“God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.”
That could be a drop the mic statement. But that wouldn’t make much of a column. So, let’s spend some time digging into what it means, and doesn’t mean, for a disciple of Jesus to be humble.
John Dickson, in his book, Humilitas, defines humility as “the noble choice to forego your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself … a willingness to hold power in service of others.” The concept of humility almost seems antithetical to our current culture. Too often, in too many spheres, narcissism is the order of the day. We are living in a “selfie” world, consumed with how we look, and how others see us … a need to be seen and heard above all others. Social media plays into this need to be the center of attention. And on, and on it goes.
As disciples of Christ, we are called to a different kind of life. Philippians 2: 3-11 says:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used
to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
To be an authentic disciple, we must continually seek to become more like Christ, the ultimate example of humility. The root of the word “humility” is the Latin word humilitas. Interestingly, humilitas is also the root for the word “humiliation”. In complete surrender to the Father, Christ chose the humiliation of the cross in order to make it possible for us (His disciples) to spend eternity with Him. The question we must consider is this: Are we willing to humble ourselves and surrender to God’s will for our lives? Are we interested in being part of what Dickson calls “the humility revolution?”
Notice in the Philippians passage that Jesus chose the path of humility. Then, as now, the world was full of people who were just full of themselves. In other words, many around Christ wanted to be seen and heard above all other voices. The humiliation of the cross was brought on by those who wanted to have ultimate power and control over others. Look around and you will see that not much has changed in the culture over the centuries. The cosmic struggle between good and evil still rages on, and God’s people are still seeking His face, making a difference in the lives they touch. But most of us have a limit of what we endure. Jesus chose the hard humiliation for the sake of others. How many of us would actually choose to suffer humiliation for others, especially those who don’t deserve that level of sacrifice? In our culture of “it’s all about me,” few of us would choose the hard way Jesus chose.
As disciples, we are leaders in the church, by default. We walk alongside others as they journey by faith. And we lead by example. As leaders, humility is a critical characteristic. Humility extends our influence and builds trust in our relationships. Dickson posits, “ When people trust us, they tend to believe what we say, and few are considered more trustworthy than those who choose to use their power for the good of others above themselves” (p. 147). In my day job, I am a college professor, and this statement rings true in every aspect of teaching and training. If I have not earned the trust of my students, I really am just a talking head, spewing a bunch of facts they may or may not use in life. By being open and vulnerable (and hopefully humble), my students see me as a real person, flawed by a sin nature, but interested in helping them learn about God and life. Humility helps us remain authentic in our relationships. Look back at the Philippians passage, verses 3-4. Paul tells us how to begin living this life of humility. We must genuinely consider others better than ourselves. That is a tall order that is easier for some than others to walk out.
Think about your own life. Who do you follow? Why do you follow them? I know I would prefer to follow a leader, or discipler, who is humble and kind. The leaders I have engaged who are haughty and prideful simply turn me away. According to Dickson, “G.K. Chesterton argued that human pride is in fact the engine of mediocrity. It fools us into believing that we have ‘arrived’, that we are complete, that there is little else to learn. Humility, by contrast, he said reminds us that we are small and incomplete and so urges us on to the heights of artistic, scientific and societal endeavor” (p. 120). The humble leader helps inspire others to be the best they can be. Humility is a characteristic that brings real power into a relationship by bringing out the potential of followers.
Humility allows us to learn and grow. If we think we know everything, we will not be open to engaging new ideas, or submitting to the authority of others. The Holy Spirit teaches us what we know, but only when we are willing to admit we don’t know everything. As disciples of Jesus, we must learn the art of submission and surrender. We must be willing to live an open-handed life, with our will submitted to the will of God. I have a tendency to be headstrong and focused, both traits that make surrender of will a bit difficult. But the more I study the life of Christ, the easier it becomes to know that I must continually submit my will to Christ. I want to make a difference in the lives of the people God has placed in my life. But I can’t really make an appreciable difference without the power and influence of The Holy Spirit.
Scripture makes it clear what the Lord thinks about the importance of humility. Through the prophet Micah, we see clearly what God expects,
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
So, I leave you with the questions I regularly ask myself.
- Are you walking humbly with God?
- Where have you become haughty and prideful, thinking you don’t need anyone else in your life?
- Are you valuing others more than yourself?
If your answers to these questions are not where you would like them to be, what must change in your life to make your walk that of a humble servant of others?
*Dickson, J. 2011. Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership. Zondervan.
*All Scriptures NIV.
This post originally appeared at: Humility or Humiliation — The Bonhoeffer Project