. Peter, the most broken of all the disciples, was chosen to give the church’s inaugural address on the day of Pentecost.
Nobody has ever been anybody in God’s book unless he has put into practice the lesson that humility is the primordial of all Christian virtues. The Christian Hall of Fame is full of people who were first humbled, and then used for God’s glory. I have no doubt in my mind that the reason God has not used me much is because of my lack of humility, which means that I cannot be trusted with his glory.
Just when we might think we have achieved a measure of humility is when we are in most danger of getting puffed up again. I have a swivel chair in my office in Uruguay that I have had for over twelve years. I don’t want to buy a new one because this one reminds me so much of myself. It has a way of winding itself up a little every time I use it. When I push it around on the floor, the base turns and the seat goes up. Every two or three days, I have to grab it by the back and spin it back down to the bottom again.
Like that chair, my old nature keeps constantly puffing itself up, higher and higher, trying to be noticed, and striving for prominence. Then, by God’s grace I have to grab it and force it back down until all the air is gone out of it and it is flat and low like it is supposed to be. Sometimes, when things get out of hand and I don’t humble myself, God has to lovingly take me by the "ears" and spin me back down where I belong.
I should be humble because of my past condition
Two men who had very interesting duties always accompanied Phillip II, the father of Alexander the Great and king of Macedon. One man was to say to him each morning, "Phillip, remember that you are but a man," while the second asked the king each evening, "Phillip, have you remembered that you are but a man? Maybe we can’t afford two people to keep reminding us of our low estate. Sometimes our spouse or other family members will do that for us, but usually we need to do it ourselves. A simple study of the Scriptures should suffice to tell us what our attitude should be.
We learn that humility and contrition are the dispositions of mind best suited to our fallen condition -- and most acceptable in the sight of our Creator. We learn we should depress and extinguish that spirit of arrogance and self-importance that is so natural to the heart of man.
It might be said that the great aim and purpose of all revelation, and especially the design of the gospel, is to reclaim us from our natural pride and selfishness with their fatal consequences. Its purpose, then, is to bring us to a just sense of our weakness and depravity. This results in our unfeigned humility, in which we cast ourselves down and give glory to God. William Wilberforce
Andrew Miller, in the eighteenth century said "The truly godly are instinctively humble. There is no humility so deep and real as that which the knowledge of grace produces." Humility is the result of a right understanding of our original decrepit, depraved condition.
But there is no moment of my life in which I can fail to recognize that if I were to get my deserts on the whole, I should be where lost souls are. Therefore, the sinner who knows himself is always prepared for the lowest place. ... I cannot estimate other people’s sins, but I can estimate my own, and I know where they would place me. Charles Gore
When our own heart is set upon this, the true sanctification, we shall study each word of Jesus on self-abasement with new zest, and no place will be too low, and no stooping too deep, and no service too mean or too long continued, if we may but share and prove the fellowship with Him who spake, "I am among you as one who serves." Brethren, here is the path to the higher life. Down, lower down! Andrew Murray
Humility comes as a result of the Holy Spirit showing us the glory of God and the wretchedness of our heart. It is putting one beside the other, and proclaiming, "Be merciful to me, a sinner." . . . "You can never be humiliated by another human being after the conviction of sin the Holy Ghost gives" Oswald Chambers
How difficult it is to maintain this perspective -- to remember that my old nature is worthless, deceptive, destructive, and cruel, the scum of the earth; while at the same time remember that my new nature is glorious, merciful, giving, loving and kind, the very nature of God. The danger is to believe that all of me is bad, or to believe that all of me is good; to be deceived by the old man, which tells me that all men are good at heart, or to continually kick myself and walk around staring at my shoes because I think there is nothing good in me at all.
The key is to remember that apart from Christ I can do nothing (John 15:5), but that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13). Because of my eternal association with Jesus, the Messiah, I am no longer scum. I am God’s very own son and he is proud of me, but I can’t take any credit for any good thing that comes out of me. We acknowledge that our life is different only because God has gotten hold of our life and he won’t let us go.
No matter how many laurel wreaths might pile up at our door, nor how much our golden crowns weigh, our only proper response is to reverently place them at the feet of Jesus, bow down and say "Worthy art thou." Fortunately for us, Jesus is not a collector of crowns or wreaths. Because of his nature and great love for us, he will give us back any crowns or laurels we offer up to him.
One of the reasons God could use D. L. Moody so greatly was Moody’s humility. His close associate, Dr. R. A. Torrey, called Moody the humblest person he ever knew. Over and over while Moody preached, he would look behind him on the platform, and, pointing to the younger men, would say with deep satisfaction, "There are better men coming after me." Moody preached, "The beginning of greatness is to be little, the increase of greatness is to be less, and the perfection of greatness is to be nothing."
The opposite of humility – Pride
In the Bible, the Greek word most often translated proud or puffed up is: - Phusioo - to breath, to blow up, or puff up, inflate. It is closely related to the word - Phusis - meaning naturally, by instinct, or according to nature.
