Pastor's Corner - March 19, 2020: The virtue of humility
First of two parts
Last updated 3/19/2020 at 6:35pm | View PDF
One distinctly Christian characteristic is the virtue of humility. No one naturally likes to be humble, a word that is rooted in ideas of lowliness, poverty, submission or subjugation, and debasement (Prov 22:22-23; Amos 2:7; Zech. 7:10). Everyone wants to be thought of as great, exalted, in charge, answering to no one; this, of course, is pride, which is rightly regarded as the opposite of humility (it comes from a sinful heart; Mark 7:21-23).
Humility became a virtue in the Old Testament, focusing on one’s submission and devotion to God (Ps 119:67, 71, 75; Prov 15:33; 22:4). Jesus’ teaching on humility was revolutionary in the New Testament. He pointed out that leaders in the world sought to lord their authority over others in domineering ways (such as the Romans over Israel), and that certainly was not a virtue or something that Christ’s disciples wanted to emulate.
Instead, those who wanted to be first must be everyone’s slave, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:20-28). Therefore, Christian humility is the mindset and heart attitude of lowliness in light of the measureless unmerited love God has shown all sinners in Christ, leading to loving and sacrificial acts of service for brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pride and humility are continually contrasted through the Bible. First, humility is pleasing to God, while God hates sinful pride. James 4:6 says, “But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (see Prov 3:34; 6:16-17; 8:13; 16:5; Psalm 138:6). What a stunning statement! The God of the universe positively opposes those who are proud, sovereignly planning to orchestrate situations to humble them.
One of the main reasons pride is so displeasing to God is that it is self-worship that draws that individual and others into false human-centered worship. Who can forget the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, who at one time made a great idol to himself and wanted to force all to bow down to it? (Dan 3:1-7) Or later when he was glorying in the splendor of his kingdom, that he was driven insane until he confessed: “Those who walk in pride He [God] is able to put down” (v. 36; 4:28-36). In the end, the proud appear to excel on their own strength, ambitions, and achievements, but they are in a precarious position with God against them; instead, the humble are strengthened by the grace of God.
Second, sinful pride will only bring about negative results. Pride in the Bible brings about conflict, destruction, losing what pride has garnered, and judgment by God. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (see Prov 13:10; Ps 18:27; Isa 2:11). How many lives, careers, reputations, teams, projects, countries, companies, families, relationships, and even churches and ministries have you seen ruined by pride? How many Titanics need to sink before the dangers of pride are clear in everyone’s mind? Pride brings about division, destruction, and ultimately God’s judgment, which will happen every time. Humility though will bring about the opposite: unity, conflict resolution, peace, constructive compromise, edification, and blessing by God. The benefits of humility are great indeed.
Third, there is a type of boasting that pleases God, namely boasting in the Lord. Now at first, we might think that boasting is bad, and if the boasting is about ourselves, then we are right. The definition of boasting about ourselves is to “talk with excessive pride and self-satisfaction about one's achievements, possessions, or abilities.” But when we are boasting not in ourselves but instead about God, then we are praising and worshipping, now we are exalting God, His achievements, His character, His abilities. The root of the Hebrew word for “boast” is actually the root in “Halleluiah,” which means “praise Yahweh,” one of the most common expressions of praise. Jeremiah writes, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jer 9:23-24; see also Ps 44:8). This is the kind of boasting approved by God that is not about ourselves, but about our great and glorious God.
Fourth, we have nothing to show off as our own, because God is the giver of all our possessions and talents. Paul wrote, “6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. 7 For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor 4:6-7). Paul is teaching here that we deserve only derived honor and that all true honor goes to God. Our upbringing and early opportunities were from the Lord; our education is from the Lord; the jobs we have are from the Lord; our resources are from the Lord; our talents and abilities are from the Lord; our successes are from the Lord. Where is boasting about ourselves? Absent. But boasting about the Lord? That is when boasting in the Bible is considered praise to our great God from whose hand comes every good and perfect gift (Ps 34:2; Jas 1:17).
Fifth, pride must be replaced with humility as a lifestyle as we all grow to be like Christ. It is easy to forget that being humble is not just a suggestion or a desirable Christ-like character quality. Consider the following verses: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phillipians 2:3); “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5; see also Rom 12:3). It is a command, therefore a failure to be humble is a sin.
Next week: Looking at our own lives.
Spencer Carpenter is youth pastor of Congregational Bible Church in Shafter.