What comes to mind when you hear the word humility?
When the apostle Paul sought an illustration of humility, he pointed to Jesus Christ,
“… who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a ting to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking 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 2.6-8)”
- The humility of Jesus is why Paul willingly suffered the loss of all things and considered to be rubbish.
- The humility of Jesus is why Paul passionately declared his desire to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.
- The humility of Jesus is why Paul humbly spelled out his life’s mission: to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
None of us is born humble. To make matters worse, our culture mocks humility while rewarding its opposite. The opposite of humility is arrogance. Arrogance boasts and bellows. Humility speaks with soft words, without shouting at others. Arrogance craves attention. Humility refuses to be overly impressed by the sense of one’s own self-importance. Arrogance demands its place at the head of the line. Humility yields its place; considering the needs of others as more significant than its own.
None of us is born humble. Humility is a learned behavior. To be specific, humility is a uniquely Christian virtue. It is a behavior best learned in the context of a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ and with others who have themselves entered into a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ. In other words, humility is best learned by living in community with men and women who have committed to practicing what Jesus preaches. Another name for such a community is the church. When we practice humility we are being obedient to the standard set by Jesus.
Thus any resolution to practice humility means following Jesus in community with other followers of Jesus.
Practicing humility means considering one another as more significant than ourselves.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count one another more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
~ Philippians 2.3-4
Practicing humility means more than just being nice to people; it means more than being courteous, kind, and thoughtful. Practicing humility means genuinely considering one another as more significant than ourselves.
That phrase “one another” is one of Paul’s go to phrases any time he encourages churches to live in community. As one scholar notes, for Paul “everything is done for one another” (Fee, 189). So, being the kind of guy I am, I did a search of Paul’s use of the phrase “one another” and I found that according to Paul believers ….
- …. are to care for one another (1 Corinthians 12.25)
- …. are to love one another (1 Thessalonians 3.12; 4.9; Romans 13.8)
- …. are to pursue one another’s good (1Thessalonians 5.15)
- …. are to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6.2)
- …. are to be kind and compassionate toward one another, forgiving one another (Ephesians 4.32; Colossians 3.13)
- …. are to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12.16)
- …. are to consider one another as more significant than themselves (Philippians 2.3; Romans 12.16)
Let’s be honest. This is difficult. Almost impossible. In fact, practicing humility is impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit. During a particularly stressful time in my life and ministry I struggled to practice humility.
- I wanted my rights.
- I wanted to be treated with respect.
- I wanted my cause to triumph.
- I wanted my antagonists to fail.
And then I studied this text. The more deeply I delved into Paul’s words, the more profound the impact of what I learned: truly humble people love others—even their enemies—with the same love God has for them in Christ.
So whereas I thought considering others as more significant than myself meant thinking they were better than me, or that I somehow had to find the good qualities in them, I learned that I needed to see them from the perspective of grace; as people who, like me, needed to be treated with grace. That if I was to love them, to serve them, to worship with them, and to forgive them, I didn’t have to think of them as better than me, or even worthy of my love and forgiveness, but as people whose needs and concerns surpassed my own.
And that’s the hard part of practicing humility. It does not matter whether the people we are called to love, serve and forgive are worthy. What matters is they need it. And so do we. God loved us when we were not worthy of His love. He loved me when I was His enemy. And yet He treated us, He treated me with grace. Jesus put my need of forgiveness, more than that, He put God the Father’s will that He die in our place above His own will. When we practice humility we are behaving according to the pattern established by Jesus.
Think about the people you know. Think about the people you work with. Think about the people you live with. Think about the people you worship with. We like to quote iron sharpens iron. Truth be told, we like it more as a principle than a real-life practice. It looks better on a pillow than it does in real life. Nevertheless, practicing humility means considering one another as more significant than themselves. It means putting someone else’s agenda ahead of our own.
We all have an agenda. We all want to get our way. We want people to agree with us, to like us, to get along with us. But what happens when your agenda is set aside?