Other words related to pride are:
- Tuphos - delusion, conceit, arrogance, puffed up, conceited
- Tuphoo - Becloud, delude, to be blinded, become foolish
- Tuphsomai - To be swollen with pride (I Tim. 6:4).
Pride is very deceptive. It sneaks up behind us and pats us on the back, then whispers subtle praise in our ear. Everything it says seems to make perfectly good sense to the heart desiring greatness.
A proud and successful people have a tendency to think they are right even when they are wrong. People ought to be a little fearful that they are wrong even when they are right. The future belongs to those who are sensitive and responsive to criticisms, and the future always belongs to the men who are not afraid to believe they can be wrong and sometimes are. Not only the future but the present belongs to them also. They are happy men Gerald Kennedy
Pride is the desire for attention and praise from other living beings. It means being at the center of the world and having everyone look to us, and acknowledge us as superior. It means raising a finger in the air and saying, "I’m number 1", "I’m the greatest." God says repeatedly that he detests this pride. "I abhor the pride of Jacob" (Amos 6:8).
From the Christian point of view, pride is not so much a matter of a superior attitude as it is of self-centeredness. Pride, says the Christian, is seen in the person who has put himself at the center of his own little universe and made himself the object of all his interest and devotion -- the person who has in effect displaced God in favor of himself, setting himself up as his own God. Ray Ashford
Another contrast between the true Christian and the views of the prevailing opinion is the desire for the admiration and applause of men. (Italics mine) It is perhaps the most general passion and the most commanding authority. Like a restless conqueror it seems not to spare age, nor sex, nor condition of man. It takes ten thousand shapes, the most artful disguises, and winds its way in secret when it dare not openly assert itself. It is often the master passion of the soul.
... Under the names of honorable ambition and of laudable emulation, schools and colleges stimulate and cherish it as their professed goal. The advocates of this principle might perhaps exclaim, "The extinction of it would be like the elimination of the principle of motion in the material world. Without it all would be sluggish, cold, and comfortless."
It is undeniably clear that, in the judgment of the Word of God, the love of worldly admiration and applause is basically corrupt. For it tends to exalt and aggrandize our selves; to pride our selves on our natural or acquired endowments; or to assume credit and merit for our own qualities. William Wilberforce
I read that some years ago, there was a young Scottish evangelist who God began to use mightily in that country. Wherever he went, the Spirit moved and he was getting invitations to speak in more and more places. Then, one day he went to preach in the church of a battle-proven old preacher in Glasgow.
The young man had become haughty about his successes, and when he stepped into the pulpit to preach, he went up with a great air of confidence. However, he felt no power, and struggled grievously through his message until, finally, he made a finish of it and humbly came and sat down beside the old preacher. He then asked him what had gone wrong.
The old preacher replied that if he had "gone up to the pulpit the way he came down, he would have come down the way he went up."
In real life, we Christians are often no more humble than the people in the world. I have seen it so often in my self and others. We compete with each other to show how spiritual and holy we are. We compete when we pray in public: trying to pray louder and better and longer than anyone else in the group or in the church. We try to make sure everyone knows about our many spiritual gifts and multiple achievements.
Over the years, I have attended many meetings of "Pentecostal" or "Charismatic" Christians and have often sensed the competitiveness; the "I am more than you are" attitude toward others. I remember on one occasion in a church in Uruguay, where I had been invited to preach. Just before the message, a man was asked to lead in prayer. The brother sermonized and waxed eloquent in his prayer for more than 10 minutes. It was so obvious that he wanted people to see how spiritual he was by the emotional fervor and length of his praying.
On the other side of the spectrum, I have been in churches and in contact with non-Pentecostals, and there it is often their "sound, non-Pentecostal doctrine" that puffs them up. Many sleepy churches have sound doctrine, but few of the characteristics of Jesus -- mercy, compassion, love or humility. Vance Havner used to say, "We can be just as straight as a gun barrel theologically, and just as empty spiritually." We can also use the gunpowder to set off firecrackers in the open air, but the power is dissipated in all directions, and accomplishes no lasting purpose.
I remember once as a boy of 15 taking about 10 twenty-two-caliber bullets and putting them in a tin can with pieces of rubber, paper, and other flammable items, then lighting it and jumping behind some logs. I waited and waited to hear the shots, but nothing happened. Finally, I got impatient and thinking that the fire had gone out, headed back toward the can. About ten feet away, the bullets started exploding, and I dove for cover. After a long time with no more shots, I finally went cautiously back to the can. On looking in, I was surprised to find that all of the bullets were still there with the empty cartridges. Since the cartridges had no support behind them, the bullets and the shell cases just blew apart in opposite directions, but went no where.
Much of our "spiritual activity" is like that. We make a big bang and try to impress people, but in the end we accomplish nothing that honors God or builds up his Kingdom.
Knowledge puffs up
More and more as the world gets education, so do we Christians. You probably say that getting knowledge is a good thing, though St. Francis of Assisi would not have agreed.
