“Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
Rick Warren, pastor and author
Humility is a dirty word. At least that’s the impression I get from observing society around me. Something within humanity recoils against it, and I’m hardly immune. For example, as I go through my day, the first thought to cross my mind in any given situation is often far from humble. I sometimes shake my head and wonder, “where did that come from?” relieved that no one can read my mind.
Nonetheless, God calls us to be humble (ouch!). But to understand what he wants from us, it’s essential to clarify the term, because there are many misunderstandings on the subject.
Let’s start by looking at what humility is not. It doesn’t mean being a doormat, putting ourselves down, or having low self-esteem. When the Bible describes mankind, it never denigrates our dignity despite pointing out our sin, and neither should we. God puts a higher worth on us than even we put on ourselves. After all, he died for us.
Humility has all to do with our attitude towards God and others. When it comes to our Creator, we are humble when we acknowledge his bigness compared to our smallness. We admit that God is the potter, and we are the clay. Or a modern-day equivalent would be that God is the computer programmer, and we are the program.
As to our relationship with those around us, humility is recognizing the intrinsic worth of others and conceding we are no better than anyone else. When we think this way, we have no problem serving those who need help or acknowledging the accomplishments of those who succeed. It doesn’t mean that we can never think about our needs, but it does mean that we don’t think only about ourselves.
An online dictionary I checked defined humility as “having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s importance, rank, etc.” But I think a better definition would use the word “correct” instead of “modest.” The Lord doesn’t want us to think ill of ourselves, but rather to have an accurate view of who we are.
Why should we even want to be humble? It seems wrong to wonder, “what’s in it for us?” but it’s a valid question. Well, the fact that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1) might be a good reason. If we want to receive anything from God, whether big or small, we will only get it if we approach him with humility. Otherwise, not only will he ignore us, but he will go a step further and actively work against us. Doesn’t sound appealing to me.
I also believe that humility allows us to love others fully, as we should. Just read the definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13: patient, kind, does not envy or boast, is not self-seeking nor easily angered, etc. Is it possible to meet these criteria without first having a humble attitude? I don’t think so.
If we want an example of what humility looks like, we need to look no further than Jesus. All his relationships were based on truth. He knew who he was, who God the Father was, and what was the strength and nature of their bond. He looked beyond himself to serve humanity in love, and ultimately he gave his life for you and me.
(1) James 4:6