What happens when you do not get your way, or people do not agree with you? This is when practicing humility as a principle collides head-on with practicing humility as a lifestyle.
- Sometimes practicing humility means resisting the temptation to get even.
The strength to do this comes from the Holy Spirit.
- Sometimes practicing humility means hearing hard things.
With the help of the Holy Spirit we can sort through the verbiage to find the kernel of truth contained in it.
- Sometimes practicing humility means saying the most difficult words in the English language; “I was wrong” then asking for forgiveness.
- Sometimes practicing humility means blessing those who hurt you.
- Sometimes practicing humility means following Jesus’ example and learning to say, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”
When we practice humility we are following Jesus’ example.
When Jesus resolved to practice humility, He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. He considered His Father’s agenda to be more significant than His own. When Jesus resolved to practice humility, He looked at the big picture. He put aside His agenda. He followed His Father’s plan. When we practice humility we are being obedient to the standard set by Jesus.
Practicing humility means working out our salvation as part of a community.
You cannot practice humility in isolation. So Paul encourages the Philippians to work out their own salvation in the context of Christian community. He tells them, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Paul is not encouraging them work out their salvation with respect to renewing their confession of faith in Christ. He is encouraging them to work out that which God has already worked in them by the power of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel. In plain English, here’s what Paul means, “As you obeyed God in the past, keep on obeying Him by continuing to practice what Jesus says.” – Philippians 2.12-13
They are keep on practicing humility because that is what people who practice what Jesus preaches do. The reason we must practice humility is because God Himself is at work in an among us.
- The strength God requires is the strength God provides.
- The humility God requires is the humility God provides by way of the example of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Humility is about being vulnerable not self-confident. Even so, the ability to obey God is the ability He gives through the Holy Spirit because we have trusted in His Son. And here is more good news: there is no risk of failure. Salvation is God’s doing from start to finish. Therefore, the working out of our salvation is also God’s doing—from start to finish. Our God, the God who saved us from His wrath, is an awesome God. He is also gracious.
I came to realize that I could not practice humility insincerely. I had to practice humility fully aware that I was doing so in the presence of an awesome God; fully aware that unless I lived in awe of His glory I could not work out my salvation with fear and trembling.
As hard as it was, as hard it is to keep doing this, the Scripture assures us that God is on the side of His people. He not only has our concern at heart, but He actively works on our behalf for the sake of His good pleasure. God does what He does for the delight and pleasure He has in His own goodness and glory.
Humility is best learned by living in community with men and women who have committed to practicing what Jesus preaches. Another name for such a community is the church.
To belong to Jesus Christ is to have one’s entire life and being invaded by the Holy Spirit of God so that not only is our behavior changed, but we experience a new desire to make God by following His commands. When we practice humility we are doing more than being obedient to the standard set by Jesus; we are bringing joy to the heart of God.
Everything God does He does for His pleasure. And since God is completely, thoroughly and totally good, everything He does is completely, thoroughly and totally good for those He loves. God’s pleasure is pure love, so what He does “for the sake of His good pleasure” is by that very fact also on behalf of those He loves. After all, it delights God to delight His people.
When we practice humility we are doing more than following Jesus’ example; we are bringing delight to the heart of God.
Because of what Jesus did; His example of humility makes our practice of humility an opportunity to show grace. We tend to think of practicing humility as giving up something. And it’s easy to think this way because Paul tells us that Jesus “emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant.”
But of what did Jesus empty Himself? Not His divinity. Not His eternal Sonship. He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant. He emptied Himself by practicing humility; by considering the will of His Father as more significant than His own.
The humble soul will bless God under misery as well as under mercy, when God frowns as when He smiles, when He takes as when He gives, under crosses and losses as well as under blessings and mercies. The humble believer looks through all secondary causes, and sees the hand of God.
~ Thomas Brooks, Works, 111:24-26
When we practice humility we are doing more than following Jesus’ example; we are looking for the hand of God.
You think about that.