Humility is also the key to Francis’ attitude towards scholarship, which also became the subject of much controversy, both in his own life and for many years afterwards. Within fifty years of Francis’ death the Friars Minor had become the most learned body of men in the world, but this development was entirely opposed to the original wishes of the saint. In spite of many appeals, Francis remained adamant in his refusal to permit the friars to possess books or to allow themselves to get enticed into the academic world. His brethren were called to be neither brilliant preachers nor able controversialists, but simple evangelists preaching the gospel far more by the quality of their lives than by the eloquence of their words. Many of the leading friars were dismayed at this point of view, but nothing could shake Francis’ convictions.
St. Francis was convinced that scholarship led almost invariably to pride. This was partly due to the scholastic method of disputation in which success tended to be measured by brilliance rather than by knowledge, but it was also due to the fact that learning put one in a position of superiority over one’s fellows and made it more difficult for a man to mingle on terms of equality with tramps and lepers, and to regard himself as beneath the contempt of even the most ignorant and depraved of his fellow men.
I Corinthians 8:1 states, "knowledge puffs up (makes us proud), but love builds up." The first produces an empty gasbag, the latter actually builds foundations. Most education serves to make us less humble and thus less useful to our Father. It elevates us in this world to where we think we are superior to others for their lack of it. Paul tells how he was taken up into the third heaven, to the very presence of God, and how because of all he learned in that revelation, he was given a thorn in the flesh (a physical ailment - probably to do with his eyes) to keep him from becoming proud of what he knew (II Cor. 12:1-10).
Jesus said, "I praise you Father. Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes Father, for this was your good pleasure" (Matt. 11:25-26). Worldly learning and education don’t help us know God’s secret things.
The deceitfulness of pride
Pride is a terribly deceitful thing. When it seems like we have made some progress in humbling ourselves before God, our arms usually go into automatic mode and start patting us on the back. We become proud that “we are not proud”, and flaunt our humility like peacocks.
Measure your lack of humility by your hunger for the praise of others, by your desire for position, by eagerness for recognition. Measure your lack of humility by your good opinion of yourself, by your habit of contrasting your own ability, efforts, or accomplishments with those of others. Measure your lack of humility by how often you feel hurt and slighted, by how deeply you feel resentment, and by how discouraged you become from the criticism of others.
Measure your lack of humility by how much you grumble about the treatment of yourself and how critical you feel of others, by how much you gossip about others. And remember, the measure of your lack of humility is your measure of your littleness in the sight of God. Wesley Deuwel
It is interesting that both Philip, the evangelist who preached to the Ethiopian eunuch and Stephen, the first martyr killed for the Christian faith, were men who were happy to wait on tables (Acts 6:1-6). God usually chooses those who are willing to do the lowly tasks to do the greatest tasks.
C. H. Spurgeon wrote, "The whole treasury of God will be made over by deed of gift to the soul that is humble enough to be able to receive it without growing proud because of it. God blesses us all up to the full measure of what is safe for Him to do. If you do not get a blessing, it is because it is not safe for you to have one."
That life is most mature in the sight of God that is most childlike. That service the greatest of all that most humbly becomes the slave of all. Only the humblest of persons can walk closely with God. Only the empty, thirsty persons can be filled, and only those who are absolutely nothing in their own sight can be trusted with frequent miracles.
Measure your humility by your hunger for Jesus to get ever more glory, by your burning desire that His name be exalted. Measure your humility by your instant shuddering at the very thought of people giving glory to you that rightfully and fully belongs to God. Wesley Deuwel
Living in Latin America for many years has brought us into contact with several kinds of parasites. By now, we don’t need to go to doctor or a lab to know when we’ve got them. When I get them, I start getting bloated in my abdomen and then get loose stools. This abdominal bloating gets progressively worse and worse unless I get some medicine for it. In the last two decades, they have discovered some wonderful medicines to get rid of these little critters. One pill for three days and things are back to normal.
I wish it were as easy to get rid of the spiritual gas that keeps building up in my insides, and makes me offensive to God and those around me. This abominable puffing up in us humans just gets further and further out of hand until the whole thing blows up. Humility is not a lesson we learn and then move on to bigger and better things. Unlike polio, there is no vaccination against pride. Nor is pride a disease like Chicken Pox that once you’ve had it you can’t get it again. Pride and the old nature must be continually put to death by remembering that Christ had to die on the cross because of my filthy heart. Only a daily dose of God’s grace and humility can keep us from getting a fat head, which is one of the most prominent symptoms of pride.
Humility does not make us sad and long-faced
No, we do not all learn humility; for humility is a joyful, happy thing; humility is fellowship with God constantly renewed in hope. Whatever may have been my faults and my follies I can always start afresh. Humility confesses its sins and takes from the unmerited goodness of God the fullness of His free forgiveness, and, like a child, is happy again, ten thousand times over happy again; joyful in the sense that God loves me, joyful in the sense that He gives me over and over again my fresh opportunity. Charles Gore
If I would like to please God, I am going to have to do it on his terms, and his first requirement toward holiness for his children is to be humble. Humility before God does not exist if not proved before men.