The surest mark of true conversion is humility.
- J.C Ryle
Humility is one of the most difficult, yet significant traits for the true believer to walk in. It sits at the helm of our Christian faith because it displays the evidence of our supernatural transformation from darkness to light – providing insight on our manner that proves the worthiness of Christ’s calling within us.
Ephesians 4:1-2 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love...
The word ‘humble’ appears all throughout the Bible. The Scriptures that reference to humility make it abundantly clear that God values a humble heart and directs His people to pursue a life of genuine humility.
But how do we achieve this attribute of humility when we’re naturally inclined to protect, defend and nurture self at all costs? The simple incident of being humiliated in a room full of people churns up a burning self-defensive mechanism in our prideful hearts, which incites us to stand up for ourselves in some way, shape or form.
Definition of ‘humility’: The quality of having a modest or low view of one's importance.
Now this word is a hard one for us to swallow. We naturally have a high tendency to view ourselves as someone who is important and deserving; whether it be in recognition, reputation or worthiness. So to put our own presuppositions of who we think we are and how we think we should be treated aside, is an extremely difficult and seemingly impossible task – yet entirely necessary.
Some might think they are already humble and may even boast about their humility – which is of course an oxymoron. Pride comes in all different sizes and although the larger ones are more noticeable; like a guy who big-notes himself and brags about what a great job he did, there are also smaller and sometimes more subtle behaviours that identity as pride; like wanting to be appreciated or complemented. You see friend, even these more common and evidently innocent desires sit on the end of an ugly branch that is connected to a deep-rooted trunk called Pride.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
Have you ever heard the saying, ‘pride comes before a fall’? This widely-circulated phrase originated from the Bible and its meaning is much more calamitous than many realise. The word ‘fall’ indicates a downfall or failure of sorts, however the biblical text relays it as the act of lapsing into sin which leads to moral decline and spiritual ruin/destruction.
Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
Humility means not thinking too highly of ourselves (Romans 12:3), which in turn helps us to move our attention from self, onto others in order to help them.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
The Bible is full of events and circumstances that teach us what it means to be humble. Here are just a few:
- God humbled King Nebuchadnezzar after he pridefully proclaimed himself as mighty and powerful (Daniel 4:29-37)
- Paul went from being a highly-regarded Pharisee teacher to a hated, tortured and at times imprisoned man because of who he preached about and how he conducted his life in a godly manner.
- Joseph grew in humility as he endured being sold by his own brothers and lived as a slave in a foreign country. Many years later he ended up reuniting with his brothers, however this time he was in the position of authority over them but instead of getting revenge, he showed them mercy and recognised that God was the One who used his life for the Lord’s glory (Genesis 50:18-20).
- Jesus – the greatest example of humility – gave up the glory of His Kingdom, including His majestic position by humbly coming to earth as a man, allowing His own creation to reject, persecute and beat Him, willingly suffering and dying as a ransom for many in order that we might be saved.
Although Jesus had every right to proclaim His position as Lord and defend Himself for the lying accusations that came against Him, He chose not to. Wow! There’s no-one more humble than that. We, on the other hand, tend to be quick to defend ourselves at any opportunity, even if we’re in the wrong! This is why humility is so important for us – it doesn’t come naturally and goes against our flesh, but with our willingness and Christ’s help, it is attainable.
It’s extremely beneficial for us to always remember and be mindful of who we are, and who the Lord is – putting ourselves in our rightful place (created human beings who have no control) and remembering God’s place (Creator who has all control). This is a particularly effective way to assist us in quickly moving back to the place of humility.
Another valuable approach to help us remain humble, is by recollecting how much God has forgiven us of. Our sins, which are many, can be a constant reminder to us of just how thankful we should always be towards the Lord, that He has chosen to wipe away our sins after we came to Him in repentance, which puts us back into a place of humility. This mindset also helps us to forgive others and not hold grudges. After all, who are we to hold anyone into account for their sin against us and not forgive them, when we ourselves have sinned against the Lord of all the universe, yet He has forgiven us?
The Lord requires His followers to walk as His humble servants. This means we no longer do our own thing or hold on to personal stature, but we willingly let go of our self-esteem agendas and instead of esteeming self, we rightly esteem the One who was, and is, and is to come! God leads the humble to live righteous lives.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
This life is not about us being noticed, admired or respected – it’s about submissively pointing to Jesus Christ – almighty God who deserves all attention, admiration and respect. It is Christ alone who we should be honouring, worshiping, praising and living for.
Humility means we don’t glorify ourselves in any way – we fittingly and appropriately glorify the Lord in every way!
The following story shows an interesting example of humility in practice.
The Heavy Log
‘Once upon a time a rider came across a few soldiers who were trying to move a heavy log of wood without success.
The corporal was standing by just watching as the men struggled.
The rider couldn’t believe it. He finally asked the corporal why he wasn’t helping.
The corporal replied: “I am the corporal. I give orders.”
The rider said nothing in response. Instead he dismounted his horse. He went up and stood by the soldiers and as they tried to lift the wood he helped them.
With his help, the task was finally able to be carried out.
Who was this kind rider?
The rider was George Washington, the Commander-in-chief.’
This story is a great illustration that exhibits the difference between pride and humility, with the Commander-in-chief humbling himself even though he could’ve considered that he was too important to get down and help.
Pride not only damages ourselves, but what’s worse is that it places us in a dangerous position with God because He opposes the proud.
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
In fact, the Lord tells us that He will not exalt the one who is exalting himself – He will exalt the one who is humble. The one who wants to be exalted is looking for a position of being on top – a prideful spot. The one who is humble is not wanting to be placed on top, yet the Lord lifts him up. Attitude makes all the difference.
James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
One can never come to Christ in pride. Godly repentance can only come when we are willing to humble ourselves. And when we humbly come to the Lord, seek Him with all our heart and turn away from our wicked lifestyle, He will hear our cry and forgive our sins.
2 Chronicles 7:14 ...if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
When we walk humbly with our God, His Spirit will lead us to do what is right, helping us to show kindness towards others.
Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Not only that, but the Lord’s children are admonished to clothe themselves with compassion, gentleness and patience as well. All of these beautiful characteristics will develop and increase when we willingly humble ourselves.
Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
The humble heart seeks to please the Lord in all their ways, desiring to walk on His path, never wanting to stray from it. This attitude clearly displays the Christian’s true conversion.
For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.
Lastly, I would like to leave you with this powerful thought:
A familiar phrase I often hear my Mum say is, ‘Self praise is no recommendation’. Now as a child, I had no idea what this sentence meant. In my childish and immature mind, I couldn’t understand it at all, although it didn’t stop me from repeating it because I trusted that it was a good saying because my Mum spoke it. Now that I’m older, I’ve come to realise what this phrase actually means: when we praise or brag about ourselves, it’s not really a credible opinion.
When we do something we believe is worthy of praise, we’re prone to letting other people know about it so that we feel good about what we’ve done and are commended for it, but talking ourselves up is no real reward. It’s no great thing to praise ourselves. All it proves when we boast about ourselves is that we are exposing our pride.
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.
It’s much more meaningful when others see our good works and speak about them. And when they do, our attitude should be one of wanting all glory to go to God and not to us.
Pride is the oldest and most common of sins. Humility is the rarest and most beautiful of graces.
- J.C Ryle
-- By Jenny Ayling