What Does The Bible Say About Humility?
This is the difference between true humility and false humility.
He must increase, but I must decrease.
What is true humility -- and what is not true humility?
This really is part of the challenge: understanding what humility is… and what it isn't. I went a lot of my Christian life thinking that humility meant denying any compliments that anybody paid, or pretending that something I'd done well had not been done well. The last thing I wanted to be was proud. False humility takes those two forms. One is dishonesty: someone says, "You did a great job!" and you find some way to demean the job, pretending that it wasn't as good as it was. We all know isn't really true. But we don't want to be proud.
The other way is to be deceptive and is to pretend to be humble when we're really not. Inside, we know better. And others really know better as well. We use humble language, but we're really pretty proud of what we've done. (And very proud that they've told us!) There’s an old joke about the guy that writes the book, "Humility, and How I Perfected It." It's a sense that we're proud of our humility. That's obviously not what the Bible has in mind when it calls us to humility.
Honesty About Yourself As Recipient of Grace
What is true humility? How do we attain it? I've struggled with that over the years. C.S Lewis said, "Praise is like chewing gum. It's not bad to chew, but be careful not to swallow it." There is the sense that humility comes when I compare myself, not to others, but to the Lord, and to his standard for me. As long as I'm comparing myself to other people, I can almost always find somebody that I feel superior to. Lewis says when you're looking down, you can't look up. If you’re going to compare yourself to other people, there will always be someone you can feel superior in relationship to. (2 Corinthians 10:12-13) But if you compare yourself to the Lord and to God's intention for you ... if you'll compare yourself to what God wants your life to look like, you'll always know that you have further to go. And at the same time you can be grateful for where you are.
You're not being dishonest about the good things you're doing and the gifts God has given you. You're not being deceptive about your humility. At the same time, you're recognizing the source of your personal worth. You know that it's not you! You know that it's God's gifts and God's provision. (1 Corinthians 4:7) It's God's opportunity. Even the hard work that you do, with the gifts you have, are all thanks to God. To recognize that your gifts, your abilities, your opportunities, come from God and compare yourself to his standard for you, I think, is the essence of humility.
A Surrender that Allows God to Work
So the best way to get there, I think, is prayer. To say, “Lord, show me where I'm taking credit for what You've done. Show me where I'm being falsely humble. Show me where I'm being deceptive, or dishonest. Help me to compare myself to your standard for me, and be grateful for where I am, and at the same time be humble about, where I'm not and about where I still need to go.”
Years ago, a very wise mentor said to me, "the closer you get to God, the further away you realize you are." I think that's really true. So is that kind of true humility essential to the Christian life? Yes, I think it is, on a couple of levels. One level is that if I'm not willing to humble myself before God and admit how much I need him, he can't give me what he wants to give, because I'm not willing to receive it. He can't lead those who won't follow. He can't heal someone who won't be healed. A surgeon can't operate on someone who won't allow the surgeon to operate. A pilot can't fly you someplace if you won't get on the airplane.
If I'm not willing to humble myself enough to admit that I need more of God and I need to grow in who I am and where I am, God can't give me his best for my life. I think about when our boys were young and they would do these plastic sword fights together. Inevitably, one of the swords would break and they would want me to fix the sword, but they didn't want to stop playing with it long enough for me to fix it. They'd have to give it to me before I could fix it, with duct tape or whatever I was using. Well, I'm that way with the Lord. Far too often, I want God to fix things, but I'm not willing to submit it to him enough for him to fix it. I'm not willing to humble myself enough to admit that I need what only God can give.
Necessary For Followers and Leaders
So the first reason humility is so important is it positions us to be led, to be forgiven, to be empowered, to be used, to be blessed, to receive God's best for our lives. Second, humility is essential to Christian witness. One of the real downsides of living in a culture as secularized as ours is that it's pretty easy for people to feel more spiritual than other people. To feel more moral than somebody else. We see acts of immorality in the news, and we feel ourselves superior to that. We feel that because we have a relationship with God other people may not have, that somehow there's something better about us. That kind of pridefulness is as off-putting as anything we could do. It's as destructive to our witness as anything I can imagine. The last thing lost people want is to be told that they're not as good as us. This kind of holier-than-thou, elitist spirit we can get about ourselves is absolutely disastrous.
First of all, that's not true. We're beggars helping beggars find bread. Second, it absolutely is an obstacle to people knowing that they need Jesus because we need Jesus. So the key is to ask every day, "Lord, help me to see myself as you do; be the source of my personal worth. Remind me today, Father. Help me to walk today in dependence that is grateful for what I have and humble about who I am, and recognizing that it all comes from the God who is the giver of every good and perfect work."
John the Baptist challenges me every time I think about what he said in John 3:30. It's a word that I would encourage us to adopt as our own mantra for our lives. For John the Baptist said of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease." If that will be our prayer, our commitment, our motto, our standard for life, the Lord will honor that. Other people will see God in us and through us, and God will be glorified. So I would encourage you to join me in making that your commitment today: "He must increase, I must decrease," to the glory of God.
Pray this week:
Lord, help me to see myself as you do; make me walk in dependence and gratitude for what you’ve done for me.
How are you in the practice of humility? Do you practice true humility or false humility? What can you do to change?