Some thoughts on humility

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” I suspect a lot of people hear that verse and, in part, think, “Yup, those arrogant, prideful and presumptuous people will be put in their place and get what’s coming to them.” But that doesn’t tell us what true humility is. Merriam Webster defines humility as freedom from pride or arrogance. That seems a little thin; it tells us what humility is not and by implication tells us what not to do in life…but…

St. Francis of Assisi says this of humility: for what a person is before God, that he is and no more. (Admonition 19).  I like that saying – but it is more reminder than definition. I think we need to put some “meat on the bones,” something that will guide us into what to do or how to be.

Of course we could all take a moment and think of people in our life that we consider humble. The we can consider the traits and characteristics of that person that makes us conclude they are a humble person – not just meek, shy, retiring or quiet, but humble. The Christian writer C. S. Lewis offers that: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” I sat with that a while this week and came up with a list that might reflect Lewis’ thought. The list is not complete, but only a start.

  • A humble person has lots to brag about, but he doesn’t boast. He or she might share accomplishments from their life, but for a purpose that has nothing to do with self-aggrandizement. The humble person is just as interested in your accomplishments.
  • A humble person can be corrected because they know that life ever operates in the sphere of learning. As my dad would say, “Every man is your better because you can learn something from them.”
  • A humble person serves willingly because the motivation is knowing that the one served will be better off.
  • A humble person knows the difference between being a leader and being the boss.
  • A humble person will choose gentleness before strength, will act the same with the poor and the rich, the young and the old, the friend and the foe – will act with compassion and purpose.
  • The humble person pursues greatness. While one might be content in many things, the humble person is not content with their own character. The humble person always seeks greater wisdom, a deeper capacity to love, a balance, and a wholeness…or in our church lexicon – holiness.
  • The humble person is in charge of their lives – even when they choose to follow, to be obedient, and take the path less desirable.
  • Here’s one I think is very important. The humble person is condescending. Did he just say, “condescending?”  Yes, I did. When most people hear that word, they think of showing a patronizing or superior attitude toward others. But I am talking about the original meaning from the Latin condescendere – to come down so as to be with or to accompany or to serve.

The ultimate condescendere was Jesus being born as one of us. Coming from the Heavenly kingdom to, as St. John literally wrote, “to pitch his tent among us.” Jesus came down to serve us and to do so humbly. I think all of the characteristics of humility above – and more – apply to Jesus. In his Letter to the Philippians (2:3-11), St. Paul writes:

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 

Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Obedient to death – giving his life for our sins, for our salvation, paying the price – truly thinking not of himself, but of us. Sacrificing everything, never knowing if we would accept and embrace his gift of redemption. His humility to the plan of his heavenly Father brought Jesus to disgrace in the eyes of the power of the world.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

There you have it. Some thoughts on humility. Take some time today and make your own list on what it means to be humble and how you plan to walk through this life in humility.  You have examples in the people you admire.. You have the testimony of the life of Jesus in Scripture. You have what you need to begin to change the way we think. Then what we think, becomes the words we speak. The words we speak become the actions of our lives. Those actions become our habits. Habits become character. Character becomes who we are as we stand before God. For we are that and nothing more.


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