It’s a simple but often maligned and misunderstood word. To be considered humble is a compliment for some and an insult for others. It’s frequently associated with being soft spoken, self-deprecating, and wallowing in low self-esteem. While most people consider it a virtue of some kind, few of us are out there actively seeking to become more humble. We intuitively know that something about it is not always going to feel good. And if someone recognizes that more humility is needed and wants to obtain it, it’s a rare person that has any idea of how to go about pursuing it.
One of the reasons more people don’t seek it is that we don’t really know exactly what it is. So many of us look for certain feelings within to assure ourselves that we possess the virtues we want. Yet the virtues of the Christian faith are much more about choosing than feeling. I have often invited students in my classes to stand up and be humble for a few moments. The clever ones will respond by saying that if they stand while everyone else is sitting, then they’re lifting themselves above the others and therefore not humble. But most of them just scratch their heads in puzzlement. Even if it is a feeling, how can a person create it on the spot?
How does one be humble on demand?
I have not been able to locate a dictionary-like definition of humility in the Bible. And yet the specific word and all its forms are referred to throughout both Old and New Testaments. The best explanation I can find is in the second chapter of Philippians. It’s more of a word picture than a technical definition.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV).
Ironically, it’s Jesus, the image of the Almighty God Himself (Colossians 1:15-19) who shows us what humility is. From this passage I gather that this virtue has much to do with surrendering that which is or that which I believe to be mine, doing it for the sake of serving another. Jesus chose to give up all the privileges and power that were His as a member of the Godhead. He did this in order to come to earth as a human and serve us by surrendering His very life.
It’s difficult to comprehend both the “what” and “why” of this. What does it mean to empty oneself? And why would anyone choose to do that?
As I have pondered what it means to be a follower of Jesus, I have noticed that even after seeking His forgiveness and submitting my life to Him, there are many things still in me that don’t fit my new identity. To walk out who God now says I am (that is His child) there are many things that have to go. To be like Jesus, I have to empty myself.
Empty myself of my demand to be treated a certain way.
Empty myself of my demand to determine my own identity.
Empty myself of my demand to be seen as higher than the person next to me.
Empty myself of my demand to be pitied and viewed as lower than the person next to me.
Empty myself of my demand to be enough in and of myself.
Empty myself of my demand to not need anyone.
Empty myself of my demand to make my own laws for myself.
The list could probably go on for a long time. Ultimately, I have to empty myself of my pride to follow Jesus. Because pride, after all, is being full of myself and the multitude of demands to make myself the final authority to decide what is right, good, and just.
Walking More Closely with God
And it’s therefore no surprise that the Bible says the humble will experience more of God while the proudful will not get close to Him, or even want to. Humility is the doorway through which we experience all that God has for us, salvation, intimacy with Him, healing, eternal life.
“Though the LORD is great, He cares for the humble, but He keeps His distance from the proud” (Psalm 138:6 NLT).
“Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor” (Proverbs 29:23 NLT).
“But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23: 12 NLT).
“He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble” (Luke 1:52 NLT).
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT).
It Will Always Be a Choice
God appears to be very interested in supporting and lifting up those who are truly humble. So, what can I do to choose humility, for the sake of closer walk with Him? First of all, I must embrace the fact that it is, for the most part, a choice, not a feeling. I doubt I will ever feel on my own like walking the path of humility. My pride works hard to convince me that that is a stupid route to take, and that I must take charge of exalting myself. In the end, I will either be humbled by outside forces or circumstances (ouch, not my choice!), or I will choose to take steps to humble myself (still not easy, but my choice).
Steps for choosing the road of humility will likely include the following:
And again, the list could go on. But the primary question for a follower of Jesus will always be, am I walking as a child of God with Jesus as my example? Trusting Him with the things I don’t understand and not demanding to do things my way?
Humility is not easy because pride is so deeply rooted in each one of us, blinding us to the rewards the humble path offers. But we have choices to make.
Choose humility. Choose Life. Choose Jesus.